Home > Feature > ‘Postcolonial’ was Dead on Arrival

‘Postcolonial’ was Dead on Arrival

 

This last Saturday there was a pop-up show in Dallas featuring nearly 30 of the region’s best artists, presented in a big University Park pseudo-mansion that has been “staged” (i.e. fake furnished) for the high-end real estate market. (The house is for sale for $4.25 million, which actually isn’t that much by Park Cities standards). Never mind that the show was titled Postcolonial. That dubious title turned out to be the least of the show’s problems.

The main reason I didn’t want to write this is because many of the artists who participated are some of my favorites in the region and the state. I love and respect them. But this absurdly over-hyped, one-day-only event was a misfire. It left me in the foulest mood and made me, for the entire weekend, despair of my city. I kept thinking: “This would have never happened in Houston, or Austin, or San Antonio. The artists in those other places wouldn’t have agreed to do it.” I don’t know if this is true, but it feels true. On the day of the show, it felt like a Dallas problem, though to some degree it’s a systemic problem of how art and artists are expected to engage with a patron class throughout this state and beyond.

The reason I think of this show as a particularly Dallas-ish problem is that I think Dallas-area artists are especially susceptible to the entanglement of “philanthropic” initiatives and art. This issue isn’t anything as binary as “poor artists good/rich people bad.” I think it’s more akin to the frog-in-the-boiling-water allegory. Dallas’ weird, artificial cheerleader enthusiasm about art and “art” has a cumulative, numbing effect. (Witness D Magazine‘s dreadful and misguided Art Slam in 2009, or the city’s desire to import Michigan’s ArtPrize.) As I walked though the monochromatic whitewashed “contemporary” unlivable house, with its bad-dream mix of overly cavernous spaces flushing you like a toilet into weird useless corridors and hostile half-rooms and mysterious crannies, I kept hoping that the strength of the art, and the ability of art to subvert and re-contextualize would kick in. It did not.

Many of the artists tried. I saw signs of small efforts everywhere; some quite clever mini-appeals to the subversive and/or politicized impulse, as in: Hey look: this is my art thumbing its nose at these power structures. This is my art addressing the issues of our day. This is my art pointing out how absurd all of this is. But these gestures were mostly lost in the crowd that was a mix of the artists themselves (many of them stiff, quiet, unsure), the people in charge of the house (non-art people, also stiff and unsure), and art lovers (baffled, bored, restless). There were also people there just to view the open house, for sale through Sotheby’s. I have zero problem with the idea of a house show. I have zero problem with the idea of well-off people staging a house show. (In Dallas, Howard Rachofsky comes to mind, as does Dee Mitchell. The fundamental integrity of those collectors semi-publicly showing art in their houses is their historical deliberateness toward and investment in the very idea of art.) I do have a problem with the idea that artists should agree to put their art in an unoccupied house just because it’s there and someone needs to sell it. I have a problem with the idea that art is meant to simply snap to! to create an artificial sense of intellectual heft and monetary value for a dumb, over-designed space — to fill the vacuum (created by the bad design) that might make non-art people uncomfortable. These artists haven’t given over their lives to the difficult and often thankless work of making art so that it could act as set decor for some realtors needing to move merch.

If the semi-ironic “thesis” of the show was in its title, Postcolonial, and the artists were meant to challenge the status quo (or even more subversively completely go with it), why is that the furthest thing from what actually took place? The art wasn’t allowed to do anything meaningful besides create the occasional hiccup, because the house and the crowd and the news of the show was the thing. Not the art. No one was allowed drill into a wall, no one could install anything that left a mark. Sotheby’s evidently couldn’t (wouldn’t) spring for a preparator to patch a few drywall holes after the opening. I’m sure the artists themselves would have done the patching if given the chance. So much of the work was just sort of propped here and there against walls or furniture, or laying on tabletops, or kind of scattered on the floor. That type of thing was likely meant to be “abject,” but the overall effect was unintentionally truly abject. The work was sprinkled — very evenly — throughout, like obedient little arty quotations, and the house was so crowded and the house’s architecture so disconcerting that I saw very few people even attempt to engage with any art.

Did any of the artists who were asked to be involved say no? How many of the artists saw the house before dropping off the work? I keep asking myself these questions. Why, really, did they agree to do it? I hope to be having this conversation with some of them in the coming weeks, because I’m still feeling a little sick about it all. I realize a couple of the people who organized it have direct ties to the art scene here, but then I wonder what made them believe this stunt could be anything memorable, considering there was a punishingly low philosophical ceiling on the whole affair to begin with, in the form of an overall terrible and conservative misunderstanding of what art can actually do.

Like the artists themselves, I too can be oblivious to just how much the powers-that-be in DFW (and in Texas and everywhere else for that matter) can co-opt artists and their art in the name of credibility and cool, while insisting that artists behave, that the art itself behaves. The problem of Texas art patronage and its chilling effect on Texas artists has been going on for decades. (Texas art patrons love the art of enfants terribles, as long as it’s being made by artists who live somewhere else, or who are dead.) I wonder how many of the artists in this show really just wanted to drive a big truck through the plate-glass window that overlooks the pool. “There’s your art. The house looks better already.”

