Will the New And Now Gallery Be an Dallas Art Scene Game Changer?

A couple of weeks ago, James Cope, one-time associate curator at the Goss-Michael Foundation, reached out via email and asked me to come by his new gallery space called And Now. The address was familiar. Located in the Cedars neighborhood just up the block from Wanda Dye’s RE Gallery and Lee Harvey’s, the house is owned by a prominent young art collector couple, Patrick and Lindsey Collins. I’ve been to exhibitions there before. The last one was called Dirty New Rococo, and it was organized by the artists Eli Walker and Kelly Kroener. It was an exhibition that was typical of a lot of the off-Dragon Street art activity that has largely defined the more interesting corners of the Dallas art scene for the past three or four years – shows in domestic or reclaimed settings; largely including artists from the city or networked through friends and grad school associates; a general sense that exhibition organizers and participants were interested in the art market only as a theoretical concept ripe for critique.

When I pulled up to the house, I noticed the windows were now boarded-up from the inside. There was no sign with the new gallery’s name, just a tattered mailbox with stickers showing the house number. But for the sleekly modern cedar fence and neatly manicured granite pebble lawn, the house looked like most of the easy-to-overlook turn-of-the-century shacks that populate the Cedars. That only made walking into the Cope’s new gallery even more of a shock. The front of the house has been completely transformed – walls demolished, white-painted sheetrock plastered over the windows – so that the little bungalow looks nothing like a domestic space, and instead boasts two pure white, brightly lit rooms. It’s a stark, distraction-free environment, and the only thing that reminds you that you are in the Cedars is the floor, which has been covered with plywood and painted grey, but which still slumps like a ramp towards one side of the house where the foundation is sinking into the soft ground.

James Cope left Dallas for New York three years ago. He worked for a few galleries (including Chelsea’s Marlborough Gallery), and, in a few short years, orchestrated a professional transformation. In the last 12 to 18 months, he has reemerged rebranded as a dealer-curator (even scoring a gushing feature in F!D). The dealer-curator is a curious creature of the art world. They operate as a conduit between the art producers and the art consumers, straddling the world of ideas and the world of commerce. They build up reputations as taste (and market) makers by curating independent exhibitions, populating booths at art fairs, and making money by helping collectors buy the right work and shape collections – or, sometimes, just by getting new collectors in the door at top galleries.

For his own part, Cope raised eyebrows by not only working his way into last year’s NADA Miami Art Fair, but selling out his booth in 40 minutes. This new venture in South Dallas may be even more of a coup. For the inaugural exhibition, Cope invited three New York-based artists to Dallas: Borden Capalino, Eli Ping, and Rose Marcus. They stayed in the gallery-house’s back bedroom (which, along the kitchen, has not been refinished like the gallery section), and created work on site for And Now’s inaugural exhibition. The work includes black, gridded window screens draped on the white walls (Ping); photos of steel-girded windows matted on plywood and then painted and perforated with gestural cut-outs (Marcus); and images of mirrors plucked off Craigslist, collaged on canvas, splattered with crusty explosions of baking soda, and adorned with walnuts and pistachios (Capalino). The result is a show that cuts a curious trajectory between starkly minimal and expressive aesthetic, with all three artists responding to the space and its location, considering light, reflection, passage, portals, and the usual conceptual tangle stoked by the appropriation of materials and images.

The work is strong, but the concept of the curatorial project may be more interesting for Dallas. It is precisely because Cope is now in Dallas (and not New York) and is an independent curator (and not a gallery), that he can work around some of the usual obstacles that would restrict the exhibiting of this kind of hotly sought-after, up-and-coming talent. For example, Capalino’s work at And Now sold to a London-based collector before the show even opened, in part because the collector could circumvent the waiting list for the work at Capalino’s New York gallery, Ramiken Crucible. That makes And Now the kind of gallery space that may be perfectly positioned to fill two holes in the Dallas art scene. The first is to bring artists to exhibit who wouldn’t show in regular Dallas galleries and whose career trajectory falls below the radar of spaces like The Power Station or the Dallas Contemporary. The second is a gallery space based in Dallas that is watched by collectors and dealers outside the region.

Cope surely launched And Now with his A-Game; the question will be whether or not he can sustain an exhibition schedule that distinguishes him, not just from art spaces in the region, but within the dialogue he seeks to enter – namely, what amounts to as a Lower East Side satellite space plopped down in the Cedars. But it’s precisely that ambition that makes And Now exciting. When Cope returned to town late last year, there was some skepticism from Dallas-based artists about his sudden posturing as a dealer-curator-consultant (After all, does anyone remember that atrocious Dallas Art Fair panel he moderated: “Another sculpture, another chair… What would Brancusi do?”)  But this first show demonstrates that Cope has follow-through, and it builds upon previous examples of his efforts to help Dallas-based artists transcend the region’s generally isolated art scene, like when he showed the artists Ludwig and Marjorie Schwarz at NADA New York in 2013 and Gabriel Dawe at Marlborough in 2012.

And like the meticulously stark, white-walled interior of the newly retrofitted house-gallery, there’s an air of professionalism that distances And Now from the other galleries and art spaces that have popped-up during Dallas recent cultural ferment. And Now is building on a foundation – Cope’s network of collectors and artists — and the proprietor seems to have a defined vision. Perhaps most importantly, he has an economic plan. He will keep costs down by inviting artists to Dallas to create new work, since a few plane tickets are cheaper than shipping a half dozen paintings. He brings to Dallas a network of collectors, artists, and dealers not currently engaged in the region at this level, and he says he plans to feature artists living in the region when it makes sense. He will also continue to stage shows around the world. His most recent curatorial projects outside of Dallas were in Miami and Luxemburg.

This first exhibition at And Now opened quietly, and Cope said he wanted it that way. But his next opening will undoubtedly be a much larger affair. It will take place the Saturday during the Dallas Art Fair, and it will coincide with an Art Fair after party Cope plans to throw at neighboring Lee Harvey’s. For that matter, the Cedars, too, bolsters his project. When Capalino, Ping, and Marcus were in town working on their pieces, they could blow off after a long day by throwing back PBRs in front of a fire pit in the bar’s patio-lot in South Dallas while a neighboring junkyard dog prowled the parameter fence. The artists may come to exhibit their work in a sleek white walled space that mirrors the Lower East Side, but when they step outside into the shade of the Cedars, they feel like they’ve really been to Texas.

Photo: Installation shot (courtesy of And Now)