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Hall Walls — Searching
Back Halls of The Contemp
Story + Photographs by J R Compton
Skip all this Austin nonsense to see work by Dallas artists.
did not go to The Contemp to see Stefan Chinov's work, I went to take grand architectural interiors of the 22 from Austin show. I have a new camera and new lens that will be perfect (uh-oh) for shooting art and art spaces and the people in them. I wanted big, empty wide expanses to try out.
Unfortunately, The Dallas art center that wants itself called The Contemp was installing a party (not art), and people were hauling stuff in and planting transparent plastic chairs and tables and glowing bars. Not much of what I expected to be there was there (Expected patterns gollywocked, a theme herein). Or it was there, but around it was all this folderol, and more piling in by the minute. Truckloads.
Usually, when I visit an art space, I just get in the car and go there. I don't announce my visit. I don't wait for an invitation. I don't get permission. I just show up with a camera and hope for something interesting.
Today's visit was fascinating on several levels and a mezzanine.
With the party space growing in the art's space, I could barely see the show, but I did photograph some details, not that many I wanted to struggle writing about.
This website is called DallasArtsRevue, and rather than having the local artist stuck away in a back hallway (although this hallway is nearer the front than the main gallery), and the kids from Austin in the big, museum-like room on the far end of the building near what used to be the sculpture garden, I'd like the foreigners in a further back hallway of our collective mind and view set, with the kids and adult artists from Dallas in the big main gallery (in back).
I've been yammering away at this for years, and it's less rather than more likely to ever happen. Until someone with deep intelligence realizes again The Contemp's own community's need trumps ambitious directors' wants.
The first time I saw Chinov's work in the Hall Wall art space, it and the water fountain I sought, were roped off. I wasn't sure why. I only knew I was thirsty, and instead of liquid sustenance I was being fed a glowing visual strangeness.
Three bright chunks of shaped stuff in rapid succession across the wall at proprietary viewing height. I looked at the sculpture, and I looked at the water fountain and knew I couldn't have either. What I first perceived as smooth and professionally finished art shapes were, I saw, rough and imprecisely joined. I didn't like that, turned up my nose.
I went back to the main gallery and looked for something big to catch my attention among the clutter. In one corner was what initially appeared to be an wind-torn piano shredding horizontally. But no keyboard, and its legs were crystalline, unsustantial.
So it's a box whose insides are dis-integrating out in an expansion of muted yellow, blue and neutral multiples and vivid red lines. What the ... I moved closer.
I'd expected (!) its exiting insides to comprise something comprehensible. Not an option. I found this stuff, and admired its dimensional composition and colors sense. And, for all its diversity, its unity. It's all one big whatever it is, there exploding from a corner. The only yet-untouched, bounded space in The Contemp's grande salon party venue.
Confounding. A little frustrating, but altogether worth the looking and wondering. There's a joy spreading there, a thoughtfulness and several interweaving wonderments. A satisfying experience being left up in the air — or down on the floor — by it.
Zagging across and up into the reaches near the formerly blue (ish) room behind the slanted wall were a connected line of transparent pipes rushing (that sensation again) water. In detail, its visual and audial dynamic was intriguing, sucking me into listening to it gush, rush and sloggle. From any distance, it seems a contractor's mistake, direction-less, errant, lost.
Maybe all great art should start off looking like an error, a mistake in judgment. Inland Sea is not great art, but it has that thorough questionability about it. Questions flow from its water-tight containment; expanding notions (no, oceans) fountain, all utterly contained.
I didn't consider pumps and mechanics, except what I could plainly see, till later, too late to discover.
We saw and greatly admired Young-Min Kang's OC constructions at the Biennial in Austin exactly one year ago. There, its vision revealed itself from long macro pixels of consecutive colors wrapped on visible mesh armature. Here the source matter is obvious, its whole less so. Then, the tension gathered and image coalesced as we backed away in its smallish space. Here, the pieces take charge in crystal-like (that notion again) expansions of connections, electric synapses arcing with dense electric reds and comic blue inks.
Exciting for its textural and contextual content, nearly neutral in its entirety, as if the artist's conceptual underpinnings inverted from that show to this.
