It has been about week since the Dallas Morning News announced that it has finally filled its vacant art critic position after seven years. The new boss, is an old boss: Rick Brettell, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, sometimes curator, and former director of the Dallas Museum of Art. Since the announcement was made, I have heard a wide range of reactions, from the ebullient – Hurray! We finally have an art critic – to the puzzled: Really? Brettell?
After such a long drought without an art critic at Dallas’ only daily, the reactions should have been universally enthusiastic. After all, the local arts scene has shown no shortage of consternation over the apparent lack of art criticism. And efforts to fill the void of arts criticism in lieu of a daily critic, which include not only this website, but also Glasstire, Art and Culture, Art and Seek, fDeluxe as well as various other specialty online and print outlets, have largely not had the resonance many would expect or hope. So, either something about the new media hole-fillers isn’t working in the minds of local art worlders, or there persists a nostalgia for the role a newspaper critic plays in the context of an art scene.
I believe understanding what many artists or art watchers in Dallas perceive this city lacks by way of art criticism helps to understand some of the disappointment that met Brettell’s hire. For a few years there have been discussions that the Dallas Morning News or Glasstire was working to do exactly what the DMN did with their new architecture critic, Mark Lamster: reach out and attract someone from outside of Dallas who could come into this city and see it with fresh eyes. The hope was bound up in a desire to have someone working full time as an art critic locally who was at the same time deeply steeped in the contemporary art world at large, who could help calibrate our own understanding of the art being produced locally and our expectations for the programming of our museums and galleries. The hope, in short, was that the daily paper could find a critic to broaden and deepen the conversation about art in Dallas while helping that regional artistic dialogue transcend and have resonance beyond its specific local.
What we have in Brettell is a scholar with a page of accolades, all the right degrees, decades of experience, and a deep familiarity with Dallas. So why the ambivalence? I believe there are a few reasons. It has to do, in part, with the fact that Brettell’s area of expertise is in impressionism and post-impressionist art, and not contemporary art. He has served as a director of the DMA and has curated shows at the Nasher Sculpture Center, so there is reason to question whether he will be willing to push hard against the institutions he is supposed to cover. And when he has turned his mind to the local art happenings in recent years, such as in this article about David Quadrini, there is a certain Pollyanna-ish characterization of the melding of artists and patrons that grossly undersells one of the essential challenges facing practicing artists in Dallas. In short, artists are hungry for strengthen this city’s lines of communication to the outside world, and what we have is a new art critic thoroughly steeped in Dallas.
Still, as one former art scribe Bill Marvel said in the comments to the DMN’s announcement of Brettell’s hire, “His CV is filled with fine writing and cogent thought. That’s pretty much what we want in an art critic, isn’t it?” It is, and it remains to be seen just how Brettell will handle his new position. How often will he be given space, and how much space will he be afforded? What shows will he review, and how will approach them? Which artists will he champion, and which ones will he ignore, and why? I, for one, am not ready to write off this new hire. The reality is the DMN now has an art critic. That’s good news. What remains to be seen is just what having a daily newspaper art critic again after so many years without one will actually mean for Dallas.
Here are the gallery openings:
“Amarillo Entropy” by John Chamberlain, Nancy Holt, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, Stephen Shore, Robert Smithson, Ant Farm, the Toad Hall Gang or the Dynamite Museum, at the The Power Station Dallas – September 18: 7-9 p.m. 3816 Commerce Street, Dallas, Tx 75226.
TRAK MEET sponsored by Bombay Sapphire at CentralTrak — September 19: 7-10 p.m. 800 Exposition Ave. Dallas, TX 75226.
“Chaos” by Didier Legros and Timothy Oulton, at Gallerie Noir – September 19: 6-8 p.m. 1525 Dragon Street, Dallas, Tx 75207.
“junk Drawer” by Julia McLain, at RO2Art at the Magnolia – September 19: 6-9 p.m. 3699 McKinney Avenue, Suite 100, Dallas, Tx 75204.
An Evening at Home by Brian Fridge, Chris Kysor, Nick Mathis, and Marjorie Schwarz; curated by James Cope and Ashley Robinson — September 20: 6-10 p.m. 9562 Ash Creek Dr. Dallas, TX 75228.
lo-fi by Benjamin Terry at RE Gallery — September 20: 7-9 p.m. 1717 Gould St., Dallas, TX 75215.
TRANSFORMATION at Janette Kennedy Gallery — September 20: 6-9 p.m. 1409 S. Lamar, Dallas, TX 75215.
DADA Fall Gallery Walk – September 21: 12-8 p.m. For a full list of galleries go here.
Opening Celebration by Faile, Georg Herold, Kevin Todora, Lucia Simek, and Kristen Cochran at the Dallas Contemporary — September 21: 9 p.m. – 12 a.m. 161 Glass St. Dallas, TX 75206.
Friskt kopplat, hälften brunnet. (Quick connected, half burned) hosted by HOMECOMING! Committee at CentralTrak – September 21: 7 p.m. 800 Exposition Ave. Dallas, TX 75226.
Steph Hargrove | Fred Villanueva | Jordan Castilleja at Green Bandana Projects — September 21: 8 p.m. – 12 a.m. 141 Glass St. Dallas, TX 75207.
“MidTown ARTwalk” at the Midtown Gallery and Artist Studio – September 21: 6-10 p.m. Valley View Center, Suite 2012, 13331 Preston Road, Dallas, Tx 75240.
“Opening Reception” by Ernie Benton, at Midtown Gallery and Artist Studio – September 21: 6-10 p.m. Valley View Center, Suite 2012, 13331 Preston Road, Dallas, Tx 75240.
“TEXAS: Signs and Places” by James Bland and Kevin Page, at the Gallery at Midtown – September 21: 6-10 p.m. 13331 Preston Road, Dallas, Texas 75240.
“Abstract Sculpture” by Jason Mehl, at MUZEION Gallery – September 21: 5-7 p.m. 1113 Dragon Street, Dallas, Tx 75207.
“1105 EXHIBITION” by JD Miller, Philip J. Romano, and Lea Fisher, at the Samuel Lynne Galleries - September 21: 5-9 p.m. 1105 Dragon Street, Dallas, Tx 75207.
“Gerard Valtier” at Southwest Gallery – September 21: 1-5 p.m. 4500 Sigma Road, Dallas, Tx 75244.
“Opening Reception” by Ken Womack and Jayme Savage, at Gallery 1300 – September 21: 3-8 p.m. 1300 Dragon Street, Dallas, Tx 75207.
“DADA Fall Gallery Walk” by Johannes Boekhoudt, at the Mary Tomas Gallery – September 21: 12- 8 p.m. 1110 Dragon Street, Dallas, Tx 75207.