Patron, collector and artist Paula Crown — currently on view at the Dallas Contemporary (through April 13) — in dialogue with gallerist Mills Moran, managing director of L.A-based gallery OHWOW.
Crown to Moran: What were your impressions of Dallas during your recent visit? Are you a regular in Texas, or was this an initial visit? This was my first trip to Dallas, believe it or not. It was a brief two-day trip at the urging of Chris Byrne, who recommended I visit before the Fair in April. I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the collections.
Whom did you meet? What did you see art-wise? Straight from the airport, I went to the Nasher, where Chris introduced me to Jed Morse, their curator. Jed was instrumental in putting together a solo exhibition there with one of my artists, Diana Al-Hadid, in 2011. Next was the Rachofsky Warehouse, where I walked the current show, “Parallel Views: Italian and Japanese Art from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.” The exhibition was outstanding. I had a chance to speak with Peter Doroshenko, with whom you’re intimately familiar. He has a fantastic vision for the Dallas Contemporary. I also spent some time with Christen Wilson; she and her husband Derek are wonderful supporters of the gallery and have impeccable taste. And, of course, I made sure to visit the great collection of Jim and Beth Gold, the site of your dinner.
Moran to Crown: Was this your first exhibition in Texas? Yes.
What was the experience like? Fantastic. Like Chicago, it is my kind of town, with better weather at this time of the year. The visitors were friendly, engaged and knowledgeable.
Can you talk about the body of work that was exhibited at the Dallas Contemporary and will remain on view during Fair week? What was the response on opening night? It is a self-portrait — but different in a number of ways from a traditional portrait. I use MRI scans and 3-D imaging technology to shift perception of the viewer. I am creating a portrait from the inside out. The piece — by using actual scans and imaged cognitive activity — utilitizes both art and science. It is multimedia; recruiting 3-D animation technology, a sonification of my brain’s anatomy with a musical score based on the final animation by violinist Todd Reynolds. The exhibition has direct indexical references to my body. For example, the concave screens that the images are projected upon are based on my height. This is a nod to Leonardo’s Vitruvian man (and woman). The shape of the screens are supposed to be a view into the mind’s eye. Visitors were intrigued as they tried to contextualize what they were viewing. There were “ah ha” moments when they recognized an abstracted form or heard their voices echo back from the center of the two concave screens.
Do you see a return to a melding of art + science, as espoused by artists from Leonardo to Bob Rauschenberg? Art and brain science have always been inextricably linked because they deal with how we see, perceive and respond. I try to bring together the factual brain scans along with images of what thinking looks like. At their core, both art and science are about intense observation, experimentation and reductionism.
Crown to Moran: Why are you exhibiting in the 2014 Dallas Art Fair? Last year, I had an incredibly productive dialogue with Chris Byrne about the Fair and Dallas in general. We then randomly met at a dinner for one of our artists, Daniel Arsham, last fall in New York. After spending more and more time with Chris, I came to understand his vision for the Fair and his belief in Dallas as a great city for contemporary art.
Can you let us in on how your booth will be curated and which artists you’ll be bringing? We will bring four artists to the fair — Diana Al-Hadid, Lucien Smith, Kon Trubkovich and Nick van Woert. In building the booth, we were really interested in Diana’s sculptural wall panels, which reference classical Renaissance paintings, in dialogue with Nick van Woert and his recreation of Henry David Thoreau/Ted’s Kaczynski’s log cabin, built of coal slag. It’s an amazing combination of work. Kon will present a set of brand-new paintings depicting falling snow, which deal with a personal history and memory distortion. And, Lucien will show a new set of paintings called STP paintings that revolve around the idea “serve the people” and how it can bring together a community.
Moran to Crown: Who is at the top of your list to meet/what to see during the Dallas Art Fair week? I have an open agenda and am excited to experience all that the Fair has to offer.
What art-world pals and connections do you already have in Texas? Chris Byrne, Nancy Nasher and David Haemisegger, Wendy and Jeremy Strick, and Peter Doroshenko, to name a few.
Crown to Moran: OHWOW has pioneered an independent path, with Manhattan roots, then opening in an un-gentrified area of Miami with a heroic space, even mounting your own annual “It Ain’t Fair” exhibition during Art Basel Fair week, and then moving to L.A. several years ago. Can you briefly outline the trajectory of the gallery. How and when did you step in as managing director? You nailed it, really. In 2008, we took over an abandoned building in the outskirts of what is now the Design District in Miami. Our original idea was to build a community space that would allow artists a certain freedom that may not have been possible in other places. Some of those early shows consisted of 40-plus artists! That platform and open-mindedness gave us the ability to work with a variety of artists revolving around a central theme — the downtown community and mentality. As OHWOW began to grow, we narrowed our focus and developed our own program of artists, which really took shape when we moved the gallery full-time to Los Angeles. The gallery is a product of myself, Al Moran (my brother) and Aaron Bondaroff. Our various backgrounds and interests are both overlapping and complementary as we, as a gallery, work to advance the careers/trajectory of the artists on our roster and pull together challenging shows with emerging and established artists.
