There are still a handful of dreamers in Dallas, and they're not all starry-eyed lottery players, or dot.com entrepreneurs, or the founders of Legend Airlines, for whom "a wing and a prayer" proved no match for Southwest Airlines. Dallas isn't Disneyland, or Camelot, or Oz. Dr. Jacob Kupersztoch found this out the hard way, around the same time he discovered you can't fight Dallas City Hall. Yet he's given himself the next three years for his dream of a Latin American art gallery to take flight, however turbulent the take-off has been.
Kupersztoch, 56, had planned to ease into a second career as an art dealer in Dallas by setting up a gallery space in his home on Shadybank Drive in Prestonwood. He took early retirement in September 1999, after 18 years as a professor of molecular biology and microbial genetics at UT Southwestern Medical School; installed tasteful track lighting in a large, white room near the front of his house; and rekindled his lifelong connections with artists, private collectors, and gallerists in his hometown of Mexico City. His Polish family moved from Europe to Mexico in the 1930s and established and ran Galeria Mer-Kup there for 34 years. Kupersztoch's dream was to return to his artful roots, "my other passion," and establish a home gallery that would be a "gateway for Latin American art into the U.S." He expected to build a reputation, get his new business off the ground financially with low overhead, and ultimately move into commercial space in an established art neighborhood such as Fairmount Street or the Wilson Historic District.
The idea of a "home art gallery" sounds innovative for Dallas, and particularly one with a Prestonwood address; in retrospect, it was too good to be true. Kupersztoch, who had gone to the city to ask for a street parking permit for the fledgling Adani Gallery's first opening night in December 1999, was unpleasantly surprised when the city came back two days later and cited him for operating a business in a residential neighborhood. "They gave me a very bad time," he says. "One neighbor had complained, so I spoke with her and tried to explain that an art gallery is not a supermarket. Some days no one comes. And opening nights are only once every couple of months." Kupersztoch got nowhere, he says, with his neighbors or with the city, although they did agree to cut him some slack and give him several months to operate out of his house while he searched for commercial space. Adani Gallery, named for Kupersztoch's sons Adam and Daniel, re-opened in September 2000 in a retail space on Alpha Road, one block east of Nordstrom's at the Galleria.
The storefront space tucked in between a dentist's office and a brokerage firm is quiet, cool, and white. The thundering hordes of Galleria shoppers haven't discovered Adani Gallery yet; the only car in the parking lot this Saturday morning is Kupersztoch's. Museum-quality paintings by textbook-lauded artists hang on every wall: Gunther Gerzso's geometric abstracts, David Alfaro Siqueiros' gripping portraits, Nicolas Moreno's naïve landscapes, Francisco Zúñiga's soft-edged renderings of corpulent peasant women, Rufino Tamayo's odd and appealing figurative work. Kupersztoch's Mexico City connections have garnered this surprising amalgam of work by artists who are called "national treasures" in Mexico; before Adani Gallery, Mexican art of this quality could be seen only at the Dallas Museum of Art or in the private collections of people such as Stanley Marcus, whom Kupersztoch says is a passionate Latin-American art collector who was instrumental in bringing 1988's Images of Mexico exhibition, featuring Gerzso, Diego Rivera, and Siqueiros, among others, to the DMA. "The contribution of Latin American artists to contemporary art is clearly acknowledged by major museums, galleries, collectors, and auction houses," Kupersztoch says, although it's under-represented in commercial galleries in Dallas and misconstrued as a stereotypic, homogeneous genre by all but the art historians. What North Texans know about Mexican art, you might say, could fit in a styrofoam tortilla warmer.
"Mexican art is not only Frida Kahlo," Kupersztoch says, citing perhaps the best-known Mexican artist as he launches into a quietly and skillfully persuasive lecture, worthy both of a college professor and a man who grew up among the art of Mexican's elite muralist school. "I want to give the people of Dallas an overall view of the heterogeneity of this work. It is very expressive art, full of emotions. It is sensitive and sensuous, very broad and very rich. But there is no singular look or a single artist that defines it." Kupersztoch plans to integrate artist talks and lectures by other Latin American art experts into the gallery's calendar. "So many people don't know what to expect when I talk about Mexican art. I want to educate them, but at the same time, this is a business. It's not a crusade. I want to teach, but I have to sell in order to stay open." So far, he says, his customers have been mostly friends and fellow professors, but he hopes his upcoming show of Zúñiga's drawings and lithographs will bring in new people. "I want Mexicans who live in Dallas to come to this gallery and feel proud of the production of their countrymen," he says. "Also, I want to make this gallery one of very good art that happens to have mainly Latin American artists. In that sense, it will be interesting and appealing to everyone."
Francisco Zúñiga's work hangs in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, in Mexico City's Museum of Modern Art, at Harvard's Fogg Museum, Belgium's Middleheim, and Japan's Open Air Museum. Kupersztoch knows the artist's son, the publisher of Zúñiga's art books, and private collectors in Mexico City who are in the mood to part with some of their work. He has assembled a collection of 30 drawings and lithographs for a January-February show of Zúñiga's rarer works on paper. The artist is best-known for sculpture, carving in onyx or casting in bronze life-sized figures that Kupersztoch says are archetypal of the women of Southeastern Mexico.
Most of Zúñiga's images are female figures with Mayan characteristics, which the artist described as "a continuous representation of femininity." Some are simple and stoic, some caress infants, some squat or lie against indeterminate backgrounds. All are rendered with a simple grace, with lifelike, mottled flesh reminiscent of Renoir's portraits, and great, hulking girth like Fernando Botero's overblown models. In "Mujer con Fruta, 1966," Zúñiga depicts an overweight woman of peasant stock gently and mindlessly fondling an orange. In "Ritual, 1968," two elderly women pose like sacred statues under a mystical veil. "Zúñiga represents a woman's powerful strength and matriarchal capacity," Kupersztoch says. Dallas' fickle art crowd may test the gallery owner's own strength of purpose and ability to nurture an appreciation for masterworks from across the border. Still, Kupersztoch has already tangled with city bureaucrats, red tape, and snooty neighbors without giving in or giving up; compared to that, how tough could the gallery-going gringos be?
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