When I write about the breakdown in the relationship between galleries and artists, or the need for artists to work with wild abandon outside the established art scene, a show like Postcolonial is not what I mean. I realize that the fire marshal problem and lack of venues is a real concern in Dallas. I realize artists are looking for novel ways and places to show, and that for some of them, Postcolonial was just another bullet point on their CVs. So why not do it? There’s a sense that anything that “adds to the conversation” or simply presents more art around here must be a good thing. But that’s not how it works. Bad initiatives like this undermine and demean art and artists. Bad initiatives derail real conversation, and give dumb people dumb ideas about how to go forward. The mood and personality of Dallas and its ‘international’ self-image acts something like a constant, low-level bacterial threat to real art by its own artists. Many of us just pop another Cipro and get on with things. But for me, Postcolonial was a full-blown, unexpected, overnight septic infection that requires at least a few days on the ICU and a lot of soul searching. It was worse than depressing. It was like a particularly bleak health report — a really bad State of the Union. I’d hope to never see anything like it again. I wonder how many of the artists in the show feel the same way.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

25 Responses

  1. L Young

    Well, if you didn’t want to write about this art show in a house that was ‘far’ sale, why did you? And then go on and on and say nothing about the art? If I had been one of the artists who made the effort to show up I’d be wondering that exactly.

  2. Lemmon Lovers

    “These artists haven’t given over their lives to the difficult and often thankless work of making art so that it could act as set decor for some realtors needing to move merch.”

    I find the hierarchy that the writer establishes here between artists and relators annoying. Is the implication that being an artist is somehow more valuable to culture than being a realtor? Is an artist somehow more devoted to their job than a realtor? Beyond reinforcing stereotypes about artists, this view severely limits the capacity of art to be many things to many people – that’s what makes it interesting. Can’t a painting be compelling and yet help “some museum director to move donor dollars?” Can it not engage with political issues yet help “some restaurateur to move steak au poivre?” Art is not and should not aspire to only be a high-minded subversion of commerce. Its ability to reinforce (or perhaps in the case of this show deter) commerce is what makes it more interesting than a hymn, let’s say.

    “The problem of Texas art patronage and its chilling effect on Texas artists has been going on for decades. (Texas art patrons love the art of enfants terribles, as long as it’s being made by artists who live somewhere else, or who are dead.)”

    Secondly, this sentence is a reoccurring theme on Glasstire, but no less annoying. For the last time, please…an artist’s geographical location doesn’t entitle them to patronage. I’m not so naive to say that being an artist is a meritocracy, but there is a well-established commercial system in which artists living anywhere in the world (even Texas) can participate with great success. Art patrons living in Texas shouldn’t feel pressured to support a Texas artist simply because they live in the state. They should only aspire to assemble a personally compelling, historically relevant, and financially wise collection.

    1. CJ

      Hahahahhahahahahahahaha. Comes onto art criticism website to assert realtors are as relevant as artists. Claims artists shouldn’t benefit from living in a self-heralded arts town fat with collectors (but realtors can?). Too good!

  3. Al

    At first I felt so not cool and so out of it not be invited to this “show”. Then I read the list of contributors—and the organizer—some who are my friends and respect their efforts—others I’ve seen around town but can’t seem to understand what they’re talking/working about. ( which is my failing… ) it was
    Dismal, DISMAL, like the day.
    You know you’re in trouble when the most compelling objects were those little cheesy things to the right of wine… ( turns out the fella sort of reluctantly serving the wine and made them himself so charming… )
    after awhile I didn’t even try to read the map or figure out who’s where. This “exhibit” cried out for some chaotic angry sort of performance, something fleeting, something really destructive or engaging. Remember that bank building a few years back got all arted-up before demolition one afternoon? Later I thought it would’ve been good fun to start a fight with somebody and get thrown in the pool; THAT might could be interesting.
    All in all it was great to see everybody in the posturing, gladhanding pecking order small shit storm that is the Dallas art world…Don’t mean that in a mean way I mean I’m part of the diarrhea as well. It was just so great to be out to be out in the afternoon in a odd and different venue; felt like so LA-like.
    Thanks to Christina Rees for telling it like it was from her perspective.

  4. TS

    Christina,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the exhibit. I’m glad that someone cares enough about the regional arts community to publicly articulate their concerns. This is a small community where many of us see each other on a regular basis at events such as Postcolonial.
    Your essay laments the systemic issues that plague and have historically defined the machine that is the Dallas art world. The larger questions of artists’ purposes and roles that you pose are valid, as is the value in reassessing the dynamic between collector/curator/artist/dealer/dare I say realtor.
    That being said, if you are going to make assumptions about the artists’ abilities
    and judgments, why not include specific statements (or better yet, answers) from the artists themselves? You state that you love and respect many of the artists whose work was featured in Postcolonial (as do I), yet not a single artist or individual organizer of the exhibit (aside from Sotheby’s) is identified in the essay. If a systemic change in our community is truly to be made, why not hold the artists who agreed to exhibit in the Postcolonial as well as the unnamed organizers accountable?
    TS
    PS Why didn’t you drive a big truck through the plate glass that overlooks the pool?

