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The Dallas Contemporary's New Director

by Jerome Weeks 11 Nov 2010 4:49 PM

The Dallas Contemporary has re-booted. Dedicated to cutting-edge visual art, the Contemporary moved into a sprawling new home this year and its director retired. The new executive director Peter Doroshenko talks about that space, about the changes he’s bringing.


You might say the Dallas Contemporary has re-booted. The non-profit space dedicated to cutting-edge visual art moved into a new home earlier this year. Now there’s a new director. KERA’s Jerome Weeks talked with Peter Doroshenko about the changes he may bring.

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Peter Doroshenko is the first executive director hired by the Dallas Contemporary from outside North Texas. The Chicago native was the head of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston in the ‘90s and then the Institute of Visual Arts at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. More recently, he’s run the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, England, and the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kiev, the capitol of Ukraine.

Doroshenko: “I’ve been very fortunate that a lot of different positions I’ve had – it was starting from zero. Be it in Milwaukee or in Kiev, a lot of these things were just ideas in boards’ heads or a philanthropist’s paper napkin.”

The Dallas Contemporary is hardly starting over from scratch. The art space has been around in different forms since 1978. But in January, Joan Davidow resigned — after nine years as executive director.  And this was soon after the Contemporary had moved into a former metalworking plant near the Design District – it’s a new home that points the Contemporary in an ambitious direction. The main exhibition hall is one of the largest, clear-span galleries in North Texas. Artists and curators have to play off or work with that vast, industrial layout – or they risk their works being overwhelmed.

Doroshenko: “Obviously, with such an open and large space, artists that work in a very dramatic or very engaging way do have the flexibility that most institutions don’t have. The downside is – it’s a very large space. It’s 10,000 square feet. That could be an artist’s nightmare.”

Doroshenko has run art centers in Europe and America. He’s interviewed and written about British and American artists. So he brings international connections and a global perspective to the Contemporary.

Kenny Goss: “You know, the world knows who he is. That was such a coup. I mean, this is,  you know, major league.”

Kenny Goss is a significant collector of contemporary British art with his partner, pop singer George Michael. In Dallas, their Goss-Michael Foundation gallery will be just around the corner from the Contemporary.

Goss: “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to have – which a city the size of Dallas needed – a great contemporary museum.”

Doroshenko plans on bringing some of his global perspective to bear on North Texas artists.

Doroshenko: “We’re going to be really trying to put local artists into a national and international context – and I underline the international. All artists now are international for me. There’s not one artist here in Dallas that just wants to be known as a Dallas artist. They want to be known as an artist, period.”

Doroshenko’s own preferences tend toward bold and outspoken artists.

Doroshenko: “I’m always engaged with artists who are extremely passionate about their work. I’m not really drawn to the silent types. I’m the one that likes to hear a story. The story could be personal, the story could be political or the story could be dramatic. But I like to engage with the artist who can’t wait to get to the studio and create something.”

The Dallas Contemporary opens two exhibitions today that Doroshenko didn’t curate. He’s only been in town three weeks; he’s still figuring out how he can bicycle to work from his family’s new home in Victory Park.

So it’s ironic that one of the new shows, an installation called Bridges and Constructions, features Christian Wulffen’s photographs of Dallas cityscape details (above). These are images of downtown street corners, overpasses, trees and building entrances. They’ll be displayed flat on top of 24 rolling wooden carts, each cart representing a particular location, along with 76 wooden kiosks of maps and data — giving visitors both a different angle of view, looking down, and a sense of a grid-like miniature city, interconnected by a matrix of information.

Needless to say, Doroshenko is not the best guide to how the show will be laid out, how the buildings will relate to each other.

Doroshenko: “You know, I haven’t even seen all these details in these buildings – [footsteps] – actually, after the interview [laughs], I find out how all this is going together.”

The Seedlings exhibition this summer gives an idea of how cavernous the Contemporary is

  • JasonMN

    Davidow to Doroshenko is a huge step up. Davidow wasn’t all that well-liked, nor known outside local circles.

  • JasonMN

    Also, Doroshenko has the stylish shaved head that is often associated with talented and powerful individuals in the art world. Jeffrey Grove also boasts this look.

    The shaved head suggests intensity and a minimalist aesthetic. The more shaved heads in a room, the more it suggests “artworld power.” Check out any installment of the diary, “Scene and Herd,” for confirmation of this maxim.