Moran to Crown: How do you balance influential roles of being an artist, patron and activist? It is wonderful how they connect organically but one cannot do everything simultaneously. I have to prioritize and my practice takes precedence over my other activities. My husband and I have raised four children (and still have a 12-year-old at home). I spent two decades doing extensive work in the community.
How and when did you become interested in the mission for arts education? As long as we have had civilizations, we have had art. (The first known self-portrait is thought to be dated 2350 BCE). It is obviously something we need and it serves some purpose for humanity. How can we not embrace arts education when we understand how critical the arts are to building knowledge? I became increasingly active as an advocate for the arts when I witnessed extensive funding cuts in our schools.
Have you seen a change since you became a member of President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in 2009? We are working to measure the effect of arts programs on selected Turnaround Schools. The preliminary data (available on the PCAH.gov website) looks promising. The Obama Administration definitely understands the importance of the arts to school programs.
What work needs to be done in the realm of arts education in the schools? First we need to show the benefits of funding arts programs again. I know this is hard for so many of us to understand, but we need to make our educational priorities go beyond STEM to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math). Although so many people say you cannot measure the benefits of arts programming, I disagree. In the Turnaround Arts initiative, we are already seeing increases in attendance and lower rates of disciplinary action.
What is the next initiative in the public realm you’re leading the charge on? Theaster Gates and I are translating one of my sculptures, PERforations, from the wood of abandoned housing in the Dorchester neighborhood of Chicago. This work will be realized as a full-size playground for one of the local parks. Theaster is training local workers to carve and work the wood, developing their job skills as craftspeople. The playground piece will then be donated.
Crown to Moran: Do you draw any parallels between the Miami and L.A. scenes and the Texas art world? If so, what are the similarities? Miami, Los Angeles, and Dallas are all smaller than the NYC art-scene, so I do see many parallels. The institutions are all very accessible, as are the collectors. As a gallery, if you produce high quality programming, you will be noticed immediately — and I think that’s a good thing. The art world is incredibly global as we know, but it’s important to have the right people rally behind you in your local arts scene. L.A. has been wonderful to us, and I’m expecting Dallas to be a strong city for our artists as well.
Moran to Crown: You are an influencer in both Chicago and Aspen. Talk about your Art in Unexpected Places program in Aspen, which even includes artist-designed, limited-edition ski lift tickets. Heidi Jacobson, director of the Aspen Art Museum, had an idea to use the ski passes as canvases upon which artists could create an image or series of images each year. It was an inspired notion and we are now in our ninth year. Mark Bradford did our passes this season, and Terasita Fernandez designed the mural for one of our on-mountain restaurants. The program has been a great success. To date, we have had artists including Mark Grotjahn, Peter Doig, Karen Kilimnik and Walter Neidermayr.
How has that been received by the community? It has been well received and part of the town’s ethos that art should be everywhere.
Crown to Moran: How is OHWOW unique in the culture of American art galleries in terms of your programming? We’ve created OHWOW’s identity through our relationships to this art community, which is continuously growing. It’s not just about a downtown scene in NYC; it’s about a feeling and an artistic movement in every city, whether it’s L.A. or Chicago or London.
The gallery also has an ambitious publishing project. What’s next for you in the book world? Is there an education/experimental/experiential component beyond the commerce of art to OHWOW’s mission? Our goal has always been to capture this energy and expression — in and outside the white walls of the gallery. Book publishing has always been important to us. It’s a large part of OHWOW’s mission — to produce quality publications and garner more exposure for our community of artists and creators. We’ve published roughly 50 books since our inception and not all are directly related to the gallery’s program. A perfect example of this is our next publication, a book of poetry by Alex Butler (the wife of Kon Trubkovich, an OHWOW artist) with illustrations by Andrea Longacre-White. It’s important to us to document a specific moment in time, and, yes, also to educate current and future generations. It’s an incredibly valuable resource for us.
Moran to Crown: What are you looking forward to personally in 2014 in terms of exhibitions, films, journeys, and/or experiences? I am always protective of my time in the studio. Focused time is precious. I look forward to finishing my studio with Jeanne Gang in Chicago. I spend most of the summer in Aspen and will be participating in various critique classes at Anderson Ranch. I will be exhibiting at Art Expo Chicago in September and have a proposal under consideration for Miami Basel.
Crown to Moran: How would you describe OHWOW’s diverse stable, Luis Gispert to Robert Mapplethorpe? Is there a certain quality that unites your artists? Diverse is the correct word. Our youngest artists like Lucien Smith and Torey Thornton are already making quite the impact. We just began working with the Robert Mapplethorpe Estate and have our first exhibition with the Estate opening on February 28 at the gallery in Los Angeles. We’ve always felt that Robert would have been a wonderful fit with the gallery when he was alive; the energy and spirit he embodied are not unlike that we feel from our program artists. The most important characteristics we look for in an artist and the work is energy and ambition. We enjoy working with artists that are willing to push their practice as far as their potential allows. It’s been a wonderful ride so far, and we have a lot more in the works over the next few years.
DALLAS ART FAIR: April 11-13, 2014; Preview Gala April 10, 2014