Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dallas on a Saturday in March (might be a little NSFW)

Robert Boyd

(Continued from Dallas on a Friday in March)

Where Friday had been sunny and beautiful, Saturday was rainy and cold. But that didn't keep the custom/classic car people from filling the lot of Four Corners Brewing. This was an unscheduled stop--I was driving east on Singleton and saw them. Pulled a u-turn and checked out some of the best art I saw all day.

Note the "swamp cooler" on the side of this car. A lot of the vehicles here had these primitive air-conditioners mounted on their passenger doors .

The cars seemed about equally split between muscle cars made into low-riders and classic 40s and 50s cars. I was especially pleased to see all the vintage pick-ups. And there were several young women present like the one at the top of the post dressed like 50s bad girls. I guess this is the custom car version of cosplay? If so, I approve.

I also liked how the car clubs had their own matching mechanics shirts. I think contemporary artists should consider forming into similar clubs (with similar matching shirts).

Some people wouldn't really call this art. Maybe a kind of craft. Let's face it--no custom car show is ever going to be listed in Glasstire's calendar section. But it is art. There is a great section in Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees (1982), the biography of Robert Irwin by Lawrence Weschler, that deals with this:
"Of course, what's going on is such situations is precisely an artistic activity. A lot of art critics, especially New York Artforum types, have a lot of trouble seeing the validity of such a contention. I once had a run-in with one of them about this--this was years later, in the middle of the Ferus period. [...] We got going and ended up arguing about folk art. He was one of those Marxist critics who like to think that they're real involved with the people, making grand gestures and so dorth, but they're hardly in the world at all.

"Anyway, he was talking about pot-making and weaving and everything, and my feeling was that this was all historical art but not folk art. As far as I'm concerned, a folk art is when you take a utilitarian object, something you use every day, and you give it overlays of your own personality, what it is you feel and so forth. And a folk art in the current period of time would more appropriately be in the area of something like a motorcycle. I mean a motorcycle can be a lot more than a machine that runs along; it can be a whole description of a personality and an aesthetic. 

"Anyway, so I looked in the paper and found this ad of a guy who was selling a hot rod and a motorcycle. And I took the critic out to this place. It was real fortunate because it was exactly what I wanted. We arrived at this place in the Valley, in the middle of nowhere, and  here's this kid: he's selling a hot rod and he's got another he's working on. He's selling a '32 coupe, and he's got a '29 roadster in the garage. The '32 he was getting rid of was an absolute cherry. But what was more interesting, and which I was able to show the critic, was that here was the '29, absolutely dismantled, I mean, completely apart, and the kid was making decisions about the frame, whether or not he was going to cad plate certain bolts or whether he was going to buff grind them, or whether he was just going to leave them raw as they were. He was insulating and soundproofing the doors, all kinds of things that no one would ever know or see unless they were truly a sophsticate in the area. But, I mean, real aesthetic decisions, truly aesthetic decisions. Here was a 15-year-old kid who couldn't know art from schmart, but you couldn't talk about a more aesthetic activity than what he was doing, how he was carefully weighing: what is the attitude of this whole thing? What exactly? How should it look? What was the relationship in terms of its machinery, its social bearing, everything? I mean, all these things were being weighed in terms of the aesthetics of how the thing should look. It was a perfect example.

"The critic simply denied it. Simply denied it: not important, unreal, untrue, doesn't happen, doesn't exist. See, he comes from the world of New York where the automobile... I mean, automobiles are 'What? Automobile? Nothing.' Right? I mean, no awareness, no sensitivity, no involvement. So he simply denied it: 'It doesn't exist.' Like that: 'Not an issue.' Which we argued  about a little on the way back over the Sepulveda pass. 
"I said, 'How can you deny it? You may not be interested, but how can you deny it? I mean, there it is, full-blown, right in front of you, and it's obviously a folk art!'
"Anyway, he, 'No, no.'
"So I finally just stopped the car and made him get out. I just flat left him there by the road, man, and just drove off. Said, 'See you later, Max.'"
Robert Irwin FTW!


OK, now I was going to see some alternative art spaces, even if it killed me. I knew 500X was open because their sign had given Saturday hours. That was my first stop. The metal exterior made it look like a typical storefront gallery in terms of size, but it seems they have the whole building to use as they please. There were several galleries, some quite large. There were multiple shows happening all at once. For that reason, it reminded me a bit of Lawndale Art Center in Houston.

Elaine Pawlowicz, Pet Warranty, 2014, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

The big show on the ground floor was a group pf paintings by Elaine Pawlowicz. She states her influences are outsider art, Chicago Imagists, surrealism and several others. I think those influences show in Pet Warranty with its weird forced perspective and colors.

