Texas Mud

at the Dallas Center for Contemporary Art
from November 1 - December 21, 2002

Story + Photos by JR Compton With
Comments and Opinions by Kathy Dello Stritto

Christopher Hart - slowly drying clay
Monument to Human Presence with Coils

athy described the opening of Texas Mud, as "a sophisticated evening, with a sophisticated crowd, mostly good art, and a sophisticated art sensibility. Wonderful music — even a little exotic — played to a house full of artists. The food was abundant — sandwiches, not gallery cheese."

But she found it "shocking to read the insipid, patronizing cards" that peppered the gallery walls. "Like we needed to read them, because we'd never seen art before."

Once she pointed them out to me, I agreed they reeked of smarm. But I didn't mind overlooking their kindergarten viewing instructions, since I assumed they were for the unsophisticated — at least the director seemed to think they were —"Young Collectors" that DCCA director Joan Davidow has been courting lately.

The figure marks its presence in these pieces — from commanding heads to folksy realism and an Asian flair. Notice the vessels on pedestals that are abstract figures. How does this make us think of real personalities?

Once we got past Vincent Valdez' very large — and spectacular — character portraits of boxers, the first Mud piece that caught our eyes was a big pile of .... uh ... earthy material ... near the double, front emergency doors. It was wet, slimly and obviously had been extruded like... Well, we all know what it was extruded like.

If Christopher Hart's Monument to Human Presence really is what he's calling it, he knew what it would look — if, thankfully, not — smell like. By the time I got back to the show a week later to get its picture, the piece had dried somewhat and lightened in color, but it still strongly resembled extruded excrement.

During my return visit, Ms Davidow was conducting a formal meeting in the gallery, and I overlistened as she described the piece as "site specific," which seemed a little absurd, since it could have been plopped down almost anywhere.

During my return visit to Texas Mud to photograph Christopher Hart's Monument to Human Presence, DCCD director Joan Davidow was conducting a formal meeting in the gallery, and I over listened as she described the piece as "site specific," which seemed a little absurd, since it could have been plopped down almost anywhere.

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Warning! The following 4 paragraphs contains commentary that, I've been repeatedly told, matters to no one in the world but me. Well, Kathy says it matters to her, too, so there's at least two of us... But it may or may not matter to you, and it may cause you momentary panic or abhorrence, so if you think you might be offended by JR tilting at windmills again, don't read it!

You have been warned...

I was also fascinated to hear Joan name herself the "Founding Director of the Arlington Museum of Art." Intriguing, because when the AMA was founded, it didn't have a director, and I still remember Joan announcing her new job as director of a place we all already knew about, at a long-ago DARE board meeting.

I also remember interviewing last year one of the people who actually did found the AMA. They told us that when it began, they didn't think they'd need a director.

I mean, what is it about D-Art directors? Patricia Meadows came along well after Mary Ward founded D-Art and got ACT to change its name to D-ART, then kept the fledgling project going and made it popular. I've even heard her tell D-Art audiences that she's not "the visionary type." Yet press releases from her office continue to call her "D-Art's founder."

Now comes the new D-Art director claiming founding director status for the Arlington Museum of Art, which had established itself before hiring her, although she was certainly their first and greatest director. Like Meadows, early in D-Art's history, she gave the AMA life and direction and clout. But she didn't start that institution.

I should point out here that Patricia Meadows is one of my favorite people in the Dallas art scene. She's pleasant, kind, sweet, fun to talk with and be around, direct and usually honest. I can easily see why people flocked to her D-Art, and why so many artists still like and appreciate her. I do, too.

And she continues to work at promoting Dallas artists. See, for great example, our story on Hall Office Park, where she was instrumental in buying lots of very large art from lots of Dallas sculptors.

As for Joan Davidow, she's a dynamic director with a shrewd eye for art and financial support, and when I've spoken with her — not so much lately, but in years gone by — she's always been pleasant and open to new ideas. When I served on the founding (that word again) DARE board with her, she was amazing and found our first building.

When she gets DCCD where she's taking it, it too, will be stunning — unlike anything Dallas has had before. It will be great for Dallas artists and everybody else around here. It's just that, along the way, she's made some very strange and sudden changes, has been lousy about communicating those changes ahead of time with the organization's own members, and she tends to get carried away with her own importance.

See also The DARts Index of D-Art Revisionism for more
tales about the art center that can't get its facts straight.

During her gallery talk at the opening, Joan Davidow called for a show of hands of the exhibiting artists (from all over Texas), then of the Young Collectors, noting that the collectors far outnumbered "the artists" in the house — failing to count the non-exhibiting artists present, perhaps on purpose, perhaps because she so rarely takes us into account, anyway.

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I was miffed, but hardly surprised. Kathy was in no mood for it. Other artists in attendance asked what did we expect? It was hardly a new direction for the new director.

