Arts & Culture News

The DMA Gives a Shit about Local Art. It's Time You Did Too.

Dallas' emerging art community has been candid about its needs. Advocacy, room to work and some space to publicly share their ideas -- basics that aren't naturally a part of our area's DNA. It's not a new discussion, but it is a new time for art in Dallas, as renewed public interest and increased funding intersect with a rising community of talent.

One way to simultaneously solve a couple of those problems is showing more local art in our museums. There's little of that around here -- blame a long-running chicken/egg problem for a city that likes to ship things in, rather than make them itself and the cost associated with projects of that scale. But last weekend that changed.

The Dallas Museum of Art did something big: They handed the main gallery -- not just a wing, but the whole damn thing -- over to local artist for the new show Dallasites: Available Space. They stepped up. The DMA had faith in the quality of local art, artists and curators selected and gave North Texas its own month-long show. That means thousands of museum-goers will see what's being made right here, for free. And guess what? Available Space is worth the real estate.

Here's the quick back story: Amon Carter and the DMA got together to produce Hotel Texas, an archival show. Its curators located and acquired nearly every piece of art that area collectors brought in to brighten up the Kennedy's hotel room 50 years ago.

The tiny exhibition became what the couple slept under the night before the assassination. It's a small collection, but a charming one; an exhibition guide was even produced for it and given to the Kennedys. The show is cool both in concept and because it's representative of extreme Southern hospitality -- of Texans' desire to not only give A Gift, but to give The Right Gift, even in a pinch.

Hotel kicks you out into Dallasites, which lays framework for Dallasites: Available Space. Dallasites is a deeply researched look at regional art. It uses the Kennedy assassination as a starting point and follows the next 50 years of noted work and the area artists and collectives behind it. It's graphic/text heavy, a sort of scrapbook that naturally leads you back to the question: "Well, shit, where are we now?"

Then comes Available Space , a show that takes over the DMA's main galleries -- the same ones that were just filled with Cindy Sherman's shape-shifting mugs. And it's here where things get extremely interesting.

The gallery's body hosts Boom Town, the interior show by current artists with local roots. The collection was hand-selected by Art Foundation (Andrew Douglas Underwood, Ryder Richards and Lucia Simek) and is a cohesive blend of styles, approaches and career-pinning. There's Cassandra Emswiler's angled mixed-media puzzle; Gregory Ruppe's hyper-stylish motorcycle death cruise, "Ghostride to Oblivion"; and Margaret Meehan's tender philosophy offered through a pair of aluminum boxing gloves, resting on an antique glitter mat in "The Circled Square."

Then there's work from the gallery-repped sect, like Talley Dunn's Linda Ridgway graphites, a selection from Keri Oldham's recent Kirk Hopper show Space for all Endings and some real wall-fillers from Barry Whistler toasts, Tom Orr and Kristen Macy.

Venture into the ancillary showrooms to find companion programming. One room is dedicated to video art and performance art captured on video, presented by Bart Weiss and his 26-years-young Dallas VideoFest. He found so much in the Fest's archives that he broke it down by decade, so you can see the 1980s this week, the 1990s next week, and so on.

Across the walkway is a room reserved for performance art, a task handled by PerformanceSW, who will hold PSWxEdu, a series of Thursday evening panels and workshops meant to educate on modern approaches to the form. (The first panel is this Thursday and serves as a performance art primer.) They're also up to some high jinks, with rumors of a fairly righteous thumb-wrestling finale.

Cross the gallery's belly and you're in an Oil and Cotton outpost, a nice complement to this exhibition. The room is minimal. Lovely. Interactive. It's designed, for now, with wooden sketching benches circling suspended tumbleweeds but the space can morph for its needs -- which for the next month are vast. In this little room you can take free versions of Oil and Cotton's most popular courses, like Natural Dyeing with Sarah Westrup and Memory Jugs with Bruce Lee Webb, so long as you RSVP before space fills. (Psst, do it now.)

Finally you'll enter HOMECOMING! Committee's example of 3-D thought, Post Communiqué and that's where you'll likely stay until the show closes or the CIA slaps the cuffs on.

The working, evolving installation is equal parts production area and output gallery/conspiracy indoctrination reading room. Confused? Good. It's here that the Fort Worth art collective assumes a falsified existence, playing the part of a group that's forging artistic works, their documentation and assorted ephemera from within the exhibition.

It plays like this: You enter the gallery space to see an eight-foot deep, two-story command center, divided up into a ladder room, a brainwashing space, an office drone kitchen, a workout room, a de-programming area and even a small HR department where you can fill out a job application. The walkable diorama glows with mid-level corporate florescent lighting; it also merges the real with the artificial. A small transistor hisses brewing noises from behind an inactive coffee maker. Throughout the space employees are working: They're HOMECOMING! Committee members, and they're taking shifts during museum hours until the show's close -- or until they run out of toner, whichever comes first.

The brainwashing room doles out the project's interactive thesis, subversively hidden beneath a blend of pop culture images and business double-speak. The installation has a dollhouse-meets-Being John Malkovich vibe, but carries a different main objective -- a much weirder one drummed up by the HOMECOMING! hive mind.

The gallery space is equally cunning. The displayed works are all predated, listed as being NFS and "on loan from a private collection." It's a means of inserting this collaboration in different decades, movements. They've even nested alternative correspondence and projects with artists, like a Robert Irwin crossover that's documented in a fake cover story on an old (new) copy of ArtForum.

With this much eye candy composing the puzzle, it's easy to move past the mainframe: source material arranged on a table in the room's center. Books on how to make government-issued identification on your home computer; technical manuals for field service ordinances; a non-fiction piece by Hunter S. Thompson infromhis more political days; and owner's manuals for assault rifles are presented in orderly fashion. Tiny shooting range targets serve as centerpieces.

It's fucking fantastic. Sharp. And a revolution that doesn't take itself too seriously.

This is a waiting-to-exhale moment. We know that something special is happening, that Dallas and Fort Worth are getting warmer, and the conversation surrounding that is shifting, growing, expanding. The DMA giving those artists the mic for a month is a huge gap-closer, showing off the best of what's happening now, from the galleries to the experimental spaces to the general public.

After Good/Bad's derivative contribution to Late Night last month, where the barely still-from-here collective boringly waddled in their own faded fame, I was hoping for a turn-around. It wasn't a good representation of what's going on: We need public proof that there's art being created regionally that's thoughtful and ambitious. Proof that a lot of work from Dallas is simple and pretty, sure, but the best is a little darker and wonderfully complicated. Proof that we're at the brink of something great, and that our artists will take advantage of opportunities to share their ideas on a global scale, in turn sharing their philosophies and challenges.

Available Space does that, and it does it well. Let's hope it serves as a starting point for a future timeline, a new branch where art from Dallas and Fort Worth gets some walls, consideration and attention. Of course, that's a conversation for another day.

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Jamie Laughlin
Contact: Jamie Laughlin