Prisoner of Pop:
Randall Garrett at Plush
on Gallery Night 2000
and a short overview of Performance Art in Dallas
Photos + Story © 2000 by J R Compton
Performance art is an elusive medium.
It doesn't always work out as art exactly. Sometimes, it's just plain embarassing. It's a difficult potential art form, fraught with pitfalls. It's a challenge to communicate without resorting to verbalization, and it's hard to draw an audience.
When it works, however, Performance Art can be amazing. The good stuff is unforgettable. It leaves a singular mark in our minds, even if we cannot adequately explain it, its purpose or its process.
I was all eyes when I heard that the daring young multiple gallery director ( formerly of 500X, now of Plush and the Richland College galleries ) who has brightened the Dallas art scene with many innovative opening night scenarios — a tell-all stripper and skateboarders, among other unusual opening night concepts — was going to create Performance Art during Dallas' recent ( last night, as I write this ) Fall Gallery Walk.
I was as disappointed as he probably was at the small turnout for the event itself. No more than a dozen and a half people wandered the dark hallways in the over-the-canyon, near downtown area that balmy night.
I missed the introduction, if any, and found Mr Garrett already bestrewn with glitter and glop and getting more by the minute. I watched him strain — not exactly against the chain around his feet. It was more like the effort was to keep the chain from slipping off entirely. Handcuffs or whatever was binding his wrists behind his back, though, seem to hold him tight. He writhed, if not exactly in pain, in something...
He was a pretty pathetic sight - and this may have been the point, or one of them.
Clad only in still mostly white underwear briefs, black shoes, gaudy, thick paste-like glop and dark glasses. If there was meaning to be had in the experience I didn't get it. But it was colorful and at least slightly moving, although it didn't go far. Except for his two young protagonists who hovered close piling on more and more gunk, no one else in the big, dark, hot, room dared to get close to that far end of the gallery.
There were many looks askance, embarrassed sniggers and rolling eyes among the sparce audience. I was embarassed for the artist, who said nothing to his audience while i was there, but only struggled in plaintive, play-act pain. He eventually fell back on the floor still astride his by then bent and broken chair. He did ask his junior painters to cover his backside with goop while he was down.
Dallas has seen many fine homegrown performance artists over the last three decades. The late esoteric musician Jerry Hunt may have been the best of the unruly bunch and very probably the most prolific of them all. His shamanistic performances, often accompanied by impromptu musicians B L Lacerta, incorporated canes, suitcases and fetish pieces, which he often banged against hallowed walls and tapped on echoing marble floors.
The wonderful, ornate and costumed rituals of © Kenneth Havis and the more recent work by now-Austin artist and electronic musician Bill Meadows are the stuff of legends. Their work resounds with intelligence and that elusive quality of Flow.
Other excellent Dallas performance artists have included works by Ann Harkness alone as well as performing with then-husband David Smith as Mr and Mrs Accident.
Alan Sondheim, while he was in Dallas teaching at UTD, was also active in the genre. Many of Fred Curchak's less scripted works also fit the category. Mail — and male — also former Dallas artist Jon Held perpetrated many performance art pieces on Dallas. He especially liked being spanked by women in public.
Others Dallas artists, including Glenna Park, Philip Lamb, Frances Bagley, Will Hipps, Georgia Stafford, PM Summer, Victor Dada have produced memorable work.
The best performance artists pique our curiosity, then fold in layers of often-unvoiced meaning to create thought-provoking visualizations, full of intelligence and startling imagery.
At a party once I met an engaging young artist who was attending the University of North Texas. I asked him what kind of art he did, and he told me he was a performance artist. Asked to describe his most recent piece, he told me he'd never done any. He may be one of the best performance artists ever.
But most Performance Art is drek.