Guest blogger Lanie DeLay is a Dallas-based artist who was recently living and working in New York. She got together for a Q&A last Thursday with TCU’s Christina Rees (formerly of Road Agent Gallery), whose much-discussed “Modern Ruin” two-day exhibit, co-curated with Thomas Feulmer, was situated within a million-dollar, never-used Washington Mutual branch that was slated to be demolished last week. (Read more here.) She also organized the Liam Gillick exhibit at Fort Worth Contemporary Arts. Gillick, one of the YBAs, was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2002 and represented Germany in the 2009 Venice Bienniale; the exhibit runs from March 5 to April 18 (opening reception tonight 7-9 p.m.).
Lanie DeLay: So, you and Thomas have curated together before “Modern Ruin.” With this show, did he approach you with the prospect, or were you guys already looking for a project to do together?
Christina Rees: When I got the job at TCU[‘s galleries], a couple things happened. Number one: he had already had a conversation with Howard [Rachofsky] a year earlier [in which] Howard was basically just saying “Hey look, you know, I’d like to get more of my collection out there into the world in some settings, and it’d be nice if -” you know, I don’t know if he mentioned universities in particular, but Thomas approached Tracee Robertson at UNT, and they did a show, so that went well enough, and that was rewarding, I think, for everybody. He and I are friends, and when he found out I got the job at TCU, it seemed automatic that I could do a show with Thomas. And I wanted him to co-curate it; I wanted it to be a collaborative effort. I knew that he would have, after having lived with that collection a number of years, he would have already been percolating some ideas about what he would like to do with the work. So with the bank thing, he and I already knew that I was probably going to put some of the Rachofsky collection at [UNT’s] Fort Worth Contemporary, but with the bank thing I was just over at his house one day swimming in the summertime. There was a picture of Leland [Burk, real estate investor] on the fridge. I think it was magnetized to the fridge and it was Leland standing in this empty bank building, and there was just kind of a group of us hanging out in the afternoon, and the subject just came up about “Wouldn’t it be great to invite some artists to do some kind of intervention or an ‘action’ if you want to call it something a little bit older, and take it over, especially if it’s not ever going to be used?” So I know Leland was going to be a little bit hesitant until he figured out what was supposed to happen with the land. The building had defaulted back to him, and he didn’t want to just give it over to us without realizing who the next tenants might be. When it was clear that there wasn’t going to be a bank moving into that space, that there was going to be some other kind of business that didn’t want to use it, he gave us the green light. We had to wait through the winter and just kind of stay on top of Leland and be like “Can this happen? Can this happen? Will you let it happen?” Leland was becoming more and more intrigued by the idea, because Thomas was able to kind of talk him into it – they’re partners. When we figured out when the demolition date was, which only happened about three weeks before the actual show took place, we just had to kick it into gear. The fact that it overlapped somewhat with the show we had put together at Fort Worth Contemporary [“Floor Corner Wall: Work from The Rachofsky Collection”], that was coincidental. I think Thomas and I would really like to continue to work together, because it just turns out that we really work together really well, and we enjoy being around each other; we enjoy throwing ideas back and forth. You know, what we’ve done so far has been a true collaboration that we both feel really good about. We both have full-time day jobs, but because this is an extension of what we do and what we think about anyways, it doesn’t feel overwhelming. It just feels like a natural expansion on what we already do. And being able to work with artists around here, that was unbelievably satisfying. It’s not that it wasn’t satisfying to use Howard’s collection in our space – that was totally different level of satisfaction-
L.D.: Apples and oranges?
C.R.: It was just kind of like, to walk into Fort Worth Contemporary everyday and see a Richard Serra in the space was just, you know, it’s almost like it changed my DNA. It was incredible. So I like doing both. It’s the best of both worlds, isn’t it? I collaborate pretty well. I think that it helps me to get out of bed in the morning and go go go when I know I’m accountable to another person.
L.D.: I know that you’ve done all kinds of collaborative things. I guess it was a couple of years ago, when you were over at Road Agent, you did these cross-pollination projects with Art Palace (the east Austin gallery that recently relocated to Houston), which was really exciting, and you and [artist] Richard [Patterson] just co-juried 500X’s Expo show. Obviously you and Thomas just did the “Modern Ruin” and “Floor Corner Wall” shows. What is it you like about joining forces with other people, and is it something that you’re actively looking to do more of? Or do you just look for interesting opportunities as they come up?
