A collective of five artists called Art Beef opened the white-walled gallery and performance space Beefhaus in 2012. But as the Exposition Park gallery rounded the corner on six years, the collective decided to pull the plug.
“It lived out its natural life cycle,” says Luke Harnden, one of the founding members.
In Beefhaus’ honor, Art Beef will host a memorial get together from 7-10 p.m. Saturday in the space at 833 Exposition Ave.
Over the years, Beefhaus became a fixture in the art scene for hosting shows that challenged the kind of art typical establishments show within a white-walled gallery environment. Beefhaus often exhibited minimalistic and experimental pieces that left some scratching their heads, and that was OK. Really, it was more than OK. It’s what Art Beef set out to do.
“[We had] the stuff that isn’t durable enough to get under the bright lights of the market and capitalism and doesn’t even want to,” Harden said over the phone from Los Angeles, where he’s getting a master of fine arts.
It’s a loss for the Dallas scene, which could always find a welcome respite from stuffy galleries in the charming space that bridged the gallery establishment and DIY worlds in a friendly and approachable way.
Beefhaus welcomed shows that explored motherhood by artists Lucia Simek and Cassandra Emswiler Burd of the Nasher Sculpture Center. Another consisted of new media work by Carolyn Sortor and examined temporality and humans’ digital footprint. Beefhaus was also ground zero for a scathing performance art piece by Therefore that protested and mocked the fire marshal’s shuttering of art spaces around town.
As one of the organizers and curators, Harnden didn’t typically show in the space, but his work is represented by Barry Whistler Gallery in the Design District. He said it was never Beefhaus' intent to have a long run.
“As if that were even possible,” he said. “It’s a passage through and another step in becoming … . It was transient in nature, and that was the sort of energy it was meant to foster and facilitate.”
Because it was a noncommercial space yet wasn’t classified as a nonprofit, members of the collective had to front the money for rent. Artists who showed there weren’t obliged to give the space a cut of their profits when they sold a piece; it was donation-based only.
Problems arose when several of Beefhaus' founding members left Dallas for projects or school elsewhere. Harnden went to Los Angeles last summer to attend the California Institute for the Arts. Patrick Romeo, another founding member, took a job in New York City. William Binnie, who was also integral to the team, went to Massachusetts.
To keep it afloat in their absence, they had to recruit other artists.
“We organized it to be not too burdensome on one person, but it’s still a lot of work to have a space,” Harnden says.
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He said keeping up with programming 10-12 shows per year became too much of a hassle for the people who took over. And without regular programming, it didn’t make sense to keep the lights on and doors open.
“I didn’t want it to end, but I can’t physically be there to help maintain it, so it’s kind of out of my control,” Harnden said. “It’s a reality of not having enough energy or resources to continue the project, so it’s biological the way it came about.”
The collective started as a nimble effort not hemmed in by a physical space, and that’s how it will live on. Art Beef is working on a project with Civic TV Collective in Houston that deals with cultural exchange, sharing ideas and fostering communal-oriented gatherings, Harnden said. And he’s also working on an art piece that incorporates three geographic locations with a symbolic exchange that he hopes will lead to more cultural exchanges.
“If Beefhaus inspired or touched people to consider what social spaces could be, let’s use that to move forward and make more of those,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunity to do such things.”