The newest big-name Dallas art venue didn’t open with the usual gala celebration or the nightly news trumpeting the twitching needle on Dallas’ world-class-ometer. Rather, The Warehouse, Amy and Vernon Faulconer’s and Cindy and Howard Rachofsky’s sprawling arts facility that sits in a charmless industrial district not far from the intersection of 635 and Inwood Road, quietly opened late last year with a private brunch on the Sunday after the annual Two x Two for AIDS and Art Auction.
The Warehouse is an 18,000-square-foot facility that offers more space than the collection’s previous home, the Rachofsky’s Richard Meier-designed house, and a more traditional white-box setting for the art. It also marks a dramatic change in tone. Whereas the Meier house couched contemporary art in a domestic setting (albeit a highly rarefied one), The Warehouse is a kind of art fortress. It will operate in a semiprivate, semipublic limbo, characteristic of this city’s gregariously philanthropic (yet protectively private) art circles. Party banter suggested the space would be open only to scholars, curators, or art jet-setters on a layover at DFW Airport. But the facility has begun to let in educational tours, and staffers say the facility may open to the public in some capacity, possibly for scheduled tours for Dallas Museum of Art members.
Let’s hope the doors are flung wide. Ready access to The Warehouse might dispel the mistaken notion held by some of the hoi polloi that the stuff inside our local collectors’ domiciles has nothing to do with them. That point couldn’t be made clearer by the second installation at The Warehouse, titled “Parallel Views: Italian and Japanese Art from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s.” The exhibit pairs Rachofsky’s long-standing interest in Arte Povera with his latest fascination, an obscure Japanese art movement called Mono-ha that grew up in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Over the past two years, Rachofsky and the Dallas Museum of Art have played an instrumental role in bringing works from the Mono-ha movement back before the public eye, and Mono-ha artists have recently enjoyed retrospectives at the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art, as well as at galleries in Los Angeles and New York.
The easy pairing of Mono-ha and Arte Povera suggests why the Japanese artists were forgotten in the West. The art of Mono-ha, which means “school of things,” sometimes feels formally, materially, or theoretically related not only to Arte Povera but to a number of other art movements, including minimalism, postminimalism, land art, op-art, and the Fluxus artists. It utilizes simple geometric forms, elemental materials, and aspects of performance, and often relied on public exhibition in parks, streets, or museum grounds. A cursory examination of the movement can leave Mono-ha looking like merely a Japanese iteration of other art historical trends, a misguided assessment that may alone explain its long status as a footnote. What is unique to the movement is the particular way in which the art drives the viewer to become more aware of the physical presence of material.
Take one of the works in the Rachofsky collection, Sekine Nobuo’s Phase of Nothingness-Water (1969). The piece comprises two steel and lacquer geometric forms, a bed-size black cuboid and a chest-height black cylinder. At first glance, they look like solids, but upon closer inspection, the viewer sees that the objects are containers filled to the brim with water. Looking at the dark and delicate surface of the water, one feels the weight and pressure of the materials—solid and fluid—the structure of the piece held in delicate balance. A breath exhaled across the smooth surface of the water causes it to ripple, breaking the restrained tension.
Sekine’s piece displays a number of characteristics essential to Mono-ha: it presents natural materials in a way that makes the viewer more sensitive to a visceral perception of their physicality; it explores space through the careful activation of the in-between; and it facilitates a tactile connection between the viewer and the work that raises questions about artistic boundary and autonomy, that is, about where the artwork ends and the not-art part of the room begins.
In some pieces, that boundary between the art and its environment is blurred by the use of natural materials and an economy of creative action, as is the case with another piece by Sekine, Phase-Mother Earth. In October 1968, the artist drove a steel mold into the flat ground in an open area of a Tokyo park. When Sekine removed the mold from the ground, a mammoth cylinder of dirt came out with it. Nine feet tall, with a diameter of 7 feet, the hulking mass of earth stood like a pillar divorced of some monumental and evaporated ruin. Its smooth, black surface was marked with the texture of sedimentary stratification, compressed and layered materials that marked a passing of geological time. The artwork wasn’t so much made as it was discovered, a hunk of earth repositioned.
There is a satisfaction in seeing these pieces today (though Sekine’s Phase-Mother Earth was only re-created for a short time at an exhibition at the Los Angeles gallery Blum & Poe). We live in a time of mass media and image saturation, in a culture that is continually self-referencing, regenerating, regurgitating. In the midst of this, Mono-ha possesses a transfixing power, a poetics that arrests our attention and makes us focus on a mystery present in the raw materiality of existence. The movement’s political concerns also, somewhat surprisingly, find new resonance.
In the late 1960s, these artists, like the Italian artists of the Arte Povera movement, were exploring questions of institution and authority. They bound timber to the columns in galleries, nailed plywood to the facades of museums, and threw massive sheets of white paper onto the streets in front of a major Tokyo museum. These performances and site-specific installations couldn’t be boxed up and sold to collectors, but they do offer an interesting subtext. After all, the work that was preserved and commodified now sits in a warehouse less than a mile from the Galleria.
Image: Works by Sekine Nobuo installed at the Dallas Museum of Art. On wall: Phase of Nothingness-Cloth and Stone (1970/1994). On floor: Phase of Nothingness-Water (1969/2005) (Image courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art)