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Q&A: Talley Dunn

by Tina Aguilar 12 Aug 2010 12:02 PM

The art expert talks about Dunn and Brown Contemporary – the gallery she co-owns with Lisa Brown – as well as the gallery’s current show, “Floor Plan.”


Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.

Dunn and Brown Contemporary is a gallery that is tucked near my neighborhood, so I made a visit as a gift of respite for myself, as I am completing summer classes. Talley Dunn and Lisa Brown founded the location just a hop, skip and a jump from Downtown Dallas. Dunn took time out of her busy schedule of planning an upcoming Trenton Doyle Hancock exhibit, as well as several book projects, for reflections about their summer show, “Floor Plan,” and the constant rhythms of the gallery.

Tina Aguilar: Can you tell me about putting this show together?

Talley Dunn: It started with a decision to exhibit a piece by Erick Swenson, an untitled piece (above). It is owned privately and is being deaccessioned. It’s being sold by a collector in Chicago, and we just began working with Erick about a year ago and his work is very, very difficult to come by. It’s a very slow process. You don’t have a situation of having a lot of inventory at all – and much less a really important museum piece. And this piece has an excellent provenance. I actually have a history with it. It debuted in an exhibition, a one person show that Erick had at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2003. It’s the deer rubbing his antlers that he’s shedding on a carpet. The entire piece is polyurethane resin. The carpet is painted in oil paint, which viewer’s can’t believe that – they really think they’re looking at a real rug, a real carpet. It’s just a magical piece; it’s such an important piece. And then the piece was subsequently shown in the Whitney Biennial in 2004. So it has been shown in museum settings on both coasts. It had never been shown in Texas, and it just seemed like the perfect alignment of circumstances that we had an opening that we were thinking about doing a group show. We jumped on that opportunity, and then the show grew from Erick’s piece.

T.A.: What about the title of the show?

T.D.: The idea came to me, just calling it “Floor Plan” because, well, for so many different reasons. There’s so many different ways to interpret the title, but certainly this piece occupies a very significant part of the floor, and its relationship to the floor, the animal’s relationship to the floor. And before I even selected the artists that would be in the show, it seemed that that was just a really great jumping off point for a title that could be interpreted lots of different ways. So then the next step was to think about the other artists that we work with and significant pieces that, from a more conceptual standpoint, that would relate to the show’s title and pieces that would relate to Erick’s piece. Almost more than anything, [it was important] that they would have a consistency with his piece, a similar sensibility, but not the same vocabulary, not the same look.

T.A.: Tell me about the artists that will join Swenson in the show.

T.D.: If we just move around the room:

"This drawing currently holds a number of titles," Matthew Sontheimer, 2010

Matthew Sontheimer’s work, which is the smallest piece in the show … all of his works are drawing based. He’s very much about systems. Most of the work that he’s done over the past several years is where he’s created an alphabet based on his father’s signature and he writes with it and you can’t decipher it. Now he’s writing in the way that we can read what he’s thinking, but it’s very much about making a drawing, making a work of art. There’s just something about his sensibility, the order of things, the way he treats the piece of paper. The systems that he imposes on his drawings … that’s why in my mind he was a fit.

"The Way of Zen," Vernon Fisher, 2007

"Partner to Quark," Amy Myers, 2008

Vernon Fisher, same as Matthew, where it’s just, it’s more of his approach to art-making. And he certainly has used maps and mapping and place in his work, which in my mind has to do with floor plan. Again, he has used the floor in his installations quite a bit, and I think that there’s this place in his mind and this place that he goes in his work that has to do with creating diagrams, creating spaces, taking a more abstract idea and making a diagram of sorts about it. Writers have written about his work having to do with the unconscious, dreams and that when you look at a piece it has these various elements that give you clues. Like how would you put a dream down on paper? How would you put memory down on paper? Some things would be in color, some things would be black and white, some things would look like photographs, some things might look cartoon-like. And then that ties in nicely to Erick’s piece, because I think that they’re both kind of tapping this dream-like world and the idea of your mind.

Amy Myers, the largest piece in the show of this enormous drawing, again of systems, diagrams. … Her father’s a physicist, and her drawings are based in principles of physics and mathematics, and very advanced physics: quantum physics, particle physics. I’m not a physicist, so I look at them as drawings, abstract drawings, purely abstract drawings.

