La Vie dans la Ville de Plastique

I was surfing this morning. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m getting the idea that I may be the most ambivalent paid (kind of)
art blogger in America
(omg, am I an art blogger? Shit…the
horror, the horror…) I have no idea
what blogging is supposed to be, but whatever it is, I don’t think I’m
doing it right. At times, it’s felt like a giant monkey on my back, and when I
read other people’s, I’m more convinced than ever that I’m probably the wrong
person to be doing this (I’m sure many would agree.)

dallasplasticsurgery.png

 (this is what came up when I image-searched ‘Plastic Dallas’. Wow.)

Dallas, you deserve a happy-go-lucky booster, just keeping you abreast of who’s out on the town! I know this! Keep your fingers crossed for the next dude/tte. But I sincerely appreciate those
who’ve indulged me here, in this rambling nonsensical chronicle. I’m just some
guy who happens to like art and feels compelled (like you I assume, since you’re here) to view the world through its distorted prism – one whose whacked-out
colors I feel more attuned to than those of politics, religion, literature,
movies, ping pong, fight clubs, anime porn, what have you.

Despite numbers of people who keep telling me that I should
shut up and just write (or even just shut up), I still primarily want to be a person who makes things, and not just one who talks about
them, much less one who talks about the talk (like Tyler Green, say, who is an
absolute genius at being Tyler Green, and thank the buddhas for that.) Writing like
this sometimes feels downright ruinous to the studio work – not to mention, occasionally, my social life (such as it is.) Though it seems I
remember an aphorism that goes, “If you want to really know something, write
about it. If you want to master it, teach"… I think it was on the tab of a Yogi
Chai teabag.

Some people get high off the buzzing CPU drone that
surrounds, well, everything these days, including art. I’m not one of them,
though I think it’s healthy to have this anarchic decentralized conversation around art now, at a time when without it, there would be precious little
to counteract the soul-numbing, discourse-dumbing force of the market monster
and its moneyed masters/servants. Well, I guess there is the looming economic
disaster to hope for…and the 2012 singularity…

For now, well, I recently
read a line from an interview with Noah Simblist that summed up the situation in Dallas perfectly. Since I can’t in good conscience
steal it, and I’m too lazy to paraphrase, I will cut/paste: “I find the Dallas community to be like the Texas art community as a whole, pretty
unpretentious and open to work together to try new things. That said, I don’t
think that Dallas has a very strong infrastructure
for critical thinking…While the Dallas
art scene is ambitious and exciting in many ways it still uses shopping and
couture as the main model. In many ways the artists supported by the commercial
galleries in town follow suit.”
As usual, he’s much more good-naturedly diplomatic than I am. Not to mention more succinct.

This, my latest aimless
rant, started simply, as I began this morning to write a preamble to
just introduce a quote from a Jerry Saltz review on artnet.com, which I realized I hadn’t visited for months. While critiquing a collaboration
between two artists, I thought it deftly encapsulated a whole sense about
art in general right now:
It
radiates hipness and camaraderie, and is a warning that artists need to be wary
of the point where influence turns into derivativeness. The Noland-Prince
esthetic stem-cell line isn’t the only one available for use. (Nor, by the way,
is the Smithson–Matta-Clark one.) As for Warhol, we all love him, or we don’t.
Regardless, artists needn’t continually deploy his play-the-system anti-gambit.
It was once brave; now it’s just a conformist pose, and a lazy and
self-limiting one.”
  Some
bloody good art writing, that.

 What struck me was the stark contrast against our little scene here. While a spot-on assessment of the glut of a certain kind of work defining American art now, there’s hardly a gallery in Dallas
that would touch anything like it with a 20-foot pole for fear that even a
whiff of anything this knowing and rankly unsale-able might scare away one of the 8 people
in town who buy art locally (are there that many?)  It’s simple economics: hardly anyone in Dallas knows shizzle about what constitutes art
in the 21st century, and they
sure don’t purchase much of it. When they do, the criteria are simply that
it should be fun, pretty, hip, and/or match the drapes. It must reduce the dealers, mostly well-intentioned and over-qualified, to desperate beggars and lackeys to interior decorators (much less ‘art consultants,’ as if we were that evolved); that is, if they want to keep the doors open. The ignobility of it
all!

We do have those three non-profits, normally acting the counterbalance to the market drive. Let’s see, you have the MAC, reduced from past relevance to an aimless community space whose primary function seems to
just be to help a rotating cast of local artists and students pad their resumes and get something, anything, out there – basically in the lobby of a theater. Not a lot of excitement churning around that big purple building.