Not sure why I felt need to include one of Briceno's soft fiber islands, but I'd feel guilty leaving them out. Fourteen together form a collection rather than a collective. Peculiar visual notions.
3. A fanciful impulse; a whim.
I shot others of the Austin artists, but they are Austin artists, and here (in Dallas, in this paragraph and this site's mindset) I let my mind wander. To the few interior architectural details not daunted by the encroaching party people.
I probably should know what they were up to. Do they rent out to parties? But there's lots I don't need to know about this place where I've alternately felt right at home in and dangerously apart from. Usually these spaces are empty, quiet and cool. I'd hoped for that serenity today. TS.
I liked this door of windows when it was a portal to the outside, when we could see through the glass, when D-Art, DVAC and D-Content were welcoming the outside in. When it was a gallery still and not yet a museum with controlled humidity, light and view.
The delight (absence of light) of a wall of window letting the outsides in is gone now. Loses perspective of reality, pretends art is the reality, and all that stuff out there is just along for some other ride. Museums close out the outside. I don't appreciate that view, its lack.
I thought I had finished my little visit to The Contemp, walked out past the race-determined Mix of the month show of OC (Obsessive Compulsive, again) markered T and other shirts. Again, feeling obligated to add this contexture to the experience of being there on April 19, 2006 but I never considered reading any of all those words. Vaguely liked the texture of black on white, scribbled soft and uneven, like old linen hung in a corner. I remember seeing this artifact laundry format so often before, usually upstairs at 500X, to better, more direct emotional effect, and color. If artists have to write words to grab emotions, why not do another blog.
Which (geographically) brings me back to Chinov. The rope was gone. The hallway passable. I pushed the button on the fountain, watched an unfettered arc of liquid splash past me onto the floor in the next county, and cast my eye, my camera and mind, on the venue that is the wall in the hall.
n those intervening minutes it had grown in me. Accumulating an appreciation for the rough finish. The disjointed joins. Not quite pristine monochromatic shape statements. One bright blazing white, the middle one a little yellowish and that last... pink? Were my eyes deceiving again? Playing tricks. Or really pink?
As I stood there wrapping my mind around those compound complexities of shape and shadow and extension, I didn't care about the color. Only whether I could render as I saw them. Only later seeing the lighting so different from piece to piece, casting such divergent shadows, lined up on that short wall.
This is the one I liked least then, the first (nearest the fountain) I'd noticed not immaculately constructed. Not smooth as I've learned to expect from abstract sculpture. Extrapolating from expected patterns either makes us angry or think. These seams were unseemly; the contours clunky; the volumes didn't fit together right.
Right? I was pissed, and consequently thinking. As my patterns rearranged, fit smoothly together, the disjoins reconnected and I liked it, and then it was easier to like the others.
Yes, yellowish. Simple rectangles, really. Convoluted with compound shifting concave and convex corners and what's between. Simple geometric explorations gone sane, mathematically precise, edged with a human's touch and wobbles, uneven and imperfect. Not so simple, these objects involve the viewer in their equations.
Which my dictionary reminds me is "A statement asserting the equality of two expressions," or in this case, three. The perceptible yellow adds depth, or the appearance of it. Distinctifies it from its still plain plane of wallspace existence.
I almost involved the word, "perspective" in the last paragraph after failing initial attempts to spell "perceptible." This and these others of Chinov's work have and show that vaulted stuff. My dictionary (the American Heritage English Dictionary once available on CD for Macintosh when it actually spoke the words) again, hints:
1. The technique of representing three-dimensional objects and depth relationships on a two-dimensional surface.
Why not four-D relationships into a three-Dee surface. As above.
2.a. A view or vista. b. A mental view or outlook.
3. The appearance of objects in depth as perceived by normal binocular vision.
4.a. The relationship of aspects of a subject to each other and to a whole:
I could go on.
b. Subjective evaluation of relative significance; a point of view: the perspective of the displaced homemaker.
c. The ability to perceive things in their actual interrelations or comparative importance:
The ability to perceive things, for instance, like that number after the title on Chinov's pieces. The whiz-kids from Austin did their pattern jumping some time last year. (How Contemp is last year when we got nearly new this year here?) Chinov, the local guy in the front back gallery presents new work more confounding and reconfiguring — of our patterns than the decorationists and deconstructionists from afar (well, 200 miles away) did.
