Dallas is currently undergoing a cultural renaissance thanks to the reemergence of a vibrant, diverse and spontaneous art scene. Traditionally, Texas has had a rich artistic history thanks in part to the city of Austin and perhaps most famously to Donald Judd and his development of a minimalistic Marfa utopia.
The city in the high desert of West Texas became the artistic center of Texas during the mid to late 1970s following a collaboration between Judd and the Dia Foundation that saw the decommissioned Fort DA Russell transformed into art spaces designed to present individual artist’s collections permanently. Judd had become disillusioned by the short duration of museum exhibitions, seeing these restrictions as a major stumbling block to fully understanding the work of the artist on view. Thanks to the commitment of the both the Judd and Chinati foundations, the city continues to serve as a site for artistic experimentation. Current attractions include Prada Marfa, a popup art exhibit, the Lannan Foundation Writers Residency Program and a multifunctional art space dubbed, “Ballroom Marfa.”
Alongside Marfa, Austin has also functioned as an artistic beacon in Texas. The city is home to the University of Texas, Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art – one of the largest university museums in the United States – and since 1987 has hosted South by Southwest. The festival has since developed into Austin’s cultural draw through its focus on music, film and interactive media. As a result, attendance has grown significantly and it now regularly draws crowds of over 20,000 people each March.
Bearing in mind the size, location and stature of Marfa and Austin, Dallas is still the largest economic center in Texas. What remains most interesting about the situation is that despite the economic importance of Dallas, the artistic and cultural success of both Marfa and Austin has meant that Dallas has never been so remarkably spoken about when it comes to the arts.
However, this is beginning to change. As it’s happened the world over – in New York’s Meatpacking District, Miami’s Wynwood, Cape Town’s Woodstock and London’s Hoxton – artists have become the catalyst for the revitalization of dilapidated and derelict neighborhoods that have fallen prey to recent economic and industrial failures. The nature of these forgotten industrial areas allows artists to find large spaces for greatly reduced prices and they’re ultimately able to execute projects that wouldn’t be viable in highly commercialized downtown areas, resulting in radically transformed neighborhoods which often become frequented tourist attractions.
It’s this exciting process of redevelopment that Dallas finds itself currently undergoing. With the establishment and subsequent expansion of the Dallas Art Fair, the renovation and repositioning of the Joule Hotel as Dallas’ very own art boutique hotel, the reemergence of the reputable Dallas Contemporary, and a group of passionate artists and collectors, the city now has all the makings of a major artistic city.
Around since 1978, Dallas Contemporary is busy enjoying a reinvigoration and currently hosts a Richard Phillips retrospective alongside Julian Schnabel’s first U.S. museum presentation since the ’80s. These two high-profile exhibitions only serve to further reinforce the institution’s reestablishment as a major artistic venue for contemporary art. The Richard Phillips retrospective, which also happens to be his first U.S. solo museum survey, brings together both new and past work that highlight his career long exploration of themes of political and social identity, eroticized desire and consumerism. Meanwhile, Julian Schnabel’s presentation of 15 monumental paintings created over the last decade highlight a sense of cinematic intuition inspired by his work as a filmmaker.
Most importantly though, is that both these exhibitions indicate the ability of Dallas Contemporary to present highly reputable and respected contemporary art exhibitions. The fact that both artists were willing to participate is an important indication of their recognition of Dallas as a major art city.
Alongside Dallas Contemporary, the repositioning of Dallas as a cultural/artistic capital has been driven in part by the renovation of Joule Hotel. The $78 million dollar renovation saw the hotel completely overhauled and remodeled into a boutique art hotel, now housing the collection of hotel owner Tim Headington. The hotel has revitalized downtown Dallas and has become a must-visit for all art fair goers. WMagazine has described the hotel as “Texas charm meets artworld panache,” and the hotel’s commitment to the arts in Dallas is epitomized by their hosting of The Eyeball, an annual culminating gala celebrating Dallas Art Week.
“Dallas collectors are renowned for being especially collaborative in nature, buying a piece of art together and rotating it between collections, or pooling money to buy a work for a museum.”
As the art world continues to shift its attention from galleries and museums to the craze of the art fair calendar, every major city is now required to present their own iteration in order to stay relevant. Dallas is no different. For 6 years now, the city has presented the Dallas Art Fair for a week in April. In that short time the fair has experienced an increasing amount of growth and expansion, similar to fairs in New York and Miami, a fact highlighted by Interview Magazine. As a result of its ever-increasing popularity, the fair has grown to host over 90 national and international galleries including staples like James Fuentes, OHWOW and Jonathan Viner.
Nowhere else is this transformation more visible than in Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood. Formerly an industrial area home to one of Henry Ford’s earliest automobile plants, Deep Ellum has blossomed into a physical manifestation of the successful growth of cultural Dallas. Left abandoned and desolate for years, most of the real estate was gobbled up by developer Scott Ruhrman, who has set about transforming the area into one of the most visited artistic hubs within the city. The large amounts of space combined with his commitment and financial investment, and that of others, has allowed the neighborhood to develop into a home for some of the city’s most exciting young artists and curators.
Consequently, the area has become a source for artistic experimentation due to the willingness of people like Ruhrman to support these endeavors. The neighborhood has now become Dallas’ very own artistic tourist destination thanks to its redevelopment through various cultural programs, such as “Deep Ellum Windows,” an ephemeral pop up installation series, celebrating the temporality of the viewing experience alongside a wide array of vibrant street art murals.
Furthermore, one cannot discount the role of collectors in helping reposition the city. Collectors, along with artists, have been at the forefront of neighborhood and institutional revitalization. Their involvement has emphasized the collaborative nature of the Dallas renaissance. This is a sentiment shared by Alden Pinell, a skincare tycoon, art collector and the artistic director of The Power Station, a conceptually explorative exhibition space in downtown Dallas. “Dallas collectors are renowned for being especially collaborative in nature, buying a piece of art together and rotating it between collections, or pooling money to buy a work for a museum,” he lets on. Such involvement in the local art scene is an indication of the shared passion necessary for progressive development of the city’s arts and culture.
Most intriguing about the emergence of Dallas as a cultural capital is how involved the people of Dallas are in the process. Whether it be local artists, collectors, real estate developers or just the general viewing audience, this is a project driven by people who love their city. It remains to be seen how long the rise lasts, but for now, with a stream of media interest and a large group of passionate supporters, Dallas truly is the toast of Texas.
Written by Houghton Kinsman for Highsnobiety.com