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Placement at the 2002 500X Open Show
May 11 - June 2, 2002
to i.d. everything in this shot from the front door, out across
The Pit to
the downstairs gallery, but the dangling yellow + green is by DARts member James Crowe,
and the spotlit red segmented circle is by Bill Bartee.
Story + Photographs by JR Compton
There's a priority of location in the 500X Open Show, and there always has been. I remember the ignominity of being placed along the back stairway, back in the 80s, when the whole space was filled to capacity, salon style maxed out on every wall, and that wood paneled portal was considered the least desirable location in the gallery.
The show has not been nearly that busy the last decade, but if your piece is in the entrance room, you know somebody likes you or your work well enough to have it be the first thing people see when they walk in off Exposition Avenue.
Marius Lehene's No Vacancy oil on canvas is immediate on the right, just inside the front door, an enviable space his large painting commands well. Plenty going on in this busy painting. Lots of painterly slashes, scratches and smears, plus an enigmatic bit of narrative. Interesting, intriguing, and involvingly interactive, I watched several sets of viewers watch it for many minutes.
Also in "the pit" was Peter Hyland's haunting, loose oil painting of cars in a lot Behind the Walgreens. It was on the wall inside the front door on the left and noticeable from much further.
Tiny, but standing out in the broad gallery just up the stairs from the pit, were these two metal creatures. Jason Garza's Man Eater funky copper and found object spider at the top, and Betina Stepcick's elegant My Coy painted steel fish (?), all in tubular spirals and flourishes of fin, below.
My own photograph, shot out the upstairs window of the 500X building last year, was placed in the Special Projects room, another enviable location just beyond the counter in the main gallery. It's part of a series of site-specific, digital photographs that depict the places where the open shows are exhibited in. It started at DVAC, and now that I've given up on them, it'll next show at The MAC.
Dominating the Special Projects space by its sheer size as well as gentle, enigmatic expression was this simple black and white, untitled 2002 photographic ink-jet portrait by Matt Hawthrone.
A wall filled with a suite of exotic, erotic — or at least anatomically explicit — work by DARts member Ken Shaddock was in there, too. All that work has been on his member pages here, so you can see it without leaving home. Another DARts regular, Joe Stokes, had a larger collage of his students' ceramist hands.
At Open Shows these last few years, that room is where all the photographs are gathered — in direct visual competition with other photos and digital art works, but rarely any other form, although there's a can sculpture in the little middle of that space that was easy to overlook.
The gathering there is perhaps a too simplistic categorization, almost an upper middle class ghetoization of photo art. Nice enough to be placed there, downstairs, but I liked it better when all the art forms were mixed throughout all the galleries.
I photographed Norman Kary's Diary for the Wind mixed media assemblage at his studio while working on a DARts Interview with him, so I was delighted to see it on an interior wall of other goofinesses — like a furry upholstered rectangle — in the Big X. I know I recognize the cut-up painting on the right panel, but it's elusive, just out of reach. And that scrambled hinting at its own history is always a nice thing for art to do.
Another positive aspect is that here's an excellent artist who hardly need enter an open show, submitting one of his better pieces. The show is always diminished when better artists show their lesser works here, which some still do.
Down the downstairs hall is another, smaller room — the Members' Gallery — where 500X often places smaller, more interesting, intimate works. Tony Schraufnagel's vivid Birthday Boy, 2002 high fired clay piece easily commands our attention in there now. I've visited the show twice, but I still can't remember anything else in that room, forcing me to wonder if being downstairs is such a privilege, after all.
Indeed, throughout the downstairs area are such artistic duds that I had to wonder if friends get free rides. It is, after all, a show of extremes, and nobody should agree with anything chosen, said — or written about it. Historically, the X's Open always has a precious few wonderments, almost always ironically juxtaposed with some dreadful dreck.
In general — for the last decade at least, having your work placed almost anywhere downstairs is preferable to being anywhere upstairs, although it hasn't always been that easy to qualify the separate levels. More sophisticated selectors used to scatter the qualities around more, spiriting wider discussion and instigating more intelligent comparisons.
In the gallery's heyday early 80s, the annual open show proved an historic gateway to then outsiders who have since become mainstays of the art scene, and many of their works were first noticed upstairs at the annual Open Show.