Untitled, Tara Donovan, 2009

And then moving around, Tara Donovan is such an important contemporary artist on a national and international scale now. She transforms space; she engages rooms and the idea of a floor plan. Her work, she takes the most simple materials, in this case, mylar and hot glue, and creates this stunning sculpture that looks different. Every angle that you see it, every tiny movement you make, the piece reflects light differently. It also has a nice relationship with Amy Myers’ piece, because it looks like something very much grounded in science. It looks like something growing, it looks like geodes, and it looks like it has an organic quality to it.

Untitled #13, Nic Nicosia, 2007

And then Nic Nicosia, again, that piece … he’s used floor plans in his work, so his name comes to mind immediately when I think about the title and who I was going to include. Those are drawings, photographs of drawings that he’s made of a room that he’s created. It’s about creating a room, creating a space, creating a drawing in this space.

Tracks, Annette Lawrence, 1994

And then Annette Lawrence is the last as you go around the room, and her piece, easily the most literal, it’s a piece I’ve shown probably 15 years ago. I knew of it immediately when I was thinking of artists – it’s floor plans of all the apartments that she had lived in up until that point on moving boxes. So it’s definitely the most literal, the most conceptual piece in the show.

When including Joseph Havel’s sculptures in the “Floor Plan” show, I was most interested in how these pieces engage the outdoor space, and the courtyard as an extension of the main gallery space in this contemplation of a floor plan. With Aaron Parazette’s wall pieces in our project gallery, Joseph Havel’s sculptures in the courtyard and the others hanging in the main gallery, this analysis of space and structure come together.

T.A.: To be able to stare, to look deeply, this is something that I responded to right away. How important is the idea of that pause?

T.D.: It’s critical. I mean, every exhibition is a different sort of experience. That’s one of the interesting things about the pieces for that show … is that you’re forced to move within the space. You have to walk around Erick’s piece as you enter. You have to get six to 12 inches from Matthew’s drawing to see it. When you walk in there, I think the viewer has to kind of put it together. So there’s a lot of sense in space and contemplation.

T.A.: In your mind’s eye, because you know your cache of artists, tell me about your process or method of work.

T.D.: The method is a great combination of Lisa Brown and myself and that we’ve worked together for almost 20 years now everyday and that we tackle projects and our work ethic is identical. Rolling up our sleeves and doing it ourselves. I work on what I would call long-range projects. I’m the messy desk, the stacks of things, you know, I’m the person that’s juggling many, many tasks. Lisa is much more linear. Everything she does is about order, efficiency and completion. She oversees everything having to do with the day-to-day operations. Our basic principles are just the same. We prioritize our artists, we do everything we can for our artists.

T.A.: Because we’ve been talking about place, what do you think of this corner where you are located?

T.D.: We love where we’re located. We found this space in ’99. Lisa knew about it, and we approached the owner about it. We just really lucked into this space. We tried it on a month-to-month basis, and six months into it the owner asked us if we wanted to buy the whole complex. That wasn’t our plan, but it was going so well that we did. As I describe where we are, we’re three miles from the [Dallas Museum of Art] and the Nasher, we’re just a few minutes south of SMU and we’re perfectly in this great pocket of residential. We have people who are riding their bikes or jogging, walking their dogs, bringing their kids in and we’re just part of their routine, and I really love that.

T.A.: Can you share a little bit about the invitation your received to join the Art Dealers Association of America?

T. D.: Yes, A.D.A.A., it’s just so exciting. It’s just one of the things that I’m most proud of. The A.D.A.A., it was always a goal. I mean, it’s been a goal since I started in the art world. I looked into the Art Dealers Association of America, and it is a legendary art show that they have at the Armory every year. I was just thrilled when a very close colleague, basically Betty Cunningham in New York, put us up as the lead sponsor for it and I think Jim Cohan was a close second. Although the A.A.D.A. has started adding more galleries outside of New York, there are very few members in Texas, and the only other member is Valley House, and they became a member in the 1960s. So we’re looking at a 40 year span where a gallery in Dallas hasn’t been asked to join. So I am just thrilled about it.

  • Anita Valencia

    Tina Aguilar is such a gifted writer, made it easy for me to envision the art and enjoy the exhibition even though I could only do so on the web. I am looking forward to more art interviews by Ms Aguilar.