When the Dallas Museum of Art’s local art history exhibition, DallasSITES: Charting Contemporary Art, 1963 to Present, opened in May, it was by definition incomplete. The show promises to tell the history of the scene through to the present, and yet the timeline quits in the mid-2000s.
But that wasn’t the only omission in the show. As many local artists and art watchers have pointed out in the months since the opening, the traversing of the past five decades of art activity in North Texas via a geographically sorted catalogue of ephemera left many holes in a half-told history. Where was mention of DW Co-Op Art Gallery, for example, an important woman-run space that opened in the mid-1970s and helped cultivate the early careers of some of the most prominent DFW artists? Others wondered if the activities of universities were sufficiently explored. And was the decision to organize the history by neighborhood an arbitrary construct that obscured more than illuminated, misconstrued more that map? Was the show too-much driven by an exhibition design scheme that mismanaged space, rendered much of the exhibition’s content illegible, and cluttered the gallery?
When I wrote about the exhibit, I called it a first draft. The challenge I have since heard to that assessment is whether or not a first draft is helpful in demarking or legitimizing Dallas’ art. Is a half-told history more damaging than an untold history because it runs the risk of ostracizing, reducing, or belittling what has happened and its significance, all the while satiating the local museum’s sense of obligation towards local artists? Does DallasSITES’ incompleteness let the Dallas Museum of Art off the hook for another fifty years in its presumed role as the de facto institutional steward of local art history? And how much should we make of the decision not to show very much art from Dallas’ past, but rather ephemera? Was the museum trying to keep its legitimizing curatorial hands clean?
DallasSITES has provoked no shortage of irritation among many of the artists who actually lived much of the history the show retells. But then DallasSITES: Charting Contemporary Art is only one part of a two-part exhibition. This weekend, the second part opens during the DMA’s July Late Night event, and it will at least address two issues with the already-opened show: the lack of art and the question of the present.
For DallasSITES: Available Space, the DMA has opened the Barrel Vault and adjacent galleries to a number of local art groups and collectives who will stage a variety of projects. The groups include The Art Foundation, Homecoming!, Performance SW, the Dallas Video Festival, and Oil and Cotton. The project is something of an unprecedented occasion: the handing over of the museum’s keys to local artists. Both The Art Foundation and Homecoming! have organized exhibitions. The Art Foundation’s Boom Town promises an examination of Dallas’ current cultural climate, while Homecoming!’s Post Communiqué seeks to blur the lines between historical fact and fictitious narrative. These projects have the potential of creating an intriguing dynamic, each packing an implicit critique of its host — the former doing so via a more standardly hung gallery show, and the later, through a madcap mix of interactive performance and installation. Performance SW will feature a performance by Courtney Brown and Alison Starr, and the Dallas Video Festival will screen some selected works. Oil and Cotton will do what Oil and Cotton does, orchestrate craft and art projects for museum visitors.
On the one hand, DallasSITES: Available Space feels like a tepid venture by the museum into the local arts scene, presenting the artists’ work as activities included in the programming of the always activity-laden Late Nights. But the exhibition is also an intriguing way of approaching a survey of art from a given region without hampering the artists included in such an exhibition with regionalist overtones. Such a geographically-driven exhibition scheme, like the Houston Museum of Fine Art’s Fresh Paint (1985) which clumsily tried to define a “Houston School,” threatens to further provincialize artists, especially those working in a city where many of its art patrons and benefactors can’t fathom why any artist worth her salt would decide to live or stay in Dallas in the first place. Instead, Available Spaces offers a platform, one that will help expose and legitimize Dallas artists to the DMA’s audience and help frame this city as a place of cultural production, not just cultural consumption. Perhaps more importantly, the show will also present an opportunity to prove to the museum’s curators and patrons that local artists are worth paying attention to in the first place.
DallasSITES: Available Spaces at the Dallas Museum of Art — July 19: 6 p.m. – 12 a.m. 1717 N. Harwood Ave. Dallas, TX 75201.
“SPECTRUM SERIES” by Karen Piloto, at the Haley-Henman – July 20: 6-9 p.m. The Verona, 13330 Noel Road, Dallas, Tx 75240.
“PAINT” by Olaniyi Rasheed Akindiyi aka Akirash, Fannie Brito, Chance Dunlap, TJ Griffin, Linda Dee Guy, Jeff Parrott, and DJ Perera, at the Ro2 DOWNTOWN Gallery – July 20: 7-10 p.m. 110 N Akard Street, Dallas, Tx 75201.
“Design District Gallery Day” at Circuit 12 Contemporary, Cohn Drennan Contemporary, Conduit Gallery, Craighead Green Gallery, Cris Worley Fine Arts, the Dallas Contemporary, Galleri Urbane, the Goss-Michael Foundation, Holly Johnson Gallery, PDNB Gallery, RE Gallery, Red Arrow Contemporary, RO2 Art, Samuel Lynne Gallery, Laura Rathe Fine Art, Mary Tomas Gallery, Alan Simmons Art & Design - July 20: 12-8 p.m.
“Gallery At Midtown & Artist Studios” at the Valley View Center - July 20: 11-6 p.m. 13331 Preston Road, Dallas, Texas 75240.
Peep Show at Webb Gallery — July 21: 5-8 p.m. 209 W. Franklin, Waxahachie, Texas 75165.
“An Odd and Fanciful Notion” by Linda Gossett, at the Goodrich Gallery of the First United Methodist Church – July 21: 2-4 p.m. 1928 Ross Avenue, Dallas, Tx 75201.