If you didn't grow up frequenting museums or galleries, navigating the art world can be extremely intimidating. Thanks to the state of arts education, most of us have a very limited knowledge of art outside of recognizing the "Mona Lisa" or that Van Gogh painting of sunflowers that hung in your mom's kitchen. Plus, there's this long-held idea that viewing and learning about art is extremely expensive.
But that isn't really true, at least not in Dallas. Sure, there are special exhibitions and traveling pieces that require you to plunk down a little coin to view, but much of the city's art is accessible entirely for free, meaning that you have no excuse to continue ignoring Dallas' flourishing arts scene. Take an afternoon to check out these eight free art exhibitions, most of which look nothing like the boring old classics you remember from your college art appreciation class. Go forth with this new knowledge, and argue with those who (wrongly) claim that Dallas is devoid of culture.
Dallas Museum of Art Last year, the Dallas Museum of Art made general admission to their permanent collection free. The DMA's permanent collection exceeds 22,000 items, and includes an impressive selection of works by recognizable figures like Salvador Dali and Piet Mondrian. There's plenty of historical art from cultures all over the world, and an assortment of oddities to keep things interesting, like a bunch of late 1800s silver from Tiffany and Co.
The African American Museum Contrary to much of our education, not all art is created by crazy, old white dudes. The African American Museum in Fair Park has a self-described "small but rich" collection of art created both in Africa and the United States. The museum's collection of African masks and textiles is particularly notable, along with a collection of African-American folk art with works from greats like Clementine Hunter. The museum's program of special exhibitions is particularly varied, including a current exhibition on quilting as an art form.
The Goss Michael Foundation Most of us know as much about contemporary British art as we do quantum physics, but that's why places like the Goss-Michael Foundation exist. The pieces on display here are curated by the gallery owners and staff. The permanent collection includes kickass Damien Hirst pieces, and Tracey Emin neons. Students with an interest in art can also present a school ID to browse the Goss-Michael's library and archives. Admission to the gallery is free for everyone, but if you have a few extra bucks, they're happy to take donations.
NorthPark Center Where else can you window shop at Louis Vuitton, grab some Panda Express in the food court and walk through an extensive art collection featuring the likes of Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, and Jonathan Borofsky? C'mon, that's pretty awesome.
Erin Cluley Gallery With her extensive background in art, curating the likes of FAILE, Julian Schnabel, and Richard Phillips, Erin Cluley is the kind of person who seems almost too cool to hang out with. That's probably why her new gallery has made a huge splash on the local scene in the past few months. After departing the Dallas Contemporary to open her own spot earlier this year, Cluley has produced a pair of interesting exhibitions in the short time that her gallery has been open. Contemporary pieces may seem a little "out there" for those of us who consider art to be still lifes and portraits, but it's certainly worth exploring. At the very least, you'll get to see a lot of really cool, visually interesting stuff.
The Joule Hotel It seems weird to think of a hotel as an art museum, but that's kind of what the brains behind The Joule are going for. When you walk in the front doors, a massive bronze sculpture by British artist Tony Cragg is enough to distract you entirely from the fact that a night or two at the Joule is probably as much as your rent. There are several other prominently featured pieces across the lobby, which makes it worth a wander if you've got a few minutes to kill before your dinner reservations at CBD Provisions. There's also a Taschen library full of haute coffee table art books, including those entirely focused on penises and boobs.
The Crow Collection of Asian Art For a bazillionaire corporate overlord, Trammell Crow has an affinity for good art. The Crow Collection of Asian Art is almost exclusively curated from the Crow's personal collection, including that super-Zen gazebo out in the sculpture garden. Admission to the Crow Collection has been free since 1998, and the adjacent Trammell Crow Center has several equally interesting pieces scattered throughout the building. Spend a few hours navigating the whole thing for a relaxing and educational artsy experience.
Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery Unlike other larger cities, Dallas doesn't have a museum that is specifically dedicated to photography. Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery, albeit smaller than a full-scale museum, has been filling that void since 1998. This gallery's works run the gamut from fashion editorial photography to the more avant-garde, and offers an interesting assortment of artists from Texas and across the globe. Most of all, it's a pretty accessible entry point to the world of photography beyond your iPhone and Instagram account.
Dallas Contemporary Contemporary art gets a bad rap for being pretentious and overly weird, which is occasionally true. Dallas Contemporary is probably one of the most welcoming environments to learn about this sometimes-challenging new art, especially if you take advantage of their free lectures, special exhibitions, and discussion panels. After you check out the art, be sure to thank the Dallas Contemporary for bringing those awesome Shepard Fairey murals that cropped up across West Dallas last year.
McKinney Avenue Contemporary Founded in 1990 by a collective of artists, The MAC resides in a bright blue building in Uptown and focuses on local art. With three galleries, it has long been a coveted exhibition space for progressive Dallas-based artists. When there's a visionary director at the helm, it's a must-see space for contemporary, local art.