C.R.: I don’t actively look for it so much as … I can be an introvert, and I can be misanthropic, so I have to find people that I naturally like and seem to click with, and there aren’t that many people that I feel that way about, so when I find people I can deal with in that way, I know it. I mean, I’m 40, I know myself well enough to know if I think I can work with someone on a long enough project to where we’re going to continue to see eye-to-eye and be able to negotiate and compromise in a way that we’re both happy. I also know myself well enough to know that if I’m left completely to my own devices with no sense of accountability or responsibility or deadlines, that I can just kind of disappear down the rabbit hole of my own imagination, and it feels like things are getting done in my head, but they’re not really getting done. Having even the job at TCU, where I have a schedule and a faculty to work with and students who are depending on me to get the work out in front of them and give them a program (and a dean, and a provost and a chancellor), all of that suits my personality to a T. I can’t tell you how much I need that. You know, I moved to London and New York thinking that I was going to finish this novel, but the fact is I didn’t have a deadline, so the novel … I kind of slowly chipped away at it, but it’s still just sitting there in my closet.
L.D.: You think you’re ever going to get back to it?
C.R.: Yeah, I think so, but it would be probably because someone takes an active interest in it, and maybe that too has to become a collaborative sort of project. …
You know, the sum is greater than the parts, and maybe I’m that kind of person despite being an introvert. I just need collaboration to be at my very best. Unless I’m writing a column or writing criticism, in which case I really need to be left alone until the very last minute.
L.D.: That’s something else that I’ve wondered about. What brought you to the switch from being more focused on writing to curating?
C.R.: I don’t know if this should be on or off the record. When I came back to Dallas, I really wanted to come back to Dallas from New York. I had been doing some freelancing in New York, and I had even been writing for the Village Voice, which was great; I mean that was a dream of mine, and I did it, but there wasn’t any money or resources for me to get any kind of full-time job there. Layoffs were happening everywhere, and when I came back to Dallas, I wanted to work at the Observer again, but they were making cuts; they were cutting some of their veteran writers. … So when I went in and talked to Julie Lyons, she was like “Well, I’d love to hire you, I can certainly hire you part-time. I can’t give you the full-time.” I had such a wonderful, cushy job with the Observer when I had it. And so I went to D Magazine, because I knew Tim Rogers. I’d worked with him at the Met. They had an opening, and they interviewed me pretty thoroughly, and they hired me as an associate editor, but they even warned me – Wick Allison and Tim Rogers said to me “We don’t do a lot of arts and culture writing here. We don’t do criticism, so you’re a good writer, but we don’t know how you’re going to fit in here.” So they hired me anyway, and it was never a good fit, ever, and I was struggling to find m place there, and they were trying to figure out how to use me. One thing led to another, and [David] Quadrini and I were both in New York City one weekend for an opening of an Erick Swenson show. I was telling him that things weren’t working out very well for me at D Magazine, and he said “Well, why don’t you come work with me at Angstrom [Gallery]?” And for whatever reason it just sounded like that was the next move to make, and so that eventually happened. I think I was ready to get out from under writing pure criticism about people’s artwork. I didn’t feel like that was building anything; I just felt like I was tearing down, and I started to get increasingly uncomfortable about that, even when I was still here writing full-time for the Observer. I loved that job, but there was a part of me that felt like I was making money off the backs of other people’s endeavors. Not to say that criticism isn’t an art form in itself, but I wasn’t a veteran writer. I wasn’t turning it into an art form. I was just on a steep learning curve, and I was writing as honestly as I could, but I’m not sure that Dallas was even ready for the kind of criticism I was trying to throw at it. Sometimes I just felt very-
L.D.: Yeah, but at the same time don’t you feel like that kind of criticism, where maybe people aren’t ready for it, it helps ready them for it, in a sense? Like, “you have to jump in?”