During my second visit, I counted six distinctive pieces upstairs that I dearly wished had been placed downstairs instead, and at least that many downstairs that I would have happily relegated to the much hotter, wasteland above.
Easily the worst placement was a fun piece involving a vertical arrangement of two feet each of some guy in trousers, a pigeon-toed cowgirl, a high-heeled lady and, at the bottom, an inset mirror. Ken Martin's acrylic on canvas Mirror to the Sole is tilted back, so whoever stands there in front of the piece, sees in the bottom panel mirror their own lower legs and feet extending the display of soles.
Or that's how it was supposed to be. By placing the piece at the brightly windowed far end of the upstairs gallery, the business-end front of the piece will always be in relative darkness. It was difficult to photograph, and almost impossible to see, except at night. Unfortunately, opening night is the only night the gallery is open.
Classy touch sticking the clunky floor fan, right in the nearly sculptural piece's extended space, doncha think?
Another difficult to photograph — or see — piece was B.E.M.'s water-color looking oil on paper, Path Between The Trees (I cheated and retouched). Hung on the side of a small, jutting corner at the end of a long row of mediocre paintings upstairs, its glass front reflected all those works in an annoying conflict of visual interest.
I'd promoted this show as "the most representative" exhibition of Dallas' spectrum of art. But BEM's Path was the only work in the show that represents simple representation, of which there's gobs out there but darned little of in this show.
I like this Path for its gentle, monochromatic realism, appropriate small size, spatial compression and nearly naive forthrightness. Perhaps the X should promote its show more among watercolorists and Sunday painters. I'd love to see the mix of communities, and the gallery could surely use the cash. It couldn't possibly make it much worse, although it might exacerbate the board's current tendency toward over-categorization.
While I'm upstairs wandering around making comparisons and discoveries, I should mention the desperation of a few artists, like Janet Hohertz, who may have this year's record for the most entries, with eleven essentially similar, dark latex on Masonite bloboids that ranged from LavaLamp-itus to damaged V_Hold. For a change, however, I saw no works with business cards notched into their frames.
Yet another victim of indifferent lighting upstairs is Diane Walker- Gladneys dark mixed media on canvas Submerged Series / Float that a painter friend recommended.
John Scott Glass' Hanging A Round in Pieces, 2001, is hung low amid a gaggle of lesser work that almost made me think it were lousy, too. But when I came back the second time, I shot it, separating it from its ignorant context, and I still smile when I see it. Straight-ahead, punning concept, elegantly simple execution, and funky materials, marvelous soft metal textures and a limited, bichromatic palette. Much too nice to be stuck on that awful wall full.
Isolation, David Sisk's uncomplicated and unsubtle, illustration-like monochromatic, portrait with attitude is another stand-out up in the big gallery. Is that the artist? Is he sullen because he got stuck upstairs?
The sixth piece that probably shouldn't have been where it was is one I am personally prejudiced about. It's by Kathy Dello Stritto, who often helps write reviews at Dallas Arts Revue.com, and I feel badly about her placement, because I talked her into showing there, against determined opposition. I still think it's good she did, but I do wish her work had been treated better.
I should probably note here that I have never believed that objectivity was either possible or a particularly desirable trait, and that you'll find darned little of it on the pages of this site. -JRC
The Wall with Kathy's Painting — Fourth from the Left — and smallish
You can judge for yourself, of course. But it appears that, in the grouping above, her smallish, wide, wood-framed, complexly representational, realist skyscape is the odd work out. Her unenviable placement here has, however, made me look more carefully at the work around hers, and I'm growing to like some things about the loopingly colorful piece above it.
When I asked Kathy about her kick-in-the-face placement upstairs, she was gracious, answering, "Everyone loves a winner, and it's great when your work gets chosen for a good location, and you can feel validated and tell yourself it's really good work. But when your work is in a bad location, you have no control. And you may have no control when your work is put in a good place, but it doesn't matter then."
Read about Last year's 500X Open Show
Read DARts' recent review of The MAC's Essential Space exhibition.
Visit the Latest Member Pages by Richard Ray, Norman Kary and Art Shirer
Visit The Artists' Opportunity page and Aesthetic Crisis Center