Scene from David Gordon Green's Prince Avalanche (2013)

Forest Fire: Has the Dallas Art Scene Burnt Out?

In addition to this week's list of new openings, our critic shares some thoughts on the current state of the Dallas art scene.

I had coffee yesterday with a curator who recently moved to town, and was trying to bring her up to speed on where the Dallas art world is these days, at least how I see it. In recounting the goings-on of the past few years, a distinct narrative seemed to emerge. Beginning 18 to 24 months ago, a rag-tag group of loosely connected artists, curators, and writers stole the art conversation away from the Dallas gallery scene. Opening galleries on a shoestring, mounting pop-up exhibitions, using connections to bring in artists from around the world – sometimes even scoring names like Josh Smith, Rachel De Joode, Triple Candy, and others – Dallas’ younger generation of artists built a homespun art scene with a depth and energy matching, if not outpacing, similar moments of ferment in Dallas in the early-1980s and late-1990s. Occasionally anachronistic, punkish, and unapologetically sloppy, but also intellectually authentic and aesthetically ambitious, the homespun scene was far more interesting than almost anything going on in the galleries.

But in the last few months, the arc of that story has changed. It’s the second straight fall weekend with a less-than-hearty run of gallery openings. And while that alone isn’t an indication of anything, looking around the city, what is more troubling is that the dampened energy is occurring at a time when many of the protagonists of the scene are experiencing moments of transition. Kevin Jacobs, the proprietor of Oliver Francis Gallery, in many ways the headquarters of the scene, was recently promoted to curator of the Goss-Michael Foundation, and with his increased responsibilities there, he says he is taking time to rethink the aim and purpose of Oliver Francis. Art Peña announced he was shuttering his Ware:Wolf:Haus a few weeks ago, and while his crew continues to host art parties around town, there is a similar feeling of pausing to figure out the best way into the next chapter.

Then there’s the loosely connected artists who once organized under the collective of collectives called S.C.A.B. Lucy Kirkman and Justin Hunter Allen have left town. The That That space has been quiet, or maybe I’m just not cool enough to know what’s going on there these days. Eli Walker’s Homeland Security hasn’t mounted anything of late. And the house in the Cedars that once housed some of the crew’s projects is now home to James Cope’s austere And Now Gallery, with its programming tied to the collector set’s social calendar. Some of these artists have migrated into the stable of Wanda Dye’s RE Gallery, and perhaps as a result, they aren’t throwing as many pop-up exhibitions and are focused more on making their own work.

There have been other decampments. semigloss. founder Sally Glass has moved to Houston, along with Bradly Brown, a member of Homecoming Committee. Other members of that collective, which once took over the DMA with Situationalism-inspired antics, are still around, but their future appears hazy. The members of The Art Foundation are still around, but they seem to have gone their separate ways, at least for the moment.  Artist Morehshin Allahyari has followed a teaching job to San Diego. And this week on Glasstire, Christina Rees suggested that Jeff Gibbons, one half of the curatorial team (with Justin Ginsberg) that mounted a year’s worth of solid pop up shows in Deep Ellum, may also be on his way out of town.

Of the scrappier, start-up spaces, Beefhaus on Exposition Blvd. is one of the few still regularly hosting shows. Of the more established, though associated spaces, CentralTrak continues to what it has done over the past few years; and Karen Weiner’s The Reading Room is probably still the best small art space in Texas. But they’re operating in what is now a quieter neighborhood.

Art scenes happen in waves, and it seems like we’re on the backside of the latest wave. There was a moment when the engine was really revving that it seemed as if this latest ground-up push could feed off the concurrent efforts of Dallas’ top tier institutions and collectors to broaden the city’s reputation as a twice-a-year destination for the jet setting art set. Could we connect the local money and the local talent? Could we get collectors to take notice of artists who choose to live here? Would the museums take notice?

For a while, the answer seemed to be yes. The DMA opened its doors to the local scene in the Dallas:SITES exhibition, and gave Stephen Lapthisophon, in many ways the godfather of the younger upstarts, a Concentrations exhibition. The Nasher Sculpture Center acquired The Art Foundation’s Fountainhead project, which effectively introduced dozens of Dallas-based artists into the museum’s permanent collection. The Power Station’s Amarillo Entropy featured artists from the area, and the Goss-Michael Foundation launched its Feature series, which seeks to give a platform to regionally-based artists. And a few artists found individual success. Otis Jones and Bret Slater are touring the world together, having just showed in Zurich. The first artist repped by Oliver Francis Gallery, Jeff Zilm, recently exhibited at New York’s Journal Gallery. And Goss’ first Feature artist, Nathan Green, was picked up by London’s Hus Gallery.

But where do we go from here? All indications are that no one really knows. Art scenes are fed by but eventually burn up their raw material. Put simply—people get tired. They need to be replaced by a fresh crop of faces. Perhaps Dallas’s energy isn’t completely used up yet; perhaps there’s a new generation waiting in the wings. I noticed 500x has restocked with a new crew of artists, so it will be interesting to see where that goes. We’ll have to wait and see.

