The Best and the Worst of the Dallas Art Scene in 2015

Aurora is really cool, but this year the event received a great deal of criticism.
Aurora is really cool, but this year the event received a great deal of criticism.
Melissa Hennings

Was 2015 a strange year for anyone else? It seems this year sucked a lot of the city's mojo dry. Maybe it was all the rainfall that filled the Trinity River. Maybe Mercury never came out of retrograde. Maybe we're all just overworked and underpaid. Whatever went wrong, the tone of the conversation in a large part of the art world in Dallas is deep-rooted frustration. I tried to spread the good and the bad evenly in this annual round-up of the Dallas art world. As always, I'm starting with the good and slowly descending into murkier waters. Also, bear in mind, these are my opinions based on spending time studying and hanging out in the art world. 

10. Nasher Sculpture Center Steps Up Its Game 
Who knew that Dallas would be working toward becoming the international epicenter for sculpture? Ray Nasher knew. When he chose Dallas as the home for his collection of sculpture, he knew he wanted it to be a place that took the study of sculpture seriously. The Nasher Prize plans to demonstrate this with both a $100,000 award and a series of events and symposiums next spring. This year's recipient is Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo. Plus, when British artist Phyllida Barlow was curating the permanent collection to accompany her exhibition, Tryst, she discovered a lack of women artists in the collection, inspiring Kaleta Doolin to donate money solely for the purpose of acquiring art by a female sculptor. 

9. Dallas Contemporary's Sea Change
This fall, the Dallas Contemporary's programming was suddenly much more serious, international and, well, female. The first shows overseen by Justine Ludwig were phenomenal and a step in an exciting direction for the museum. 

8. Both the City of Dallas and the Nasher Sculpture Center Reinvigorate Artist Grant Programs
Speaking of the Nasher, this year both the Center and the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs began dishing out cash money to artists for special projects. The Nasher awards micro grants of up to $1,000 and the OCA has been awarding up to $5,000. This comes after years of the city's artists complaining that they don't feel financially supported. 

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7. The Cedars *Might* Be the New Arts District, If Everything Goes According to Plan
The MAC and Cedars Union are working toward, albeit slowly, opening up art spaces in this sleepy neighborhood south of downtown Dallas. If everything goes according to plan, Cedars Union will open a "gym-like" membership program for artists to rent studio space and have access to tools, as well as create an artist residency program. Claude Albritton's The MAC left its bright blue home on McKinney Avenue and plans to open an art complex with galleries, a curatorial program, a restaurant and who knows what else! These spaces would add to the ever-increasing number of artists and curators in the neighborhood, although the area recently lost stalwart RE Gallery, but we'll get to that. 

6. Design District Shifts West 
Cheaper rent, bigger spaces, better programming. Circuit 12, Liliana Bloch, Public Trust, Photographs Do Not Bend, Cydonia Gallery and Site 131 shift attention away from Dragon Street. At this point, besides Zhulong Gallery, who's left?

5. Aurora 2015, a Success or a Bungle? SOLUNA, Same Question.
This year, the biennial Aurora — a one-night-only street festival of light art in the Arts District — was criticized for its over-crowdedness, poor crowd management, art damaged, a crappy app and the overall feeling that the night was more about taking selfies than about the art. The counterpoint to that might have been the SOLUNA festival created by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, which sought to bring the Arts District organizations under the same programming umbrella but was under-attended (other than the Francisco Moreno and St. Vincent events) and a strange mishmash of events under the theme "Destination (America)." Two swipes at Arts District festivals bungled in totally different ways. 

4. We Lost ArtPrize
Speaking of Arts District festivals: After concocting plans to bring ArtPrize — the popular Grand Rapids, Michigan, citywide art competition — to Dallas, Ariel Saldivar announced at the end of October she was unable to find the support in the city to make it happen. No matter how people felt about the initial plans, it's a disappointment to see it back out because Dallas could've used a more inclusive art-focused festival. 

3. Two Important Dallas Galleries Called It Quits
Earlier this year, Oliver Francis Gallery suffered from what appeared to be an identity crisis. Curator Kevin Ruben Jacobs changed the space's name to OFG.XXX and a few months later announced he would be calling it quits. This was one of the most interesting art galleries in the city, introducing Dallas to emerging local artists like Francisco Moreno and Michelle Rawlings, but also bringing in internationally reputed artists like Josh Smith and Rachel de Joode. RE Gallery, another influential Dallas space, closed this year. Gallerist Wanda Dye shared her eclectic taste in her shotgun shack in The Cedars, introducing us to both local and regional artists, and also helping to shape the neighborhood as a place friendly to artists and collectors. She decided to move home to Alabama to be closer to her aging parents. 

2. Dallas Contemporary's Rogue Artist 
Remember when French artist Loris Greaud went ape shit on me? He was the guy who had a bunch of actors destroy his art and I penned a review with the premise that I didn't like his art enough to believe in the statement of its destruction. He told me to go back to school and get laid a lot. But he said a lot of other really nasty things too. The story was everywhere for a few months. Then, the artist claimed he did it all on purpose, which, as Ben Davis pointed out, just makes everything worse. The artist in question is still occasionally invited to speak at various events in town, usually via Skype, although the Dallas Contemporary has kept its distance from him. Every time this happens, without fail, he sends me a creepy, leering message. Last month, I finally blocked him. 

1. Wait a Minute, Who's Running Things? 
Here are the organizations meant to lead the art scene in Dallas that are currently running without a permanent leader in charge: Office of Cultural Affairs, Dallas Arts District and Dallas Museum of Art are all currently seeking directors. Of course, we're not sure what the OCA or Dallas Arts directors were doing before they quit. Over at D Magazine, Peter Simek speculates we can't be too certain what the DMA's director Max Anderson was doing before he quit in a cloud of mystery, either. 


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