Dispatch from New York: Visual Art Is an Overcrowded Cocktail Party

Lauren Smart
Oscar Murillo's movable paintings.

I've not always been good at museums. Raised by a mother who understood the value of sticking her kids into artistic experiences in a family who liked to travel, I was more often the daughter piddling around the museum shop with my Dad, looking for a good souvenir to show off to my friends at home. I was the pre-teen who yawned her way through the Tate after Dad quickly shut me down from sneaking into the room filled with Rated R video art. And though I've developed an obsession with art as an adult, last week during a trip to NYC, I still identified with the teenagers walking into Modern Museum of Art's contemporary painting show, The Forever Now, when they rolled their eyes at the stick figure painting that welcomes visitors to the show. "A stick figure in a museum? Isn't that creative?" were the exact words I overheard. I sent them empathetic eyes from my perch in front of the placard.

There's nothing impressive about Joe Bradley's "Man Made Dirigible" -- a huge canvas with a horizontal stick man stroked in grease pencil. But that's sort of the point, The stick figure was accompanied by three other pieces from his Schmagoo paintings, which engage symbolically with super hero stories, heroin and the grime you pick up from just living your life. The canvases are dirty from Bradley walking on them; the final product is meant to be droll. And his interest in pictographs engages with the history of artists like Jackson Pollock and Adolph Gottlieb. You could learn almost all of this on the placard. But the teenagers didn't care; they snickered their way to the next work.

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Festival Wrestling Was a Fun Fun Fun Addition to the Music

Mike Brooks
Wrestling or flying?

By Chris McDonald
The 2014 version of Fun Fun Fun Fest had Neutral Milk Hotel, Judas Priest, and its beloved taco cannon. And tucked away, there also was spandex, body slams, and a 300 pound man doing a backflip off the top rope. Once again, in addition to music, comedy, and skate ramps; wrestling made its presence known at the Auditorium Shores.

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Is Swimming in a Dumpster Art? Sure. Why Not?

Rhombi Survivor

It was unbearably hot on Saturday. A friend of mine says people shouldn't be allowed to complain about the weather in August. "It's supposed to be hot in August," he says. "If it's this hot in December, then you can complain." You know what I have to say about that? He can go swim in a Dumpster.

At the Design District Market Saturday, several hundred people sought solace from the fierce rays of Texas sunshine in the air conditioning of the Dallas Contemporary or outside in the tepid waters that filled a Dumpster pool. It was an odd sight; adults hanging over the side of this trash receptacle lookalike. I stood on wheelchair ramp outside the art space, sipped a Topo Chico and watched the public swimming. Is this art?

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Why I Almost Peed My Pants and Wrestled for Money at an Art Show This Weekend

Chris Moezzi
Maybe not a fair fight...

It's the end of our night. I've had about as much performance art as I could stomach and now I'm in a little tiny room with a very large man, attempting to wrestle him for a chance at a handful of what I am promised is $500. Dollar bills are piled on top of the red safe behind him, the artist, a shirtless, musclebound man in sumo wrestler stance.

I stand around 5-foot-3 in tiny brown flats and suddenly I feel even smaller and more helpless. Just outside, I'd signed a waiver without reading it, which of course now seems foolish because I don't know if the man in front of me is allowed to touch me, tackle me, or -- I don't know -- kill me. And he's grunting like an animal, glaring at me, and looks ready to pounce. I stand in front of him on tiptoe, giggling like a small child and toying with the idea of lunging at the money. I take one step over the boundary and he lunges at me. I squeal, slip backwards, and just like that my chance at the money is over.

Performance Art is not life; waking up and disembarking from bed every morning is not a performative act. Not unless you do it with the intention of "performing." Then, it might fall under the auspices of one of the Arts' most expansive genres. It's not that simple of course, but if you spent Saturday evening touring PerformanceSW and (wo)manorial's "Inside)(Outside: A Live Performance Showcase," there was a thoughtful, albeit occasionally unoriginal, demonstration of the multifaceted output known as performance art.

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When Something like Chipping Smooth Happens Here, You Sit on a Pillow and Applaud

Chipping Smooth

Last fall, a small group of young actors appeared in the Bishop Arts District, mounted a gripping production of Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis and then vanished. But not before promising an entire season of productions under the moniker Davis Street Collective. It's the sort of thing that happens here too often: ambitions outmatching abilities. There are plenty of young people with the raw talent to produce an enthralling piece of theater, but maybe not the time or capability to run a company. And those of us lucky enough to see that first play are still wishing they'd produce another, because something unpolished and fresh is exactly what Dallas theater needs.

