Over the coming months, the Bad at Sports blog is featuring quick glimpses of the art world as it exists in smaller cities across the country and around the world. Each glimpse is byway of some of the said city’s local characters, which include but are not limited to artists, curators, creative writers, and critics. In this Dallas Day article, artist Brittany Ransom dishes on what she, a recent Midwesterner-cum-Dallasite, finds exciting about the Big D.
View from Dallas’ Reunion Tower
Dallas Is Hot
Guest post by Brittany Ransom
I arrived in Dallas in the fall of 2011 and my first thought was “Dallas is hot.” I happened to move here just in time to land in the middle of a sweltering 60-something day streak of temperatures climaxing over 100 degrees. There was not a cloud or drop of rain in sight. I moved to Dallas to work as an assistant professor in the Division of Art at SMU specializing in Digital/Hybrid Media. After a few years, I now see my role at-large, as both an artist and educator, as straddling many lines institutionally and within my work. My practice depends on being able to regularly engage with engineers, scientists, technology enthusiasts, other artists, and the insects in my back yard (often my favorite collaborators in the mix).
As a born and raised Midwesterner, I naively had never heard the term “metroplex”, which is the word that is used to commonly refer to the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area. Now that I call Dallas my home and the place where I continue to build my art practice, I am invested in this metroplex and its ‘scenes’ in numerous ways. I am often asked by new acquaintances and former colleagues (most those based in the Midwest) where I live and work. I am frequently met with seemingly questionable gazes when I respond “Dallas.” These gazes are generally followed by vague responses that include something to the affect of “Oh, I hear Austin is cool…” And while Austin, Houston, and San Antonio (among many other Texas cities) are also ripe with artists and institutions doing interesting things (the Texas Biennial was a good survey of contemporary art happening throughout Texas this year)there are a number of things that have made me come to appreciate the heat in Dallas.
Natalie Leduc’s “Eternal Miss Texas Biennial” performance at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum for the 2013 Texas Biennial opening reception
Dallas is filled with so many driven visionaries, emerging and established spaces, studios, and collectives that it is impossible to name them all here. Important to me are a handful of experiences and resources that I think point to the upward growth of Dallas. This city is undoubtedly filled with many ‘big hitter’ institutions, such as the Dallas Museum of Art, Nasher Sculpture Center, Kimball Art Museum, and the Ft. Worth Modern, among others. I can say that I have had a lot of active engagement with the Dallas Museum of Art and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, both of which have given me the opportunity to expand my exhibition portfolio as well as my practice. Currently, I am working on a digital mural project with the Team Dallas Learning Lab, a group made up of students from local high schools, all of who are interested in exploring the intersections of science and art. Team Dallas Learning Lab brings in artists like me as guides to produce work that promotes knowledge and skill sharing. More importantly, the model employed by this group encourages various concentrations of creative practices to come together through experimentation and risk-taking. These types of programs exists at institutions throughout the city, and they are instrumental in helping artists engage a multitude of audiences.
Conceptualization of digital mural at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science created with images captured from handmade microscopes for mobile devices in collaboration with the DMA and Teen Learning Lab Council.
As an artist specifically working with(in) “New Media” (dare I use that term…), I do find Dallas (like a lot of small cities) to be a bit behind the times; however, it’s showing promise by supporting artists who use code/computing/digital technologies within their work. The increase in these areas has definitely been at the forefront of many of the universities in town. I find myself among a great number of smart and exciting artists who are also working in New Media and the need for spaces to support this type of work to be growing. I have participated in events like Dallas Aurora since its initial debut in 2011, and it is becoming a truly exciting event that allows artists from all over the world to use the Arts district as a space for interactive video, sound, and performance-based work. There are other spaces and collectives, too, which support emergent disciplines and practices– Oliver Francis Gallery, Beefhaus, and Womanorial, to name a few, have been progressively curating physical and online exhibitions that exist beyond the typical ‘white cube’ shows that one might see in the city’s more mainstream design district.