There was a time when I believed the best way forward was to come up with some sort mechanism to provide substantial material support for artists to help sustain the scene’s momentum, something like micro-grants or a non-profit space that featured curatorial residencies to help expose more local artists to galleries and institutions in the major art centers. I thought that what was missing from Dallas was a sense that enthusiasm and talent couldn’t find real traction, whether that traction be financial support or recognition from either Dallas’ own collectors and curators, or from taste makers around the world. To a certain extent, this is true. Money is a scarce commodity for artists eking out a career in Dallas, and institutional and collector respect comes hard. But I no longer believe the best way to earn that recognition is by offering a financial or institutional mechanism to promote Dallas artists.

Money is never really the resource that is missing from an art scene. All the money in the world won’t help an art scene that lacks talent or a sense of purpose, identity, or inner meaning. But if that talent and purpose are there, money is never a real obstacle; rather, it’s just another restriction or delineating context that shapes activity. If anything, the last few years have shown that we don’t need the coffers of Dallas’ wealthiest arts patrons to open to the plebs in order to create an art scene. If anything, throwing money at an art scene can have a negative effect, institutionalizing or committee-ifying, or jury-ifying the raw vigor of an authentic drive. It was the freedom from the market – both the commercial and the pseudo market of non-profit philanthropy – that in many ways allowed for the Dallas art scene’s recent freshness and authenticity. Art was funded via bartender’s tips, or jobs sitting behind desks at local institutions, or photographing minerals for oil and gas companies.

Art can never completely wiggle its way outside the grip of the market. But art scenes are also not corporations. They can’t really be invested in. They are organic occurrences. They flame up and burn out. It’s part of a cycle that staves off atrophy, the paradox of the forest fire. When lightning strikes, it starts a blaze. It’s the beginning of the end, but it is also the prelude to new growth.

Here are the weekend’s openings: 

THURSDAY

Studio/Active: Advanced Studio Exhibition at H. Paxton Moore Art Gallery, El Centro College — Oct 2, 4-6 p.m. 801 Main St. Dallas, TX 75202.

In the Heart: Downtown Photography from Around the World by Andrew Sharum at Kettle Art — Oct. 2,7-10 p.m. 2650-B Main St. Dallas, TX 75226.

7522-Pix: The Deep Ellum Photo Challenge at Kettle Art — Oct 2, 7-10 p.m. 2650-B Main St. Dallas, TX 75226.

FRIDAY

Art in the Metroplex at Fort Worth Community Arts Center — Oct 3, 6-9 p.m. 1309 Montgomery St. Fort Worth, TX 76107.

Closing reception for Thor Johnson: Fair Game at Midway Gallery — Oct. 3, 7-10 p.m. 3809 Parry Ave. #107 Dallas, TX 75226.

SATURDAY

Traveler, Abductee, Monster, Refugee: Pastelegram no. 4 Dallas Launch at The Wild Detectives — Oct. 4, 3 p.m. 314 W. 8th St. Dallas, TX 75208.

60th Anniversary Exhibition at Valley House Gallery — Oct. 4 6-8:30 p.m. 6616 Spring Valley Rd. Dallas, TX 75254.

Michael Donjuan at {neighborhood} — Oct. 4, 6-10 p.m. 411 N. Bishop Ave. Dallas, TX 75248.

SUNDAY

NEW – USED – AMUSED: The Artwork of Anthony Dominguez at Webb Gallery — Oct. 5, 1-5 p.m. 209 W. Franklin Waxahachie, TX 75165.

Expanded Cinema, presented by Dallas VideoFest at the Downtown Dallas Omni Hotel — Oct. 5, 8 p.m. Official viewing at the base of Reunion Tower, 777 Sports Street, Dallas, TX 75207.

Comments

  • Bob

    No

  • Not Peter Simek

    you’re an idiot

  • An Artist

    Listen, art is the strongest it’s ever been in Dallas. Yes of course bring back deep Ellum windows and all the other amazing things in the spring. Yeah they existed with little monitary backing but only because all those involved were essentially volunteers, using what little money and time they had. If there was direct injection/micro grants for things like this AND spaces amenable to artistic endeavors, I’m sure it would all come back. The art in the design district is 95% designed to look good in front of wealthy people’s furniture. Most I wouldn’t call art. I feel like the tone here is “you lazy artists, get working” ok well then pay us. I think you’re the one burnt out. Nothing to write about except what once was. *sips free-trade organic kombucha*

  • Eli Walker

    These are very valid points, Peter.
    And I’d like to add that as far as SCAB goes, half of our members have moved or are moving away.
    It gets a little more difficult when you have to multi-task with fewer people. But we are transitioning. We consider our members out of state still apart of our group and continue to work with them. Our operation has moved almost entirely to The Cedars and we are starting up a new venture called The Union, so expect some things to come out of that soon.
    Also, Kelly Kroener and I are running Homeland Security and setting up our schedule.

  • Jenny

    And/Or was Paul slocums space on Peak and Bryan mid 2000’s. Copes gallery is And Now……. Fact check guys

  • Christopher Mosley

    You’re right, Jenny. That’s fixed. I’m going to take the blame on this, since I pointed this same slight error out and should have just changed it as soon as I noticed.

  • Thor Johnson

    Thanks for mentioning my closing, come on out.

    – Thor

  • Timothy Steele

    Dallas never had an art scene. And all the efforts to try to make it a sheik cutting edge artsy fartsy city are a joke. Most of the money spent by the city to build and redesign or add “high class” architecture are a complete waste of money. Wish the shallow ass yuppies would all just go away.

  • Grammar Nazi

    Lol sheik