BEST ART SPACE 2013 | CentralTrak | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

From Ari Richter's The Skin I Live In, which utilized body cast-offs from humans and animals for sculptural purposes, to That Mortal Coil, the group show examining body beautiful through a jagged, kaleidoscopic group show, we've learned CentralTrak is content to be unpredictable, at times alarming and always informative. Isn't that precisely what you want from art? Moreover, isn't that what you'd hope would rise out of a "go do it" art incubator like CentralTrak? Of course it is. Still not convinced? They've had gallery shows for dogs, feminist porn night, time travel and hosted a pop-up art video game arcade. Were that not enough, CentralTrak's monthly "Next Topic" speaker series and panel discussions keep the important conversations whirling about, stirring ideas about both the art on display and the issues facing artists working in Dallas, right now.

This one's not really a first-date idea. It's more an outing with your significant other when it's raining, you're broke and if you stay at home one more second you'll stab each other's eyes out with the silverware. Prevent blindness by making the trek over to Cinemark Hollywood USA, where you'll pay $1 to see everything you were slightly too lazy to catch when it was in regular theaters. While you're there, enjoy the dusty arcade games, the equally dusty photos of old-timey film stars and a terrifying, dizzying decorating theme best described as "Circus in Hell." Seriously, don't take a first date here.

When SMU contracted Dutch artist Joost Vrouenraets to choreograph a new version of Rite of Spring for the piece's centennial celebration, we thought, "Huh, that's ballsy for a private Methodist university." When we went to dress rehearsals and saw that the dancer was using the piece's anarchic legacy to push through subversive theories about social media's influence on a new generation, with the aid of schoolgirl uniforms and a sexually aggressive marionette, well, that's when we realized something much bigger was brewing. The end result had potential to start its own spectacular riot, as young writhing dancers clutched themselves and each other, trapping their frustrations inside custom-built rolling greenhouses. It ran both at SMU and as the showcase closer for the Meadows' annual fund-raising performance at the Winspear, and while we're still unclear how the powers that be let it get that big, we're thankful that it did.

Remember when Wolf Blitzer's hologram beamed in to cover the 2008 presidential election? You pulled out your flip phone, called your best friend and were like, "Whoa"? Well, what a difference a few years make. Technology has advanced so exponentially that it has affected the arts in ways that ethics and law haven't been able to predict. KERA's Art and Technology panel brought together Nancy Hairston, an artist and brilliant mind in 3-D printing; UTD's Dr. Roger F. Malina, a man who's doing big work blending hard science with new media; and Robert Stein, the DMA's deputy director and force behind many of its recently applauded innovations. It was, hands-down, the most fascinating conversation on the arts held in Dallas last year and it addressed issues that we hadn't realized were becoming problems. It also brought to surface the new limitless direction that art is pointed in and the potential it has with a fresh generation of emerging talent. If you missed it, listen to the recording on the DMA's website. It's 81 minutes well spent.

Hey guys, remember SZOAS? No? Well, that's all right. The local artist representation company was extremely short-lived, but its time here didn't go unnoticed. While it was operational, SZOAS introduced two gems from their talent roster who should have paired up ages ago. Clay Stinnett and Nevada Hill are both Southern, unconventional and a little loose with the rules. Using Clay Stinnett's freaky salute to our charred corn dog king, a painting of Big Tex on fire, Hill added his own oozy layers of psychedelic design. Equal parts celebratory and demonic, the limited-run screen-printing and corresponding T-shirts morphed into a deliciously perverse union. The only way it could have been better is if the pair had battered and deep-fried the thing.

We're fortunate to have such a robust lineup of artists and curators speaking in our local museums, but last year's run of Tuesdays at the Modern raised that conversation up a step. In honor of its 10th anniversary acquisitions, the culture hub brought in the biggest names in contemporary art for these intimate, free events. We took a Dallas-to-Fort Worth arts pilgrimage to hear experimental guru Bruce Nauman discuss his story and process. We trucked over to Cowtown again to hear the humble and humorous Jenny Holtzer rap about her public art legacy and did it again for cult icons Trenton Doyle Hancock and Barry McGee. It was like ART21 exploded to materialize in three dimensional space. It was the arts equivalent of seeing rock stars eating in public. It was a nerdebration. It was that good.

While Jaap van Zweden has things handled over at the big-market symphony, taking our musicians around the world to garner international acclaim, there was still a gap in the more experimental small-orchestra sector. Enter scene: Dallas Chamber Symphony. Conductor Richard McKay led the group through its inaugural 2012-13 season at the Dallas Performance Hall, and we sat thrilled, listening as they blended both new and old. There was a youthfulness brought to these offerings, merging more standard, popular works like Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, Mozart's "Overture to the Marriage of Figaro" and selections by Schumann and Brahms with live scores to two silent films and solo piano performances. This type of creative energy is what Dallas needs if it wants to court a new generation of classical music fans. And by the look of DCS's upcoming season, which has not one but two nods to Buster Keaton in the lineup, Dallas Chamber Symphony is just the right group to do it.

We're State Fair addicts. Corn dog junkies. And few of us have the self-control to wait an entire year to ride through that psychedelic haunted house — you know the one. This year those desires were sated at Summer Adventures at Fair Park, a blisteringly hot miniature version of the big fair. Yes, it's helpful to be extremely young at Summer Adventures, since kids view unlimited rides as worth a little heat stroke. Still, there's something really cool about roaming Summer Adventures on a Wednesday afternoon. Maybe it's because there's nobody there, leaving you to feel like you've survived the zombie apocalypse. Perhaps it's the joy of zero lines allowing you front row at every ride, always. Or maybe it's just the slower pace and quality bro-down time with the carnies. Whatever, it worked. And we got properly fair-fried off-season corn dogs out of it, which is what we dream about on any given night.

We're not sure how art wizards Shannon Driscoll and Kayli House Cusick do it all. Every day is a new collection of innovative programming, and we're talking really awesome stuff like youth zine camp, memory jugs with Bruce Lee Webb, natural dying classes using native plants or even DIY cocktail tinctures. In their "spare time" this year, they upped the ante and organized the Read-Rite Market — an all-day celebration of text, literature and the art and preservation techniques it fosters. (Seriously, those gals must be tired, but they'd never show it.) It's interesting, this space. Its core mission is to promote arts education and community building, but philosophically it has branched into something bigger. Oil and Cotton has become a hub of idea exchange, a salon for art and a spot where creative passion can find both a home and collaborators. Looking ahead in the boom of Dallas' art scene, we suspect the biggest things to come will be hatched right here.

It's really packed in here. Sculptures, collectables, home goods, clothing and mountains of other treasures are stacked throughout the lower level of Pan-African's two-story compound. You want to buy it all, even without knowing its legacy. The philosophical value of these items fills the head of Akwete Tyehimba, the shop's matriarch and sage. Go ahead, ask her about that giant crane statue. She'll smile and recant a moral-rich tale that ends with the mighty bird filling his belly then gathering the strength to soar through the air. She'll explain the African history behind the masks, checkerboards and other rare artifacts. She'll even guide you through the monthly classes and workshops, which unite an entire community with educational programming. But you might need Tyehimba most in the upstairs reading room, where books and videos are methodically organized. And that's where you'll lose hours, poring through texts from people who know much, much more than you.

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