Our year in Dallas visual arts
Lists may be the domain of the internet age but it’s not a stretch to imagine our journalist brethren from the rather more distant past making lists of things every now and again. And perhaps, just as in the 21st century, the best time of year for list-making came just as we prepare to start a new year.
More than anything else, the making of lists is a way for each of us, both individually and as a group, to mark time and record, for posterity, the events of the year. After all, as many things as we read, eat, see or make in any given year, it would be nearly impossible to keep track of our consumption if we didn’t write things down.
Instead of a list of our favorite things, we decided to sum up a few of what we think characterized and composed the year of 2014, a few greater themes, if you will.
Take it all with a heaping helping of salt though, the caveat being that while I’ve been an arts lover, advocate and student, my entire life, I’ve only been attempting to keep track of the Dallas arts world exhaustively for a grand total of three months.
So here goes nothing.
There may be greater markers of the long-term viability of an arts scene, but a few Dallas/Fort Worth arts scene veterans celebrated venerable anniversaries this year and we would be remiss if we overlooked them. Fort Worth’s long-standing William Campbell Contemporary Art is still going strong after forty years, Nancy Whitenack’s Conduit Gallery hit 30 this year and Brian Gibb’s Public Trust turned 10. The McKinney Avenue Contemporary also turned 20 this year and I think it’s safe to say, since all of these spaces represent an entirely different vertical in the Dallas art world, that Dallas’ art scene is not only healthy and maturing, but it’s diverse.
There’s always an interesting tension between a museum’s support for local talent and its mission of exposing its audiences to nationally and internationally known artists. This year the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth cultivated a synergy between both missions with a two venue retrospective of the work of David Bates, an artist D Magazine critic Peter Simek posited is the most successful Dallas artist ever (Bates was born in Dallas and studied at SMU with the inestimable Roger Winter). Known more for his painting than his sculpture, Jeremy Strick, the Director of the Nasher Sculpture Center, engaged in a bit of revisionist history at his venue, showcasing examples of Bates’ rather less well-known, but no less intriguing, sculptural practice. From his beginnings chronicling rather more benign subjects such as nature and portraiture, to his later work which was heavily influenced by the tragedy surrounding Hurricane Katrina, David Bates undoubtedly left his mark on Dallas’ painters and even the national scene. Hats off to the museums for investing such a wealth of time and resources on one of Dallas’ most beloved artists.
Real Estate and Art
Big business has always done well supporting the arts in North Texas, the Dallas Arts District wouldn’t exist without it, but the last several years have witnessed an interesting trend, specifically in the big business world of commercial real estate. It’s not just Dallas, and while I haven’t had much time to take a wider look at the trend, enterprising, worldly commercial property owners across the country seem to have finally grasped the strategic benefit of supporting the arts on a more grassroots level. Specifically in Dallas I’ll cite Scott Rohrman’s 42 Real Estate, which after quietly buying up a number of properties in Deep Ellum over the last several years in the interests of a redevelopment project, engaged artists Justin Ginsburg and Jeff Gibbons of Apophenia Underground in a project they called Deep Ellum Windows. Whiteboxing is a typical real estate marketing tool, if you make a space presentable, people are more likely to lease. This year, Rohrman, with the help of some very talented artists, took that concept to the next level in a mutually beneficial arrangement, allowing artists to transform vacant storefronts with ‘pop-up’ exhibitions which, although commercially only benefitting one party, provided space and publicity to local artists.
I don’t expect this trend to go anywhere anytime soon, what I do hope however, is that the business owners and real estate executives can fine-tune their arrangements to somehow better serve their cooperative artists commercially. If nothing else at least it’s good for PR.
The Year of Islamic Art at the DMA
We’re a few years into the tenure of Maxwell Anderson’s run at the Dallas Museum of Art but the big news has not stopped. We got free admission at Dallas’ largest museum this year and the massively successful Isa Genzken traveling retrospective. More importantly, however, the Dallas Museum of Art received a long-term loan of one of the world’s largest private holdings of Islamic art. In 2012 the DMA appointed their first Senior Advisor for Islamic Art and inaugurated the DMX Program which facilitates loans in exchange for conservation expertise. The Keir Collection is only the beginning of what these new developments presage for the future of the museum. This year the DMA also presented Nur: Light in Art and Science from the Islamic World, introducing Dallas audiences, many for the first time, to an incredible array of art and scientific objects from Islamic culture. I can’t wait to see where they go next.