Michael A. Morris’ “Third Hermeneutics” media performance at the Dallas Contemporary as part of Alive for 35. Image courtesy of Melissa Tran.
Brittany Ransom and Melissa Tran’s “Nervous Bodies,” a site-specific installation projected onto the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas for Aurora: Light of Convergence, 2013
Cheon Pyo’s “Chinese Waterfall,” 2014, as part of the “Dark Markets” exhibition at Oliver Francis Gallery
Of course, this post presents just a skimming of what has been important to me as an artist, especially one who is relatively new to Dallas. Regardless, I will give this statement in summation: I have found Dallas to be a city that is refreshing in its willingness to support local artists, to take risks that make artists’ ideas and visions come to fruition, and to create a community of people who are genuinely interested in and supportive of each others’ work. It may be hot here, but I can say that I am happy to be in the heat of Dallas right now.
Brittany Ransom is an artist and educator who creates interactive installations, electronic art objects, and site specific interventions that strive to probe the line between human, animal, and environmental relations while exploring emergent technologies. Using technology as a material, Ransom’s work introduces concepts exploring the conflicted relationships between our culture, the concern for nature, and the way we interact with the natural world. She explores the paradoxical bond between human, nature, its inhabitants and the co-evolution between the living and budding technological innovationwhile questioning these technologies. Ransom’s work invites the viewer to question how technology can concurrently invent, destroy, enshroud, and expose itself within our shared environments. Ransom is currently serving as the Assistant Professor of Digital/Hybrid Media + Art at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas and works with(in) the Center for Creative Computation. Ransom received her Master of Fine Arts Degree with a focus in New Media Arts (formerly known as Electronic Visualization) from the University of Illinois at Chicago in May of 2011. She is the recipient of the Arctic Circle Research Residency (2014), is a College Art Association Fellow (2011), two time recipient of the Lincoln Fellowship (2010 & 2011), the Provost Award recipient at UIC (2011), and has won numerous awards throughout her emergent career. Prior to her time in Dallas and Chicago, Ransom lived and worked in Columbus, Ohio. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with distinction in Art and Technology from The Ohio State University in 2008. She has exhibited her work both nationally and internationally and has been featured in several publications.
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Over the coming months, the Bad at Sports blog is featuring quick glimpses of the art world as it exists in smaller cities across the country and around the world. Each glimpse is byway of some of the said city’s local characters, which include but are not limited to artists, curators, creative writers, and critics. In this Dallas Day article, curator Leigh A. Arnold tours the Dallas sites.
Guest post by Leigh A. Arnold
I moved to Dallas over eight years ago, which by all accounts qualifies me as a true Texan. Though, to be honest, Dallasites are so friendly I am certain that the moment I signed my first apartment lease, I was considered one of their own. Regardless of how Texan I may be, eight years is unquestionably enough time to gain some perspective on the area arts community. What is interesting to report is that unbeknownst to me when I arrived in Dallas in 2006, the city’s art scene was on the cusp of a major upswing in activity. Since my arrival, Dallas has seen the development of several key contributors to our current state of affairs: the establishment of the vital CentralTrak: The UT Dallas Artists Residency, the continued progress of the Dallas Arts District, Dallas Contemporary’s move to the bigger digs in the Design District, the Dallas Art Fair, and most importantly: the development of what I would tentatively describe as an “underground” or at the very least, grassroots art scene at the hands of some of the area’s most talented young artists. Lumped within this “underground” development are a variety of collectives, individuals, galleries, and alternative spaces that have built and sustained a community that is grabbing national headlines.
Members of the weekly sketch club, Children of Artemis, meet at CentralTrak to paint their versions of George W. Bush paintings.
