Walking into Circuit 12 Contemporary, the first thing you see is the above photograph. It's titled Sundowner, I've been told by one of the participating artists - the exhibition's curator actually, Gregory Ruppe. But he doesn't tell me whose piece it is. Well, he tells me at first, but then he says the artists are avoiding individual affiliation and want the exhibition to be taken as a whole, yet fluid piece. That's some version of the mumbo jumbo journalists were fed before the exhibition opened last weekend. Mumbo jumbo most of us noted. There are 11 artists in the exhibition, about half of them local, and if you're a local art consumer, you'll probably recognize which piece belongs to whom - anonymity be damned.
Sundowner is interesting. It's one of the more interesting exhibitions I've seen at a commercial gallery all year. Because it's not commercial. Not at all. The artists on display here are professional unfinishers. You'll find a mug adorned with a rat tail, goops of paint on plastic, and a large sheet covered in spurts of language. I didn't write any of it down, but in my memory it was mostly slang and aggressive.
When I walked into the gallery the first thing Circuit 12 Contemporary's Gina Orlando (she runs the space with her husband, Dustin) said to me was, "This was just something we had to do, you know?" That there are commercial gallerists who feel the urge to display work that's effectively unsellable in Dallas speaks volumes. It's something Christina Rees spells out on Glasstire, where she notes that this exhibition "could have been installed in a warehouse, a storefront, an artist's studio, even a house." And it's true that we've seen shows that look a lot like this one in spaces like Beefhaus, or as part of Deep Ellum Windows.
But the point is - at least for me - is that it wasn't in a warehouse. Say, for instance, you were down the way at Laura Rathe Fine Art's gallery opening and you wander over to Circuit 12 and peruse. The gallery, who for its first few years brought a Miami aesthetic to Dallas, has now replaced its eye-popping colors, neons, or psychedelic street art patterns, with what could be mistaken for a MFA thesis show, part sculpture, part video art, and what's that draped over a wall? Just the popular rapper, Drake, throwing up middle fingers printed onto a blanket. And it's happening in a reputable gallery, from which you could launch a stone at Christopher Martin Gallery. Preferably a stone painted in colors that might fit in a Highland Park bathroom, matching one of Mr. Martin's endlessly predictable paintings.
But it's this milieu that also causes me to question the quality of the work on display here, the value of it all, or what this exhibition even means. Which is a line of questioning the artists showing here might quickly reject. The show was initially meant to be shown simultaneously in Japan, Mexico and Switzerland, rather than the revised plan to travel the work to each place. That the work in this exhibition could be fabricated four times and shipped overseas signals the lack of value of the art here. There are no precious objects, the message more important than the medium. Well, not the message really, but the thought or the thought it provokes. In some ways the pieces seem to communicate with each other. But mostly it's anarchic. And if you start to think of it as a rebellion against the world it's engaging with it becomes wildly interesting. Those middle fingers Drake's tossing up on the blanket might be as much directed at the viewer as they are at the textile shop down the street.
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It's that same irreverence though that is at times off-putting. A well-crafted, addictive video in the back room (which I clearly recognize as being made by Ruppe) is sexy for two minutes, as an obscured attractive female sheds sunglasses, then mesmerizing the next with a scene of planetary isolation fading into a frenzied rock concert. But in the same room as the video are two pieces that seem to spoof gangster culture. At one point I found myself muttering, "What the fuck."
The work is abstraction and it's perfectly weird. In retrospect, I halfheartedly hate it. In moments, I feel mocked. In other moments I feel one with the artists - although I've forced myself to have a viewer-centric experience, disallowing myself the opportunity to ask any of the artists about it. But for 10 days I've been trying to figure it out. Since reading the press release, I've been waiting for the payoff of the art, that cathartic, lightbulb moment when I "get it." And I don't think it's coming. Then again, maybe that is the catharsis. Art doesn't have to elucidate a piece of life previously in the shadows. Sometimes art inhabits the confused, unlit corners of meaning. That I'm so desperately searching for connection and meaning within the art and its curation might be the point.
I don't think I've tried this hard to figure out a gallery exhibition in a long time. And honestly, it's been exhilarating.
Sundowner remains on display at Circuit 12 Contemporary through January 3.