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Commentary: A Walk Through the DMA’s ‘DallasSITES’

by Joan Davidow 21 Jun 2013 8:04 AM

In a groundbreaking exhibition called DallasSites, the Dallas Museum of Art honors 50 years of contemporary art in Dallas. Correspondent Joan Davidow walks us through the historic presentation.


DallasSITES_Installation_06_2013_015In a groundbreaking exhibition called DallasSITES the Dallas Museum of Art honors 50 years of contemporary art in Dallas.  Correspondent Joan Davidow walks us through the historic presentation.

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Walk into the exhibition and you are ensconced in ephemera: gallery walls filled with exhibition notices, announcements, documents, publications and art. It stunningly organizes five decades and seven communities: Oak Cliff, Oak Lawn, Fair Park, Deep Ellum, Dallas Arts District, downtown, and university communities.

DallasSITES_Installation_06_2013_012The exhibition here was inspired by Pacific Standard Time, a groundbreaking show in Los Angeles that recognized that community’s often-ignored, but vibrant history. Charlie Wylie, former DMA contemporary curator, saw the LA exhibition and conceived a like-minded show in Dallas. A dedicated DMA team of three: researcher Leigh Arnold, assistant contemporary curator Gabriel Ritter and research librarian Hilary Bober made it a reality.

DallasSites tells us Dallas has always spawned adventurous art. In the mid ‘50s the young Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art’s lively programs, such as now-famous Claus Oldenburg’s Happening rocked Dallas’ contemporary art scene. But they also stretched its limited budget. In a community-minded merger, Dallas Museum of Art absorbed the DMCA. That merger marks the beginning of the exhibition’s spunky 50-year history.

Dare_to_Dream_Exhibition_AnnouncementCarefully selected large-scale works include the “exquisite corpse” project, a three-part drawing from DARE, (Dallas Artists, Research & Exhibition), at the opening of its McKinney Avenue address. The Artist’s Eye, a video program filmed in Dallas’ downtown library, shows art critic Janet Kutner bantering with sassy art champion Dave Hickey; and Quin Mathews’ video unearths UTDs former artist residency program in a basement at Southside on Lamar. We remember departed spaces that made real impact on the area scene.

Yet amongst this creative flurry, I sorely missed DWG, Dallas Women’s Gallery’s place on the wall for spearheading Dallas women and nonagenarian Betty Blake as the very first contemporary gallerist in the early 50s. One startling nugget does appear: the drawings and model by the recognized Earth artist Robert Smithson, who envisioned a project for Dallas in an abandoned limestone quarry that never materialized!

DallasSITES_Installation_06_2013_003a To add depth to this historic presentation, DMA will publish an on-line scholarly catalogue. And its library will continue as the repository fully documenting Dallas’ contemporary art heritage. In July, DMA hosts Available Space, exhibitions of area talent curated by two artist-collaboratives, The Art Foundation and the Homecoming! Committee.

More than the work of individuals and the history of art spaces, we get to feel this impact: Look at what we have done in the past 50 years! And look at what we may accomplish going forward!