My awareness of the local arts scene was magnified during my tenure as a researcher and curator for the Dallas Museum of Art’s 50-year art scene retrospective titled DallasSITES. The project sought to accomplish for the Dallas area what the Pacific Standard Time initiative did for Southern California, essentially the recovery of recent art history specific to our local geography. Not only did my research for this project familiarize me with the rich history of contemporary art in Dallas, but it also pushed me to explore what was happening in the now. What became increasingly apparent is that history does indeed repeat itself, if in slight incremental improvements. Artists’ concerns are universal and timeless – issues of space and support (financial, creative, emotional) continually plague Dallas artists, as they do nearly everywhere. But for every problem presented to Dallas artists, creative solutions abound.
Take for example, the issue of space. Fortunately for artists here, the old adage “everything in Texas is bigger” is true and unlike New York City or Los Angeles, big spaces do not necessarily come with outrageously expensive rental rates. Thanks to the support of several real estate developers around Dallas, exciting projects are happening. In the area known as Deep Ellum—historically recognized as the birthplace of early jazz and blues in Dallas—the artist duo Jeff Gibbons and Justin Ginsberg, also known as Apophenia Underground, have been hosting the curatorial project Deep Ellum Windows. Through an agreement with the neighborhood property owner, the duo have extended space to curators and artists who in turn have converted otherwise vacant storefronts into challenging and thought-provoking exhibitions. Past shows have included the work of Dallas-based artists Cassandra Emswiler, Stephen Lapthisophon, and Brandon Kennedy, alongside national and international artists Kristin Oppenheim and Rachel de Joode. Active for over a year, Deep Ellum Windows represents the kind of possibilities that can happen when enterprising artists connect with open-minded property owners.
Another example of this kind of synergy is happening in the neighborhood of West Dallas, a stone’s throw (or five minute drive on the freeway) from Deep Ellum. Previously blighted by lead contamination and a history of neglect from the City of Dallas, this area of town has recently undergone a complete renaissance with the development of neighborhoods like Trinity Groves and Sylvan/Thirty. Restaurants, shops, and new dwelling units are helping to gentrify the neighborhood and artist Arthur Peña’s various warehouse projects are making West Dallas a hot spot for the Dallas art avant-garde. Peña is an Oak Cliff native, who attended the Rhode Island School of Design for his MFA before coming back to his home town. Since his return, he has managed to develop the exhibition/performance venue Ware:Wolf:Haus, as well as the concert space Vice Palace, all while pursuing his own artistic career. On any given weekend night (and an occasional weeknight), Peña’s spaces are pulsing with energy, from the art scene regulars stopping by to check out the latest exhibition to the beats from the latest incarnation of Dallas performance artist George Quartz and his band of misfits and back-up dancers.
Exhibition opening for Matthew Koons, Allison Ginsberg and Randy Guthmiller’s “Things and Places” at Ware:Wolf:Haus
Artist and musician Pierre Bürger at Ware:Wolf: Haus for THRWD Fest
Apart from Deep Ellum Windows and Peña’s West Dallas projects, the city has also seen a revitalization of artist-run spaces and alternative galleries. By now considered Dallas’ standard go-to for challenging work and off-the-wall installations, Oliver Francis Gallery located in East Dallas, started in 2012 as a labor of love for UT-Arlington grad, Kevin Jacobs. With the energy of a school boy, Jacobs curates his modest space with artists from his gallery roster (which includes Peña, Gibbons, Jeff Zilm, and Moreshin Allahyari, among others) and also willingly hands over the keys to artists seeking to explore their own curatorial concerns, most notably, the artists of DB14: Dallas Biennial: Michael Mazurek and Jesse Morgan Barnett. Jacobs’ day job as the Assistant Curator at the Goss-Michael Foundation uniquely positions him to have access to the ever-elusive institutional support. Through his position there, Jacobs is able to cross-pollinate his artists with those in the Goss-Michaels galleries, in effect putting his artists’ work in front of some of Dallas’ most well-known and deep-pocketed collectors.