Elaine Pawlowicz, Cactus Ball, 2014, oil on canvas,48 x 48 inches

Less so in Cactus Ball, which appears to be aiming more for prettiness. But the problem I have with both paintings is that Pawlowicz's painterly ambitions surpass her technical skills. Both of these paintings would have more oomph if they were convincing images, but her painting of three dimensional things in space is awkward. None of those parrots is quite right, and the figure standing behind them is especially awkward. The position of that hand and the way it's painted doesn't look like a real hand. Now we've come a long way from requiring verisimilitude from painters--that was rarely a concern of the Chicago Imagists, after all. But when Roger Brown needed to paint a hand, it looked pretty much like a hand. Indeed surrealism works best when its dreamlike images seem real.

Cactus Ball is a perfect example of this. Imagine a sphere of flowering cactus plants floating in front of you, about ten feet wide. If you saw such a thing, in a dream perhaps, you'd probably agree that it is a surreal image. But Pawlowicz doesn't paint a convincing sphere. The cacti on the edge of the sphere should be facing out and not toward the viewer. There should be a sense of the center projecting towards us and the edges receding. Cactus Ball just doesn't look like a ball.

The was some humor in some of her paintings of animals, and her intense coloring has appeal, but as a whole, these paintings didn't work for me.

Elizabeth Hurtado, Foci II, 2014, white recycled garment bags, arm knit,  five stitch rows

Upstairs was an installation by Elizabeth Hurtado called Portal that consisted of two large discs, one white and one dark brown. The one above is Foci II.

Elizabeth Hurtado, Foci I, 2014,  recycled garbage bags, arm knit,  five stitch rows

Elizabeth Hurtado, Portal, 2014

The two discs are rugs knitted from material associated with garbage. So I think we're meant to think about the material and the process. But for me, the two large discs, one black and one white, laid on the parallel wooden floorboards, has a mysterious presence. The elemental shapes, the opposing colors; it recalls Malevich and Richard Long. I liked being in the room with them, walking around them. I liked that they were vortices. The work has the appeal of some minimalist works in that the two discs are defined as art in part by their relationship to the architectural space where they are. And the material suggests post-minimalism. And finally, these plastic-bag knit rugs are similar to actual circular knit rugs--which remind me of the kind of home-made rugs my grandparents had, but which these days you are more likely to find on Etsy. It was their qualities as particular objects installed in a particular place that I found exciting.

Before I left, I asked the attendant if he knew wherethe Reading Room was. It was just around the corner. I don't know why my GPS couldn't find the address on Friday. Unfortunately, it was not open. Strike two.

There were several exhibits opening that night. The first was over at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary. The exhibit was Inversion of the Sacred by Masami Teraoka. This Japanese-American artist combines western and Japanese art in the pieces in this exhibit, which take the form of large altarpieces (similar to the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck). But writing this does not prepare one in the least for the utter insanity of these pieces. Take a look.

Masami Teraoka, Eve and the Pope's Walking Stick from The Cloisters Last Supper series, 2009-2014, oil on panel with gold leaf frame, 120 x 120 x 3 inches

We see that Teraoka is not just creating a pastiche of the Renaissance altarpiece (down to the gold leaf) but also the erotic Japanese silkscreen print, or shunga. Above and beyond the collision of those two classic forms, he paints many of the women in the pieces as modern porn figures--by having them clothed in sexy lingerie or fetish wear, for example. It's a gloriously insane mash-up of disparate elements.

Masami Teraoka, Inversion of the Sacred from The Last Supper series, 2009-2014, oil on panel with gold leaf frame, 120 x 120 x 3 inches

The obvious point is to suggest that the church is hypocritical about sex. If Teraoka were a French surrealist in the 30s, I would say he was being deliberately blasphemous as a provocation. But I don't think that's exactly what is going on here. He states, "My Cloisters Last Supper – Triptych Series addresses Catholic clerical sex abuse. Underlying this theme, I see an authoritative institution trying to dictate individuals’ sexual relationships, gender and morality. To bring out such compelling cultural issues and put them on the Last Supper table may be an appropriate place to start a dialogue – to investigate the anatomy of these abuses." OK sure, but these paintings don't seem to me to be about anger or condemnation. They are too titillating for that, too erotic. I don't think the viewer is meant to be outraged; on the contrary, I think the viewer is meant to look at them with a big grin while exclaiming, "Outrageous!"

