Art With the Flavors of Texas

By Ray Mark Rinaldi

Local talent can be overlooked among the riches of Dallas. An exhibition seeks to change that.

Brandon Kennedy and Justine Ludwig at the Creative Time office in the East Village. The two are curating the “Here Now” exhibition in Dallas.
Brandon Kennedy and Justine Ludwig at the Creative Time office in the East Village. The two are curating the “Here Now” exhibition in Dallas.Credit...Stephen Speranza for The New York Times

Dallas boasts an abundance of upscale private art museums, and that is a perk for most everyone in the city, the curator Justine Ludwig says she believes. Except, perhaps, for the city’s own artists, who can be overshadowed by their presence.

The region’s painters and sculptors struggle for attention in a visual arts landscape dominated, and defined internationally, by attractions like The Warehouse, with its signature pieces by Donald Judd and Richard Serra, or the Crow Museum of Asian Art, populated by more than 1,000 contemporary and historical objects acquired by the late Trammell and Margaret Crow.

“The strange reality of Dallas is that actual artists are often excluded from the narrative about the art community,” Ms. Ludwig said.

“Here Now,” an exhibition she is curating with Brandon Kennedy, aims to turn that around. The show’s goal is to spotlight three dozen North Texas artists at one of the region’s most-visible venues, the Dallas Art Fair. The annual visual arts showcase, which is now planned for Oct. 1 to 4 after being postponed, draws a global lineup of dealers, collectors and critics.

For the local artists to be included in the exhibition, like Shelby David Meier, Lucia Simek and Francisco Moreno, “Here Now” offers a wide and influential audience as they show their work among displays from such respected commercial galleries as Harlan Levey Projects of Brussels, the London-based Ronchini Gallery, or Green Art Gallery, headquartered in Dubai.

For the curators, it continues a mission to boost Texas art, one that they have collaborated on for nearly five years, primarily as authors of “Studio,” a column that appears regularly in the Texas art magazine Patron.

Ms. Ludwig started writing the column in the summer of 2015, not long after she became chief curator at Dallas Contemporary, the city’s leading contemporary art museum. Her main job there was to assemble exhibits and she did that using a variety of regional and international artists.

At the same time, though, she wondered how she might use her platform to support the work of the Texas art community over all. She asked artists for suggestions.

“What came up time and time again was that there wasn’t substantive writing on their work,” she said. “And that was making it challenging when they were applying for grants or aiming to get more visibility outside the context of Dallas.”

Shortly after, she introduced “Studio,” visiting with one artist in their studio for each magazine column and producing thoughtful articles about their work, careers and recent exhibitions.

Then Ms. Ludwig left Dallas early in 2018 to become the executive director at Creative Time. The New York City-based nonprofit is best known for presenting large-scale — and sometimes headline-grabbing — public exhibitions, including Vik Muniz’s 2001 “Clouds,” in Manhattan, and Kara Walker’s 2014 “A Subtlety” in a former sugar factory in Queens.

That’s where Mr. Kennedy, the Dallas Art Fair’s director of exhibitor relations, came in. As a Dallas artist and arts administrator, his knowledge of the local cultural scene was sizable and current, and he took over the column. “It was just a great way for me to stay clued in as to what was happening,” he said.

“Here Now” is designed to be a manifestation of the column in exhibition form. Some of the artists were featured in “Studio” over the years. The curators chose the others for the way they represent North Texas art, an aesthetic that they say they believe is formed organically around a common understanding of where these artists live, rather than a shared expressive style.

Dallas-area artists, Ms. Ludwig contends, express a particular sort of regionalism that is influenced by conflicting impulses, one that wants to respect and reference the city’s image as a Deep South metropolis, steeped in cowboy traditions and ruled by oil-industry interests — the type immortalized in the “Dallas” television series — and one that wants to prove that the city is as sophisticated and broad-minded as any American metropolis.

“They actually do engage with the romantic understanding of the place versus the reality of what it means to live and work there now,” she said.

One example might be the artist Celia Eberle, whose work includes a series of mugs she made from bones of animals found outside her studio. “They are otherworldly and also feel like they’re from a very distant past. It feels very Texan,” Ms. Ludwig said.

Other artists in “Here Now” do their own mixing and matching of time and traditions. Mr. Meier’s porcelain casts of takeout food containers use an ancient art form to offer wry commentary about consumer consumption.

The photographer Leigh Merrill takes hundreds of shots of old and abandoned retail buildings around the state and then uses current digital technology to weave them together into collages, another case of Texas mythology meeting the modern world.

Accompanying the show will be a book featuring all of the “Studio” columns, which is being published by “Patron” in collaboration with the Texas press Deep Vellum.

Together, the exhibit, the book and the ongoing column combine for what the curators hope will be a strong endorsement of regional art, not separate from North Texas’s place in the larger art world, but in the middle of it.

“It’s nice to be able to have this opportunity to really center the artists in the conversation,” Ms. Ludwig said.