Oliver Francis Gallery
A performance at Oliver Francis Gallery during THRWD’s “Wow. Such Poetry” Night curated by Lee Escobedo
Operating outside the concerns of collectors, i.e., commercialism, Karen Weiner’s wonderfully intimate and cerebral space, The Reading Room, located around the corner from Oliver Francis Gallery and facing Fair Park, provides the kind of quiet, yet powerful programming that fills a void in the Dallas art community. With a focus on the influence of language on the visual arts, Weiner’s single-room gallery has hosted exhibitions by artists like Matthew Cusick, Rebecca Carter, Amy Revier, and The Art Foundation – a curatorial collaboration consisting of Ryder Richards, Lucia Simek, and Andrew Douglas Underwood, alongside programs and performances like a reading by Kenneth Goldsmith, a performance of Robert Ashley’s work by the sibling duo Nicolas and Andrew Miller, and even an exotic mushroom demonstration by local produce purveyor Tom Spicer.
Kenneth Goldsmith at The Reading Room
What Weiner’s space and those of Jacobs, Peña’s and the Apophenia Underground duo’s prove is that support need not be top-down for an artistic community to thrive. For all of its accomplishments, the Dallas arts community is still a very self-conscious one, as the recent response to Artforum’s society-page-worthy recap of the Dallas Art Fair will attest. Yes, Dallas boasts a very active and internationally-known collector community, but that community is largely absent from any of the spaces/events mentioned above. This is in part due to the city’s persistent need to feel validation, and in the case of the deep-pocketed collectors, that validation must come from the outside, before it will garner any kind of support from them. Until those collectors feel secure enough in their own ability to make decisions about what to acquire/support, this divide between the collector class and the artist class will persist. Fortunately for Dallas, the artists here do not seem too concerned with bridging that gap. They are too busy making exciting things happen.
Leigh A. Arnold is a curatorial fellow at the Nasher Sculpture Center and consulting curator for the exhibition Robert Smithson in Texas at the Dallas Museum of Art, on view through April 2014. She has previously held the position of research fellow at the Dallas Museum of Art for the special project DallasSITES: Charting Contemporary Art, 1963 to Present, which culminated in an exhibition and online publication in the spring of 2013. In addition to her professional endeavors, Arnold is a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she is writing on Robert Smithson’s relationship to Texas.
This years edition of SAIC’s annual behemoth was as sprawling as ever. Each person’s account sounds like a completely different exhibition than others, but I think we can all agree that SAIC is “on trend.” If we covered every piece in the fair MFA show this column would never end. Within the leviathan there were a few clear winners, and who wants to hear about losers anyway?
If you missed Andrew Holmquist‘s video you need to return to go and start over. Immediately on your left as you walk into the Sullivan Galleries, Holmquist’s video is reminiscent of video work by Alex Hubbard, flattening the world of objects into the two-dimensional register of his paintings (and maybe a little bit of the reverse).
In a similar shorter video piece, Shining Shimmering Splendid, shown recently at LVL3, Holmquist can be seen positioning the objects in a pair of black high heels and a sheer aquamarine raincoat. In Painting Space and Time at the MFA show objects (mostly) appear to be propelled by an unseen force, leading me to imagine the Rube Goldberg contraption of Fischli and Weiss’s The Way Things Go in Technicolor. Despite the conjuring of a million references, the color, light and sound are distinctly Andrew’s own, bringing his painting practice into time and space in a imaginative and captivating way.
Naama Arad‘s Bahad 1 was another personal favorite. Made simply from perforated xerox prints and tape the work was more impactful than a robot or any number of gigantic fabricated tongues. The hanging shifted subtlety as the sun set downtown, and mingled effortlessly with the throngs of visitors to the exhibition.
