The Henderson Art Project Attempts to Beautify (and Market) the Bustling District

Art is so cool these days. Everyone’s got to have it.  Even whole streets, block after block, apparently need a requisite amount of it in order to fit in, or so it would seem on the newly revived east Henderson Avenue. An urban beautification effort called the Henderson Art Project has plopped a number of public sculptures on the avenue as selected by a jury. Like a mid-life crisis Corvette, the art in the Henderson Art Project is a surrogate for real sophistication:  it had better be shiny, accessibly emotive, and apparently red.

Scott Trent "Falling iBeams"

The transformation of Henderson Ave. from a not-so-safe, tire-popping pothole haven into a sort-of-edgy, see-and-be-seen, tire-popping pothole haven was a good thing. Urban revival like the Andres Brothers have godfathered there has given Dallas a totem of hope for the city’s gradual maturity into a more varied and imaginative place. The Pearl Cup makes, by my accounts, the best latte around; its workers are kind; and wow! the hand dryer in the bathroom is the latest offering from NASA, I think. Form and Sputnik Modern are wonderfully curated spots for MCM-philes. We Are 1976 just rocks. And Park is one of the wonkiest, devil ne’er care, good looking restaurants around, even if the food is meh. The gentrification (let’s just come out and say it) of the street has provided a stomping ground for a wide variety of people — the well-heeled, the Ked-heeled, the khaki-ed, the skinny-jeaned; and it has begun to suture parts of the city together: suddenly Knox and Greenville are real neighbors, even if foils of each other.

So why did the Powers That Be have to go and tamper with what was going so well on Henderson Avenue and forcibly clonk down some pretty mediocre sculpture in parking lots and vacant lots with lots and lots of fanfare?

The seven sculptures anchored down the road will sit there for two years and are all for sale, the hope of the organizers being to help “artists pursue their passions.” The work is meant to give the artists exposure to the culturati that stride down the now hip old road: each work has a plaque at its base with the name and website of the artist to connect viewers with the artists.  A weather-proof business card.

Chris Lattanzio "Yellow Rose"

It seems logical enough that in order to draw the largest amount of eyes, the work (and its signage) should have been placed near the most foot traffic, in the already developed patches of Henderson Avenue. Some of the pieces are, like a short stack of red I-beams welded together at a tilt (Falling i-beams, Scott Trent) that sits in front of a parking lot next to a new strip of restaurants and retail. But most of the selected work is situated outside the hub of new development and revitalization in a no-mans-land of vacant lots and buildings. Take Chris Lattanzio’s piece, for example, called Yellow Rose.  It’s made from bright yellow metal twisted to form a rectangle frame of a rose and it sits on the edge of a sidewalk that abuts an empty lot next to a building with a For Lease sign. Looking through the piece from the lot side across the street, Lattanzio’s yellow rose frames the lovely seediness of Fuji Sauna which offers “Theraputic Massage.” It’s a lot of work for a sculpture to try and beautify that little pocket of urban wasteland, and Yellow Rose isn’t quite up for the task.

George Tobolowsky "Outside the Circle"

Two sculptures sit in front of new apartment buildings. Michelle O’Michael ‘s Prairie Fire, a red and yellow painted metal sculpture that curves up like flames, hangs out with lease signs and rent offers in front of a modern-ish complex, doing its sinuous darndest to get new tenants. George Tobolowsky’s bronze piece, “Outside the Circle” is perhaps the best among the seven HAP winners. It’s a carved ring with tubes of metal growing out from it, and it’s nestled among native grasses and red yucca in front of a hacienda (or is it Tuscan?) style block of housing. Tobolowski’s piece has much less work to do by way of tenant recruitment than its counterpart across the street; it fits right in to the landscaping and actually looks like its placement was well-considered. And clearly this complex draws a well-coifed list of tenants already, judging by the sunglassed blondie that gave me a stern look for ogling the sculpture as she pulled out of the underground garage in her luxury vehicle. (Note: don’t look the natives in the eye.)

The placement of nearly all the work in the Henderson Art Project made me suspect a savvy business scheme in which the art acts as bait for new tenants, both in residential and commercial spaces. I could just hear the realtor walking a twenty-something through an apartment: “You’ll notice you’ll have a view of one of the HAP sculptures just outside your window…” (cha-ching, cha-ching). There is nothing so marketable as the idea of good taste.

Main image:  Juanluis Gonzalez’s Opus 1

Michelle O'Michael "Prarie Fire"

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