Maybe that's why when Friday night saw me wandering into a stranger's backyard for a play written and produced by a group of college-aged actors, I happily plopped down on a pillow in the small carriage house with 50 other curious theatergoers. We'd been promised a miscellany of poetry, music and drama. And certainly Chipping Smooth delivered its promise, with a one-hour play about falling in love, falling out, and the refining process of relationships. It was messy and at times trite, but that didn't matter. More important, it happened.

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In Dallas Theater, Everyone Won't Like Everything All the Time. And They Shouldn't.

Thumbnail image for FITFIT.jpg
Courtesy FIT
Whatever you do, don't stop writing ... plays or criticism.

Over the weekend, a post popped up in my newsfeed from the Festival of Independent Theatres. "...Elaine Liner suggests that we be put out of our misery. Do you agree? We welcome your thoughts on the matter!" It linked to her stage column this week, which bears the heady title, "Is it Time to Bring the Curtain Down on Festival of Indie Theatres?"

Obviously, the response was overwhelmingly in support of the festival given the conversation's venue. Everyone who replied to the thread was involved in the theater community, most of them working for or acting in a production at this year's festival. The thread appeared in my newsfeed several more times throughout the weekend, whether posted by critics or actors, in groups like "D-FW Theater" -- an open group dedicated to just such dialogue.

The discussion varied from the quality of shows to the responsibilities of the critic to personal attacks (most of which were quickly taken down). Commenters were furious, frustrated and personally injured. "How dare she!" seemed to be the shared sentiment of the conversation.

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Step One to Appreciating Art in Dallas: Showing Up

Red Arrow Contemporary

"They don't really photograph well," says Lucas Martell, as we walk through Lagoon at Circuit 12 Contemporary, the local artist's first solo exhibition. "It's impossible to get the green the right color when it's being photographed."

The Internet opened up possibilities of experience to us. Today we can see the streets of Hong Kong with a click of the button; we can listen to the soundtrack or flip through the image gallery of a production in the West End or on Broadway. Life across the world is accessible to us without leaving the house and it's an obvious critique of the information age that these same advantages can also encourage a sense of lethargy. The household voyeurs can admire the exhibitionist without stepping foot into the real world. And it seems that in the art world in Dallas, a lot of times people just don't show up.

And so far this summer, the choice to not show up has been a huge mistake, because the photographs of what's happening around Dallas aren't even telling half of the story.

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Traveling Bodies: Comparing the Artistic Framework of Austin and Dallas

Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.
Maurizio Cattelan, Frank and Jamie, 2002.

"Sometimes you have to break up to see if you fall back in love." A boyfriend once told me this as I was trying to end a three-month relationship gone sour. I remember thinking that was the strangest last-ditch plea I'd ever heard. Of course, this idea of appreciative hindsight makes sense, it's given the English language cliches like, "absence makes the heart grow fonder." So while my ex-boyfriend might've been leaning on a detached sense of destiny, the necessity to escape a place to return with new affection was the impetus for a quick road trip to Austin this weekend.

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Dallas Culture Can Sometimes Be Like a Fracking Ride at a Science Museum Party

Mike Brooks

Shale was the topic of conversation at the sold out, adults-only party at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science on Friday night. "Who knew we had endless untapped shale right below our feet?" an attractive young woman playfully asked her date, who handed her a $7 glass of champagne. They were stepping off the museum's only "ride" - a video journey into the center of a hydraulic fracturing site. When visitors enter the small theater, the attendant asked that they set their drinks down by the door, because the seats "shake you like a washing machine."

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There's Nothing New Under the Dallas Sun, It's All About Perspective.

Barry Whistler Gallery
Nathan Green's new work in One Night Stand.

There are no new stories. It's a maxim we all accept. And this column is proof. Every week I wax lyrical about a weekend in the blossoming Dallas arts world. Most Friday nights I see a play, most Saturday evenings I visit galleries and then I while away the late night hours at an off-beat concert venue, or late night deejay set. Afterward I login to this blog and scribble down my observations. New artists, new actors, maybe, but the same story: There is good art here and you should go see it.

Last week I interviewed longtime radio host/storyteller/poet Rawlins Gilliland for an upcoming article and we were chatting about the poet's ability to alter their own perspective.

"When I'm at a stoplight, just as an example, even with out realizing it, I'm looking around for the details," he said. "I step outside of an otherwise boring moment and notice something new."

It's all about perspective, isn't it?

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