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Visual Arts

New Gallery Tureen Pushes the Envelope in Oak Cliff

The historic space on Jefferson—which currently offers a stunning exhibition of Alaska Native artist Sonya Kelliher-Combs—adds an important element to our art constellation.
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The Tureen gallery in Oak Cliff introduces the work of Alaska Native artist Sonya Kelliher-Combs. Tureen Gallery

On Jefferson Boulevard, the new gallery Tureen, the brainchild of Cody Fitzsimmons and Chris Scott, inhabits a building with tin ceilings and the original 1912 tile floor. The couple, previously based in Houston, opened the space over the summer with an ambitious exhibition that encapsulated their programming. The group show, entitled Eugenics in the Garden, criticized imperializing Western aesthetic tradition, seeing it as a dead-end.

Now, Mark (on view until Oct. 14) introduces the work of Alaska Native artist Sonya Kelliher-Combs, of Iñupiaq, Athabascan, German, Irish, Scottish, and Danish descent. Enter to find a red slash, a length of found wood coated in automotive paint that curves and tapers to a point. It looks like a wound, a gash. It could be a tusk, the relic of something animal. The artist prods the ambiguity. The supreme tactility of the materials is intrinsic to what makes this exhibition evocative. It takes on the porous boundaries between Western and Indigenous cultures, but first and foremost, in its delicate marriage of beauty and latent violence, it makes you think and feel.

Both Eugenics and Mark clinch Tureen’s spot as an important gallery in the local constellation, a serious and conceptually rigorous trailblazer off the beaten path—neither in the Design District nor the Riverfront area—gloriously fringe.

“We’re very interested in underrepresented artists and underrepresented histories,” Fitzsimmons says. “Artists who ask questions about those things.”

On the walls for the current show, the “Secrets” and “Pink Slips” series offer pouch-like shapes: reworkings of the walrus-tusk form imbued with community meaning as a shape used in parkas. In Credible Secrets, the intricate, sewn repositories blend U.S. Geological Survey maps, thread, and human hair. Others add beading techniques to walrus stomach, seal intestine, or reindeer hide. Referencing the 35 abuse claims brought against the Catholic Church by Alaska Native communities (a too-small reported number, the artist points out), the pouches walk a line between beauty and repulsion.

“A lot of times I use recycled items, found garments that I give new life to, and sometimes content,” Kelliher-Combs says.

“I’m interested in ideas of Western consumption,” she says, and “Western definitions of things from the land, including Indigenous people and ways. Categorizing and quantifying.” Also of interest is the very idea of a collection, “because a lot of our material history, for Indigenous people, minority populations, is housed away in these huge collections far, far away from us, without access.” In her recent “New Artifacts” series, she’s playing with ideas of definitions, “And who has the power to define what things like artifacts are.”

This is not the first time Kelliher-Combs’s work has broached abuse, marginalization, and violence. Her pieces in a 2018 group show entitled The Un-Heroic Act: Representations of Rape in Contemporary Women’s Art in the U.S.—phallic shapes fashioned from sheep rawhide and stuck with porcupine quills—drew critical acclaim and slipped into a New Yorker musing by Jia Tolentino that spoke to the #MeToo movement.

It’s also noteworthy that she is currently being exhibited in four locations: at Tureen in Dallas; at STARS gallery in Los Angeles, which is co-presenting Mark; at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, in a show that touches on “gut knowledge,” exploring its resonance as a vehicle for Indigenous voice and highlighting Kelliher-Combs as one of the only artists working with marine mammal gut; and in the New York group exhibition Young Elder, a tongue-in-cheek presentation of the very relevant tension and synchrony possible between old and new.

Such dialogue is exactly what Fitzsimmons wanted. Fitzimmons began with a career in fashion branding. But drawn to the art world, he soon moved from New York back to Houston, where he held a job at high-caliber gallery Hiram Butler. Then he decided to open a gallery where he could hone his distinctive vision.

During the pandemic, Fitzsimmons pivoted to art advising, and in those long months, he and Scott, who is an attorney, plotted their move to Dallas. The duo have been avid art collectors, and their taste preceded them. Their Houston townhouse was featured in that city’s Paper City magazine in a feature whose photos bear witnessing.

“They’ve amassed an audacious array of paintings, photographs, and sculptures . . . often provocative, sometimes startling, and occasionally disturbing,” the author writes. Their aesthetic for the gallery, Fitzsimmons is quick to point out to me, is no different.

“Freedom is very important to me,” Fitzsimmons says—hence his decision, unlike many gallerists, not to represent a stable of artists. Instead, he prefers a model in which he is not in competition with galleries from New York, Los Angeles, or elsewhere. If he wants to show their artist, he can more easily do so. “The gallery doesn’t have to see me as a threat,” he says. This, he hopes, will allow him to be nimble, original, and ambitious in his programming.

Scott grew up in Oklahoma and has Cherokee heritage, making Tureen the only Indigenous-owned gallery in Dallas. And certainly, this underlies the connection with Kelliher-Combs. “But also, they’re sensitive human beings, who are looking at the whole picture of our country and the world and who are offering an opportunity for voice and for dialogue that’s not always front and center. So that’s beautiful,” she says. “These are people who are doing the work to create the dialogue and the opportunities.”

In many ways, this historic space that used to be Oak Cliff’s first pharmacy—with its chipped tile and tin ceiling—is aesthetically suited to its mission to create space for unspoken, neglected, or buried narratives. “Yeah, they didn’t whitewash it,” Kelliher-Combs says when I point this out. Neither the space nor the stories.

It’s an interesting and rich time in Kelliher-Combs’s career; but in Dallas’ art scene as well.

“And all this is the result of [Scott] Googling me,” she says. Of the duo, in her eyes, taking a chance.

I should also note that Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith’s retrospective exhibition, recently at the Whitney Museum of American Art, opens at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth one day after Tureen’s exhibit closes. And so the relay of a double narrative unfolds. Kelliher-Combs is the one to bring it up, this overlap. “Why has it taken so long?” she asks me of Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith’s solo as we end our conversation.

Indeed, why?

Author

Eve Hill-Agnus

Eve Hill-Agnus

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Eve Hill-Agnus was D Magazine’s dining critic from 2014-2021. She has roots in France and California and during her time at D wrote…

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