Nasher Sculpture Center Launches Citywide Public Art Exhibition: 10 Artists, 10 Sites

As we suspected, the Nasher Sculpture Center announced a city wide public art initiative this morning which will feature ten newly commissioned works of art by ten local and international artists and art collectives at ten to-be-announced sites. The program is a celebration of the Nasher’s 10th anniversary. Perhaps most significantly, the list of artists that have been chosen to participate in the Nasher’s program offer a diversity of potential approaches to and interpretations of the nature and role of public art. Called Nasher XChange, the exhibition will be on view from October 19 through February 16.

We have discussed public art in Dallas at some length before, and in many ways, this city has a mixed history when it comes to public art practice. There are large monumental works (like all the Mark di Suveros and Henry Moores), the public museum approach (Northpark), memorials (JFK), and plenty of plop art — stand-alone sculptures that sit in often un-activated and underutilized public spaces (those dancing bronze children come to mind, and also, honestly, The Traveling Man in Deep Ellum). Oh, and lest we forget, the most successful, popular, and kitschy of them all: the cattle drive by the convention center, truly in a class of its own.

But there are few temporary, ephemeral, or interactive public art installations, or pieces that respond specifically to their physical location and the social environment of the city. Part of the problem is that we live in a car-driven city with few intuitive settings for effective public art. The problem also stems from how we typically commission public art. There is a lack of a diversity of funding mechanisms to support a field of art that has become increasingly diverse (and popular) in recent years. More often than not, public works consist of art that was either created independently and placed in a public setting or created by an artist who was chosen after the site and certain parameters are already set for the project.

What is intriguing about the Nasher’s project, then, is that the works will be artist-driven both in concept and design.

“This is not art produced elsewhere and dropped into a public plaza,” said Nasher Director Jeremy Strick at today’s press conference announcing the initiative. “Instead, it is art created and inspired through the very essence and part of our diverse communities. An art that reflects back on the places and its future.”

As a consequence, we can expect the pieces to respond to Dallas’ urban topography in specific and meaningful ways. Also promising is the suggestion that the project will see works installed in many different parts of Dallas — “All corners of the city,” Mayor Rawlings promised, “North, South, East and West” – and not just concentrated hubs like downtown and the Arts District.

At this morning’s press conference many of the speakers touched on why public art is valuable to a community. It “elevates” and makes art “accessible to everyone,” as Nancy Nasher put it. It also contributes economic stimulus and branding status, as Mayor Rawlings was quick to point out. “We’re closer than ever in Dallas to become that international arts city that we want to be. And believe me the world is watching,” he boasted.

But the real value of the Nasher’s program was touched upon by Jeremy Strick.

“We believe art is fundamental in creating a dialogue that raises the level of communication within a city and within an international community,” he said. “Art can inspire exchanges, opportunities and innovative methods that produce meaningful conversations in communities.”

Public art monumentalizes and celebrates, but it can – as the best of it often does – challenge, provoke, and antagonize. Indeed, many of the billboard art examples I include in this morning’s post do just that. The Nasher’s exhibition, and the considerable resources it has brought to bear for temporary public art projects, has the potential of leveraging the minds and talents of a diversity of artists from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, and nationalities to engage Dallas in a new and unprecedented way. I suppose the success of the project will be measured by just how well it is able to achieve this kind of public and critical discourse in an expansive and relevant way.

Based on the artists that were chosen for exhibition, the potential is there. Since the arrival of Strick, the Nasher’s programing has leaned towards more formal concerns about the nature of contemporary sculpture, and many of the artists included in the Nasher XChange fit this mold — artists who reshape sculpture by reconsidering form and employing both traditional and nontraditional materials, like Rachel Harrison, Liz Larner, and Ruben Ochoa. Other artists tapped for Nasher Xchange, such as Charles Long and Ugo Rondinone, incorporate a variety of media, including sound, to create participatory works. And Lara Almarcegui, a Spanish-born, Dutch-dwelling artist, is a particularly compelling choice for the Dallas project. Her work deals directly with the built environment, its physical temporality and social fragility.

The trio of artists I’m most looking forward to, though, are Alfredo Jaar, Vicki Meeks, and Rick Lowe. All three are politically-motivated artists whose work and experience indicate the potential for projects that engage with issues of race, history, community, economic inequality, and various other social realities that are both emphatically pertinent – and perennially under-addressed – in Dallas. And Dallas’ Vicki Meeks and Houston’s Rick Lowe are two artists and community organizers whose work has already made them legends in their own Texas cities. It will be satisfying to see them handed an institutional stage in Dallas.

And finally there is the news that could have been a stand-alone announcement: Good/Bad Art Collective, the fabled Denton-based artist crew that operated from 1994-2001, is reconvening for the Nasher XChange project. Featuring artists like Martin Iles, Erick Swenson, Elliot Johnson, Richie Budd, Heather Grace, and others, Good/Bad is the old foggie collective in-town, considering all of the new collective activity of late. Hopefully that will inspire them to come out roaring.

D editorial intern Christina Colavecchia contributed to this report.

Image at top: Rendering of Pet Sounds (2012) in Madison Square Park by Charles Long. Courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery/ Madison Square Park Conservancy. Photographs via.