C.R.: Yeah, I mean maybe. I don’t go back and read what I wrote at the Observer, because I don’t know that I would agree with myself anymore. It’s been over 10 years, and now I see so many sides of what it is to run a business, or – and I’m not an artist, but I’ve been around far more artists trying to make a living at it, and the dealers who are trying to make it work as well, and the curators who are trying to do the best that they can. I think I’m much more sympathetic to every aspect of how the art community works, whereas as just purely a critic, I was just “Hey, I’m going to go in here and throw my weight around because I can.” I don’t want to think that I was power-tripping, but I’m not sure that I was always 100 percent sympathetic, or … But people remember a lot of the criticism that I wrote, and that feels good. I remember when Charissa Terranova first got to town, I had said to her something like – I had given her some weird piece of advice like “You know, I’m not sure Dallas is ready for hard-core negative criticism. You know, critiquing is one thing, but real negative criticism is maybe something that doesn’t quite work here.”
L.D.: It’s a very polite culture.
C.R.: But now, I mean, once I ran a gallery and saw the complacency and some of the ignorance that pervades this town, I totally changed my tune. You know I get along great with Charissa, and I said to her later on, “You know, I’m sorry I gave you that piece of advice, because this place needs as much [expletive] criticism as it can take. … It needs people hitting them over the head with a hammer.” So, I don’t know. I feel like if I’m going to write anything negative now, I’m going to come at it from a much more genuine and much more informed place. And I’ll be wiser and I’ll be less snarky, but it’ll be real.
L.D.: Well, I think people appreciate that, and that’s what’s exciting to watch in the things that you do take on.
C.R.: But I don’t think I’ll ever want to be a full-time critic again. I think it’s weirdly isolating, and I think that whole concept of “frienemy” becomes very real, and you don’t know who you’re hanging out with because they want to hang out with you, and who’s hanging out with you because they need something from you. That makes me intensely uncomfortable.
L.D.: Well in your curating now, what do you gravitate towards, or what do you – what is it that interests you about curating?
C.R.: [Pause] I don’t have to sell the work!
L.D.: [Laughing] Nice.
C.R.: I mean, what a relief that is. I get to be around artists, and around artwork. I get to install shows. I get to be excited about it. I get to have people come in and enjoy the work and see them actively enjoy the work and being engaged in the work, and I don’t have the pressure of trying to sell it. Monetarily. I may need to sell all the ideas to people who are skeptical, but I’m happy to do that until the cows come home.
L.D.: Yeah, that’s a different thing entirely.
C.R.: But you know, I get to do the kind of stuff that I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s not that I don’t have to raise money for the gallery – I do, and that’s a different kind of sales, but it feels a lot more, for me, noble, maybe? Or principled to try to raise money for a genuine non-profit university gallery from people who have the means and the interest and seeing that kind of thing thrive in that community.
L.D.: It’s more about the exposure of the work to the community.
C.R.: Yeah. Sure. It feels more like a community-driven thing than … as a commercial gallerist, you know, you’re hitting up specific clients to … you’re trying to convince them to buy something for whatever reason they want to buy. I was real lucky at Road Agent. I liked all of my collectors; I thought they were great, and I’m still friends with most of them. I don’t know that that’s the experience of all the dealers in this town or other places, but it wasn’t necessarily a good way to make a lot of money, because I wasn’t aggressive. I’m not an aggressive salesperson. It’s not in my blood. I was so much more interested in working with the artists and putting on great shows than I was in trying to sell it.
L.D.: Well you did put on really great shows.
C.R.: Well, you know, that was great, but I also had to pay the bills.
L.D.: Yeah, tricky. Well, speaking of new work and curating and co-curating, I have to ask: the Whitney Biennial obviously opens today [co-curated by Francesco Bonami and Gary Murayari]. Are you planning on heading up there, and what are you excited to see?
C.R.: I can’t travel right now. The academic year is pretty stringent, and I don’t personally have a travel budget, which isn’t to say that I won’t-
L.D.: Don’t you have spring break coming up?
