100 Dallas Creatives: No. 18 Gallerist Jordan Roth, the Art Scene Cheerleader
Scott Wayne McDaniel
Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Let's just skip to the point we'd like to make about Jordan Roth, shall we? If a gallerist is his artists' pimp, he isn't your typical gallerist. Because Roth, who runs the downtown Ro2 Art with his mother, Susan Roth Romans, isn't just interested in the artists he represents, but in all Dallas-based artists, and beyond. If you needed a tour guide to the Dallas visual art scene, he'd be your man. You'd start in his space, where he'd introduce you to a special hive of local, regional and international artists, and then he'd be quick to direct you to numerous art spaces across the city, giving each neighborhood and artist their due.
It's rare to find someone in the art business so eager to promote the whole scene. And sincerely, too. If anyone wants Dallas art to be on the international map, it's Roth. This organic approach to building a gallery seems to have paid off. After five years in business, Roth and his mom seem to be successful and they're having a hell of a lot of fun.
Your mom's been a mainstay in the art and gallery scene in Dallas for decades, what made you want to team up with her?
I practically grew up in an art gallery. We always had artists visiting the house, I attended every opening - even led my classmates through tours at my Mom's gallery. In my mind, I always had the idea that I might be in the art business. Seeing markets and tastes change with the times, though, it was an intimidating option, no matter how much I might enjoy spending time in the a gallery and working with art and artists. So, after college, I decided to work in technology, thinking I'd build up a small fortune and then open a gallery or a hotel or something later. It was the '90s. After almost ten years working in the "real world," I decided for sure that I wanted no more of it. I approached my Mom about opening a gallery downtown, and she actually discouraged me from pursuing the industry, reminding me how tumultuous it could be (and that the odds of getting rich were next to none).
Looking back, I can understand her skepticism - I had bounced from company to company throughout my twenties. I persisted, so she advised me to work for a "big corporate gallery" to see if I even liked selling art, try to learn the business - and to talk to her again in a couple of years. I took her advice, working my way "up" at a corporate gallery, leaving as director to help open another gallery for a California investor. Several months went by, and I worked on a few exciting exhibitions - relying a lot on my mother's advice as I went along. Once it became clear that the particular gallery wasn't really a long-term option for me, I again approached her about going into business together. It was about the time of the second Dallas Art Fair, so we chose to put together a satellite fair (across the street at The Fairmont). We came up with the name Ro2 (pronounced [Row-two], shorthand for Roth Romans), thinking that we would just be testing the water. Everything rolled pretty quickly after that... We were immediately offered space for one, then two, then three galleries - before we settled into the space on Akard. It's been five years now, and we've done quite a lot.
Do you have an unspoken code at RO2 Art of what kind of artists y'all will show?
I wouldn't really say there's an unspoken code; however, we do have similar taste in art - and when one of us is excited about an artist or idea, we can usually get the other one on board. We definitely bring different things to the table - my mother has worked with artists and put together shows for as long as I've been around. Her father and brother were artist, so she knows her way around a painting. She may be able to quickly identify something I might not see, whereas I might have the patience to learn about an obscure point-of-view or dream project an artist may have. She does most of the curating and installation, I do most of the talking.
So, what kind of art do you show? We're interested in contemporary art, made by artists we're able to know on a personal level - and it does matter that we're able to build relationships with our artists. We like to show things we'd like to collect ourselves. We tend to look for artists who haven't had the chance for exposure yet. Naturally, we look for work that will stand the test of time - and we insist on only showing work that is well crafted. Personally, when I see a new perspective, I can imagine what qualities our visitors will pick up on - and it gets really exciting.
Have you been happy with the artists you've shown? After five years working together, we're very happy with the artists we're showing. It's good to get to that point, because we can focus on helping the individual artists achieve their goals - and we're able to set sights higher now that we're not "searching" for new artists. When we encounter someone either of us is very excited about, we'll start a conversation and see what opportunities might come up in the future - and gladly we have curatorial projects outside the gallery that enable us to work with new artists or a different concept from time to time.
Do you say Dallas-based or local when writing or talking about artists? Do you think there's an important distinction or is it all just semantics? Now that I think of it, I suppose I'm likely to refer to artists from the area as "Dallas-based" or "regional." I don't think of artists we show as being "local." I think that term can be limiting. And, really, every artist is local to the area where they live; but when you're considering speaking to a broader audience, the term doesn't make sense any longer - and really, artists should be thinking more globally. We keep this in mind when bringing artists to Dallas Art Fair. When speaking about an artist at the fair, I'm always interested in highlighting our Dallas artists, as well as discussing the ties to Texas that other exhibiting artists have - knowing that I'm helping build an identity for the creative community here. And for our artists, it's wonderful to see their work travel to other parts of the world - and we're always interested in seeing them exhibit in other cities.
Describe an art-filled day in the life of Jordan Roth: What spots do you always hit up? Where do you pop in for a drink in between? There's no typical day! Galleries operate on a funky schedule - we're closed on Mondays, open lots of nights, and on Sundays towards the end of an exhibition - so, it's really hard to slip into a routine. Ideally, I start the day with a nice cup of coffee, have a productive day at the gallery (new people in the door, visits with artists, good conversation), and then do something stimulating later - usually it has something to do with art, either at Ro2 or at another space. I resolve to work out a little, see more movies, a few concerts... but there's so much paperwork and emails and press releases and postcards, website work, etc. When I have time for a drink, I usually stay downtown - Some of my favorite cocktails are made at CBD and Midnight Rambler.