There
is the Dallas Contemporary, which could be described as well-meaning if somewhat clueless; that despite the occasional respectable guest-curated effort and travelling Texas Prize stop, amounts to
little more than a regional, feel-good tax write-off for a tiny cadre of local wealthy elite, and destination for school groups (and it’s
still charging that $10 entrance fee at the openings, which I recommend just refusing to pay. Just take your own booze.) A new building is on the way, thank goodness; but will the ideas be better? 

And now there is CentralTrak, which has kicked off resembling the vanity project of our apparently combatively insecure local pseudo-critic, who substitutes pedigree-waving
and French theorist name-dropping for lack of much genuine insight, and more distressingly, an actual eye (and if you think that sounds harsh, check out
the imbroglio around Storr’s Biennale. Clash of the Titans!) God, we could have used some new blood. Time will tell. It would be hard to mess it up too badly. Just bring in decent artists, and get out of their way. Excitement, and hopefully a little mayhem, will ensue.

Part of the problem is that there need to be more voices here, pure and simple. No one is going to be willing to really pay for one (what, for art?), so speak up, bloggers. Shout out, artists. Genuine vision, in any sphere, is a rare thing. If an individual lacks it, and most of us do, an environment needs to be fostered where a collective can come together, and become they change they want to see. This is what I hope for Dallas (La Reunion, is that you calling? Anyone?) 

goss_michael.jpg
Oh – I forgot to mention the Goss/Michael Foundation. But it’s really
in an unprecedented category of its own, with very little to do with life here on
the ground. It’s like a glass of naturally and artificially Brit-Art flavored Rachofsky Quik. Just add milk, a mazillion dollars,
and stir. Presto – a sweet, creamy, museum bequest-worthy collection in seconds. Delicious, and nutricious!

That’s one thing I really miss about David Quadrini and Angstrom. The
guy genuinely once had that rare thing, an eye (maybe he still does,) with the Venetian cojones and con-artist gumption to
try to foist his picks on a town that really didn’t want to be bothered. After
ten years of forcing them to care, at least about partying with him, he left Dallas for the Big Show,
and sort of disappeared into the bowels of the Game. She’s a heartless bitch, this art racket. She’ll
eat your measly soul for breakfast, and bulimically puke it back up for your own goddamn
lunch. the_quad.jpgIt’s like those old Chinese cats used to say: you must hold to the lowly Tao, Grasshopper; keep fame and power at
two arm’s length
. Or even better, fend them off with that 20-foot pole I mentioned before. You could
borrow it from Craighead-Green; ArtiZen might have it this week.

Still, there are plenty of decent and talented people around, many I’m proud to
call friends and many more I simply respect for doing what they can to capitalize
on their own love of art, barely eking out a living here in the Big Plastic. They’re doing the ditch digging for what must inevitably be something great, someday. This
week, the Public Trust isn’t the first in town to directly follow in the Quad’s footsteps. They’re the venue this time for another mad Steven Hull collaboration, the
kind where he pulls together 368 artists, writers, musicians, psychologists, circus acrobats, hand-signing gorillas, and painting elephants to work around a theme, creating an
exhibition, album, performance, book, or all of the above. I love that guy. Marty Walker has my fellow Kansas
City
alum Scott Gobber’s new work. And everybody should
make it a point to get over to TCU’s new, non-student gallery (no website?), that has what sounds like an
exciting exhibition, with a novel theme, at a non-profit venue, with international artists, by a real European curator and
everything (haven’t seen it yet myself, but I will dammit, I will).

There
continue to be the occasional surprises at all those smaller college galleries, and I often find it easy to appreciate, if not genuinely get particularly jazzed
about, stuff in the commercial galleries around town. A new education-driven display at the Dallas Museum of Art sounds like it was crafted to drive me nuts (I reject the insidiously pervasive idea now that art is merely a prop for an ennobling educational experience). But I believe that children are our future; teach them well, and let them lead the way. Maybe they’ll grow up and support some real art later. It’s sleepy, it’s fitful, it’s
frustrating, it’s bush league, but we love it, don’t we, DFW? Keep Dallas Plastic – ha! As if bio-degradation is really an issue! But as one of my favorite Zen sayings goes "It’s good in the beginning; it’s good in the middle; it’s good in the end." Or was that a candy bar commerical?

 

 

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also by Titus OBrien

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2 responses to “La Vie dans la Ville de Plastique”

  1. I recently watched the series finale of “Extras,” and George Michael does an incredible spoofy cameo as himself.

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=oceEXr8SDls

    I mean, HUGE kudos to that guy.

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