  5. I wiki-ed Post Colonialism

    The article points out many flaws on the exhibitions, but it seems to miss the most glaring problem that any non-white person sees.

    How can anyone in this day and age (Black Lives Matter, Times Up, Me Too, Womens March, DACA) name an exhibition “Post-Colonial” without some sort of critical context? Today’s political regime (if you can even call it that)? The surging white supremacist movement springing up in the US and Europe? Post-Colonialism is a powerful, charged concept and word that was created to recognize those who have been marginalized, discriminated, manipulated, exploited, and abused by Colonizers, those same countries that remain the wealthiest in the world.

    Do any of the artists in this show make work about post-colonial discourse? Are most of these artist from a post-colonial background? With the exception of 7? out of the 27 exhibiting artists, they are, as far as the community knows, cisgendered white artists. These numbers look like neocolonialism.

    Any arts critic anywhere else in the world would have acidic words for the careless ignorance that organized this ‘exhibition,’ if they had time to suffer fools to start with. An email flyer didn’t name the curator, much less the concept of the show. Wiki what that means before you use it, in the name of the Nazarene, or at least, Edward Said. Sadly in DFW, it is probably too much to ask.

    Curating in DFW means organizing a show with the single purpose of showing you and your friends or students. This is what that show is. Nowadays, everyone is a curator of music, furniture, fashion, coffee. The title Curator gets thrown around because it has become the profession designed by and for the offspring of B-list celebrities.

    You can take your Cipro, but that doesn’t make the infection go away. Ignorance has a remedy. But they are almost all your friends – and they listen to you. Is, at least, some of the onus on the critic to show them the way?

    1. Edward Said's Ghost

      thank you for so eloquently stating the issues with this blatant misappropriation of a powerful concept rooted in anti-oppression movements. rolling over in my grave was getting tiring.

  6. Steven

    So, they called this show, ‘Postcolonial’? When did Milo Yiannopolous get his realtor’s license? You’re right to call this quasi-conceptual shit show out for what it truly is. I’m also glad you spared the artists, by not mentioning names, or posting pics of their works. Kudos.

  7. HC

    Here’s my problem with this review… you approached the show with a predetermined opinion for what it was supposed to be, how it would be received, and what the work should look like. That is so hypocritically pretentious. You also assume that art has one purpose and that it can’t align with philanthropic endeavors. That sounds pretty elitist to me. When did it become okay to attack other artists for wanting to contribute to the economy while still expressing themselves? And when was it determined that art must be loud, flipping the bird right in your face, no question behind the meaning. How rudimentary is that? Maybe its just me but when you have such a loaded subject such as post-colonialism I tend to prefer subtlety. If you wanted a truck driven through a window why didn’t you do it yourself? Oh yeah, because you and your husband weren’t apart of the “cool kids” that got invited…..maybe that’s the real crime here.

      1. HC

        No, this would be the economic advancement piece. The article targets philanthropy stating Dallas artists are, “especially susceptible to the entanglement of ‘philanthropic’ initiatives.” That implies a negative connotation to philanthropy and to ‘philanthropy’ i.e. the not so thinly veiled for-profit endeavors. Neither should call for artists to be drawn and quartered. The whole thing puts artists in a box that dictates why and when they should create art.

  8. Mindp8gmreammc

    It is well established that this smaller core group of artists and curators is not just uncritical, but deeply cynical. Postcolonial shouldn’t be a surprise then, to those following the history of their exhibitions. This show is just one part of the overall contemptuous trajectory, only the most recent manifestation of the ongoing cynicism now so deeply rooted in Dallas. The scene here is beginning to ossify around this group of bitter, passive-aggressive, pseudo-conceptualists.Why.

    1. Michael A. Morris

      Did you actually see the list of artists? It’s a pretty good mix of folks who have been in the DFW art scene for decades and artists that have been showing more recently. While some of the criticism of this show is due, I have a hard time seeing any of that group as either cynical or bitter.

  9. Oh dear! I think you all may have missed the point altogether. Maybe you weren’t in on the joke. Consider the possibility that this “exhibition” was a tightly conceived concept piece. Performance art on a glacial time scape. The very title a loaded metaphor for both the audience and the location. Hopefully edgy while at the same time self reflective. I like to pretend that the artists possibly colluded on a refusal to actually “hang” the work as a quiet statement of revolution against the use vs uselessness of Art with a capitol A. The elevation of the Real Estate Agent to Gallery Curator is simply a wry and subtle dig at both the investment patron and the gallery establishment who feeds off of them. Artists can be tricky. Let’s believe that they were having a bit of fun.

Leave a Reply

Funding generously provided by:
'