Art is so cool these days. Everyone’s got to have it. Even whole streets, block after block, apparently need a requisite amount of it in order to fit in, or so it would seem on the newly revived east Henderson Avenue. An urban beautification effort called the Henderson Art Project has plopped a number of public sculptures on the avenue as selected by a jury. Like a mid-life crisis Corvette, the art in the Henderson Art Project is a surrogate for real sophistication: it had better be shiny, accessibly emotive, and apparently red.

The Henderson Art Project Attempts to Beautify (and Market) the Bustling District

Rating

D

Location

The Henderson Art Project Henderson Ave. between Central and Ross Dallas, TX 75214

Art is so cool these days. Everyone’s got to have it.  Even whole streets, block after block, apparently need a requisite amount of it in order to fit in, or so it would seem on the newly revived east Henderson Avenue. An urban beautification effort called the Henderson Art Project has plopped a number of public sculptures on the avenue as selected by a jury. Like a mid-life crisis Corvette, the art in the Henderson Art Project is a surrogate for real sophistication:  it had better be shiny, accessibly emotive, and apparently red.

Scott Trent "Falling iBeams"

The transformation of Henderson Ave. from a not-so-safe, tire-popping pothole haven into a sort-of-edgy, see-and-be-seen, tire-popping pothole haven was a good thing. Urban revival like the Andres Brothers have godfathered there has given Dallas a totem of hope for the city’s gradual maturity into a more varied and imaginative place. The Pearl Cup makes, by my accounts, the best latte around; its workers are kind; and wow! the hand dryer in the bathroom is the latest offering from NASA, I think. Form and Sputnik Modern are wonderfully curated spots for MCM-philes. We Are 1976 just rocks. And Park is one of the wonkiest, devil ne’er care, good looking restaurants around, even if the food is meh. The gentrification (let’s just come out and say it) of the street has provided a stomping ground for a wide variety of people — the well-heeled, the Ked-heeled, the khaki-ed, the skinny-jeaned; and it has begun to suture parts of the city together: suddenly Knox and Greenville are real neighbors, even if foils of each other.

So why did the Powers That Be have to go and tamper with what was going so well on Henderson Avenue and forcibly clonk down some pretty mediocre sculpture in parking lots and vacant lots with lots and lots of fanfare?

The seven sculptures anchored down the road will sit there for two years and are all for sale, the hope of the organizers being to help “artists pursue their passions.” The work is meant to give the artists exposure to the culturati that stride down the now hip old road: each work has a plaque at its base with the name and website of the artist to connect viewers with the artists.  A weather-proof business card.

Chris Lattanzio "Yellow Rose"

It seems logical enough that in order to draw the largest amount of eyes, the work (and its signage) should have been placed near the most foot traffic, in the already developed patches of Henderson Avenue. Some of the pieces are, like a short stack of red I-beams welded together at a tilt (Falling i-beams, Scott Trent) that sits in front of a parking lot next to a new strip of restaurants and retail. But most of the selected work is situated outside the hub of new development and revitalization in a no-mans-land of vacant lots and buildings. Take Chris Lattanzio’s piece, for example, called Yellow Rose.  It’s made from bright yellow metal twisted to form a rectangle frame of a rose and it sits on the edge of a sidewalk that abuts an empty lot next to a building with a For Lease sign. Looking through the piece from the lot side across the street, Lattanzio’s yellow rose frames the lovely seediness of Fuji Sauna which offers “Theraputic Massage.” It’s a lot of work for a sculpture to try and beautify that little pocket of urban wasteland, and Yellow Rose isn’t quite up for the task.

