Jesse Morgan Barnett Transforms Vacant Building into Gallery for Deep Ellum Windows
Courtesy Jesse Morgan Barnett
It's Wednesday afternoon and Jesse Morgan Barnett paces through the cavernous space at 2604 Main Street, arranging his works of art.
"When you do an installation the space is always in a defensive posture," Barnett says. "The space looks different now than it will look Saturday. I like to bring in more work than I need and edit down from that."
Barnett is one of the Dallas arts community's most valuable members. A faculty member of University Texas at Arlington, co-founder of the ongoing citywide Dallas Biennial, and a multi-genre artist, he is one of the artists exhibiting in the Deep Ellum Windows show this weekend. The project, which was started by Jeff Gibbons and Justin Ginsberg under the pseudonym Apophenia Underground last year, transforms the neighborhood's vacant storefronts into pop-up art galleries. This weekend, in addition to Barnett's show, work by Kayla Escobedo, Brush Muscle and Mariko Spigner will be on display at five different spaces along Main Street.
When I meet Barnett at his space, he's growing accustomed with the space and has brought in about 10 pieces of art to begun visualizing the show. He received the invitation to exhibit less than two weeks before he would need to begin installing and selected a few older pieces to display alongside his new work.
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"When I'm working in a space or on projects, I'm always interested in finding material with an element of surprise," he says. "I like things that don't lock the viewer down into a specific meaning. I don't want to give too much context because I don't want people to have an entry point into the work that is my own."
Certainly, in the work he's already placed in the space there is a great deal of abstraction, both in the work itself and the curation of the pieces. He first walked to me an enlarged photograph of a blank piece of paper covered in streaks of highlighter. It lay on the floor in front of a foam block, a gold cardboard box and a dusty wooden carved figure.
"I'm wanting to dismantle hierarchy of materials and craftsmanship. I really like to play and experiment," Barnett says. "One piece doesn't have to anchor the show. I want them to want them to be rhizomatic in a sense. Everything is as potentially significant as everything else."
As he walks me through the space, he points out previously existing aspects of the space that he plans to address. In a conceptual art show, an overarching will always be "is this art?" But he doesn't want too many of these questions to be unintentional or related to features like the safe in the center of the room, or the Chinese lettering along the back wall.
"I guess a pure installation artist would only respond to the space in which their working. But I'm not a pure anything.," he says, noting a desire to cover the safe and paint over the lettering. "When you go to white cube galleries, you know when you walk in everything is hung at the same height, framed, this is clearly the art. You walk into a space like this and you automatically notice and have to give focus to the space."
And Barnett has. As Saturday was swiftly approaching, he was already anxious about how to address the stage that borders one wall, noting details like the patch of missing carpet and the raised edges. Across the room, he's dealing with an overhanging heat lamp, the remnants of an industrial kitchen. Although the space is a piece in the viewer's experience of the show, Barnett's emphasis is the selection of the art. His main interest is in how the viewer interacts with the work.
"People walk into a space and they like to ask artists, 'What does this mean?' And that's such a problematic question to begin with, I'm not even sure if we can condense everything so that I can say clearly, this is the meaning," Barnett says. "The dialogue, the discourse is ongoing. Meaning should be elusive. There will be a lot of questionable things in the show, like why is an image of a dinosaur next to maybe a map or a calendar? I want people to ask questions and develop their own perspectives."
See Barnett's show from 7-11 p.m. Saturday at 2604 Main Street. Stroll down to Kayla Escobedo's performance from 7-10 at 2656 Main St. and her exhibition Kayla: Now and Then, Now and Again at 2625 Main St. Follow that with Mariko Spigner's Crane at 2647 Main Street and end with art collective Brush Muscle's show at 2810 Main Street. More info.
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