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Dallas Contemporary: On the Verge

by Jerome Weeks 16 Dec 2009 4:42 PM

A hard-hat tour of Dallas Contemporary’s new home next to the Design District finds a vast, raw warehouse space that does have some great potential. It opens next month with a risky, large-scale show, complete with a wooden mockup of an airliner — “part-disaster area, part-playground.” Just the kind of show such a space calls out for. But will it fly?


DC-060108 3-4 view-01The 37,000-square-foot facility has been re-designed by Edward Baum

phpXYS7pqPMPhase II’s doorway — with Mike Monroe’s “Birdhouse” sculpture. It’s the entrance on the right of the rendering above.

Dallas Contemporary — formerly Dallas Center for Contemporary Art, formerly Dallas Visual Art Center, formerly D-Art — is moving piecemeal into a new home next door to the Design District next month. The Dallas Contemporary website describes the space as “modernist” — an interesting term for a huge, raw, mostly nondescript warehouse that was built up, over the years, in three different parts and that until recently was full of scrap metal. The 37,000-square foot facility on 2.3 acres along Glass Street was a metal workshop, a manufacturer of sprinkler systems. The part of the building that is DC’s Phase I will be given a ‘soft’ opening January 8 with LA-based artist James Gilbert’s exhibition, Warnings & Instructions (last year, Gilbert exhibited at Light & Sie gallery in Dallas and he’s currently in residency at UTD’s CentralTrak).

james gilbert 2 cut small

Phase 1 — with the beginnings of Warnings & Instructions

To give some idea of the airplane-hangar-size of the place, Phase I includes only about half of the entire warehouse. It will be made up of the West Gallery, a single, impressive, open-space room (it has no columns interrupting it), plus a large, double-halled “spine” of support facilities. These comprise more than 6,000 square feet running down the side of the gallery (the orange wall in the photo above). It will contain finished-out offices, restrooms, a kitchen and educational facilities. Surrounding the building will be various sculpture gardens, courtyards, porticoes, parking, etc.

The comparison to an airplane hangar is apt: Gilbert’s exhibition will include a plywood airliner, plus life raft: Warnings & Instructions is “part-disaster-area, part-playground,” as the artist put it during today’s ‘hard hat’ tour. Inside the wooden and plastic constructions will be video displays. It’s going to be a large-scale, interactive, complex, multi-media work that will fill the entire gallery.

Gilbert will be giving an artist’s talk tonight at the Glass Street space at 5 p.m. A warning or an instruction: Wear warm clothing.


The “life raft,” plus water slide

Warnings & Instructions looks to be the kind of “edgy,” ambitious project such a  space exists for.  With this new home, the exciting potential — emphasis on potential — is for a North Texas equivalent to MASS MoCA. Located in North Adams, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art has 13 acres and 19 buildings. Ten years ago, the abandoned electric-factory works was transformed into one of the most remarkable,  diverse and flexible contemporary arts facilities in North America (just in terms of gallery space, it’s three times the size of Dallas Contemporary).

Of course, with MASS MoCA, it certainly helped to have an institution like the Williams College of Art (and its president Thomas Krens, later the director of the Guggenheim) involved from the start. MASS MoCA was able to open, not only with significant national and international connections, but a full range of residency programs, educational components, a black-box theater, workshops, retail space and an outdoor cinema. It was instantly the kind of massive, interconnected arts complex that normally takes years to piece together.
dallas cont int1 small Phase II & III: Just some of the space not being used – yet

Dallas Contemporary hasn’t even made it into the new home yet; I don’t mean to burden it with such expectations, with the comparison to such a giant undertaking. But at least in terms of a B-I-G, flexible gallery that was built from (and still retains the flavor of) a craggy industrial space, the new home has some of the same feel, glimmerings of the same possibilities for some daring ventures. And since 2001, Dallas  Contemporary has been making efforts in some of those other directions — notably with its education program, Art Think. It has also doubled its staff (from three to six). Phase II for Dallas Contemporary — the front and right-hand side of the warehouse when facing it from the street — will be left mostly unfinished until the following year, unless a possible tenant wants to use it. Phase III would be the equally sizable East Gallery (above).

The architect is Edward Baum, former dean of the school of architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington and co-designer of the Dallas Police Memorial in front of City Hall. The eventual price tag for Phase I and II together is $6 million (Phase III is not part of that), and Dallas Contemporary is currently in a capital campaign to raise it. So far, it’s raised $4 million.

  • Man – Dallas is really coming around! We’re going there for the parade in december. I can’t wait to see all that has changed since was there last.