Sad only one at a time local artists can confound us with their newest work. But glad they let Chinov surprise and amaze me this time.
I don't always go down that little hallway off the main foyer first when I arrive. But I usually go down it eventually, and find less-than art there, but always art worth seeing. This time, at the end of that short (but longer than the Hall Wall local art space) hall was a room that looked inviting like a gallery.
Across one wall of framed landscape and flower art, large, painted words revealed the mysterious title "The Contemporary Attic." It wasn't till I turned around and saw "Dallas Art Education Association" bannering messily hand-letters across the door back to the hallway back to what D-Art has become, a little like Dante's "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Exit here" over the gates to hell.
All on the first floor; there's no attic to the attic, although there are dormers up stairs I've never seen insides of.
Despite the sign, I knew I wasn't in The Contemp anymore. I was happy to overlook lots of art jumbled there. But this rooster turned me on. No date on the i.d and I didn't think to check the newspaper. I hope it was this year recent.
Nice rooster. Great tail. Good depth and texture. Great use for The Dallas Morning News.
Not the first of this kind I'd seen, but so damned nice. And that ring-light from the window blaring in behind, lovely. I used to say (back when it was still true) that I didn't understand painting (not that anyone fully understands that arcanery). A lot of ceramics still baffle me. How can some of the simplest stuff be considered art, when others neither simple nor stupid, are not.
That question may elude my patterns. But this pot, this tubularly circline composition makes me happy to look at it, happy I found it to photograph, pleased to show it to you.
This little show was churning into a pleasant mishmash reminding me of early D-Art (back when it still called itself that) group shows. I could stream through one of those room after room membership shows that still showed second director Patricia Meadows' thick craft background all mixed in with the organization now not quite known as The Contemporary's founder Mary Ward's loftier original notions of fine art and explorations by local artists, the D in D-Art.
And what a strange place to find such a lilting off-beat mix of a show. We weren't in Kansas, anymore, though flow through us both. I was taken with the simplicity of Katie Tharp's painting. What was there, no doubt. But what's in our minds as we mindlessly motor down the highways. I've seen many interpretations of these same shape dreams.
Not all of them bump colors as the sky dips behind the overpasses, but I've been there with big U turn impossibilities. I photograph those little yellow stanchions often. I admire their vivid color, simple shapes. This painting might be an excuse for those optically centered yellow lines and shape. My photographs of overpasses never make it this far, but I've stopped along the way and shot at them often.
Simple dreams stated simply. I think I like everything but the sky in that little painting (actual size not much bigger than shown above), the end of my little visit inside the Meadows Building.
But I didn't want to leave, so I walked, discovering areas and spaces and shapes all around the building I usually just go inside of. I've often admired the oddly disconcerting Post-Modernist architecture getting away with putting all those discontinuous flavors and textures together in one slot.
I don't know my flowers, but I know I liked this one, like a needlework project gone primitive. What looks hard is soft and versa visa. Puffy as a cloud, intersticed with tiny needles of purple and a dinky cupola bug where the pieces latch to its fuse. Uh-oh, don't tell the contemp this is local art, they'll root it out.
In all these years — and I've walked down Swiss Avenue across the street many times — I've never noticed this charming little alcove lined with bricked rounds and columns on the corner and the shaped groundcover, grass and short stairway that frame it. I've attempted photographs of the short towers mixing cylinders and squares atop this structure (as I did this day, with the usual results, clear, sharp but soulless), but this is my first attempt on this green circumscribed corner.
Several times this day I tried to capture the downtown of Dallas, that looms across the expanse of green and brown over the wall behind this idyllic scene, through the columns on the other side of the building, to bring the giant metaphor that is Dallas, its people and artists, into the picture at the Swiss Avenue Contemporary. But I couldn't get it to budge.
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