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Dallas' Best Visual Art of 2012

"Aragh" by Morehshin Allahyari and Richie Budd
"Aragh" by Morehshin Allahyari and Richie Budd

Mixmaster art critic Betsy Lewis picks her favorite works of the year:

BEST PIECES

"Aragh," Morehshin Allahyari and Richie Budd, from "Monstrous Coupling" at UT-Dallas

Allahyari's and Budd's "Aragh," from UT Dallas' high-spirited exhibition "Monstrous Coupling," mixed political commentary with simplicity of execution and a complex concept. Three mundane objects -- one containing the body sweat of a worker at a Persian Gulf offshore oil rig, one containing the body sweat of a worker at an undisclosed Shell oil rig near Weatherford, and one containing motor oil -- were enclosed in clear plastic boxes on three plain pedestals.

Because the display was contained and elevated, they were being displayed treated as relics, addressing the threat of reliance that involves all of us, especially we energy-proud Texans.

Kink by Ernesto Neto. Image by Kevin Todora, courtesy of the Nasher Sculpture Center.
Kink by Ernesto Neto. Image by Kevin Todora, courtesy of the Nasher Sculpture Center.

"Kink," Ernesto Neto, from Cuddle on the Tightrope" at the Nasher Sculpture Center

With its crocheted spider-web wall and squishy-spine footpath, it took a few minutes to realize "Kink" was really just a giant vagina for the masses. (The artist is Brazilian. I rest my case.) "Kink" was made specifically for its exhibition space inside the Nasher, and was the only piece in the exhibition Cuddle on the Tightrope. Watching two little boys gleefully, mindlessly disappear down the long, pink vertical folds was like watching two gleeful, mindless little sperm on a race with destiny. If every vagina was this much fun, it could turn me off the dudes.

"Demon Inside," Kevin Parmer
"Demon Inside," Kevin Parmer

"Demon Inside," Kevin Parmer, social media

Given the amount of time most of us spend online, it shouldn't be surprising that a handful of local artists are using social media to sell their work directly to social media followers. Parmer has been posting his work on Facebook for a few years now, and it has been a pleasure to watch the evolution of his sexy, tight, in-your-face collage series.

Using vintage magazines as the meat for careful, painstaking incisions, Parmer packs a single frame with images that, as in "Demon Inside," start out vaguely familiar then, in an instant, turn jarring . If you simply must view his work in a traditional setting, a comparable piece based on Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" is on display now in the Dallas Museum of Art's staff show.

Also great but I don't have a photo: "Diamondback Wire" and "Diamondback Wire Neg" by Bob Wade with Rachel Wade; "War Dance" by Robert Barsamian, on view at Conduit Gallery through January 5th.

"Blue Movie," Michael A. Morris
"Blue Movie," Michael A. Morris

BEST GALLERY SHOWS

Michael A. Morris: It's Just Meant to Be at Oliver Francis Gallery

Among the hardest-working players of the year was Michael A. Morris, and this exhibition last February was my introduction to his work. Morris and OFG's Kevin Ruben Jacobs packed the gallery with video firepower, leaving just enough space to mix in consumer media fixtures from recent history and Morris' beautiful, engrossing stills. Add experiments with film stock and a let's-bash-organized-religion charm, and you've got my favorite show of 2012.  

Russell Young in front of "Only Anarchists Are Pretty"
Russell Young in front of "Only Anarchists Are Pretty"

Russell Young at the Goss-Michael Foundation

Given that the name "Goss-Michael" so frequently translates to "star-fucking," it was no shock that the work of British artist Russell Young is in the collections of Brad and Angelina and President Obama, or that the content of this particular show last spring included portraits of Mick, Elvis, and Sid Vicious.

But the front gallery was a different beast, a sketchy beast. In the series called "Only Anarchists Are Pretty," colorless images of women in bondage were scattered over seven huge enamel screen prints. My first impression was "edgy," but after a while, I realized that maybe these women were not enjoying themselves and I got freaked out and went to look at the shiny pictures of celebrities in the back gallery, but it was too late - those seven panels were in my head, and I'd have to walk back through them to leave the gallery, and they'd be in my head for a long time after. That's art, baby.

"Girl with a White Dog," Lucian Freud
"Girl with a White Dog," Lucian Freud

Mark Manders: Parallel Occurrences/Documented Assignments at the Dallas Museum of Art

This weird show overlapped with the blockbusting Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition down the hall. If the Gaultier show was the ballbuster, this Manders show was the mindfucker. The gallery spaces transformed into rooms of a factory, drained of color and proportion. It's not clear what this factory environment was trying to manufacture, but its vertical fragments of human figures, amorphous blocks not fully committed to be dogs, and a cat cut in half -- yeah, it was once a living cat -- made for one hell of an interesting afternoon.

Dallas' Best Visual Art of 2012

BEST NEW SPACE

Outside. Here's why: - "Expanded Cinema" video art on the exterior of the OMNI hotel - Chihuly at the Dallas Arboretum (though Chihuly Nights had a big lighting problem when I was there) - "Seventeen Hundred Seeds," a temporary, site-specific, public art project by Robert Hamilton and Cynthia Mulcahy, wherein a team of farmers tended an empty lot in Oak Cliff until an army of sunflowers bloomed there - Art collective In Cooperation With Muscle Nation lounging in bed in the middle of the Arts District during Aurora Glimpse 2012

"Untitled (Apse)," Adam Rowlett
"Untitled (Apse)," Adam Rowlett

BEST NEW ARTIST

Adam Rowlett

UNT grad student Adam Rowlett had a solo show called "Gothic Abstract" at Mercantile Coffee House up until the coffee house closed halfway through the show's run. Ro2 Art Downtown offered their Akard Street location so Rowlett could see this exhibition through. His work is an alchemical hybrid of shapes, lines, and visual references to cathedrals, but those signs are dallied with, obscuring any associations in delicate materials, exacting artistic precision, and the resulting stark, stand-alone beauty.


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