George Tobolowsky "Outside the Circle"

Two sculptures sit in front of new apartment buildings. Michelle O’Michael ‘s Prairie Fire, a red and yellow painted metal sculpture that curves up like flames, hangs out with lease signs and rent offers in front of a modern-ish complex, doing its sinuous darndest to get new tenants. George Tobolowsky’s bronze piece, “Outside the Circle” is perhaps the best among the seven HAP winners. It’s a carved ring with tubes of metal growing out from it, and it’s nestled among native grasses and red yucca in front of a hacienda (or is it Tuscan?) style block of housing. Tobolowski’s piece has much less work to do by way of tenant recruitment than its counterpart across the street; it fits right in to the landscaping and actually looks like its placement was well-considered. And clearly this complex draws a well-coifed list of tenants already, judging by the sunglassed blondie that gave me a stern look for ogling the sculpture as she pulled out of the underground garage in her luxury vehicle. (Note: don’t look the natives in the eye.)

The placement of nearly all the work in the Henderson Art Project made me suspect a savvy business scheme in which the art acts as bait for new tenants, both in residential and commercial spaces. I could just hear the realtor walking a twenty-something through an apartment: “You’ll notice you’ll have a view of one of the HAP sculptures just outside your window…” (cha-ching, cha-ching). There is nothing so marketable as the idea of good taste.

Main image:  Juanluis Gonzalez’s Opus 1

Michelle O'Michael "Prarie Fire"

61 comments on “The Henderson Art Project Attempts to Beautify (and Market) the Bustling District

  1. I’m getting to this barbeque a little late, since I’ve been out of town, but I’d like to address a couple of things anyway.
    Scott Trent pulled off a marvelous and risky venture, with the result being positive. Rescued animals got donations, art got sold, art got publicly displayed, and we all had super catering.
    As another judge for the HAP project, I generally agree with Lucia. There was some exciting, inventive, cutting-edge art submitted to the contest that did not make it, and I believe it is to the loss of the community. Many pieces that did make it are exceptionally ho-hum.
    Many of the HAP judges in this first year were not arts people, with the result that the selections were a bit homogenized and mundane. That being said- there will be a next year, and years after that, and as we all learn, grow and improve, so to shall the impact of the public art.

  2. Maybe next year the HAP can get sponsored by all the face lift and boob docs in D Mag. That way everyone will be assured a sparkling review.

  3. A call to media:
    Please take a look at the swell of comments around the D Magazine article. (currently 52 comments)
    My concern is D Magazine is going to misinterpret the responses. I believe they will read the comments as a passion for public art. Matter a fact, I believe there is the chance that they will start a series around that specific topic, completely missing the message that is contained in these posts.
    I would argue that the strong responses are coming from the area art community who are stakeholders in the Henderson Art Project, which happens to be focused on public art, but I sense a hunger for more opportunities to connect and collaborate. The comments reflect a wide group of individuals who are opinionated and passionate about art in the metroplex. There are many, many areas of exploration in regards to Dallas art. I hope D Magazine and other media outlets will tap into this meme and give the movement a voice. Give Dallas art a voice! This would start by talking to individuals within this community and don’t stop at the top. Talk to the artists, the promoters, the gallery owners and the organizations supporting these endeavors. Somewhere within that group are valuable insights and the answer how we can continue to support and improve art in the metroplex.

  4. I appreciate this discussion.
    Let’s look at the original intent of this event.

    From the Fact sheet of the HAP site (http://hendersonartproject.com/Details.html), “This event is a unique collaboration between the business community and artists where all the stake-holders prosper. H.A.P. is an experiment to democratize art; it is a creative collision between social media and classic art. The Henderson Art Project endeavors to engage the public by giving a face to the artists and participating in the process of rewarding those creative people who are enhancing the public spaces. The underwriters and sponsors of this event are true visionaries that recognize the value of supporting the artists. This level of participation in creative expression, and public artistic dialogue, builds strong vibrant communities. Henderson Avenue, the city of Dallas, and the art community all benefit from this project: When the artists thrive, the community benefits.”

