Keri Oldham has had her paintings shown at the Dallas Museum of Art, the Dallas Contemporary as well as galleries in New York and Washington, D.C. She’s been an artist-in-residence at Central Trak. Six years ago, the Dallasite moved to New York. So with a new show of her works here in Dallas, KERA’s Jerome Weeks caught up with her there – and in the art gallery she also opened in New York.
There are some 350 art galleries in Chelsea, the neighborhood on Manhattan’s west side from 14th street to 30th. That’s more galleries than all of North Texas. Most are inside old warehouses, 10 stories high, lining both sides of the streets like tall canyon walls. The first-floor galleries boast huge windows displaying works of famous artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Nam June Paik and Jenny Holzer.
But Keri Oldham’s Field Projects gallery on West 26th is up on the 8th floor. Take the elevator, find it in the maze of artist’s studios and galleries, and when you finally reach it, the first thing you’ll exclaim — you can’t help it — is this place is small.
“Yeah, it is small,” says a smiling Oldham, “but you know, it’s actually a really fun space to work with. And when we have our openings, they’re crammed. It’s wall-to-wall people.”
No surprise there. The Field Projects gallery is only about 200 square feet. There are Dallas homes with bathrooms bigger than this little white room. But the ever-chipper Oldham has a way of turning negatives into positives. Five people could fill this space, but one salon exhibition here featured 40 artists. And they all crowded in opening night — “plus their friends!” she says, laughing.
Another show was just a single large sculpture filling the room. Believe it or not, small as it is, Field Projects is not that different in size from dozens of galleries in Chelsea or on New York’s Lower East Side. Field Projects is actually different because it’s one of the very few in this neighborhood run by artists – by Oldham and her partner Jacob Rhodes.
“We kind of think of ourselves as like a bridge for emerging artists because a lot of the galleries that you see in this neighborhood, they’re huge,” the 34-year-old Oldham says. “They’re like these multi-million-dollar productions. I mean, we’re, we’re something — ”
“We’re much more project-based,” Rhodes explains, “so we’re much more interested in the concept of the show as opposed to trying to push our stable of artists.”
In fact, twice a year, Field Projects holds an open call for any artists to submit their work (the latest one, #28, just closed). An outside curator helps Oldham and Rhodes pick from these for a show, but the two also dip into the submissions for later projects. This way, Oldham stays connected to the Texas scene and gives Lone Star artists some New York exposure. In five years, her gallery has showcased seven Texas artists — including Lucia Simek and Courtney Childress from Dallas, and Eileen Maxson from Houston, who won the $30,000 Arthouse Texas Prize.
Field Projects was also a little unusual at its start. Or rather, it’s Oldham who’s a little unusual. She moved to Brooklyn in 2009. In the brutal New York real estate market, she still managed to find an apartment, a shared-studio space and this gallery – all in about a year.
“Yeah, you know, I think when you get here,” Oldham says, “you already have a lot of energy, and I was ready to go. And then meeting Jacob, meeting someone who also really wanted to start a space, I think it all just kinda came together.”
So Oldham co-runs the gallery when she’s not a full-time accounts manager with Artists Rights Society. ARS represents more than 50,000 artists when it comes to copyright and licensing issues. And then, of course, somehow, Oldham finds time to paint.
Which is what’s brought her back to Dallas for an opening night at the Kirk Hopper Fine Art Gallery. Her new show features her brightly-colored watercolors of maze-like grids and fantastical beasties, often beaten by warrior-princesses — hence, the exhibition’s title, ‘Labyrinth.’ But in what seems her typical, superhuman, workaholic fashion, Oldham co-curated a second show at the gallery with Colette Robbins called ‘The Devil Within and Without,’ which includes both New York and Texas artists (including Shane McAdams and Bruce Lee Webb), on the things that bedevil them.
“Yep, it’s turned out to be quite an enterprise, putting the whole thing together. But it’s really about keeping a strict schedule for myself. I know that sounds boring, but it’s actually true.”
That schedule has changed, recently. This summer, ARS let her take Fridays off from her full-time job in order to paint. And because Field Projects is expanding with new partners, Oldham says she can be just an adviser to the gallery now. She wants to concentrate on her art.
Which is a mercy – for us less productive sorts.