Olivier Meslay, a senior curator at the Dallas Museum of Art, looked out Tuesday afternoon on the DMA concourse, which was crowded just then with high-school students, their parents, and their friends noisily enjoying the 14th annual Young Masters Exhibition.
“I am very surprised by the quality of what we can see here,” said Meslay, who previously worked at the Louvre in Paris. “It is amazing that these children learn so quickly and are so good.”
The 53 works hanging on the DMA wall were amazing, indeed. A panel of judges selected them from more than 650 pieces created and submitted by Advanced Placement students in studio art, art history, and music theory in North Texas.
The students were participating and competing in the nonprofit O’Donnell Foundation’s “Creating Schools of Excellence in Fine Arts Incentive Program,” which solicited works of art, original essays and original four-minute music compositions from 12 local high schools.
One of the talented students was Lena Ohanian, from Plano West Senior High School. Her exhibited studio-art work, called “Pipes,” was done with tempera paint, and then overlaid with India ink to emulate rust and shadow.
While Lena posed for photos with her piece and her proud family, Maxwell Anderson, the DMA’s new Eugene McDermott director, acknowledged the excitement associated with exhibiting one’s work in a museum. “It’s always nice to see your art on the wall,” Anderson said, adding puckishly, “if it’s the right wall.”
Edith O’Donnell, who founded the Young Masters program, said its purpose is to “celebrate creativity, and to recognize and stimulate outstanding artistic expression in high school students. We believe creativity is the foundation for great art, great science, great literature, and great discovery.”
During a private reception, and just before a ceremony in which a number of awards were given out to the top Young Masters, Edith O’Donnell’s husband –Highland Park-reared philanthropist Peter O’Donnell Jr. — said the program started by his wife had begun bearing fruit.
“There’s a lot to be said for staying power. Winning a place in the exhibition is very prestigious for these students, and the program is making a dent,” he said. “They’re not just dragging themselves to school. They’re going there to compete — and to win!”
The exhibition of student work continues through April 8 at the Dallas Museum of Art.