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Local Artists Occupy DMA
by Stephen Becker 31 Jul 2013

The Dallas Museum of Art is hosting one of the biggest displays of North Texas art in its history. And it’s asked local arts groups to program some prime real estate. In opening its doors, the DMA is introducing a wide audience to local talent.

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The Dallas Museum of Art is hosting one of the biggest displays of North Texas art in its history. And it’s asked local arts groups to program some prime real estate. In opening its doors, the DMA is introducing a wide audience to local talent. (Photos: Willow Blythe)

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“Available Spaces” is a companion show to another DMA exhibition called “DallasSITES.” That show looks at the last 50 years of local contemporary art. “Available Spaces” brings that history up to the present.

The DMA has turned over its barrel vault and four accompanying galleries to local arts groups. VideoFest is screening shorts in one gallery. Arts education group Oil and Cotton is teaching visitors to draw and weave in another.

But Fort Worth artist collective Homecoming Committee has gone in a totally different direction.

“When you walk in here, you’re sort of taken aback. This is not your normal, everyday museumgoing experience,” says Gabriel Ritter, the museum’s assistant curator of contemporary art. He also says reactions have been mixed. “Honestly, I think it ranges from complete confusion to complete excitement.”

What Ritter’s talking about is an open-faced headquarters Homecoming has created that visitors can peer into or walk around in. It looks like the collective has been based here for 60 years. The truth is the dozen or so Forth Worth artists only got together in 2011.

Upstairs, there’s a gym with a boxing bag, a living area where Homecoming members lounge on the couch, and a bedroom complete with bunk bed. Downstairs is where visitors are invited in.

Bradly Brown is in what looks like a tiny kitchen.

“We’re in the breakroom right now, and everything we’ve used to populate the breakroom has some sort of art historical reference in it as well,” he says.

A chess board’s on the table, marking Marcel DuChamp’s decision to give up art for chess. The shelves are stocked with generic tin cans. George Maciunas, the leader of the Fluxus movement, only bought tin cans without labels because they were cheaper.

“So in the breakroom, we’ve labeled all the tin cans with ‘Maciunas,’ as if he was in here, he’s part of this collective, and he’s marking his food,” Brown says.

Nearby, a football under a glass case is supposedly signed by Japanese artist Saheburo Murakami. And in the media room, a TV shows a person dressed up in a plush pig costume dancing around to a German children’s song.

If you catch the references to Nick Zedd and Paul McCarthy, you’ve probably got a degree in contemporary art.

The big idea, though, is to get viewers to look at art and the places that exhibit it with a healthy skepticism.

“We hope that viewers … question our history and therefore the history of artists working within museums and the institution itself,” says  Homecoming member Devon Nowlin.

Which Ritter, the DMA curator, says he’s fine with.

“It’s an interesting opportunity to test the museum’s flexibility and also the audience’s flexibility,” he says.

Last Friday, visitors wandered curiously through the space. Christopher Bond, a Homecoming member, stood in the breakroom trying to incite a little interaction.

“I’m just stacking dominoes so if someone wants to come and push them over, they can,” he said. “It’s hard to break that mentality of being in a museum and not wanting to touch stuff or interact with stuff.”

Less than a minute later, a woman asked aloud if she could knock them over. Her date said he wasn’t sure. Maybe they’d better not.

Then Lawrence Kimbrough sat down at the table. And the temptation was just too strong. Down went the dominoes.

It’s worth noting that Lawrence is 12.

“It was just standing there, and dominoes are made to be knocked down,” he said. “So I was prone to knock it down.”

With its installation, Homecoming asks us to consider our relationship to art. But sometimes, it’s best not to over think it.

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