C.R.: Yeah, but I’m going to be working through spring break. I need to catch up on getting all kinds of materials and essays and brochures and catalog-type publications out about the shows that I’ve managed to get out this year, because that’s part of my fund-raising packet. I am staff, rather than faculty, so my pay is 10 months a year, rather than 12 months a year. I need that time off to be working on the things I don’t actually have time to work on. I do think ultimately TCU will expect me to do that kind of traveling, and I think we will ultimately raise that kind of money we need to raise in order to allow me to do it. This year is so experimental and so new, and I’m so green that all I can do is read as much as possible about what’s going on and look up as much as I can online about what’s going an, and I won’t be able to go out of town again until probably this summer. That’s a drag for right now, but it’s not permanent. It’s not a permanent state. …
L.D.: Jumping topics just a bit, a lot of people seem really interested in a sort of new energy that’s kind of, almost palpable in town. The “Modern Ruin” show opened just about the same time as the Pop Up 310 gallery and a little bit after the arrival of Bows & Arrows over on lower Greenville, and then Noah [Simblist] and Subtext [Projects, the art collaborative] have a show that opens up next Friday [3/5/10] in Fort Worth that’s sort of the “afterparty” to the Liam Gillick show [opening at the Fort Worth Contemporary Gallery]. What is your take on the state of art in Dallas right now?
C.R.: More, more, more. Bring it on. I mean, golllly, I would just love to see it double and triple. I don’t know if I can talk about this on the record, but Jeff Zilm is showing work by a friend of his … Mark [Tallowin], who’s British. He’s a British artist who’s … He’s not new in town necessarily, but he’s got some pedigree, and Jeff’s trying to find a space you know to temporarily show some of his work. That’s yet another kind of variation on this pop-up type thing. I don’t know if they’ll be collaborating or if he’s just going to curate it. Let’s see, what else is going on … I’ve been having meetings with some young artists in Fort Worth who are interested in the idea of – although they don’t have any plans immediately in place – to start up something like 500X in Fort Worth, and I would really encourage that if that could possibly happen. 500X is an interesting model because it’s not a non-profit; it’s a for-profit space. It’s a collective-
L.D.: I thought it was a non-profit.
C.R.: Isn’t that interesting? It’s not. It’s a for-profit. That’s one of the reasons they were able to join CADD, Contemporary Art Dealers of Dallas.
L.D.: Is CADD still…?
C.R.: Yeah, we just don’t have that space. We – I say ‘we’ as if I’m still in it.
L.D.: No, I know that the space is …
C.R.: Yeah, C.A.D.D.’s still active. It’s lost members this year, and it’s gained members this year. 500X is one of them.
L.D.: That’s very exciting. … When I was in New York from the summer up until last month, one of the things that I was really energized by was that there was so much sort of scrappy energy, and there were so many shows that were sort of these guerilla shows. You know, these shows that are very temporary or that pop up in weird places from the abandoned buildings to people’s houses or apartments. Things that are in just some kind of place, and they kind of exist through this network of blogs for the most part.
C.R.: Isn’t it interesting? The “Modern Ruins” show was not written about in the Morning News or the Star-Telegram prior to it opening. All of the information about it took place online. D Magazine’s ‘Front Row’ had mentioned it and some other blogs, but you know, we had somewhere between six [hundred] and 700 people show up there that night based on this other kind of
networking that was going on, and that’s kind of where things are going. I think that a recession creates a very natural outgrowth of people trying to figure out how to do their own initiative, and that’s awesome.
L.D.: Exactly. I feel like everyone sort of has this on their mind, and it gets down to where you’re like, “Well, there’s no money. OK. Now what are you going to do?”
C.R.: Yeah, and galleries aren’t picking up new artists, and galleries are shutting down, so what are you going to do? Wait around for five years for galleries to start opening up again and people to start supporting artists? No! You know, if you’re an artist, then in your heart of hearts, you’re going to be making work no matter what, and you’ve got to get it out there, and you’ve got to show it to people. I was talking to the grads at TCU very recently, and they’re – I was substitute teaching a class when one of their teachers had to be out the other day, and it was kind of an artists’ professions class, and it was about showing at galleries and what all that meant – and I was like, “You know, you guys are MFAs. You’re MFAs. You need to be looking for raw space here in Fort Worth to put your [expletive] in. That’s kind of your job, you know, this is your legacy. This is the history of what people your age in your position are meant to do, especially during down markets.” And you know, they were listening, and it’s not that they’d never heard that kind of thing before, but they all make very different kinds of work, and it’s a matter of … you know, sometimes things like that just kind of happen, but the last time there was a really interesting, aggressive, organic version of it still to me seems to be the Good/Bad Art Collective, and that was a long time ago. But I see cool things happening here at the Shamrock [Hotel Studios], and 500X is on this wonderful upswing right now, you know and then there’s the Pop Up that James [Cope] and Brian [Gibb] are doing, and then there’s “Modern Ruin,” and then Thomas and I are already talking about doing another project, and you know, it’s like why not? OK, so maybe it’ll cost everyone who gets involved a hundred dollars or 200 dollars maybe, but it’s worth it. It’s totally worth it, because if anything, what’s invaluable is the energy that it puts out there.
