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Joan Davidow: Four Small Spaces

In a shrinking economy, you wouldn’t expect the Dallas art scene to burst with new growth.  Commentator Joan Davidow believes four small, out of the way art spaces are enlivening the area art scene.

Hard financial times spawn gritty, aggressive survivors.  With only their creativity and found scraps, four gallerists make their statements, and they do big things, presenting adventurous projects on a penny.  These small spaces give depth and rawness to a developing art community.

Fifteen years ago, Conduit Gallery’s jam-packed mop closet became The Annex.  Then-gallery-assistant Marty Walker proposed to owner Nancy Whitenack they invite young artists to make daring projects.  Walker says the project allowed curatorial freedom with low overhead, presenting young artist graduates not shown elsewhere.  

An early exhibition by Denton’s Good/Bad Art Collective staged a replica of the ubiquitous University of North Texas dumpster in the corner for refuse. Later, in a humorous project, Micah Yarborough hovered suspended on a wood plank at the ceiling, casting handmade paper cutout stars down on visitors.  Now the innovative Project Room helps lure the local art-aware to the Design District.

Three years ago, Michael Corris took over the Meadows School of the Arts, and he turned his campus office into FMOD, the Free Museum of Dallas.  Every few months, Corris mounts a new exhibition.  The first featured artist, Kristen Cochran, made monogrammed glowing red and gold resin bricks.  Students now find contemporary art friendly and accessible - not something only for the rich. Corris’ FMOD inspired art impresario Karen Weiner to realize her dream.  Harkening to London’s Charing Cross Road, you see her tiny, vine-covered nook on Parry Street near Fair Park.  

At Weiner’s Reading Room, writers and scholars converse, and artists create site-specific installations.  Rebecca Carter matched art and music:  Two baby grand pianos hugged the wall, spewing delightful pencil drawings that resembled the sounds pianos would make.  At Weiner’s recent Book Swap, visitors donated favorite books and walked out with a new must read! from someone else!

On South Peak, artist-philosopher Kevin Jacobs found the cheapest possible rental next to a fenced used car lot and then invited other artists to fill it.  Jacobs named the gallery after two London-based artists.  Oliver Francis in less than one year has shown nine artists and two performances. The artists get free reign; one built a wall to divide the space, another cloaked it in plastic.  

Recently featured artist Jeff Zilm makes subtle grey scale paintings of scans from old movie film stock and optical sound. Jacobs’ first international artist from Berlin comes this summer.  In his unassuming way, he seeks international recognition and hopes it opens the door for other experimental spots.  

These galleries say we can achieve greatness without grandeur.  We can offer exposure to people who might find formal events and venues inaccessible.  Like passing a basement window ~ you can see something different and more easily enter.  Artists always outnumber venues.  These adventurous gallerists permit young artists to take risks and open the door for newbie art lookers to feel comfortable chatting about what they see.  Try it, you’ll like it!

Conduit Gallery | Free Museum of Dallas | The Reading Room Dallas | Oliver Francis Gallery

Joan Davidow is a Master of Liberal Studies professor of contemporary art at SMU.

Views expressed in this commentary are those of the writer. KERA airs commentaries to reflect multiple perspectives and voices in the community.  We welcome your feedback at