By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Tinkerbell, or one of her ilk, has been to Plush, Randall Garrett's new alternative art gallery on South Akard Street that's attracting all sorts of people, real and imaginary, including fairies. She's left a trail of pixie dust and two empty Heineken bottles on the seedy sidewalk in the rundown, light-industrial neighborhood just inches south of downtown Dallas, and she has even puked her dainty guts out in the back corner of the urban art space. There's the evidence, all over the floor and halfway up the walls (Pepto Bismol-pink muck, drying in irregular rings tinged with glitter), and Garrett hasn't even bothered to clean it up.
"That's actually the residue from my last performance piece," Randall Garrett says, shattering the fanciful imagery. "I embraced the hostage mentality, chained myself to a chair, and had the audience splatter me with paint balloons and glitter." It's hard to believe that this mellow, articulate, soft-spoken artist and drawing instructor-by-day for Richland College would delve into such a rank example of exhibitionism and bondage, clad only in white boxers in front of a gaggle of apprehensive onlookers. But Garrett has the photos to prove it, and he says the crowd was hard to motivate at first. "They hung back," he says. "This sort of concept is fairly new to Dallas." Garrett, who holds an MFA from the University of North Texas, frequently expresses himself through performance art and quirky drawings on paper. He opened his gallery on March 18, calling the first group show New Pollution. "I was trying to stake out the gallery's direction with that title," he says. "I am consciously trying to create a space that puts the modernist white-cube gallery of the 20th century in the past. I wanted to create a space that was infiltrated by art that pollutes culture and is polluted back every time, I guess."
Garrett believes Plush's focus on the state of art-making at the beginning of the third millennium should be supported by "high levels of cultural noise"; hence, his emphasis on live music there nearly every weekend, a general club ambiance for the space, and performances. He'll pay for the music events out of his own pocket as long as he has to, because, he says, art sales are not his current emphasis. "We have momentum, and that will build over time," Garrett says. He and his partner, Joe Allen, a fellow at Houston's Glassell School who opened the Purple Orchid gallery last spring in another part of the building, lease some of their square footage to artists for individual studio space. So far, that's been enough to cover most of the gallery's expenses. "I pay as I go," Garrett says. "I'm not using savings. I'm just scrambling and working with every bit of resources I can come up with right now." Plush is about to open its fifth exhibition, and if Garrett has his way, he'll gradually woo the Dallas art unbelievers, the curious traditionalists, and possibly the bargain hunters into a very different kind of art experience. "I'm in it for the long haul," he says.
He'll have to be, and it will be a wonder if Plush survives to the end of Garrett's two-year lease. Something always happens to true alternative art spaces in Dallas. Either they close, like Russell Hobbs' Theater Gallery in Deep Ellum; its half-hearted reincarnation, Deep Ellum Center for the Arts; and gallery: untitled in Exposition Park, or they change, like David Quadrini's Angstrom Gallery at Parry and Exposition, whose edgy successes over the last few years have turned the gallery into a showcase for the blue-chippers of nontraditional art. Galleries can't afford to take too many chances here, it seems, and, unless the proprietor has a trust fund, they can't exist if they don't sell art. Garrett's self-proclaimed "labor of love," if it stays true to its creator's vision, is likely to be a losing proposition. But if commitment counts for anything, count Randall Garrett in.
Slouched on the yellow (and yellowing) synthetic velour couch whose covering was something of an inspiration for his gallery's name, Garrett says he isn't trying to recreate any sort of art space he's ever seen--either in New York City, or Los Angeles, or the highly unlikely environs around Canyon, Texas, where he grew up. "Honestly, I'm more inspired by a trip down to Oak Cliff to the second-hand shops and the low-rent clubs," he says. "I would take that sort of a day trip for my cultural edification in Dallas over a trip to the museum any day." Fifteen feet above his head, the permanence of exposed steel girders seems too rigid for the fluid space, too real for a conceptual gallery. Art hangs on flimsy, honey-colored paneling and on a simple Sheetrock wall in an alcove upstairs. "These are the first gallery artists," Garrett says of the second-story work. Plush's current stable includes former Good/Bad Art Collective member Jesse Meraz's glitter-and-glue on canvas paintings; amazingly gouache-like, computer-generated digital prints by Dwayne Carter; Corinne McManemin's intricate oil/enamel abstracts on board; and Garrett's own drawings. The only out-of-towner represented by the gallery is Jim Houser of Philadelphia, who paints idiosyncratic characters made meaningful with text. For skateboard-nut Houser's Plush opening, Garrett lured a crew of thrashers into the space for rowdy ramp demonstrations that literally shook the paintings off the walls.
For the upcoming show's opening night, which will feature performances by rap poets Kuntaq and Univers and an appearance by University of Texas at Dallas art professor Greg Metz's skull-art car, Garrett is showcasing Meraz's brand-new "Glam" series alongside a 30-year retrospective of Dallas painter Marcia Alaniz's naïve yet imperious work. He selected them because he thinks the pair will make a "plush" show. "The legacy we've had in the past was art that was taken out of culture," Garrett says. "It was elitist, hung in a pristine white space and presented as a sacred object. I want to go in the total opposite direction. I want art that is tough enough to exist out on the streets and in culture, and to influence that culture itself. I think art has that potential."
Garrett seems tough enough--and smart enough. But it'll take more than wishing--and fairy dust--to convince the local art mob.