Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tooling Around Dallas in a Rental Thinking About Art

Robert Boyd

I was in Dallas last weekend to see the Ken Price retrospective at the Nasher Sculpture Center. The last time I was in Dallas, I had promised myself that the next time, I'd make a point of checking out some alternative galleries and artist run spaces. And I didn't do that. I was even planning to go to an opening at 500X, but by the time it rolled around I was tired and just wanted to stay in my hotel room and write. Next time, I promise.

So I saw some museums and nice art spaces and wandered around a bit. Last time I wrote about Dallas and Fort Worth, I had a thesis and I pushed it hard. This time around, things may be a bit more discursive, and are unlikely to gel around any solid idea. This post is more about wandering the streets of Dallas than about making a grand statement.

My first stop was the MAC--the McKinney Avenue Contemporary. Last time around I mentioned that the big institutions in Dallas and Fort Worth mostly ignored local artists. In contrast, the MAC, a medium-sized non-collecting venue, explicit includes featuring work by regional artists as part of its mission. It was established in 1994 and is located in the Uptown neighborhood. My impression is that the Uptown neighborhood is that it is pretty high-end and very urban (i.e., mostly apartments and condos, very few lawns). It feels like a neighborhood for young yuppies. There are lots of mid-rise and highrise residential towers, including a lot of mixed use buildings. And there is a free trolley that runs along McKinney that goes from the arts district 4 miles north along McKinney. This seems like the very definition of a "toy train" (down to the cutesy old-fashioned trolley cars), but it does connect a residential area to a business area, which is what you want mass transit to do.

The MAC is extremely blue

The current show is Out of Commerce, which features Texas A&M-Commerce professor Michael Miller and a group of his former students and other alumni of Texas A&M-Commerce. I had never heard of Texas A&M-Commerce before this show. I didn't even know where Commerce was (it's about 67 miles northeast of Dallas). Now the justification for this show is that a surprising number of excellent artists have come out of this program. So many that it makes me kind of embarrassed not to have heard of it. Given the people in this show, if I were a gallerist, I'd make a road trip out to see the student exhibits every year. Because you could discover the next Trenton Doyle Hancock, Robin O'Neil or Lawrence Lee.

Michael Miller creates collaged works where the elements come out of pop culture. He blows up  images (usually drawn images) so they end up having a ragged feeling to them. The work derives in a way from street art, and perhaps also from Mimmo Rotella--the ragged nature of these pieces recall decollage even though they are collages. There is some political comment--Miller seems to be mocking the kind of capitalist effusions one might hear from advocates of the "prosperity gospel." It's a message worth satirizing in Texas, where this kind of thing is quite popular on Sunday morning.

(I failed to get the titles of all the pieces in this show--my apologies!)

Michael Miller, Happiness, 2010, acrylic and fabric on paper, 72 x 72 inches

Michael Miller, Conway Heart Loretta, 2009, acrylic and fabric on paper, 44 x 35 inches

Michael Miller

Michael Miller

Michael Miller

What was most interesting about this show was seeing Miller's work in conjunction with Trenton Doyle Hancock's. Knowing now that Hancock went to Texas A&M-Commerce (BFA, 1997) and Miller has taught there since 1982, we can guess that Miller taught--or at least knew--Hancock. And given how important collage is to Hancock's work, is this something he was encouraged to do by Miller? (Or did the influence run the other way?) There are strong stylistic similarities in the work.

Trenton Doyle Hancock

Trenton Doyle Hancock

Trenton Doyle Hancock

The other artists don't have an obvious stylistic relationship with Miller. Their inclusion is justified because of the Texas A&M-Commerce connection and because they're interesting artists in their own right.

Jeff Parrott, Composition Cloth, 2012

Robyn O'Neil, A Birth in Grief and Ashes, 2008 

Lawrence Lee, Luche!, 2011 

Lawrence Lee

And remember when I said that galleries should prowl the student shows at Texas A&M-Commerce? I'm guessing that's already a thing--Trenton Doyle Hancock was reportedly "discovered" at his BFA student show, and these artists have relationships with such galleries as Moody Gallery and Barry Whistler Gallery, which is the show's sponsor. (Does this seem a little off that a comercial gallery is "sponsoring" a show at a non-profit space?)

