Arts & Culture News

Dallas Had A Biennale That Wasn't. What Will/Won't We Have Next?

Dallas just played host to a tremendous weekend of art. From the flooding of international and local galleries at F.I.G. to the pop-up Salon des fefuses-inspired offerings at the Shamrock Hotel, art-lovers worked overtime to absorb it all. One of the more interesting events of the weekend was the high-concept production organized by the Dallas Contemporary and some local Big Thinkers, the oddly-named Dallas Biennale.

What has become a watered-down platform internationally, Biennales originally were rooted in the celebration of artistic ideas. In order to embrace the show's original intent and spark discussion on the topic, the Contemporary chose to throw one here in town, but did so in a nearly tongue-in-cheek fashion by not subscribing to most modern standards of what composes the event. Even its most basic definition: A giant art show existing every-other year -- was cast to the wayside. This show stood alone: there will be no two year follow-up.

I appreciate the level of complexity that was put into this experimental exhibition, but I can't help but wonder if the art was lost in the shadow of curation. Throughout the hyping and interviews, press releases and roundtable discussions we became highly educated in every last to and fro detail of this Master Plan, but we didn't hear about Zoe Crosher's exciting series using photographs of Michelle duBois, a 1970's call girl who fashioned herself after Mae West. Her salvaged, re-worked pieces were standouts at F.I.G. and were also a showcase work within the Biennale, but the art itself wasn't a big topic of conversation.

Instead we heard Peter Doroshenko tell NPR that he hopes the Biennale will live on as a sort of "Urban Legend." But one cannot predicatively design an urban legend. Also, having to teach the fundamentals of a Biennale to a community that it's meant to include is another quirky aspect of this event -- this is our generation's first Dallas Biennale, so few living here are tired of them. In fact, aside from artists, curators and avid art collectors, most of Dallas is unfamiliar with the concept and thus didn't feel a part of the conversation.

In this particular instance, I believe that's alright. Dallas Contemporary didn't bill the series as "an art fair in the park with face painting and petting zoo," meant to encourage anyone with a day off to paw through some "art" while gnawing on street food. It was designed to spark interest within a certain market base, which it did. It was also meant to raise the quality of conversation about curation and intent, which it also did. Still, I think it lost the independent voters of the art community -- those who would like to be more active and continue a life's education of the arts, but do so by first learning about artists, and then later about curatorial concepts.

If we could merge those two paths of education in future endeavors I feel that everyone would benefit, especially the artists who are participating. Local community support of the arts would grow and in turn, so would dialogue. Still, what an interesting weekend. I'd say let's do it again in two years, but I already know what the answer would be.

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Jamie Laughlin
Contact: Jamie Laughlin