337 Singleton Boulevard, Dallas
Erin Starr White
Exterior of 337 Singleton Boulevard; photo by Kevin Todora
A deserted office building sits in a West Dallas industrial landscape. Eye-catching in its skin of peacock-blue paint, this derelict structure currently houses Sustenance, an equally captivating exhibition specifically created for its decaying and, at times, beautiful interior. Due to the generosity of local property owners, curator Stephen Lapthisophon and co-organizer Anne Lawrence have filled the two-story structure with work from two-dozen artists from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, San Antonio and Chicago. Each artist was invited to create a site-specific installation that speaks to the notion of art as a vehicle for nourishment. By embellishing an old, forgotten building in an old, forgotten part of town, these artists’ contributions bring to the fore the potential of art to revive and sustain.
Michael Mazurek’s Hypostyle XL, one of Sustenance’s introductory gestures, evokes unsettled processes while calling attention to the building’s former “grandeur” as a mid-sized office complex. Rather than create a grand architectural statement, Mazurek fashioned a room-sized hypostyle hall that is tenuous and makeshift at best. Fitted with scaffolding, dock lights and a web of lumber planks and loose wires, his impenetrable environment has an eerie cast; Mazurek’s confusing montage of building materials seems an exploration of possibilities usually kept within the confines of an artist’s or architect’s mind. Directly opposite hangs Kristin Mariani’s Fuller, a wall of creamy white, glow-in- the-dark, pleated fabric that ushers the viewer into the building’s interior, while adding an element of polish and cohesion to this otherwise desolate, fragmentary place. These exhibition frontispieces forecast two recurring issues born from the building itself: an undercurrent of unease and danger, and an obvious but restrained demonstration of visual pleasure.
Center: Michael Mazurek, Hypostyle XL, 2010; scaffolding, lumber, concrete masonry units, extension cords, dock lights; Right: Temporary Services ART WORK, 2009–ongoing, one-off newspaper, website, and participatory project; photo by Carolyn Sortor
Frances Bagley, The Garden, 2010; rubber tubing, apples (real and fake) and sound; photo by Carolyn Sortor
Throughout the first floor of the building the audible sound of human breath is both intrusive and disconcerting. Emanating from Frances Bagley’s The Garden, this aural backdrop accompanies the artist’s installation of heavy rubber tubing and apples suspended from the ceiling. The sound echoes each viewer’s own breathing and lends a sense of immediacy and corporeality to each work it (purposely or not) accompanies. Like other auditory components in this exhibition, Bagley’s soundtrack inhabits and activates the building’s dark corners. Another particularly effective example of this effect is Lou Mallozzi’s Peers. Generously installed in a large, open room, the work utilizes a playback device and two speakers to emit twelve individual voices simultaneously reading the last words of Lee Harvey Oswald. With minimal visual incident, Peers confronts the viewer with a chorus of one man’s impenitent words and calls attention to the building’s physical proximity to the site of dark events in Dallas’ history.
Upstairs, the works of Jeff Zilm, Kate Helmes and Chris Hefner all address the viewer from the abandoned edifice’s dark and foreboding areas. In the men’s room, Zilm’s installation of a modestly sized painting vertically bearing the word “SICK” corroborates the abject condition of the space. Likewise, Helmes’ Rooting occupies the equally repellent ladies’ room with a hastily scrawled charcoal wall drawing of two female nudes. The clarity of these figures is compromised and the viewer is left wondering what exactly is taking place between the pair. This ambiguity, coupled with the harsh illumination of a single spotlight shone in a corner of the cramped room, creates a palpable feeling of unease. In an adjacent room, Hefner’s grid of charcoal drawings presents a chilling image of a woman’s face along with several similarly unsettling images of dark, billowing clouds.
In contrast to this sense of peril, many works in the exhibition draw attention to areas of aesthetic interest within the building. Literally illuminating the hidden beauty of the office building, Brian Fridge’s color video projects a brief, looping animation of geometric shapes directly onto a wall. The work’s gratifying placement in a small corner room with a slightly vaulted ceiling enhances its subdued color palette and seeming handmade quality. Matt Hanner’s Remote Outpost, a small metal silhouette of a house perched on a beam in the main stairwell, is accompanied by its mirror image painted in fluorescent orange on a building a parking lot away. The observant viewer, when halfway down the staircase, will notice this tiny orange house through a cutout in the larger metal one, thus connecting the location of one to the other. The work beckons the viewer to be ever attentive and ready to look beyond one’s immediate environment.
Jeff Zilm, Sick, 2010; acrylic on canvas; photo by Carolyn Sortor
Tom Orr, Snow Cone, 2010; colored cellophane, acrylic panels, light, shadow and reflection; photo by Tom Orr
Iris Bechtol’s light and object, but neither presents a stunning series of gilded spheres in a broad grid on the second story’s concrete floor. Following an existing pattern of small orifices in the floor’s well-worn surface, Bechtol’s arrangement infuses a lackluster landscape with rich retinal delight. So too does Tom Orr’s Snow Cone, an installation of colored cellophane over exterior windows, which steeps the large room it edges with a sense of whimsy. The bands of candy-colored light cast on the floor play off the pentimenti of long-lost laminate tile to create a multihued, painterly environment. Also working with glass is Justin Ginsberg, whose suspended threads of clear glass—though largely sagging and broken—elegantly inhabit a large downstairs room. The delicacy of these thin glass pieces contrasts dynamically with the bulk of the ubiquitous glass brick installed in a nearby wall; Ginsberg’s threads seem even more weightless and airy by comparison.
Of course, less successful efforts are bound to occur in a show with a premise this broad and a roster equally long. Sedrick Huckaby’s large, mixed-media wall paintings evidence an interest in figuration over the particulars of the space, resulting in a grouping of competent paintings that don’t engage their surroundings. And Ludwig Schwarz’ installation may present abundant (real or imagined) references to the site and its history, but his work's component parts—a pair of cowboy boots, stacked coffee cans and twine—seem obligatory and divorced from the room they inhabit. Neither contribution seems to need the specifics of this exhibition to exist, as others so clearly do.
Erin Starr White is Assistant Curator of Education, Student and Educator Programs at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
This exhibition is on view on Saturdays and Sundays though October 3, 2010.