Masami Teraoka, Madonna and Geisha Pieta from The Cloisters Last Supper series, 2009-2014, oil on panel with gold leaf frame, 120 x 120 x 3 inches

That said, if the MAC invited Bishop Farrell of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas for a private viewing, or better yet, showed the work to William Donohue of the Catholic League, real outrage could be generated. But for me, a secular and somewhat jaded art viewer, the work seemed delightfully naughty, like The Virgin Spanking the Christ Child before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, and the Painter by Max Ernst but combined with an eroticism that recalls de Sade. And this connection makes me want to label the work surrealism. It's hard to do surrealism in the 21st century without it seeming a bit trite. But Teraoka overwhelms us with the size of these pieces and the sheer quantity of perverse images. The work makes an impact. In that way, I'd relate it to the work of Paul McCarthy or Jake and Dinos Chapman. And that art is not for everyone, obviously. But there is a part of me that likes to be shocked--that likes to exclaim, "Outrageous!"

Terrell James, Reason, 2013, oil on canvas, 66 x 66 inches

Next I went to see another of the Houston artists showing in Dallas. Terrell James was having an opening at Barry Whistler Gallery. The show was full of brightly colored abstractions like Reason. I don't know where she started out as an artist; she is much younger than the generations that pioneered abstract expressionism and color field painting, which her work reminds me of, but she continues that tradition of abstraction. I see echoes of Helen Frankenthaler, Clyfford Still, Hans Hoffman and Dorothy Hood in her work, particularly in her use of broad flat areas of color, vigorously applied.

Terrell James, (left) Divided Sight 7, 2013, Chinese watercolor on paper, 30 x 22 inches and (right) Divided Sight 6, 2013, Chinese watercolor on paper, 30 x 22 inches

This flatness was especially emphasized with James' Chinese watercolor paintings. I asked James what "Chinese watercolor" was, and she told me that they were literally watercolor paints she bought in China. They have a gouache-like quality. What struck me about these paintings, which invariably would consist of areas of more-or-less flat color underneath a layer of thin black drawn lines, is how much they seemed like silkscreen prints. They had that bold, poster-like quality, and the intensity of the colors reinforced this.

If you like abstract painting like I do, this is a good show to see. The Houston artists I saw in Dallas--James, Joseph Havel and Geoff Hippenstiel--represented our fair city well.

Francis Giampietro, Before and After installation view, 2014

The next stop was Beefhaus, which is the exhibition space for the art collective Art Beef. (Why is it that two of the alternative art spaces in Dallas are called "haus"?) Beefhaus a small storefront that hasn't been seriously remodeled from whatever it was before (it even has a large, walk-in safe), and based on Francis Giampietro's show Before and After, artists can use the space as they will. That's a useful freedom to have. On their page, Art Beef has this statement:
ART BEEF is a collective of artists based in Dallas, Texas interested in challenging notions of authorship and market structure, while questioning the forms of programming most often associated with other artist-run spaces, galleries, organizations, and institutions. While individual artists ourselves, Art Beef is not intended to serve a platform for our own respective practices. This collaborative project is, therefore, a problematizing exploration of artists as curator without the constraints of either a commercial or not-for-profit art space, examining the status and function of art, particularly within the city of Dallas.
They get International Art English extra points for the use of the word "problematizing."  And kudos for combining a humorous name, Art Beef, with a humorless statement. Anyway, Giampietro's show was not humorless, but it was obscure.

Francis Giampietro, Before and After installation view, 2014

Like these three jars of liquid on this easel. What were they? I was a little worried that they may be filled with urine, but I went ahead and smelled them anyway. It was beer. (Whew!) And then there was the hole in the wall off to the left. People would peer into it but not cross the threshold for some reason. That little bit of floorboard along the bottom seemed to act as a kind of psychic barrier. They could see a shelf in the other room with a jar on it. The jar was filled with something dark.

Francis Giampietro, Before and After, 2014

If one went ahead and walked into the room (which I did, of course), this is what you saw. The label reads, "ONE WINTER'S BEARD."  It was funny to me that people were reluctant to step across that border, and even funnier was what actually was in the room.

But that didn't mask the basic opacity of the show. What were these stamped patterns on the wall? Why was there a stretched piece of pig-skin on the wall? What did the badly framed photos of Renaissance frescos signify?

Francis Giampietro, Before and After, 2014

I thought the pigskin might have something to do with football, which Giampietro had touched on in earlier work when he was a student in Houston. But he explained that the whole show was about Pope Francis and the man from whom the Pope chose his name, Saint Francis of Assissi. The green shapes on the wall are Pope Francis' crest. The reproductions of the fresco were from a cycle on the life of Francis, taken from Flickr images.

I have to admit I didn't find this explanation very illuminating, but more important, I would never have guessed it if Giampietro hadn't told me. I don't mind the exhibit being a headscratcher--it's an understatement to say that Giampietro's work rarely lends itself to easy interpretation. But I don't think it quite had the oomph of his earlier work. It felt coy and tentative in comparison.

Giampietro told me the Reading Room was having an opening that night, which explains why they had been closed earlier. Third time was a charm--I finally got to see it.

