The pandemic has given new meaning to the term "garden art." While musicians and promoters are setting up concerts in front of their homes, one outdoor art gallery was a few years ahead of the concept.
Public outdoor gallery Terrain Dallas is open once again after a four-year break. Iris Bechtol, an artist, educator and curator, founded the space in 2014 and maintained exhibitions for two years before taking a hiatus. Terrain Dallas offers a particularly unique art experience; its exhibition space is Bechtol’s front lawn.
The space focuses on emerging and overlooked local artists.
“Dallas has an active art community, but only the same people get highlighted,” Bechtol says.
A Garland native, Bechtol came from a working-class family whose cultural activities extended only to the outdoors.
“I was 17 years old before I stepped into a museum,” Bechtol recalls. “But I remember making collages with leaves in my backyard and taking photos of nature.”
While she had no exposure to fine art, Bechtol's interest in the arts peaked in college when she met her now-husband, Brennan Bechtol.
“He was taking art classes, and I thought, ‘Wow’ you can do that?” she remembers.
Her newfound interest eventually led to her work as a gallery manager and curator at Eastfield Community College. It was there Bechtol met Sabina Ott, who was visiting for the Texas Association of School of the Arts conference as a guest speaker. Ott, who passed away in 2018, founded Terrain Exhibitions in Oak Park, Illinois.
In 2013, Ott created the Terrain Biennial, which grew to include host locations all over Oak Park, Chicago and other national and international locations. When Bechtol asked Ott for permission to recreate the concept in Dallas, Ott welcomed it.
Now in its third year excluding the recent hiatus, Terrain Dallas welcomes visitors without an appointment but maintains daily viewing hours. Located in Elmwood, a historic neighborhood in Oak Cliff, Terrain Dallas is easy to find, and parking is available for free on the street. If Bechtol happens to see visitors on her lawn, she encourages them to retrieve additional information from a box she keeps out front — while maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask.
Bechtol says the pandemic compelled her to revisit the project.
“Being able to work from home has made me think more about how important community is, not just art community but my neighborhood,” she says. “The other day I saw an Amazon delivery person reading one of the signs from [featured artist] Doug Land’s installation.”
It brings Bechtol joy to bring art to those in her everyday life in unexpected ways, she says. Land is the current artist on view at Terrain Dallas with an exhibit called Front Yard Museum. Due to COVID-19, there was no reception to commemorate the opening, instead, a live video can be found on the Terrain Dallas Instagram of Land giving an artist talk.
Land is a graduate student at Texas Christian University, a multimedia artist and "botanical nerd.” Front Yard Museum uses site-specific labels placed near four plants in Bechtol’s yard. In the works, the artist addresses the histories and various aesthetics of the suburban yard through arboretum-like signage, curating and cataloging nature in much the same way we do art objects.
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"As you read the labels and walk around the yard, think about the plants you see without labels," Land says. "What might their histories be, what are their interesting facts, what curated collection would you create, if this was your yard."
In the past, Terrain Dallas has shown a wide variety of art: from large sculptures to immersive works and subtle pieces — like a small wheatpaste installation — and even live performances. Bechtol's aim is to bring artwork into the community so those who are walking their dogs or jogging past her house can be challenged to use their imaginations. For those in the art community, the space reframes the suburban lawn into a DIY space for interventions and other art forms, while expanding the art community to include underrepresented artists. Past artists include Rachel Fischer, Alyssa Hawkins, Elizabeth Hurtado, David Wilburn, Cassie Phan and Michelle Thomas.
Bechtol's hope for the future is to continue curating her programming to foster a connection with her neighbors, and especially the children who live in the area.
Terrain Dallas is located at 1122 Elmdale Place, Dallas. Viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily during exhibitions. For more information, visit terraindallas.tumblr.com.