The venerable Dallas artist-run space, 500X Gallery, has just announced that their landlord, The Gibson Company, has terminated their lease, and that they will be closing on April 13th. This comes on the heels of their recent provocative group exhibition Queer Me Now, which was ordered shut down by the landlords shortly after opening. Curated by current board member Narong Tintamusik, the show was closed supposedly due to complaints by some tenants in the building with which the gallery shares common space.
At that time, a number of area art spaces stepped up to offer support in reinstalling the show elsewhere, and it went on to a second iteration at the The MAC’s new space in The Cedars. After the controversy over that show’s closing, it cannot be a coincidence that the Notice to Vacate was sent to the gallery by their landlords just three days after they announced their planned LGBTQIA+ show, set to be juried by artists Brian Jones and Brian Scott, which was going to open in May.
This closing is a true loss to the Dallas-Fort Worth arts community. 500X Gallery is one of the longest-running galleries in the Metroplex, and one of the first artist-run cooperative galleries in the country, having produced its debut exhibition in 1978. The gallery was co-founded by Massachusetts native Will Hipps, who had moved to the Dallas area to teach at the University of Texas at Dallas, and Richard Childers, who was staging monthly “First Saturday” art exhibits in Fair Park for artists without gallery representation.
Early shows included work by member artists Tom Orr, Frances Bagley, Vincent Falsetta, and Celia Eberle, along with guest artists such as Nic Nicosia, James Surls, Michael Tracy, John Wilcox, Frank X. Tolbert, and Bert Long. Over the years, members and exhibiting artists have included Scott Barber, Tim Best, Steve Cruz, CJ Davis, Timothy Harding, Joseph Havel, Clayton Hurt, Robert McAn, Rosemary Meza-DesPlas, Giovanni Valderas, and literally hundreds of others. 500X’s annual “Open Show,” which began in the ’90s, and then transformed into the “Hot and Sweaty” show a few years ago, typically showcased more than a hundred area artists works, stacked floor-to-ceiling on both levels of the gallery.
Social commentary and protest have been a staple at 500X over the years, going back to the Left Right exhibition of 1984, curated by Dwayne Carter, which was staged to coincide with the Republican National Convention which came to Dallas that year. The current crop of gallery artists, whose curatorial promotion of identity-based work that pushes the edges around gender and sexuality, lit a spark that seems to have caused the Gibson Company to pull the plug on 500X’s lease.
In the early ’90s, 500X was one of the only spaces for unrepresented artists to show their work, along with the non-profits DARE (Dallas Artists for Research and Exhibition), which would morph into the MAC, and D’Art, which eventually became the Dallas Contemporary. More recently, as artist collectives and pop-up shows have become more common, nurtured by the strong arts programs of area universities, the evolving artist community has become even more prolific and less dependent on the gallery system.
This in and of itself is a testimony to the influence of 500X, which has nurtured the development of untold numbers of local artists, who have gone on to create major public works around the Metroplex, to find placement in numerous collections, to become distinguished faculty members and arts professionals, and to run or exhibit in area galleries. As Janet Kutner, former art critic of The Dallas Morning News, wrote in her essay for the gallery’s 20th anniversary show in 1998, “the gallery’s survival record is astonishing, given the fact that artist-run spaces seldom last more than a few seasons. But year-in and year-out, 500X has been here — nurturing new talent, exposing audiences to things they wouldn’t otherwise see, and raising the energy level of this community dramatically.”
In their press release announcing the upcoming closing, the current board members express that “500X Gallery stands by its mission to promote and provide opportunities to a diverse group of emerging artists in the Dallas / Fort Worth community and beyond. We hope to find another outlet to continue our longstanding commitment to artists in Texas.” For the ongoing growth of the local arts community, of which 500X has been a primary incubator, we can hope that the current board members will find the means and support to locate a new home, and that 500X may live to see its next anniversary.