The Reading Room

This is what the Reading Room looks like from the outside. You can see that it is quite small. Inside, they were displaying a work by Nicolas G. Miller. I can't find much about Miller online, but he seems to be an artist from Marfa, where he has had several shows. This show was pretty spare (but given the tiny space it was in, not excessively so). It consisted of a sculpture (which was actually a big white subwoofer playing sounds), an LP record, and a print.

Nicolas G. Miller, Common Sense, 2014, Audio Engine S8 powered subwoofer, plinth, cables, aromatic cedar, low frequency effects tracks from Spielberg filsm, 60 exhibition copies of the Common sense vinyl record

The room was crowded with talking people which made the sounds from the subwoofer inaudible. Occasionally there was a low rumble, but I think that was thunder coming from outside. Let's face it--opening night is never a good night to experience sound art.

Nicolas G. Miller, Five Rows of Four/Ferns, 2014, screen print, 22 x 30 inches

The record itself was a 33 rpm record in a limited edition of 190. You could buy a copy for a mere $20, which I did. So now I have a copy of barely audible lo-frequency sound effects from Steven Spielberg movies. It's an object not really to be listened to (even though I did because I have that responsibility as a critic). It's more about the idea of what sounds are on the record than the actual sounds.

At this opening, I met up with Jim Nolan who had come to town to help hang Giampietro's show, and he invited me to join him a few Dallas-area artists (including Justin Ginsberg--half of Apophenia Underground, whose show I saw the day before--and Sally Glass, publisher of Semigloss magazine) at a nearby bar. They wanted to go check out a closing night party at Ware:Wolf:Haus, which appealed to me since that was another space I had tried but failed to visit on Friday.

We crossed the bridge over to the west and made our way to the gallery. The closing party was pretty much over, but they kept the doors open for us (we had called and said we were coming by). The show that was ending was Things and Place by Randy Guthmiller, Allison Ginsberg, Matt Koons and Alex Revier.

Randy Guthmiller, three shape pieces

Randy Guthmiller makes a zine called Shapes, which is pretty much just what it says--page after page of various shapes. He says he was influenced by that great shape-maker, Elsworth Kelly. He had a bunch of shape pieces up at Ware:Wolf:Haus. They seem to be shapes drawn on a computer and then printed large. Sometimes the colors are solid, but often they have some repeating texture.

Two pieces by Matthew Koons

Matthew Koons is also intrigued by shapes and also (apparently) uses computer software to create his work, but his images are more complex that Guthmiller's. They often employ photographic source material and are designed to have a quasi-three-dimensional look of pyramids, diamonds and cubes. There is kind of a 60s science fiction/psychedelia feel to them--they could be cover images for a Michael Moorcock-era issue of New Worlds or an early J.G. Ballard novel. Guthmiller chose the artists for the show, and one can see why he relates to Koons' work.

I only got to see it briefly, but Things and Place was quite nice. And this flexible art space, Ware:Wolf:Haus, was full of possibility.  Jim Nolan had been particularly impressed with the grassroots art spaces in Dallas when he had been a resident at CentralTrak. He asked me why Houston didn't have more artist-initiated spaces like this. Part of the answer is that Houston does have such spaces: Scott Charmin Gallery, El Rincon Social, Alabama Song and Skydive (which admittedly has been somewhat dormant lately). But the Dallas scene seems in some ways more simultaneously more sophisticated and more energetic. But maybe that impression is a product of me sweeping in over a weekend and seeing a whole bunch of stuff all at once. But it nonetheless suggests that Dallas is doing important things. Houston has long assumed a sense of artistic superiority in Texas that at this point can't be justified. What Dallas has going on is different from Houston, but in no way inferior.

That was the end of my Dallas art tour, but I was to make one more eventful art stop on Sunday in Waxahachie.


  1. I think you've come down a little too hard on Elaine Pawlowicz's work although I believe you're correct in every way except proportion. To some degree ambition is laudable in itself, esp. ambitions that go against the grain and would do the artist no commercial favor. Whereas Terell James, whom you've reviewed favorably, is producing work that might be regarded as exceedingly predictable where one to imagine work to produce for easy entry into an art career. Indeed, looks like he's rep'ed internationally.

    By the same token, as much as I appreciate and like Geoff Hippensteil's work his reference or 'homage' to Cezanne is a tad meretricious. I don't think he has the process wherewithal to claim such kin.

    1. Thanks for you response--I love it when people disagree with my opinions and offer up reasons why. One problem with my account of all this work is that it was a drive-by. I saw a lot of art in two days--probably too much--and wrote too briefly about what I saw. That can certainly lead to overstatement.

      One correction to your comment, though--Terrell James is a woman (an easy mistake to make given her unusual first name).

    2. Well shit, thank you. Keep on truckin'.