A wall of cocoons from night to day — imagine the potential and cycle of each new day.

The show was superbly presented, spare, visually attractive and looked amazing. Even the mediocre works looked good.

All of which gave complete and utter lie to the supposition of many — especially 3-D artists, whose work in the recent membership show was so badly exhibited — that Ms Davidow couldn't show sculpture.

Now we know she was trying to sink that one show every year her board of directors insisted she continue. No one responsible for the lustrous drama of Texas Mud could have so ruined the annual DCCA Membership Show, except on purpose.

Wounded leaves: maybe we can have hope for the repair of our environment.

Now, after writing the introduction to this fine big show that's up till just before Christmas, 2002, I found myself unconsciously trying my hand at the same game as we've quoted above in the white boxes. Which comments we assume were written by the DCCA's director, but nobody we asked at the opening seemed to know where they came from.

My comments in dark brown below are my attempt to say something about each of the pieces I liked best or that somehow needed commentary, without further delaying the process by having to figure out ways to say the same things in complete sentences. The comments in blue are Kathy's.

Barbara Brault - Bulbous Thistle
St. Francis Series
- earthenware

Strange shapes, exotic, organic forms; beautifully exhibited. Love the spiny, prickly shadows. When I came back later, I was suprised how small these really are.

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Krysia Stronski - Vessel with Side Handles
hand built slipcast paperclay fired to cone 04 electric

Vivid. Talk about electric! I wanted to touch the stiff-velvet like surface. I even wondered what it would taste like. Classic, angular amphora shape, commanding presence.

Kathy said "It looked like, if you touched it, your hand would disappear into the blue."

What a surprise to see these amphorae in neon blue. They remind us of the mysterious color of the void, as in pivotal French painter Yves Klein and contemporary sculptor Anish Kapoor. Think about the color and paintings or pots?

Return to the opening page.

Gary Huntoon - Alulimia - stoneware

Direct, flask-like shape with a flaring finger stopper top, subtle, eloquent texture, uniform charcoal color, just so perfect, so directly simple.


Marty Ray - Jumble Eye - white stoneware
Modern Rhythms- stoneware, glaze, slip

Soon as I saw this pair, I thought of them as "After and Before" the artist's recent turn into shardish interstices of bright color, and more active figure silhouettes, making me want to turn the piece around, discover where they're running, happily countering the implied Do Not Touch rule of gallery viewing.

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Bethany Andree - Co-dependency - clay

Is the octopus escaping the limp tube, swallowed up or trapped by it? Supple, long-necked duct with spiny, mollusk perched atop. Subtle complementary colors and textures.


Fred Spaulding - outdoor sculpture - brick

At opening night, this much more monumental sculpture seemed a subtly colorful pile of diverse shapes, yellow packing strapped together into a massive, towering pile. A sophisticated melange of materials. A less obvious use of clay, perhaps, but a glorious one.

When I returned in late afternoon my second trip, I liked the motley bold composite of subtle and strong shapes, colors, textures and forms even more. Wow.

Step into the garden to see brick towers that resemble the Dallas skyline. Explore the different vantage points, so you can see one tower through the opening of another; the real skyscraper through the hole of its mimic; and even the satellite dishes positioned atop the clay towers.

I watched several sculptors I've admired watch it in awe. I was happier not knowing it was patterned after the downtown skyline, but I see that now, in this photograph. Unless you lean into one of the sculptures' innards, however, you cannot see the buildings downtown through it.

"Nyeh," said Kathy, in a mood for monosyllabic responses.

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Sharon Dennard - Faded Bloom
whiteware, glaze, acrylic

When Kathy first saw this vivid polychromed still life presentation, she called it "tacky." Later, seeing it from across the room, she thought it "a wonderful still life — the colors, the composition — pure, primary colors."

I liked its barefaced simplicity of shape and color. Its power to take charge of the gallery all around it. Stunning and unsubtle.



Ruth Wilson - Albert - clay, horse hair
Verne Funk - Head #7
ceramic, underglaze, glaze
Ruth Wilson - Maudie - clay, brass

Vaguely of interest that clay is often put to funky, craft-like, garden gargoyle uses that thumb their noses at high art.

"Bletch," said Kathy, "and Don't forget 'Yuck.' "

Juan Granados - Objects and Memory: Toys,
Tools and Weapons
- earthenware, glaze - detail

Kathy did like this extended floor work, each of which had individuated objects on top. She liked the concept and the way it was splayed out on the expanse of floor.

Joan Davidow began her gallery talk from the middle of it, with people strung out almost all the way around her. Then she had to step back, so she wouldn't accidentally knock over any of the pieces.

A runway of toys, tools & weapons in the middle of the gallery floor. See how closely aligned these elements are. Pause a moment to think of America's impending war.


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