The rest of the city finally starts talking about something besides the Dallas Arts District/The rise of non-commercial art
Sure, there’s a large subset of the population that still has no idea Dallas has an arts scene apart from the museums, but we’re not talking about those people. Despite the fact that a number of artists I’m about to mention have been working in Dallas for a number of years, I would posit 2014 marked a watershed year of sorts for enterprising artists. I’ll call 2014 the year of the non-commercial art event.
Artists Michael Mazurek, Jesse Morgan Barnett and their co-conspirators, staged a number of diverse, well-reviewed shows for DB 14, Art Pena produced a surprisingly successful array of shows, composed of both art and music, in warehouses throughout west and east Dallas, Jeff Gibbons and Justin Ginsburg’s Apophenia Underground showed art throughout Deep Ellum storefronts and Karen Weiner’s Reading Room showed some of the most powerful work Dallas has seen, just to name a few.
All of these endeavors, despite vast conceptual differences, found common ground in the rejection of the status quo. Some art isn’t meant to make money. It’s something we here in Dallas may have known all along, but this year the idea seemed to coalesce, with artists throughout the city staging shows just for the hell of it. If we looked into it, I’d venture a guess that “DIY” may have been one of the most Googled terms in 2014 here in Dallas, it sure got thrown around a lot. The trend is probably unsustainable (at least at its current level), but it injected the Dallas scene with a jolt of energy and maybe, just maybe, convinced a few of our young artists to stick it out a little longer.
Vapid Art Destroyed the Dallas Contemporary for a Number of Months
I like the Dallas Contemporary, always have, always will, but (and I’m not the first to say this) the last two, big-ticket exhibitions have been a disappointment. Peter Doroshenko and team do an excellent job supporting the careers of Dallas artists, offering an unmatched venue for emerging artists (ie. the recently closed show of Cassandra Emswiler Burd’s exquisite tile work), but the museum/non-profit/art space (whatever it is these days) has devoted an enormous amount of space and time over the last year to two shows which I found extraordinarily disappointing. Richard Phillips and Mario Testino both have their cheerleaders and both are undeniably talented artists working in different media, but the shows both lacked, it seemed to me, a reason for being. As one Dallas writer put it, the work of Phillips is meant to look good in pictures, it’s the post-internet art we all so love to malign. Loris Gréaud is taking over the museum after the first of the year, which will hopefully inject the venue with a dose of some much needed conceptual-driven work. Let’s hope that’s a sign of what else 2015 has in store for the exciting space.
George W. Bush Paints
How could you forget? Earlier this year the international art world and beyond lost its shit over the fact that former president George W. Bush was a hobby painter. His first ‘show’ was, naturally, right here in Dallas, at his presidential library on the SMU campus. It was such big news that even Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz flew in to review it. I have to say, I don’t see what the big fuss was about. So the rich guy likes to paint and he just happens to have a library of his own in which to showcase his work, big deal. Anyways, love it or hate it, it certainly created a buzz, even spawning a satirical show at Dallas’ CentralTrak curated by Morehshin Allahyari and Julie McKendrick. I personally look back and wonder if anyone else is currently wondering why we all wasted so much time talking and writing about the show, but hey, that’s just me.
Dallas Museums/Galleries Employ Artists and we’re all the better for it
Relatively speaking, I’m new to the Dallas art world, so while this may not be a new trend, it’s something I became hyper-aware of while getting to know, specifically, Kevin Rubén Jacobs while writing a story on the Goss-Michael Foundation’s FEATURE program. While we bemoan the lack of financial support for young artists in Dallas (and beyond), and it’s certainly not an undeserved critique, Dallas’ arts institutions should be commended for providing full-time employment to artists when they can. Jacobs started out in Dallas running his own space at Oliver Francis Gallery before starting at the Goss Michael Foundation where he may have single-handedly changed the Foundation’s reputation in the local community thanks to the FEATURE program, which offers wall space and mentoring, of a sort, to young, emerging artists. And while there are few young artists and curators who have quite the influence at their institution as Jacobs has at his, they’re employed nonetheless. The reality is, the days of surviving solely as an artist are probably over (except for a very, very select few), and what better way to earn the money it takes to survive than by working with and for artists?