What do you think the visual art/gallery scene is missing? What are its greatest attributes? I think Dallas has a lot to be proud of. We have a pretty mature art scene with lots of segmentation. The established galleries are staying in business and continue to do exciting shows, and you have all of these artist-run spaces doing adventurous things as well. I would like to see more collaboration between institutions and local galleries, and I also think many people in Dallas - from the institutions, to art writers, even the collectors, take galleries for granted. I'm sometimes puzzled by the idea that collectors send advisors out to buy art instead of exploring galleries on their own.
The role of the gallery seems to be misunderstood, to a degree - Galleries have always been a launching point for the public to engage with art. But, in Dallas (right now), we have to work really hard to get collectors to "jump in." Hundreds of people will pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to attend art-related charity events, but rarely visit the galleries that show the same great artists who contribute to their cause. As a member of CADD, I'm glad to be part of a group that tries to promote patronage of art galleries - and gives back to the community. I think we've done some interesting things to educate people about the role of the gallery in a vibrant art scene... we just need more recognition from other members of the community. It was a really exciting time, showing with fellow Dallas gallerists at last year's Dallas Art Fair - our group really showed well alongside the big New York, LA, and international exhibitors.
100 Creatives: 100. Theater Mastermind Matt Posey 99. Comedy Queen Amanda Austin 98. Deep Ellum Enterpriser Brandon Castillo 97. Humanitarian Artist Willie Baronet 96. Funny Man Paul Varghese 95. Painting Provocateur Art Peña 94. Magic Man Trigg Watson 93. Enigmatic Musician George Quartz 92. Artistic Luminary Joshua King 91. Inventive Director Rene Moreno 90. Color Mavens Marianne Newsom and Sunny Sliger 89. Literary Lion Thea Temple 88. Movie Maestro Eric Steele 87. Storytelling Dynamo Nicole Stewart 86. Collaborative Artist Ryder Richards 85. Party Planning Print maker Raymond Butler 84. Avant-gardist Publisher Javier Valadez 83. Movie Nerd James Wallace 82. Artistic Tastemakers Elissa & Erin Stafford 81. Pioneering Arts Advocates Mark Lowry & Michael Warner 80. Imaginative Director Jeremy Bartel 79. Behind-the-Scenes Teacher Rachel Hull 78. Kaleidoscopic Artist Taylor "Effin" Cleveland 77. Filmmaker & Environmentalist Michael Cain 76. Music Activist Salim Nourallah 75. Underground Entrepreneur Daniel Yanez 74. Original Talent Celia Eberle 73. Comic Artist Aaron Aryanpur 72. Classical Thespian Raphael Parry 71. Dance Captain Valerie Shelton Tabor 70. Underground Culture Mainstay Karen X. Minzer 69. Effervescent Gallerist Brandy Michele Adams 68. Birthday Party Enthusiast Paige Chenault 67. Community Architect Monica Diodati 66. Intrepid Publisher Will Evans 65. Writerly Wit Noa Gavin 64. Maverick Artist Roberto Munguia 63. Fresh Perspective Kelsey Leigh Ervi 62. Virtuosic Violinist Nathan Olson 61. Open Classical's Dynamic Duo Mark Landson & Patricia Yakesch 60. Rising Talent Michelle Rawlings 59. Adventurous Filmmaker Toby Halbrooks 58. Man of Mystery Edward Ruiz 57. Inquisitive Sculptor Val Curry 56. Offbeat Intellect Thomas Riccio 55. Doers and Makers Shannon Driscoll & Kayli House Cusick 54. Performance Pioneer Katherine Owens 53. Experimental Filmmaker and Video Artist Mike Morris 52. Flowering Fashioner Lucy Dang 51. Insightful Artist Stephen Lapthisophon 50. Dallas Arts District 49. Farmer's Market Localvore Sarah Perry 48. Technological Painter John Pomara 47. Progressive Playmakers Christopher Carlos & Tina Parker 46. Purposive Chef Chad Houser 45. Absorbing Artist Jeff Gibbons 44. Artistic Integrator Erica Felicella 43. Multi-talented Director Tre Garrett 42. Anachronistic Musician Matt Tolentino 41. Emerging Veteran Actor Van Quattro 40. Festival Orchestrator Anna Sophia van Zweden 39. Literary Framer Karen Weiner 38. Man Behind the Music Gavin Mulloy 37. The Godfather of Dallas Art Frank Campagna 36. Rising Star Adam A. Anderson 35. Artist Organizer Heyd Fontenot 34. Music Innovator Stefan Gonzalez 33. Triple Threat Giovanni Valderas 32. Cultural Connector Lauren Cross 31. Critical Artist Thor Johnson 30. Delicate Touch Margaret Meehan 29. Fashion Forward Charles Smith II 28. Dedicated Artist Carolyn Sortor 27. Political Cyber Banksy Wylie H Dallas 26. Dance Preserver Lisa Mesa Rogers 25. Rob 'Ain't No Creative Like A Bow-Tie-Wearing Creative' Shearer 24. Scholar of the Stage Susan Sargeant 23. Photographer of Record Justin Terveen 22. Music Man Jeffrey Liles 21. Keeper of the Safe Room Lauren Gray 20. Playwright Jonathan Norton, Man of Many Words 19. Filmmaker and Funniest Comic in Texas Linda Stogner
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Dallas, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.