The Dallas Museum of Art, formerly the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, traces its beginnings to the Dallas Art Association, which was founded by a group of eighty citizens in 1903. Since its inception, the museum's facilities and most of its collections have been owned by the city of Dallas and operated and overseen by the board of trustees of the museum. The first museum facility opened in 1909 under the name Free Public Art Gallery of Dallas. It occupied a building in Fair Park that was later damaged by a storm. Mrs. George K. Meyer was president of the Dallas Art Association and acting director of the gallery in the early years. Activity at the gallery accelerated with the appointment of artist and art historian John S. Ankeny as the museum's first professional director in 1929. Ankeny secured exhibitions of national importance, offered weekly lectures and art classes, and published a monthly newsletter. In 1932 the museum was renamed Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, and the next year it moved into the Dallas Power and Light Company building. In early 1934 Ankeny was succeeded by Lloyd LePage Rollins, under whom a $500,000 city bond issue was passed to build a new museum in Fair Park. The new facility, completed in 1936, opened with an exhibition of European and American art presented in conjunction with the Texas Centennial that attracted more than 154,000 visitors. Richard Foster Howard (1936–41) and Louise Britton McCraw (1942) succeeded Rollins as directors of the museum; McCraw was followed by Jerry Bywaters, a regionalist artist and critic who led the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts for twenty-one years.
Bywaters specialized in southwestern and Mexican art, and under his stewardship the museum focused primarily, though not exclusively, on regional art. The museum's commitment to education was manifested in the Museum School of Art, begun in 1941, which offered children and adult classes in sculpture and ceramics, lithography, painting, life drawing, and other subjects. Such prominent artists as Merritt T. Mauzey, Otis M. Dozier, Coreen M. Spellman, Evaline C. Sellors, Octavio Medellín, Roger Winter, and David McManaway taught at the museum school until the mid-1960s, when the school was closed after a study committee determined that other institutions in Dallas were serving similar needs. Acquisitions under Bywaters's leadership focused on works by leading contemporary artists such as Rufino Tamayo, Alexandre Hogue, William Zorach, George Grosz, Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper, Alexander Calder, and Jackson Pollock. During this period the museum's development was checked by cramped conditions at the building on the fairgrounds, which required that much of the permanent collection be kept in storage, and by a cultural climate in which hostility toward modern art was expressed in the "Red art" controversy of 1955–56. In March 1955 the Public Affairs Luncheon Club, a local women's group, charged the museum with exhibiting the work of artists with Communist affiliations and neglecting the work of Dallas artists. The museum temporarily removed works by Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, and other ideologically suspect artists from display. On December 7, 1955, the board of trustees issued a statement that they would "exhibit and acquire works of art only on the basis of their merit as works of art."
In 1963 the museum supplemented its permanent collection and increased its board of trustees to eighty-two members through a merger with the Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art. The following year the Foundation for the Arts was established as a holding agency for the former DMCA collection, with the power to solicit funds and acquire art objects to be placed at the disposal of the museum. Bywaters resigned in 1964 and was succeeded by Merrill C. Rueppel, who oversaw the opening in 1965 of a new two-story wing, financed by a city bond election, that nearly doubled the museum's exhibition space. Rueppel brought popular exhibitions such as the 1967 retrospective exhibition of Pablo Picasso's work to Dallas, strengthened the museum's holdings of contemporary painting and sculpture, and broadened the scope of the permanent collection through acquisitions of Japanese painting and Pre-Columbian and African art. Harry S. Parker III, director from 1974 to 1988, spearheaded the construction of the current museum building, which opened under a new name, Dallas Museum of Art, in January 1984. The $54 million facility is located on nine acres on the northern edge of the city's business district in what is now designated the Dallas Arts District. It was financed by a 1979 bond election in which Dallas voters pledged $24.8 million and by contributions from the private sector. Prominent New York architect Edward Larrabee Barnes designed the 195,000-square-foot building, which is dominated by a forty-foot barrel vault anchored by Claes Oldenburg's Stake Hitch. Other important pieces commissioned for the new building were Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawing No. 398, displayed on the eastern arch of the central barrel vault, and a large-scale steel work by Ellsworth Kelly that was installed in the museum's sculpture garden.