    Artists conceptualized and submitted their ideas. Their names, faces and websites were posted upon the artist’s page giving them exposure. The juried finalists installed their work, were voted upon by the public. The involvement of artists with the public has given a face to each and showcased the value of creativity and art for art’s sake in everyday life. Art is not just a commodity, it is also a vocation that is life enhancing for all. It raises and reflects life. Artists, regardless of discipline, are the creative thinkers and problem solvers of our culture. They see possibilities beyond habit and existing structures. That “muscle” is well developed within them. This is why Art is essential in school and in community. Art inspires, sparks thought, invokes emotion, invites reflection, acknowledges and illuminates aspects of this amazing life that we share. HAP intended to bring forth the awareness of talented artists within the community of Dallas. It is my opinion that this initial venture was a success.

  5. If we were to start from the position that no art could be placed unless it was museum-quality and had perfect siting, there would be no Henderson Art Project to discuss.

    This was an ambitious grass-roots project and it exceeded its goals. Scott Trent, with support from Andres Properties (a family-owned business) galvanized many, many others who have supported H.A.P. in their own ways.

    Among other positive outcomes, it is a meaningful example of the business and arts sectors working together to create community.

  6. as an artist who had no involvement with this project, i just feel burned for those artists who do have pieces on display. i don’t care if i necessarily like the way a piece of art looks or if it resonates with me at all, but i do feel that the artist is always to be respected. the investment of time, vision and heart that went into these pieces deserves respect. working with metal and sculpture isn’t just an afternoon project. there is so much more invested that the viewer never sees. bravo to those artists that are trying and made an effort to put their pieces out there to be criticized. thanks for supporting and encouraging the artists HAP! it is needed. you make me happy.

  7. Thank you Lucia for your insightful article. I drove down Henderson Avenue today and I see what you mean. I don’t know you, but I know and love many of your D Magazine critic peers. I think it is fabulous that your article has generated this many comments. wow! Your peers’ articles haven’t generated this many responses. Are you right or wrong? I just love that you gave some honest ‘critical’ review from your point of view, and perhaps the point of view of the 30 mph public like me who drove done the ave this hot June day. Of course, I agree with Marty and Katherine, too, and I know and love them both. The fact that there is a critical review of this public art show and a ton of comments highlights the need for both public sculpture and critical review of all art media and venues in Dallas. I hope that the Henderson Art Project returns for its second exhibition having grown from this experience. Viva to all involved…including you dear Lucia. Thank you

  8. The biggest problem with art in Dallas is that the lack of critical response in this city has made ANY critical response unwelcome.

    This feeling that “any art is better than no art at all” is a very dangerous mentality, and doing things this way in dallas has resulted in the lukewarm art scene we currently have where everyone is scared of hurting anyone else’s feelings or having any particularly strong opinions at all.

    This was, albeit poorly publicized, an amazing opportunity for local artists. But it being an amazing opportunity doesn’t make the work better- and furthermore- being critical of the quality of the final work isn’t criticizing the intent.

    Stop being so damn sensitive people. It was a good idea that produced mediocre work. Period.

  9. After the “Dallas 9″, I’m not sure D Mag has much credibility when it comes to art..

  10. Lucia is an artist and a wondrous one at that- her opinion is that- an opinion and from what I know of her, her eye for worthy art is excellent. That is the difference most you who reacted angrily to Lucia fail to see & and probably cannot see because you are not at the same level. The age old question of what is art and who is the best judge of art will never end, but one thing is for sure, she judges based on what art was supposed to be- because she didn’t focus on the meaning behind it and all the charities it helped is besides the point, it isn’t her job to give a pleasing depiction of the story behind it- she takes the idea of public art and challenges it. Instead of crying about it because your art is not thought provoking or amazing, you should take it upon yourself to make better art. She has an eye most people just don’t have- it’s not mediocre or poor or uneducated- it’s extraordinary. If you think picking ugly art and putting it around the city will make it better then you are surely wrong. If you 8 year old had problems reading and all he wanted or could read was porn, would you say, well at least he’s reading. I don’t think so, I think you would take that extra step to help your son read but read better books. Don’t ya think. Lucia, keep critiquing, people cry – art is meant to be judged and praise Lucia for being honest and challenging.