Many Names Cited: “A Survey of Artists From Erin Cluley Gallery” at the Wichita Falls Museum of Art

by William Sarradet March 31, 2023

To experience A Survey of Artists From Erin Cluley Gallery at the Wichita Falls Museum of Art is to be reminded that the Dallas gallerist, minted in 2014, hails from the Texoma plains of Wichita Falls, where she received her BFA. This fact eluded me, despite my many visits to her gallery at its first iteration on Fabrication Street in West Dallas, and also to its current location in the Design District. Cluley’s eye for artists innovating in traditional media is on view in this exhibition, and I have to say it contrasts beautifully with the museum’s mid-century design. There’s something unexpectedly classic about this presentation. 

The exhibition is a collection of contemporary works, many of which I had seen at their premieres in gallery shows. Featured here is a smorgasbord of Texas and national talents: Ryan Goolsby, Rachel Livedalen, John Miranda, Anna Membrino, Chul Hyun-Ahn, and more. These works position Cluley’s gallery as a particularly contemporary post of modernism, which, when exhibited amongst the pastoral backdrop of Wichita Falls, becomes a symbol of Texas’ style and aesthetic achievement.

Prior to visiting the Wichita Falls Museum of Art, I made a quick pit stop at the Museum of North Texas History in the city’s downtown. The exhibits are permanent and admission is free, offering a quaint experience to view the memorabilia of American life from the turn of the 20th century, which happens to have been Wichita Falls’ heyday. There are exhibits featuring war memorabilia, an extensive collection of cowboy hats donated by individuals across Texas, and one wall plotting major historical points along a timeline, starting in the 1890s. Some of these facts surprised me, like the revelation there was once an automotive manufacturer in Wichita Falls, which saw international distribution of its vehicles. There are pictures of oil and banking magnates of bygone years, which explains why the now quiet landscape is dotted with so many office towers. The experience of visiting the city, similar to many such places in Texas, feels like escaping into a previous era which remains removed from the present day.

Anna Membrino, "Fade," 2019, Acrylic and oil on canvas

Anna Membrino, “Fade,” 2019, acrylic and oil on canvas

In this context, perhaps now you can imagine how the artwork in the museum feels against the historical milieu of its environment. René Treviño’s renaming the constellations series, which are compositions of acrylic paint adorned with rhinestones on mylar, have the effect of emulating vellum, a material used by scribes in ancient times. Here, Treviño depicts different constellations, titled in English but adorned with motifs of Olmec or Aztec heads, expressing a kind of blended timeline.

Will Murchison’s core is a collage featuring pastel, colored pencil, acrylic paint, and other materials on paper. The shapes in Murchison’s work eschew formality and revel in the organic. Psychedelic is not quite an appropriate description of this piece, as the collage features little order or symmetry. His work often reminds me of that of Puerto Rican artist Pedro Velez: frenetic invocations competing within the picture plane.

Gary Goldberg, "Finding the Universe in Oaxaca Explosion," 2021, Wool felting, organic pigments

Gary Goldberg, “Finding the Universe in Oaxaca Explosion,” 2021, wool felting, organic pigments

Even though the gallery’s roster is inclined towards technical acuity with materials (John Miranda, Will Murchison), and virtuosic talent in abstraction (Anna Membrino, Rachel Livedalen), there are moments that comment on current issues. Madeline Sneed-Greys has a portrait in her usual glowing realism, which features a young black woman with a red reticle hovering over her face.

My familiarity with Wichita Falls as a region, as well as with the gallery’s full roster (including some of these works), brings me closer to the show than, perhaps, a local Wichita Falls resident wandering in by chance. It is an eerie feeling to know the history of a work of art as it rises through the echelons of the art canon. As I viewed the ensemble, I tried to draw a map of relations in my head: Cluley’s gallery is a Dallas outpost, Wichita Falls is in Texoma, the works are from abroad, and I am somewhere in the middle of these points.

Madelyn Sneed Grays, "Still a Negro," 2018, Oil on canvas

Madelyn Sneed Grays, “Still a Negro,” 2018, oil on canvas

During my visit, the Panhandle Plains Honors Council had convened in the Museum as a part of a regional conference. I chatted with one of the attendees, a student at Mclennan Community College in Waco. After graduating, his interests lie in opening his own gallery, which would feature talent working in a variety of mediums, including performance. It occurred to me that this exhibition, of artists shown by a Wichita Falls native who runs a gallery, would read as an encouraging symbol.  

Another attendee that day, Wichita Falls Museum of Art Curator Danny Bills, posed me a question: “If you came here one day out of the year, what would you think of the museum?” This show is rooted in the success of art. Aside from the technical prowess exhibited by Cluley’s international roster, it also emanates the sensation that history is a long hallway of achievements with many names cited.

William Atkinson, "Nothing of No Use," 2021, Mixed media on canvas

William Atkinson, “Nothing of No Use,” 2021, mixed media on canvas

A Survey of Artists From Erin Cluley Gallery is on view at the Wichita Falls Museum of Art in Wichita Falls through August 5, 2023.

William Sarradet is the Assistant Editor for Glasstire.

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