David McManaway: Cult of the Commonplace
“People are always trying to take my work too literally, to list the things that are nothing more than ingredients of my pieces. . . .It’s like gestalt: the whole is always more than the sum of the parts. Most people never go beyond that list of objects to deal with the content, the meaning those objects assume in their new context.” Janet Kutner, “Texas Artists: The Artwork of David McManaway,” Texas Homes, vol. 2, No. 3 (September/October 1978), p. 67
The art of David McManaway (1927-2010) has an underground cult following. Research for this exhibition and numerous conversations with his friends and colleagues tells me that he would be pleased by this state of affairs. But, many McManaway collectors and former colleagues lament the apparent lack of credit his work has received since his passing in 2010. The mission to spotlight McManaway’s life and work in a solo exhibition has officially become a cause célèbre.
This exhibition presents a long overdue review of important work from his prodigious 50 year career to reexamine his role as a major artist and influencer in Texas and beyond. In McManaway’s lifetime, his work was featured in numerous group exhibitions including the 1959 Texas Annual Exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), 1961 Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art, 1969 and 1973 Whitney Museum New York Biennial Exhibitions of Contemporary American Art, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Dallas Museum of Art, San Antonio Museum of Art, Laguna Gloria Austin, Menil Collection Houston, Southern Methodist University (SMU) and most recently in 2019 “The Art of Texas: 250 Years”, The Witte Museum and in 2018 “The Art of Found Objects: Enigma Variations” at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont. His vita also lists many group gallery exhibitions across the state dating from 1960 to 2014. It has been forty years since McManaway’s art was viewed in depth in solo exhibitions at the DMA and SMU Galleries.
David McManaway was born in Chicago, IL in 1927. He received his degree from the University of Arkansas, and he was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and the Engelhard Award from the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA. Originally a painter, McManaway moved to Dallas in 1959 and abandoned painting in favor of assemblage art. Today, McManaway is best known for wall reliefs he called Jomo Boards.; compositions of juxtaposed found objects such as plastic toys, stuffed animals, trash and other commonplace objects arranged in a seemingly stream-of-conscious fashion. Look closely and you will see that McManaway altered and manipulated the selected found objects in order to generate another level of meaning through placement and telling juxtapositions resulting in clever double entendres ripe with humorous commentary on contemporary life in the late 20th century. The mass produced, proudly useless, late 20th century cultural discards stand as markers of memory transformed into artist private response to the absurdities and comforts of the familiar.
Employing considerable knowledge of art history and art theory, McManaway salvaged, collected and retrofitted thousands of found objects into a complex designs long before recycling became a part of the American consciousness. In essence, he mined his world to compose a private mythology that continues to resonate as memory triggers and profound statements about the current complexities of the human condition.