Last week I received an advanced copy of Phaidon’s new book Art Cities of the Future. The new publication takes a different approach in trying to locate the most intriguing emerging artistic talent around the world. It zeros-in on the local scenes in a handful of cities, looking at the artists they have produced as well as the history, evolution, and ecology of the local environment that has given birth to them.
I’m interested in the book because Dallas fancies itself as an aspiring, emerging art center, and when I make it through the entire volume, I’ll come back with a more thorough review as well as some thoughts on what some of these cities around the world could teach Dallas about mapping itself as an “art city.” (Hint: It’s about artists, and not necessarily institutions and collectors, who play supporting roles to the art.)
Reading the book, though, has already sparked a few comparisons that harken back to the heady, turn-of-the-decade days when it seemed like making Dallas an art city was on everyone’s collective minds. And I couldn’t help but notice a handful of factors that make some of these world cities vibrant art centers, but which may be more difficult to manufacture in Dallas.
Make Dallas More Vibrant – Sure, kind of a generic statement. But community is born of proximity, creativity is stirred on by energy. The urban shape of Dallas diffuses both. Art scenes need density, which breeds more casual, everyday encounters, conversations, and critical disagreement. Critical disagreement: we need more that for sure.
Move UT to Dallas – Universities are not just the intellectual engines of art scenes, feeding cities with students, teachers, and activity, but they are intellectual institutions that artists can butt up against, stirring on more critical conversations and contention. Bringing UT to Dallas is certainly idiotically far-fetched, but maybe UNT could relocate some of its art school to Dallas, as SMU and UTD continue to invest. Better yet, how about an entirely new art school altogether?
Natural beauty – Sigh, I know. This again. But if you don’t have a vibrant urban environment, it would be nice to have a beach or something to make this city exciting for reasons that are not merely practical. Maybe with global warming, out dreams can come true.
That Superstar Artist from Dallas – Sure, we’ve had some great artists come out of Dallas: Vernon Fisher, David Bates, Erick Swenson. But we’ve never had that artist that comes out of this city and defines its art scene at the same time, then moves to somewhere New York and gives everyone a hard time for ignoring all the great talent that came before them, bullying critics and curators to take stock.
Collectors That Delight in Collecting Local Talent – Yes, Christina Rees has beaten this one before, but it’s a recurring theme in the the biographies of these emerging art cities profiled by Phaidon. I thought about it again over the weekend at The Power Station, which held a great exhibition called Amarillo Entropy. That exhibit looked at the activities of Robert Smithson and Ant Farm in the Texas panhandle, pairing ephemera with works by Richard Serra, John Chamberlain, and Ed Ruscha, as well as Stanley Marsh’s fake traffic signs. Complementing it all was an art auction featuring works by some of the best local talent inspired by the signs.
The idea was exactly what this city needs more of: a way to place local art within the context of a broader art dialogue, to showcase the best talents in a space that suits the project and has the potential to attract a rare cross-section of this city’s art world, from artists to high-end collectors. I just couldn’t figure out why there weren’t more collectors falling over themselves to snag the work of some of these artists which, at the end of the auction, went for just a few hundred bucks. They’ll kick themselves when this place actually does become an art city and they’ll have to shell out a whole lot more to catch up to the market they seem to always chase, and never lead.