The title of the piece, Bahad 1, takes it’s name from the training bases of the Israeli Defense Force, the first of which is a well known school for training officers (according to Wikipedia). Rather than a geometric abstraction, the large scale print is an image of the old synagogue at Bahad 1, designed by Zvi Hacker with Alfred and Naomi Nueman in the late 1960s. Who knew the Bauhaus was so prominent in IDF architecture? Is Arad’s lattice something more sinister? We hope this promising artist doesn’t leave Chicago too soon after graduation, we want to see more.
These works and a whole lot of other stuff is on view at the SAIC Sullivan Galleries until May 14th. The shows tumblr-ish website isn’t half bad this year either.
#Scene at the MFA Show & Not
Only Fools Go for the Art
Painting MFA Caleb Yono and friends making a scene at Sullivan.
The crowd through McKenzie Thompson’s installation.
Thompson (right) with SAIC Curatorial Fellow, Alda Tchochiev.
The Weatherman Report
For Chicago IL
Helen Frankenthaler, Vuillard’s Chariot, 2006, Lithograph in 7 colors on Rives BFK paper, 24 3/4 x 30 1/8″.
Chromatic Consortium Vibrant
Curator supplies colorful variation
The Franklin, the sukkah-looking gallery located in Garfield Park, is one of the most thoughtful and innovative exhibition spaces in all of Chicago (it’s also the coldest in the winter). The stylized outdoor exhibition space seems to effortlessly adapt to the demands of it’s exhibitions, ranging from solo shows to large group exhibitions featuring dinners, bonfires, black metal and, of course, Edra Soto’s signature pineapple upside down cake.
Work by Leslie Baum, Radames Juni, Easton Miller and Candace M. Briceño-Connolly.
Closeup of work by Leslie Baum.
Soto, who built the gallery in the back of her home with partner Dan Sullivan, does far more than just bake cakes. The gallery is clearly the result of her love for art and the joy she experiences sharing it with others. Chromatic Consortium, which closed this past Saturday, was a prime example of Soto’s broad range as a curator. Only Edra could (or would) pair paintings by her students at SAIC with work by artists in the Whitney Biennial and make it work.
Works by Ryan Richey, Lisa Alvarado and Iryne Roh.
As Soto toured me through the exhibition it became apparent that what really binds the show is her relationship to the artists and her genuine interest in their process and production. Each artist has some personal connection to Soto, or she admired their work so much she decided to contact them cold. Who could resist Edra’s big smile and warm heart? She discusses a portrait made by a second year student with the same reverence as any #WhiBi artist. The consideration for each work position relative to the small space makes the exhibition click without feeling overcrowded.
Work by Leonardo Kaplan, Maya Hayuk and Mara Baker.
If you missed this show then we’re sad for you, but all is not lost. For the Franklin’s next exhibition Soto is teaming up with the firebrand Sabina Ott (proprietor of her own experimental ourdoor space– Terrain) for SCAPE with work by Alison Ruttan, Alex Tam and Assaf Evron, Joe Jeffers and Ott. The exhibition opens this Saturday, May 3rd at 6pm. Praying for no rain, but as Edra pointed out to me, nothing can dampen The Franklin or the art inside.
Welcome to this month’s edition of What You Should Have Noticed, wherein I try to hit the highlights of this month’s art news, paying special attention to those stories that touch on our city on the lake. We’ve got plenty to talk abut, so let’s get started:
United States Artists Comes to Chicago
In this month’s biggest local story, the LA-based organization United States Artists has left the doldrum left coast for sunny Chicago. The organization, which is backed by an over twenty million dollar endowment from the Ford, Rockefeller, Prudential, and Rasmuson Foundations, will continue to distribute unrestricted grants of $50,000 each to individual artists. Past awardees include Theaster Games, Chris Ware, Martha Rosler, Catherine Sullivan, and Mark Bradford. Selection is by nomination, but don’t let that stop you from buying drinks for new CEO Carolina Jayram, former executive director of the Chicago Artists Coalition, and the rest of the new staff at United States Artists: Meg Leary, Britton Bertran, Anna Harris, and Kipa L. Davis.