One thing I like about the MAC is that they have a little bookstore which they stock with small catalogs of the artists they show--even if the catalogs are from other shows. I was able to pick up a Trenton Doyle Hancock catalog from a show at the University of South Florida, a Michael Miller Catalog from a Barry Whistler show, and two catalogs from recently departed Houston artists, Daniel-Kayne and Bert Long.

When I was last in Dallas, they were still working on Klyde Warren Park. This is a park that was built over a sunken section of the Woodall Rogers Freeway. The idea here is that a freeway forms a kind of barrier between two areas of a town that keeps them for interacting organically. So Uptown, where lots of people live, wasn't really connected to downtown, where lots of people work, even though the two areas are adjacent. That damned freeway was a psychic barrier between the two, despite the many bridges across the freeway.

Klyde Warren Park with the Woodall Rogers Freeway emerging from under it

It seems overly hopeful that this little park will change things all that much. We won't know for a while, I suppose. It takes a long time for people to change their habits. But while I was there, it was obviously well-used, and the presence of multiple food trucks helped to make up for the paucity of dining options in the Art District.

Klyde Warren Park

In any case, it's sure to benefit the arts district by virtue of just being there. You can go to the museum then have a little picnic in the park. The park is right across the street from the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Garden.

But when I got out of the downtown/Uptown area, things got weird. Like, what does this sign mean?

This was on Commerce west of downtown. Is it saying that art is a con? Or advertising in some very subtle way an upcoming art convention?

And I found an awesome place to buy some statues over in the design district. Say you're a fifty-five year old Dallas man. You've made a lot of money and you have a hellacious mansion out in some rich suburb. You've ditched your wife (she was old!) and got yourself hitched to a blonde 28-year-old sorority girl--hell, you deserve it, right? So how are you going to decorate the grounds of your new mansion? Well, you'll leave the details to Amber or Missy or whatever her name is. But you want to have a statue that reflects who you are. Successful. Manly. Potent. So here's the statue for you.

You can buy this bronze stallion at ASI Art. They have a huge selection of bronze decor and statues--they claim to offer "the most extensive collection of bronze statuary and fountains in the world." It's an amazing yard, well worth checking out. And if our Dallas success story doesn't find that a rearing stallion quite captures the massiveness of his prowess, he can get exotic with his erectile symbolism.

Yes, you can buy a life-size bronze rhinoceros at ASI Art.

I was in the Bishop Arts District when I saw these two refugees from the Great Gatsby, and they weren't the only ones I saw. Was Sunday "Dress Like a Flapper" day? If so, I approve! I'll take it over Go Texan Day for sartorial flair.

Finally, I want to mention Lucky Dog Books, also in the Bishop Arts District (I think--I'm not sure where the precise boundaries are). I was able to find a bunch of interested art-related publications here, including some ancient issues of ARTLies (useful for my project to reread the as much of the original run as possible) and a relic from 1986 called Fifty Texas Artists: by Annette Carlozzi.

This well-produced survey is fantastically interesting from a vantage of 27 years later. Without knowing anything about the selection criteria, it's fascinating to see what someone then, right around the time of the Fresh Paint show, thought represented the best of Texas. A lot of names are very familiar (James Surls, James Drake, Dorothy Hood, Luis Jiménez, Bert Long, Jim Love, Melissa Miller, Nic Nicosia, etc.) and a bunch are totally unfamiliar to me. And while the art is quite varied, there is this trend of neoexpressionist painting combined with Mexican/border colors that seems to have utterly died since the mid-80s. A perfect exemplar is a Dallas painter named Martin Delabano, who had a piece called Flaming Ladder Stele in the book. Did it have lots of purple, orange and red? Check. A flaming corazon? Check. Expressive faux-naif brushwork? Check.

Martin Delbano, Flaming Ladder Stele, 1984, acrylic on wood, 82" x 36.5" x 16"

This kind of art seemed kind of funky and cool back then. Now? Oy. Delabano is still around, and you can see from his website that his art has evolved quite a long way from its faux magical Mexican neoexpressionist beginnings.

I saw a few other things in Dallas and Fort Worth, and I'll probably write about them. But the conclusion I draw from this trip is no conclusion at all--just a series of mostly random encounters. Perhaps that's the best way to see a city.


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