L.D.: Otherwise it just dies.
C.R.: We could all just be shutting down right now and not doing anything. Then what’s the point of even living here?
L.D.: You know I think that’s part of why people left [Dallas over the last year]. I’m actually really, really thrilled to see what’s going on, because while I was out of town, I kept hearing about places closing, and it was just like flies dropping off, and I thought “What am I coming back to? Maybe I shouldn’t come back.”
C.R.: What if it’s actually better now than it was two years ago?
L.D.: I kind of think there’s a possibility of that, because there’s this other kind of thing that’s boiling now, and so it’s kind of exciting.
C.R.: Yeah. People are all kind of on the same page. People are being a lot more frank with one another, too, and that really helps. It helps to be able to just go ahead and say what you would normally only say behind closed doors, and that’s like those things that I wrote for the State of the Union columns for Glasstire – just say it. You know what? Just put it out there. People say it to each other behind closed doors all the time. You know, I didn’t say anything that hadn’t already been said a thousand times.
L.D.: But you know what, saying it in a public forum made all the difference, and it really got a lot of people talking. It was like a public service announcement to the city almost.
C.R.: Fine. I hope that people just continue to run with that. Why not? You know I think Front Row, the new thing at D Magazine, did spring from not only the initiative of Renegade Bus–
L.D.: Peter [Simek]’s over there now-
CR: Yeah, he’s running it, and I know that D Magazine was really impressed with what he and Lucia [Simek] were able to accomplish at Renegade Bus, just on their off-hours they were doing that. He saw that there was a certain amount of expectation that the press needs to be part of this growth. I know that print press is in a lot of trouble, but the Internet’s not, and there are ways to use that creatively, and if Wick can be open-minded enough to say “OK, let’s throw some money at this and try to make it work,” and D Magazine was one of the only, possibly the only major publication in a position to do that, then, you know, it’s his job to serve his readership. Dallas is not a bunch of yokels. It’s actually got a large number of people who really are interested in this kind of thing.
L.D.: For one thing, this is one of the few places in the country that has a growing population. ... So there are a lot of people here that aren’t just sleepy, but going back to what you were saying a minute ago, I think that there is a real job of the print media and its newer incarnation to be stewards, and I think that people are starting to jump on that more.
C.R.: You don’t want really cool things to happen in a vacuum.
L.D.: Yeah. There’s a sense of underground cred, but you can only take that so far before it seems like there’s someone falling down on the job.
C.R.: That’s absolutely true, so we’ll see. It’s in a state of growing pains right now, because the money’s gone, but I do think that that could potentially lead to better and more interesting things happening in the long run, and that’s going to benefit everybody, including the galleries, because what they’re going to see is artists working harder and not taking things for granted, and they’ll get more excited about their work and probably have an easier time selling, for whatever that’s worth.
L.D.: Through historical cycles that tends to be the pattern.
C.R.: I want to see my colleagues, you know, my people from CADD, those people who are up and running to continue. I think that they’re still a huge part of the equation in terms of … for artists to aspire to be able to show in spaces like that and [be] taken care of responsibly and to have that structure is still very valid.
L.D.: I think that there’s not any argument with that. I think some of the models change as the dynamics change, but I think that there’ll always, you know, short of an apocalypse …
C.R.: It’s funny, you know, when you get gallery insurance, you know (because we all had to insure, insure, insure), you can’t get insurance for terrorist attacks or sort of weird apocalyptic-
L.D.: No “act of God?”