In November 1985 the museum opened a new decorative arts wing that houses more than 1,400 objects from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection in a replica of the Reves's Villa La Pausa in southern France, including an important collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and decorative art objects. The decorative arts collection was substantially augmented by the donation in 1986 of the Faith P. and Charles L. Bybee Collection of American Furniture, comprising American furniture from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the Hoblitzelle Foundation's donation in 1987 of a 550-piece collection of British silver that features outstanding works by such eighteenth-century silversmiths as Paul Lamerie. Other recent acquisitions include a granite bust of Pharaoh Seti I from the nineteenth dynasty (ca. 1303–1290 B.C.), Antonio Canaletto's View Toward Murano (ca. 1726–27), Barbara Hepworth's Figure for Landscape (1960), and Henry Moore's Girl (1932).
Holdings of eighteenth and nineteenth century and early modern European and American art were enriched by the donation in 1982 of thirty-eight Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and contemporary American paintings and sculptures from the collection of Algur H. Meadows and his wife, Elizabeth. In 1991 the museum's collections were particularly strong in the areas of Pre-Columbian, African, and contemporary American art. The James H. and Lillian Clark Foundation has donated a number of works by Dutch abstractionist Piet Mondrian to the museum, which now has one of the broadest collections of this artist's work outside of Holland. The permanent collection has been built on community support, with endowment funds established by Trudie Munger, Margaret and Eugene B. McDermott, Virginia Lazenby O'Hara, Nancy and Jake L. Hamon, Roberta Coke Camp, and Edward S. and Betty Marcus. Other major benefactors include Wendy Reves, Joel T. Howard, Cecil and Ida Green, Stanley and Mary (Billie) Marcus, and Lupe and John Murchison.
Two longstanding objectives of the Dallas Museum of Art are education through exposure to art of the highest quality and the support of young regional artists. In order to accomplish these objectives, the museum offers a full and varied exhibition schedule. Traveling exhibitions from other institutions, such as the Museum of Modern Art's 1985 exhibition "Primitivism" in Twentieth Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, are presented, as well as exhibitions mounted by the DMA staff. The museum's Concentrations series highlights the works of living contemporary artists, and several traveling exhibitions organized by the museum, notably Lone Star Regionalism, the first official event of the Texas Sesquicentennial (1986), and Visions: James Surls, have focused attention on the quality and diversity of the work of Texas artists. The museum's interest in education is further evidenced by its Gateway Gallery, an entire wing devoted to education programming, with studios for art activities, interactive exhibits, and a children's library. A noncirculating research library is also available to the general public as well as to scholars, and a full schedule of activities is presented in the auditorium. Music, film, dance, and multimedia presentations are offered, as are more traditional lectures, gallery talks, and tours.
Since 1988 the museum staff has been particularly active in organizing exhibitions. By 1991 the staff numbered nearly 200 and was supplemented by the Dallas Museum of Art League, a source of volunteer support since its establishment as the Museum League in 1938. In 1991 a $30 million expansion was designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes. Construction began that same year, and the Nancy and Jake Hamon building was completed in 1993. With the addition of the new 140,000-square-foot wing, the museum underwent a restructuring. It now features minimuseums, with the old gallery housing the Museum of Africa and Asia, the Museum of Europe, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The newly completed Hamon building houses the Museum of the Americas, which has art ranging from Pre-Columbian to the mid-1940s. The Hamon building also contains the Resource Center, where classrooms provide hands-on experience with objects of art. A computer system in the museum enables visitors to enter the name of an artist or period and find where the work is located in the museum.