Pillsbury: Go, boy
Call it insecurity, or the kind of intense inadequacy that makes the school bully lash out at the class Einstein. Call it some irresistible urge all humans have to topple the mighty, or even some perverse fantasy fueled by a very basic instinct -- envy. Call it what you will, but whatever it is, it takes over when you're talking to the polished and perfectly elegant Ted Pillsbury, a man of immense accomplishment who, again, has the North Texas art scene by the tail. You want to see him sweat, discover some chink in his art-professional armor, find a glimmer of imperfection, witness a simple slip of the tongue. You want his impeccable manners, his consummate erudition, his eloquent speech, and his vast intellect to be interrupted. You begin to wonder what it would be like to see Ted Pillsbury drunk.
You want to see this international art player and local legend staggering, slurring, and slobberingly sloshed, lounging on some sofa, hair mussed and unable to complete a sentence. Perhaps this is just out of meanness, or out of some sense of real-world order that dictates how nobody deserves to be this smart, this savvy, this perfect, this powerful. You want to make sure this guy's the real deal, and there's no surer way to separate the original from the forgery than with truth serum -- several Sauza shots or umpteen martinis. You want to see whether Ted Pillsbury has feet of clay.
Not in this lifetime; more's the pity. Every time you run into Pillsbury -- giving an art lecture at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, narrating some exhibition's audio tour at the Kimbell, writing commentary in art catalogs, cruising local art studios for undiscovered talent -- you get a consistent, and consistently impressive, impression. As you realize that his alleged arrogance is really only savoir faire and that he comes by his sophistication honestly -- thanks to a blue-blooded family, an Ivy League education, and top-of-the-art-world professional experience -- you change your mind about wanting to knock him off his high horse. You decide you really want something else. You want to establish a camaraderie with this guy -- get him on your level, get him to let his hair down. And, let's face it: You want the former director of the Kimbell Art Museum, former private consultant to Steve Wynn's let's-bring-the-Louvre-to-Las-Vegas Bellagio Hotel, and the last, best hope for the top commercial art gallery in Dallas to be some guy you can relate to.
Pillsbury's been in the spotlight lately, not-so-quietly climbing up on yet another career-achievement pedestal, forming the third side of a love-hate triangle with fellow art-smarts Gerald Peters and Talley Dunn. Peters, you'll recall, used to own Dallas' top commercial art gallery, and Dunn used to run it for him. Dunn resigned last summer and began a legal battle against a noncompetition clause in her contract that stood in the way of her selling art on her own in Dallas. Dunn had the loyalty of many of Gerald Peters Gallery's top artists and collectors, and in the face of a competitive threat that could destroy his top-producing gallery, Peters made what art-scene insiders say was his only possible move in a tricky chess game with Dunn.
In what could be a checkmate-worthy strategy, Gerald Peters gave Ted Pillsbury a full-fledged partnership in his Dallas operation. Pillsbury and Peters Fine Art was born, about the same time Dunn Brown Contemporary slurped out of the birth canal farther uptown. After months of frantic speculation about whether -- or how -- Gerald Peters could recover in the face of Dunn's troublesome departure, along comes a silver-clad knight on a shiny white charger to rescue the linchpin of Fairmount Street's "gallery row" and open up a brave new world of commercial art in Dallas. And, as far as what the very-sober Pillsbury can and probably will deliver, this city hasn't seen anything yet.
"Look at what's happened in Dallas in the last few months," Pillsbury says. "We've gone from Gerald Peters Gallery to Dunn Brown Contemporary to Pillsbury-Peters. Where Dallas had one gallery, now we've got two, and one of them may soon be even bigger." Pillsbury is hinting at expansion, or even relocation, of the current home of Pillsbury and Peters Fine Art, which still has the Gerald Peters Gallery sign out front.
