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Sneak Peak: The Chaotic Beauty Behind Ro2's New Shows

Of the inherent perks of working in Dallas arts, perhaps the sweetest is that of collaboration with brilliant but oft-unsung visionaries. About a month ago, Jordan Roth of Ro2 Art called with an incredibly flattering request -- could I help one of his artists document an upcoming exhibition? Here's the catch: Shannon Novak is in New Zealand. This artist lives 16 hours in the future.

By the time Acoustic Synergy opens tomorrow evening at Ro2 Downtown, Novak will likely be grabbing a light Sunday brunch. As we don cocktail dresses or blazers and plan our after parties, Novak will have begun preparing for the week ahead. As you can imagine, time and distance -- roughly 7,500 miles -- present a few logistical challenges when installing a mixed media solo exhibition from photos, blueprints and leaps of faith.

Jordan Roth meets me on Elm Street just outside the clear glass doors of Ro2 Downtown. He is congenial and bright, and though he has clearly been working all day, seemingly doesn't mind staying late so that a needy writer-type - who is late, to boot - can see the work in progress. Roth owns Ro2 with his mother, Susan Roth Romans, and the duo have passionately grown the gallery/consultancy business to encompass partnerships with a small army of artists - many of whom are based in North Texas - and locations in West Village and Downtown. As we speak about this weekend's openings, it is clear that Roth is tired, but in good spirits; this is his life.

Starting in the Ro2 Art Downtown Collection at 1408 Elm Street, Roth shows me the beginning stages of Novak's Acoustic Synergy. Novak - who is a synesthete - composes original musical pieces that inform and inspire visual art based on the geometric images and vivid colors that he hears as he plays. Essentially a collaborative artistic process within his own mind, Novak's work contains strong spiritual elements alluding to the ideas of interconnectivity and artistic synthesis in both the nominal realm and the empirically measurable world. By appealing to a viewer's auditory and visual senses, he forges a symbiotic relationship in which the viewer is encouraged to experience his work through the lens of their own craft or perspective. Despite the fact that he is a world away, Novak has designed a space particularly for Dallas. He's there. You'll hear him.

Novak has composed and recorded new original tracks that will not be unveiled until Saturday evening, but you can understand his aesthetic through the following, which was part of Semitone Shift, a 2011 exhibition at Pierre Peeters Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand.

As part of Acoustic Synergy, guest artists Cassandra Emswiler, Danielle Georgiou, Allene Nichols, and Amanda Preston will respond to Novak's minimalist forms and musical composition.

We head outside and cross the street to 110 N. Akard St where, as he jingles the keys in the door lock, Roth explains, "Shannon's show was originally a co-proposal with a local artist whose aesthetic is very different than Shannon's. Where his is sharp and angular, geometric, we had intended a juxtaposition with something very wild and untamed, organic."

He goes on to say that the co-artist was unfortunately unable to continue working on the show and it was reworked into a solo for Novak. However, in all of the challenges and small frustrations the show has faced, Karma was sure to care for Ro2. Pushing through the heavy glass door, Roth says with a grin, "You're going to like this."

Just a few steps, not even a full block, from Ro2 Art's Downtown Gallery the company has an intimate and roughly finished space in the historic Kirby Building. Inside, 30 artists have turned the space into a technicolor playground, replete with a metaphoric fire pit that explodes into an altar. There are waves created from air; monsters and gods; the heavens and the earth all encompassed and embracing in one tiny room. To the right, one unexpected sawdust sculpture stands, reaching precariously from the floor, the size and shape of a traffic cone, but like an ant hill in its impermanence.

SOLVENT: Working Title is a collaborative and continually-changing installation that opens for its third and final time Saturday night. Each of the openings has allowed roughly ten artists to install and/or build upon existing installations in a progressive and living order - all of which is interactive, encouraging viewers to add their own small acts of graffiti. The exhibition has been documented extensively, both through photographs and film, and a documentary film of the project is in the process. Perhaps most unexpectedly, it can be viewed at all times through a constantly streaming webcam. You can view the live feed here.

Each of Ro2's upcoming shows looks strong in its own right - Novak's was as of last night still in production, but seems propitious with rumors of added video installations, live reactions from local artists, and the addition of Novak's musical composition. In tandem, I expect they will attain a "synergy" that none of the artists or curators had specifically intended, but that will work incredibly well. The bold, variegated colors and stark geometric lines of Novak's exhibition resonate time and again in inadvertently matching bright sparks of neon circles and the cubic hatching of steel fence work throughout SOLVENT. It is, as Roth puts it, "minimalism versus maximalism all in one place." While each exhibition is power-packed with delectable idiosyncrasies, the flavors promise to be boldly enhanced in the pairing.

Opening receptions for Acoustic Synergy and SOLVENT: Working Title run from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. tomorrow evening at 1408 Elm and 110 N. Akard, respectively. Learn more at

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Brentney Hamilton