What Goes Up
In a blur of frenetic movement, old galleries are shutting down, relocating and cocooning while word of new galleries crackles among cognoscenti and crowd alike. The logic of this shake-up seems more cockeyed than the stuff of 20-20 vision, with all the movement creating a virtual geography of Brownian motion--so many harum-scarum zigzags of people and things shuttling from old to new locales. Proprietors, patrons, addicts and flunkies of the art world are beating lines of flight in search of happy hunting grounds, the latest trend and art fix. Not to worry, some say, as so much flux is symptomatic of a growing and shifting economy the rationale of which, by twist and turn, is irrational. As that avatar of capital Karl Marx once said, that economy--bull and bear alike--makes for an "enchanted, perverted, topsy-turvy world."
Almost a full month has passed since a staple of raucous art culture, Gray Matters Gallery, closed its doors. Operated and owned by Vance Wingate, the gallery had a long go of it, surviving the roiling waters of the local market since 1991. The departure marks the shrinkage of a certain affordable niche of the Dallas scene. What was so inviting about Gray Matters was that it catered to burgeoning collectors and middle-class would-be aficionados. There will be less choice for those in search of provocative, mid-priced wacky charms-- the miniature Wunderkammer art of Tom Sales, or the political antics of Jason Archer and Paul Beck. Perhaps more important, the closure marks the loss of a much-needed venue for artists getting a leg up in the world of exhibition and art discourse.
It was location, location, location that killed Gray Matters. Being a maverick of gentrification can either make you a bundle or leave you high and dry. Located in the deeps of Deep Ellum, on North Haskell Avenue between Elm and Main streets, Gray Matters was left high and dry. The gallery unwittingly slated its demise at the very beginning in its unreconstructed belief in the hipness of the Dallas-area public. Ultimately, fear of the inner-city unknown kept hinterland dwellers from venturing into the murky urban brine.
Angstrom Gallery, our local umbilicus to New York and beyond, is also closing its doors--but only temporarily. So says owner and zappy personality David Quadrini. After a planned hibernation through the tepid months of autumn and winter, Quadrini promises that Angstrom will open once again in late spring. Tortured by his love of and commitment to the city of Dallas, Quadrini has been lured away by perks and possibility to Los Angeles to collaborate with Elizabeth Dee of Elizabeth Dee Gallery in New York in the running of Q.E.D. Also located in Deep Ellum, though in the well-trafficked area across from Fair Park on Parry Avenue, Angstrom is not on hiatus because of economic problems brought about by its iffy location. If anything, Quadrini had massaged the surrounding real estate to his advantage, transforming the block into the heart of a bona fide and even lucrative subculture, luring internationally acclaimed artists Richard Patterson and Erick Swenson to the live-work spaces above the gallery. While the greener pastures of L.A. beckoned Quadrini, there were other forces behind the temporary closing. Subtle hair-pulling and junior high-esque squabbles among his underling gallery administrators helped usher the change. Word has it that emerging from the fray will be a new gallery located somewhere in the Deep, run by one of Quadrini's more-or-less loyal minions. Further rustling in the underbrush are rumors of a University of Texas at Dallas takeover. People are whispering that, after downsizing by half the UTD-managed Artist Residency at South Side on Lamar, financial and intellectual forces will bind to lay the groundwork for a re-channeling of the seedling arts program to the Parry Avenue building that once housed Angstrom. This looks to be a real improvement over the plastic readymade hip culture given life at South Side. While it's no doubt been a gift to the local art scene, South Side has suffered from its ersatz boho nature from the beginning.
There's an up-and-up ending to this chapter of pared-down art life in the city. And it comes in the form of the Pigeon-Stone Project and the newly reopened Plush Gallery. Run by the girl-power twosome of Sarah Jane Semrad and Nyddia Hannah, Pigeon-Stone Project is a consortium of "do-it-yourself" galleries. The Project collectively manages seven spaces: Continental Gallery and Elbow Room in Deep Ellum, Magnolia Bar in West Village, Sozo Salon on Knox-Henderson, Zeo Salon in Travis Walk, Two Sisters Catering in Deep Ellum and Counter Culture at Mockingbird Station. In many ways, they have realized in three dimensions what's been going on for years in the Internet world. Semrad and Hannah have wisely taken advantage of surplus corners of the overall marketplace, spinning money and offering opportunities for young artists, mostly from Texas, through the interstitial spaces of capital. Offering their curatorial services in the corridors, stairwells and on the surrounding walls of hip coffee shops, rehabbed loft buildings and trendy cinemas, they promise to provide publicity and a constant stream of cool people to proprietors in exchange for little or no rent.
Object, a small exhibition of photographs by Kevin Todora, is showing at Continental Gallery, located in the ground-level hallway of the Continental Loft building. Equal parts neo-appropriationist à la Sherrie Levine and sheer voyeurism, Todora's re-photographs show the faces of women in the buff and men from liquor and cigarette advertisements from old porn magazines. Shown in groups of four, the photographs offer a quiet standoff of luridly askew and piercingly mannish gazes. "Amy," "Sarah," "Angela" and "Amanda" all show willowy, impressionistic views of rouge-faced women in ecstasy. While all of the women look out to the sides with eyes rolled back in the middle of apoplectic pleasure, the male eyes of "Michael," "Christopher," "Jason" and "David" glare grinningly straight at you. For Todora, these images are also an investigation into porn-world demographics, in that the salacious eyes of the men we see are but the idealized version of those who purchased the mags at the get-go. Horny is as horny does.
And, thankfully, Plush is back. For reasons beyond his own doing, plucky gallery proprietor and self-proclaimed do-it-yourselfer Randall Garrett was forced to close down shop at the end of April. Perhaps Garrett should thank his old landlord for not paying taxes. While that was a problem for the city, the bad finances have resulted in a turn for the better for Plush. Though I loved the old space with its prime views onto one of the city's most fabulous buildings--the Dallas Grand--the gallery's new space is even better. Located on the 4th floor of the Manor House Apartment tower on Commerce Street, Plush's new space is somewhere between the bureaucratic no-man's-land of Kafka's The Trial and the 7 1/2th floor of the film Being John Malkovich. Perfecting weirdness is Garrett's strong suit. Plush has transformed a drab and cellular three-room office into a tiny funland of the imagination. The current show, forces of evil in a bozo nightmare, offers an array of work in mixed media. Like Todora's photographs, Eric Doeringer's paintings are appropriationist riffs on work by blue-chip artists. Usually Doeringer sets up shop on the street outside of the Whitney in New York, hocking his reproductions of paintings by John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage as if so many faux Louis Vuittons, Guccis or Rolexes. Peregrine Honig's three small resin statues, "Avon Girls: blonde, albino, brunette," stand as if naked girly action figures just released from an asylum. Nicole Crawford brings the age-old feminine art of embroidery into the new millennium. Her "Miss Fits, Ms. Chief, Miss Fire" are three towels with digital prints of sexy, barely clad cowgirls surrounded by carefully woven flowers and atomic doo-dads.
Can we count on the invisible hand of the market to guide the Dallas art world to ever better places? Only if it's a being that is equal parts human, octopus and cat--a body with eight arms and nine lives.
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