Visual art news, views & reviews in Dallas, Texas, USA
7. Birth of This
Story + Photographs by J R Compton
The real trick to having a successful Biennial is having a second one two years later. Until then, it's just another statewide exhibition with a lot of ambition.
Neither the (Houston) Contemporary Arts Museum's attempt in 1988 to have a Triennial, nor Dallas Artists Research & Exhibition (DARE)'s try for a Biennial in 1993 accomplished that simple goal. Neither succeeded in having anything but a one-off art show with a glorified title.
Two contemporary DARts stories about the DARE
“biennial” — by Michael Helsem and by Lee Murray.
As good a start as the current Biennial attempt in Austin is, the effort won't truly succeed until they put on another one two years from now, possibly in the spring of 2007. Then another after that, on into the future.
The organizers will probably start working on the next one prior to the summer before it happens. But this Texas Biennial wasn't even a glint in the eyes of its founders 9 months before it happened.
How this “Biennial” started
I spoke separately on the phone with Jon Lawrence and Arturo Palacios, who were the first two people involved in this Texas Biennial. The founders, if you will. This story of their — and our — biennial is pieced together from their interviews. I catch you up with the historical ramifications and perspective in dark red type outdented from the story.
Like so many things, this Texas exhibition started with two people. These two were deeply involved in the independent gallery scene in the state's capitol city, and their interests and directions set the policies for this Texas Biennial.
Arturo Palacios remembers it was a HOT day [probably] in May of 2004. He and Jon Lawrence had known each other about a year when they sat in Jon's truck talking about putting together a big juried show with Texas artists.
Jon Lawrence was organizing Austin’s Eastside Artists Coop when Camp Fig gallery’s Michael Sieben had introduced him to Doughterty Arts Center director and former Gallery Sin Fronteras owner Arturo Palacios during the summer a year before.
It wasn't a biennial yet, and only two of the founding five had agreed to do anything.
Arturo remembers talking with Jon about “ways to make Austin a better art scene.”
When this reporter asked about professional Austin gallery associations, Arturo said, “Those had a different feel. We were interested in working with the people our age who were doing it themselves — running spaces that they had built up on their own, with a lot more energy than money. That's who we could work best with.”
Jon said, “We realized how much work it would take, and we started thinking about different possibilities and people we could put it together with, and we met with the kids at Bolm Studios,” (Jana Swec, Joseph Phillips and Shea Little).
Arturo said Bolm Studios had been organizing “the very successful East Austin Studio Tour (EAST) for the last several years. And they'd done a really good job of putting together a series of catalogs for that event, organizing a lot of artists in town and in self-promotion-ism. We respected what they were doing.”
Arturo continued, “We talked to those guys and had several meetings with them, and talked about doing a Texas juried show; talked about how frequent it would be and how often we wanted to do it. Knowing that it's a lot of work, but definitely interested in promoting contemporary Texas art.”
They were “talking about doing it every two years, and Joseph [Phillips of Bolm] said, “Yeah, The Biennial. We could do it as a Texas Biennial. We knew no one was doing it at the time.”
Three points determine a line. Bolm's involvement marked the beginning of The Texas Biennial.
“Then we talked with Mikey [Sieben of Camp Fig], and he seemed really into it,” Jon said. Mikey designed the logo and the posters and dealt with graphic aspects.
Four. Independent galleries led the way.
“Then we talked with Rachel [Koper] from Gallery Lombardi, and she said she was down to do it,” Jon continued.
The fifth and final founder — another independent gallery space in place.
“We started having meetings every week, going over things that we thought we needed to prepare for — to come up with the juror process, to come up with some sort of logo and a sort of understanding of what we wanted it to look like and how we wanted to run it,” Jon said.
“Then we started building our jurors. Basically, we got with people across the state. Rachel put that together, as we got people from different parts of the state,” Jon said.
In their online research about the Biennial name, Arturo recognized Benito Huerta's name and asked him about their plan and eventually, to become a juror.
“I was freaked out when I saw all the sorts of things we had to go through.” Jon said. “It was really interesting to me to see what was all being made across the state.”
They connected to other people they knew, to friends and friends of friends, their community of connections throughout the state. This reporter first met Jon and Arturo at Mighty Fine Arts in Oak Cliff as they attempted to get the word out all over the state.
“I try to travel a lot and see a lot of stuff, what's going on, but I had no idea what was being done around me.” Jon said.
Asked if he had any idea now what would be changed next time, Jon replied, “I think we'll give ourselves a lot more time. Set a time frame, and work on that a little better.”
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