Against the wall

Despite regional rivalries and hard times, the Fall Gallery Walk has picked up its pace

Then came the bust. Nationwide, financial conservatism gave way to a near-devastating crash of the gallery culture. From New York to Los Angeles, people stopped buying art, and dealers suffered. Dallas was no exception. As the '80s drew to a close and the early '90s seeped in, galleries folded -- DWGallery, Nimbus, Beverly Gordan -- and DADA's ranks dwindled. The fall Gallery Walk continued not so much in its original fighting spirit but rather as a deflated token gesture.

It would be 1995 before the remaining members of DADA would rouse themselves from this swamp of defeat and rally their own. By then, the economy was well into an upswing -- it was time to start acting like it. Patricia Meadows, founder of the Dallas Visual Art Center, took the helm, members redoubled their efforts, new dealers were drafted, and DADA experienced a renaissance. Fall Gallery Walk took on not only the symbolic significance of this rebirth; it seemed injected with a celebratory ease that has managed to swell these past four years.

Of the original 12 members, only a few remain -- just as with any art industry, players both thrive and die with the times. Veterans of DADA, including AfterImage, Edith Baker, and Valley House, carry the cachet of landed gentry by now; the ongoing success of members such as Barry Whistler, Conduit, and Craighead-Green keep things stable; and new kids occasionally join up. DADA, with an all-time high of 31 members, has relaxed its parameters for membership -- no reason to kill off the cause in the name of snobbery -- though the quality of venues remains unflinchingly elevated. New president Benito Huerta (CRCA Gallery at UT Arlington) and administrative assistant Cidnee Patrick (Edith Baker Gallery) have inherited a powerful, multifaceted organization.

Tom Pribyl's skewed interior landscapes will be up at Edith Baker Gallery.
Tom Pribyl's skewed interior landscapes will be up at Edith Baker Gallery.
The MAC makes everything old new again with its exhibition of Dallas painting, circa 1889-1945. Pictured: Olin Travis' "Mayor of Hoover City" (1929).
The MAC makes everything old new again with its exhibition of Dallas painting, circa 1889-1945. Pictured: Olin Travis' "Mayor of Hoover City" (1929).

Of course, old rivalries die hard. Opening first or at least tied for first has been more important than affording arts patrons the leisure of seeing everything over the course of a weekend. "It was great when theirs was Friday and ours was Saturday," says Pam Campbell, who is also a member of the Fort Worth Art Dealers Association, "because that way we could go to theirs." Campbell says that as recently as last year, DADA's Meadows led the charge to return to alternating nights, but couldn't get her fellow members to adopt the strategy. "We should get together," Campbell says.

This year's Gallery Walk (or Night) is officially a one-day event on September 18, though open artist receptions often take place the night before, making it more or less a gallery "weekend." To confuse things even more, most exhibits have extended runs well beyond the one-day event.

Wherever you end up, whether it's Dallas, Fort Worth, or Arlington, for that matter, the ambitious often choose the afternoon for one city and after-dark for the other. All 31 DADA venues open their doors on September 18, and open their arms to any and all who care to glimpse the thriving Dallas arts scene surging throughout the city. Non-DADA members, some truly impressive art venues in their own right, join DADA's cause on this day -- whether invited or not. Fort Worth's fall gallery season debuts with a different flavor than Dallas'. For one thing, there are fewer commercial galleries in Fort Worth, so the museums and university galleries get on board, and so do several retail-oriented arts spaces, including frame shops and some restaurants. The Fort Worth Art Dealers Association is more egalitarian than its counterpart, going so far as to list non-gallery and non-member venues on its "Gallery Night" brochure. Cowtown takes the same tack as Dallas, though, in an explosion of big group shows, so that nearly every local artist has some place to be seen.

Both DADA and FWADA have maps with a quasi-complete list of participating art venues available at any member gallery. On that, at least, they can both agree. Amon Carter, for whom one of Fort Worth's art museums is named, may be turning over in his grave at even this modest level of harmony. He'd probably enjoy Gallery Night in Fort Worth, but if he were forced to attend Gallery Walk in Dallas, he'd probably pack his own wine and cheese.

Gallery Walk Venues

Not surprisingly, it's the established venues -- the ones that keep contemporary art surfaced and breathing all year long -- that grab the bigger crowds during Fall Gallery Walk. Summer is merely a wind-up for these dealers, and as the cooling autumn descends on brain-baked Dallas, such high-profile, visitor-seducing spaces bring out star players to greet the restless masses. It's not just the most intense window of an art-dealer's fiscal year, but the most aesthetically ripe. Tried-and-true veterans of a gallery's stable enjoy the exposure of this timely spotlight, as do the dealers' most charismatic one-night stands and newcomers. The variety is impressive: Notice this year's pronounced leaning toward sculpture and photography. (What -- is painting dead? Again?) Installation is finally making itself at home. And -- go figure -- thematic concerns with space, time, and progress invade this season just before the new millennium.

The following is a summary of the sharpest work out this round, presented by the Dallas Art Dealers Association, Fort Worth venues, and alternative spaces. We've given you a key to help you prioritize the shows -- but hit any one of these spaces in these different areas, and you won't go too wrong.

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