Union! Union! Art Handlers Win Big
It’s no secret that the work of art rarely ends in the studio. The shipping, crating, boxing, handling, transportation, installation, conservation, and restoration of art takes money, work, and a lot of workers. Last year, London-based Frieze drew widespread criticism by refusing union labor at its Frieze Art Fair in New York. This year, the workers were ready with protests after the fair announced it would again refuse to hire union workers. Happily, the protests were successful, leading to a reversal of Frieze’s labor position and an agreement to use Teamster labor at this year’s fair. Meanwhile, in Chicago, 31 of our city’s finest art handlers at Mana-Terry Dowd broke the company’s allegedly militant anti-unionism and voted to join Teamsters Local 705. Here’s hoping the movement spreads.
William J. O’Brien
This month’s highlight Facebook discussion came from an observation made by Marc Fischer (of Public Collectors, and author of consistently excellent status updates) that much of William J. O’Brien’s art at the MCA “very closely resemble the aesthetics of a number of African American folk artists, and developmentally challenged artists that the MCA (or the Renaissance Society) never exhibits,” especially evoking folky face jug traditions and works by Judith Scott. Were you surprised that the ceramics and craft on display at the museum came from a tweedy white guy?
William J. O’Brien
Theaster Gates Café in Logan Square
Not news to everyone, but Theaster Gates has joined the Elastic Arts Foundation on a project to build a café in the Hairpin Lofts building at the corner of Milwaukee and Diversey. We call that Avondale, but who cares – visitors will be able to walk a few more blocks to see the amazing Big Smile Dentist display at 2833 N. Milwaukee.
Roberta Smith on James Franco, George W. Bush, and Roberta Smith
Next time it comes up in conversation, you might cleverly comment that ‘the worst part about celebrity invasion of the contemporary arts space is that it has only begun.’ From Jay Z and Lady Gaga’s collaborative works with (or riffs on) Marina Abramovic, to Wu-Tang’s revelation – technically a March issue – that they’ll be shopping around a single-copy exhibition of a new album at ticketed museum listening parties, the trend is gaining traction. Cue this month’s exhibition at Pace Gallery of actor James Franco’s recreations of Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills,” described by Roberta Smith as embarrassing, clueless, narcissistic, desperate, confused, and (oddly) sympathetic; while Sherman herself describes the project as flattering, but not quite art. Somewhere in intellectual hell, Bourdieu pens appendices in disappearing ink.
Speaking of clumsy celebrity forays into contemporary art: while Franco may be shooting for the peak of art’s claim to cultural significance and landing somewhere in the zone of lame pretension, former president George W. Bush (two wars, etc.) is showing up on this month’s art radar from the opposite direction. His paintings of things, places, and political leaders, exhibited this month at the Southern Methodist University’s George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, are also shitty and interesting.
And – AND! – speaking of Smith herself, she gave a lecture this month at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in which she introduced her own history as an art writer, encouraged every artist capable of doing something other than art to do that instead, and handled some of the most god-awful audience questions this writer has ever suffered. These included representatives of the true conservative art camp in Chicago as well as the kinda-pretty-conservative-sounding New Art Examiner crowd (they’re rebooting under the name New Art Examiner Now, so we’ll see how that goes).
Tony Fitzpatrick Leaving Chicago
Tony Fitzpatrick – local artist, writer, and monument to a decades-past kind of Saul Bellows Maxwell Street Market broad shoulders hard working class dimestore sticker soda Chicago culture – is leaving Chicago for New Orleans. Aw, he’ll be back.
Lamin 8 Buys Seaburg
Our favorite framer just got acquired. Bummer.
And that’s it for this month! I probably skipped some important news, of course, such as the bevy of MFA shows opening this week or which have opened already, or the late but beautiful arrival of spring in Chicago (and accompanying murder statistics), but hey, I’m trying to keep this thing under 1000 words. Tune in next month for May’s wrap-up.