C.R.: No. Acts of God are not insured. In fact I think you’re right. I think that’s the wording in the policy: act of God.
L.D.: Yeah, it is. Usually floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, all that kind of stuff they put under the umbrella of “act of God.” Well, that’s a whole other issue.
C.R.: But they’ve added terrorist attacks to that.
L.D.: What’s next for you?
C.R.: Liam Gillick gets here on Monday. We’re going to be showing in sequence a series of films and videos that he ‘s been working on. Some of them are quite new; some of them are a little bit older. A lot of them are very experimental. One of them belongs to the Tate. He’s not as well known for his film and video, but because it’s something that he’s been working on consistently for a long time, it’s kind of a coup for us to have him show the work here. The collectors of his that live here have almost exclusively his sculpture, so this is kind of a different facet of Liam that we’re going to get to show, and he’s going to get to be very active while he’s here. He’s going to get to meet collectors; he’s going to do the lecture at the [Fort Worth] Modern.
L.D.: Yeah, I’m going to that on Tuesday.
C.R.: He’s going to do studio visits with all the MFAs at TCU, individual studio visits with each one. He’s going to do another lecture on campus. He’s going to stay really busy. We’re going to keep him busy, and then the night of his opening, we’ll show his videos, and then afterward we’ll head over to the Subtext thing. I showed him, sent him that press release today, and he seemed to be enthusiastic about it, which I’m happy about. But that’s my next thing, and that will be my last show for the academic year at Fort Worth Contemporary. You know, the other half of my job is running the student/faculty gallery-
L.D.: Is that Moudy?
C.R.: Yeah. … I have to shepherd shows in and out of there 16 times a year, so I’ll be working on that until summer. What we’re working on next – I don’t know if you can publish this or not – Noah Simblist and I are working on starting another collaboration bringing in Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation for them to install Yuri’s Office. It’s called White on White at Fort Worth Contemporary. We’ll have that installation, and SMU will have 89 Seconds [at Alcazar, based on Velasquez’s Las Meninas], the film, over at the Meadows, and she’ll do lectures in both cities. That’ll be our fall debut for the Fort Worth Contemporary. She and the Rufus Corporation will be around for maybe a couple weeks.
L.D.: Isn’t Noah going to be gone in the fall though?
C.R.: He’ll be back and forth; I mean, he’ll be on sabbatical, but he’ll be back and forth to make all this happen. This is something that we kind of dreamed up. He went down to see the [Rape of the] Sabine [Women] film – I guess it was at Arthouse … five or six months ago and ended up sitting down with Eve Sussman to talk about some of her projects, and she said “Well all that stuff is done and ready to go. It’s just sitting in a warehouse somewhere. I’d really love to show it somewhere in Texas.” Then he came up to me and he said “I don’t think we could show it at SMU,” and I said “Well, I could show it at Fort Worth Contemporary,” and he said “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” So being able to work 89 Seconds into this thing, this work that’s coming in from the Prado makes incredible sense for SMU, and then the White On White makes incredible sense for me, so that’s yet another great kind of collaboration, this time between the two schools.
L.D.: That’s great. It seems like so far they’ve had nothing to do with each other, officially.
C.R.: I know, but why not? I mean, the state schools are struggling so much in this economy, and the private schools are doing OK, so we’ve got to take up the torch and make really interesting things happen. It’s time. It’s time for private universities that have some money and some endowments to step up.
L.D.: I mean, I hear … that SMU is struggling financially, but it’s nothing compared to-
C.R.: They’re struggling, but they’re not, like, cutting whole departments. Charissa was telling me that – I can’t remember, you can call her and ask her – some major university, one of the big east coast universities just cut their entire dance program. It’s gone. It’s like, “What!?” And look at California. It’s in so much trouble. So it’s not that these small private universities aren’t being very careful with their budgets, but they’re not about to self-destruct, and they can continue to carefully and intelligently build their MFA programs in a way that state schools right this second probably can’t.
L.D.: For the most part.
C.R.: For the most part. If we’re talking about individual universities, I can’t make that generalization.
L.D.: Well, it sounds very exciting. I’m looking forward to that.
C.R.: Yeah, me too.
L.D.: Thank you so much for talking with me. It’s been a real pleasure.