"If things go well," Pillsbury continues, "we would like to have more space to work with and show more art, keep a bigger inventory, and be able to have one or two or three exhibitions at the same time." He says there's no room for expansion on the current site, but he's looked at other buildings. "Nice buildings," he says, "but nothing's really available right now."
Pillsbury's also hinting at other future plans, including a killer David Hockney show in January, the first Pillsbury-Peters exhibition to come out of Pillsbury's own brain. Hockney burst on the British pop-art scene in the 1960s -- complete with peroxide hair, granny glasses, gold lamé jacket, and easy charm. He's still a big art deal, and Pillsbury says it's a shame he hasn't shown more often in Texas; he aims to put right such a wrong. "He's shown very well on the West Coast and the East Coast," Pillsbury says, "and his theater works came to the Modern in Fort Worth about 10 years ago as part of a traveling show."
Pillsbury, with a lifetime of art connections and international respect, is about to show Dallas an artist who's bigger than David Bates, bigger than James Surls, and even bigger than Vernon Fisher. This point will not be lost on Dunn, who took those three highly successful, former Gerald Peters-exhibited artists with her to Dunn Brown. And the Hockney show should end any speculation that Pillsbury-Peters will become a sort of remote retail outlet for Peters' huge and diverse collections housed in his museum-sized gallery in Santa Fe. No way, says Pillsbury.
"This gallery will be independent [from the Santa Fe operation] and autonomous," he says. "I'm a partner now. I'm not only devoting my expertise, time, and enthusiasm, I'm devoting my own financial resources into the venture. That makes my stake greater, in the sense that I'm going to be devoting my full-time energies into Pillsbury and Peters. Gerry will remain involved, but I'm going to be the CEO."
Never let it be said, either, that the new executive-in-charge at Pillsbury-Peters will forsake his personal fervor over local talent for the blockbuster show. His second exhibition for the new year will highlight the works of Bill Komodore, a fixture on the Dallas art scene with a national reputation who hasn't had a solo show in town for several years.
"What I'm interested in are two things: quality and value," Pillsbury says. "I'm gong to be trying to identify, recruit, and attract artists that either are underappreciated or emerging talents of great quality that I think represent great opportunities and value for collectors."
To begin with, he says, he'll shoot for a "happy balance" between the work of local and regional, Texas- and Southwest-based artists, and outstanding contemporary art from anywhere else. "I'm planning to alternate exhibitions along these lines," he says, revealing that a concurrent show of William Wegman's doggie-style photography with the McKinney Avenue Contemporary will follow Komodore's paintings in late spring, 2000. "I don't want to become speculative, or get too involved just in making discoveries. If that develops, fine; but there's a great opportunity to reintroduce more mature artists. Bill's work is a perfect example. He's an outstanding talent who hasn't had a commercial show here in 10 years."
Pillsbury isn't taking credit for the gallery's current show, the soulfully beautiful Deliberations in Clay, which was curated by Dallas ceramic artist and Eastfield Community College professor James Watral and directed by gallery assistant Beth Taylor. Taylor planned the show during her lonely summer of managing the gallery after Dunn's departure and before Pillsbury's appointment.
"James volunteered to make some of his best work available and to help supplement it with Dallas-area and Texas artists," Pillsbury says. "There is a strong group of ceramic artists working in Texas." Watral, Gary Huntoon, Marla Ziegler, Piero Fenci, Peter Beasecker, Nicholas Wood, Lisa Ehrich, and Sally Campbell, featured in Deliberations, are among them. Their work highlights three sources of inspiration for working in clay. One is a traditional approach, referencing Greek and Egyptian antiquities; another is a more recent, decorative approach with objects in the Majolica tradition; and the third represents a class of artists working in clay to create sculptural forms.
"Clay is the coming thing," Watral says. "The work in this show has everything -- focus, passion, commitment to an ideal, and a high degree of refinement."
He could just as well be describing Ted Pillsbury, although it's too early to determine whether clay -- feet or otherwise -- has any direct relevance.
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