The Mac-inations

The McKinney Avenue Contemporary has survived a turbulent birth, but its artistic mission remains more confused than cutting-edge

This is really the party line about the MAC, but in fact, there are those who feel that as the MAC has gained stability, it has become the very thing DARE was formed to rebel against: an institution, part of the Dallas art establishment. Supposedly, the MAC is eager to engender debate and even controversy. "We were picketed? Did we tape it?" asked the excited Albritton when told that a group came to the MAC to protest what it had misconstrued as a show "celebrating" suicide. The group stayed, liked the photos, and went home happy on the bus.

In fact, the main problems with the MAC's programming have stemmed from intricate insider arguments--objections to shows like the upcoming David Byrne exhibit, which some feel is too glitzy for the MAC. Or this fall's exhibit of ex-SMU art professor Roger Winter's landscapes, considered by some to be too tame for the MAC. Neither of these exhibits originated from the Artist Advisory Committee. But neither did the MAC's Sun & Star exhibit, Contemporary Japan: The Culture of Apocalypse--and no one's complaining about that.

Contemporary Japan, the MAC's contribution to the celebration of Japanese culture that absorbed Dallas-Fort Worth arts institutions last year, pleased even those who disagreed with the top-down way in which it was conceived. And it's difficult for an outsider to see much wrong with it. Not only was the exhibit's work daring and exciting, it compared well with everything else that Sun & Star brought to Dallas. Brettell says, "Momoyama at DMA, for instance, was a huge, commodified culture exhibit. We wanted to do something that contrasted with that at the MAC, to point out the internal contradictions of contemporary Japan, take a less worshipful approach to Japanese culture. We were able to put this exhibit together with very little money and very fast."

It was precisely the kind of exhibit that the MAC wants to present--eye-popping and thought-provoking--with the kind of Gen-X sensibility that the MAC would like to attract. In fact, with Contemporary Japan, they found just the Gen X-er they needed. A big part of the reason the show worked so well was David Meyerson, Mort and Marlene's twentysomething son who had lived in Japan several years and recently moved back to Dallas. With Brettell's encouragement, Meyerson got involved with the MAC, and it was his Japanese contacts that pulled together the exhibit. As it turned out, if the Contemporary Japan exhibit had done no more than involve Meyerson, it could have been considered a MAC success. Right after Thanksgiving, the Meyerson family offered the MAC a three-year membership challenge grant: $25,000 a year for three years, which the MAC was encouraged to match two-to-one with memberships. According to Theresa Jones, one month later the MAC had raised $35,000.

David Meyerson intends to stay involved with the MAC because, he says, it allows him to. "It's unique for an institution to be as open to people being involved and getting your hands on it for an opening," says Meyerson. "You can't do that at the hallowed Kimbell, for example, where you need a Ph.D. to be on the board or whatever."

Meyerson likes the loose, fast, creative entrepreneurial process in place and is baffled at how Dallasites have kept the MAC "at arm's length." He is also fully aware that his name can bring them closer. "I'm in an awkward position, because our standard position in town as donors is anonymous, but our name does lend a certain potency. We wanted to show that the MAC is serious. My parents thought the architecture seminar was outstanding, and they wanted to show their support and invigorate membership."

The Meyersons' name and gift may have inspired art collectors to open their eyes and wallets to the MAC, but the MAC still has a rocky relationship with local artists. "One of the biggest problems since its inception is how local artists have responded to the MAC," says Whitenack. "Because a lot of programming has showcased artists from elsewhere, there's a feeling of disenfranchisement among area artists."

Dallas artists do whine a lot, although no one would allow themselves to be quoted saying that. But that's not necessarily bad. Art consultant Murray Smither, whose hands-on knowledge of the history of Dallas art institutions reaches far beyond that of anyone at the MAC, points out, "Institutions grow out of discontent with old institutions. In New York, they bitched about the Whitney, so Marsha Tucker opened the New Museum. Now they complain about that."

At any rate, MAC advocates like Whitenack insist that the MAC's mission statement does not ignore Dallas artists at all. In fact, Brettell points out, part of its identity is to be "one of the only artist-controlled, artist-driven spaces in the U.S." But he and other board members believe that the MAC offers something besides exhibit space for local artists.

"The MAC provides our best shot at providing cutting-edge, contemporary art, film, literature, that all work together to bring an understanding of what's going on in contemporary art," Whitenack says. "It's a safe place for unsafe ideas--or not unsafe exactly, but ideas that aren't 'fully cooked' yet, not completely resolved. There's room left for a lot of experience on the part of the artist and the audience. Dialogue is the most important part of it."

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