Sibling Rivalry

All things being equal--and don't get the Dallas or Fort Worth art farts started on that subject unless you're packing Valium and a sturdy overnight bag--the time-honored tradition of heralding the opening of the visual arts season in North Texas with a festive "art walk" or "gallery night" has gotten to be a real pain for art lovers and artists who accept the blended nature of the two cities' art scenes. Stubbornly, both the Fort Worth Art Dealers Association and the Dallas Art Dealers Association have been hell-bent on a kind of "mine is better than yours" mentality and, for some 20 years, have competitively (and petulantly) scheduled their opening-day events on the same September Saturday. Even with the all-afternoon and evening expanded hours, it's been virtually impossible for all but the stalwart (and those supremely motivated by free swilling and snacks) to get around to seeing everything there is to see.

And there's plenty, as both Dallas and Fort Worth galleries put a lot of thought into what goes up on Gallery Night--and a lot of it is great and interesting and bold and fresh. The galleryites tend to overload their pristine spaces with sometimes cacophonous shows--mixed-up riots of media, emerging and established artists, edgy and proven works--it's mostly a no-holds-barred kind of deal. Breaths are often taken away, and the season opener tends to foretell the future success or failure of the local artists who are lucky enough to get showcased in this relatively big way. Even lesser-known venues get into the act--artists open up their studios, or unrepresented artists get together and show in one-night-only cooperative spaces. Hair salons, coffee houses, and functional art retailers hire bartenders and caterers and hang art in every available space. With free and free-flowing booze at nearly every stop on the gallery gambit, there's a lot of love in the various rooms. It's mostly a magical night, although there's certainly a fair share of shlock, and no one would argue that the metroplex is solidly sold on fine art, if only for this one night.

Maybe it's the economy, or the turn of the century, or the Fort Worth Art Dealers Association's contention that it's ready to stand in the spotlight alone, competition with Dallas be damned. For whatever combination of reasons, Fort Worth is showcasing its art and artists on September 9--a full week ahead of Dallas' event on September 16. Members of FWADA and DADA have griped for years that the fall festivities were better when Fort Worth opened its season on the first Friday after Labor Day and Dallas took the first Saturday. Galleryites and artists agreed that being able to participate in one another's events was healthy for the whole North Texas scene. But the spirit of cooperation faded over the years, until vocal members such as Patricia Meadows of the art-embracing Meadows Foundation in Dallas, and Benito Huerta, University of Texas at Arlington gallery director and member of both groups, kept pressing the issue. Fort Worth Gallery Night founders Bill and Pam Campbell, of William Campbell Contemporary Art, have continued to push for separate-but-equal gallery nights. This year, their efforts paid off, and while officially, FWADA isn't making a big deal of the change, it could bode well for everyone who struggles for critical and commercial success in local visual art.

FWADA's gotten fairly feisty this year under the leadership of outgoing president Don Hicks. First, the organization got vocal about the dearth of arts coverage in the local media, staging a stormy protest last spring and threatening a letter-writing campaign to get the attention of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and FW Weekly and get visual arts stories back in the funny papers. "It had a positive effect," says Hicks, who with his wife, Bettye, operates Handley-Hicks Gallery on the eastern edge of town. "We just voted to postpone the campaign because the Star-Telegram initiated meetings with us as soon as they heard what we were planning." Hicks says the daily is working on reviving its visual arts coverage, and while "they're not there yet," the membership of FWADA is hopeful. "At least we're communicating," Hicks says. Next, he says, they'll be gunning for FW Weekly. Arts coverage, like the art dealers' regular spring and fall events, serves to introduce a lot of new people to a segment of cultural commerce that needs new blood--and new buyers--to keep it thriving.

Thirteen FWADA members are participating in this year's Gallery Night, along with 18 "friends" of art--the aforementioned studios and retail spaces. Plus, the city's restaurants cough up sponsorship cash to get listed in the Gallery Night brochures (available at all participating venues) in hopes of being the final stop in the evening's frolics. "Many people organize groups of friends who meet up together, plot a course along the Gallery Night map, get exposed to new art and artists, and wind up at a favorite restaurant," says Bill Campbell, galleryite and new president of FWADA.

Noteworthy, in general, is an apparent trend away from big group shows in Fort Worth this year. Campbell's gallery is showcasing Bob "Daddy-o" Wade, the so-called pioneer of Texas Funk, second cousin to Roy Rogers, and often a poster child for the distilled spirits industry. Get the brew flowing, and you can get Daddy-o going on hundreds of tall Texas tales. He'll be at the opening of his solo show, "Local Color," featuring blown-up black-and-white photos overpainted on linen canvases and large-scale outdoor sculptures. Handley-Hicks focuses on lovingly finished wood and rusty barbed wire sculpture by Houston artist Steve Murphy, plus oversized drawings by Texas Woman's University art prof Karen Simpson. Handley-Hicks is poised to compete for edginess with Fort Worth's Gallery 414, the city's popular alternative, cooperative art space. The gallery's director, John Hartley, is breaking his rule this season, showing his own recent paintings of glowing army men and war machines in his own gallery. In Sundance Square, both the Modern Art Museum's annex and the Amon Carter Museum's Carter Downtown will be open late for Gallery Night. The Carter's showing a collection of socio-political power with "The 1960s in photographs" and William T. Raney's classic "Marion Crossing the Pedee" (shades of Mel Gibson's The Patriot!), among others. The Modern's also stuck in the '60s with groundbreaking-in-its-time work by Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, and Wayne Thiebaud. Thiebaud will be featured in the main museum's season opener beginning September 24.

Breaking up was hard to do, but two separate gallery tours should serve both cities well. Savor Fort Worth first, then look for the lowdown on the Dallas event next week.