Thursday’s KERA/Dallas Museum of Art panel discussion on the state of contemporary art in Dallas opened with a slide show highlighting recent and upcoming efforts of the distinguished panelists: Mark Bradford and Mark Manders at the DMA, Shepard Fairey, Rob Pruitt and Aaron Parazette at the Dallas Contemporary, shots of the studio art department in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, and Elliott Hundley at the Nasher Sculpture Center. With five casual chairs arranged in a semicircle around a coffee table on a tan patterned carpet, the setting was business-casual (among the panel, there were two neckties, out of five possible). The following are a few notes on the discussion.
Moderator Jeff Whittington, senior producer of Think and host of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know on KERA, opened by asking the panelists, who all arrived in Dallas within the past few years, what has changed in town recently. Jeffrey Grove, senior curator of contemporary art at the DMA, observed that people from all over the world have come here. Jeremy Strick, director of the Nasher Sculpture Center, said that Dallas reminded him“of the L.A. I grew up in: the look, the sense of possibility.” He said that impression was spurred by series of articles written by Christina Rees for Glasstire: “That intense discussion doesn’t necessarily take place in every city.” Michael Corris, chair of studio art at SMU’s Meadows School, said that Dallasites’ “enthusiasm, openness, optimism, and generosity” encouraged him to move here after twenty years in the United Kingdom.
Whittington: Do you have a civic responsibility to the art-making community? Strick: Artists are the essential, most informed, passionate audience for a museum. Peter Doroshenko, executive director of the Dallas Contemporary: We place local artists in a national and international context. Corris: We have the Free Museum of Dallas, which is my office. Our next exhibition will be a group of illustrated pamphlets on racial prejudice, made by Ad Reinhardt, Howard Sparber and others.
Whittington: Jeffrey, what is your curatorial approach? Grove: To expand the parameters, scale, and scope; to recontextualize little-seen works in the permanent collection; to balance this with the big retrospectives; to invite artists like Matt Connors and Fergus Feehily to work with the permanent collection.
Whittington: Jeremy, you should take credit for the Nasher’s new move into contemporary art. Strick: It’s actually quite selfish: We show things that I want to see, in one of the most beautiful spaces in the world. We don’t have to work hard on selling artists on doing a show there. Elliott Hundley was just on the phone to his New York dealer, Andrea Rosen, telling her she’d better up her game and get travertine walls.
Whittington: Peter, tell us about the outreach, communication, the new approach at the Dallas Contemporary. Doroshenko: We’re 100% focused on artist ideas. It’s about leaving the building, getting outside the building; not everybody will come in our door.
Whittington: You’ve all arrived on the scene in past few years. What are your impressions of where we could see improvement? What is not necessarily working? What could be done?
Corris: Artists here sometime say, “If only there were more of a market…” but I don’t think that’s the issue. We need more interlocutors for [non-market-based] relational, dialogical forms of art, that don’t need a lot of financial resources. We have Bernardo Diaz in residence at the West Dallas Community Center. LaReunion is another example. The Reading Room. Think outside the market.
Strick: There are three pillars of cultural capital: presentation (museums), consumption (collectors), and production (artists). Dallas is doing better with first two than with the third, at nurturing a community of artists. What can we do to make it easier for artists to work here? Art schools are central. Look at what John Baldessari did in L.A., or Michael Craig-Martin did in London. We need more Michel Corrises; we need to attract faculty of an international level. This costs a lot less than some other ideas.
Doroshenko: I agree. It’s about ingenuity and ideas, like the Free Museum. An art career is life-long. It’s sexier to be in the Whitney Biennial at 60 than at 26.
Grove: I agree. Educational institutions are key. There’s more attentiveness & self-criticality here than elsewhere.
Corris: It takes a while to build. Baldessari wasn’t alone at Cal Arts. The city and donors need to understand that small seed gifts are as important as high-profile big-ticket items.
Whittington [to audience]: Every dollar counts, folks. [laughter]
Whittington: What’s on your wish list? Corris: Four or five artists’ residency programs. Strick: For patrons to be as focused on programs as on buildings [applause]. Grove: A profusion of alternative spaces. Doroshenko: Better marketing.
Whittington: What’s the city’s responsibility? [Initial silence] Corris: A vibrant cultural office, concerned with something other than bricks & mortar, other than with a culture of prestige. Doroshenko: How about a cultural tax on hotel bills? A nickel changes everything [applause].
Whittington: Could Dallas become art city like New York, L.A., or London? Grove: Is that what we want? Everyone there complains. Doroshenko: By the standards of the back-page listings in Artforum, Dallas is happening.
Audience: Why not re-institute the museum school that the DMA used to run? Grove: I’m not familiar with that history. Audience: Go to dallasarthistory.com to find out.
Audience: I went to college in Austin; the scene that you want to happen here exists there. Corris: I’ve been to Austin and I’m not sure what you mean. There’s nothing there that we can’t do here.
Audience: What are the real icons of this city? Grove: Pollock’s Cathedral; Church’s Icebergs, the Indonesian collections.Audience: “The Stake Hitch!” [Note: Willard Spiegelman wrote about this one in May 2010.]
Audience: As cultural administrators, what’s your greatest problem? Whittington: Let’s change that to “greatest challenge.” Doroshenko: To maintain excellence on a day-in day-out basis. Corris: How to be a research institution while not being distracted by fads and while maintaining enrollment. Strick: Transforming our public perception from that of a single-donor institution to a public resource.
I’d like to add a couple of brief editorial comments here.
First, none of the following institutions were mentioned by name: The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Cowboys Stadium Art Program, the Rachofsky House, the Power Station, any commercial gallery, or any specific piece of public art in Dallas. Is this indicative of something?
Second, here’s my personal vision of “success” in upcoming years: Thomas Hirschhorn at the Nasher, Ryan Trecartin at the Dallas Contemporary, an e-flux symposium at the DMA, and robust local dialogue with all of the above. Challenging, uncompromising, ambitious work has a catalytic effect, encouraging everyone who sees it to a productive response.