by CHARISSA N. TERRANOVA
A cultural junket in New York City sheds light on the specifics of Texas bigness. New York shows that Texas’ largeness is not simply a matter of geography, but of big personalities and cultural largesse. Sometimes it takes a trip to New York City to recognize the singularity of our own state.
The Tony Award–nominated Broadway play All the Way does it all, showing how Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president, from the tiny town of Stonewall, was at once a burly, foulmouthed Texan and a bighearted visionary of the world. Energetically played by a large cast of 22 players, the almost three-hour show unfolds around the man with a big will. Yet, for all the centrality of LBJ, the centerpiece of the show is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with an inexhaustible Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame playing Johnson and Brandon Dirden playing a nuanced, complex Martin Luther King Jr.
The Horton Gallery at 55-59 Chrystie St. in Chinatown connects curatorial prowess and art holdings from one urban beacon to another. It is owned and run by a Texan, C. Sean Horton. In Horton’s gallery, Texas bigness is not always about literal regionalism. Horton practices the art of bringing the gimlet eye of heartland grit to the cosmopolitan world, translating the insights of regular Janets and Joes to urbanites. Fresh off last month’s show of Texas-born artist Michael Phelan’s unpainted geometrical- shaped canvases, the gallery is currently hosting “Holy Man,” an exhibition through mid-July of paintings and drawings by New York artist Ion Birch, best known for his provocative penciled images.
One can feel good about the shared art holdings of Dallas and New York. Make an appointment to see the art at Howard Rachofsky and Vernon Faulconer’s Warehouse in Dallas (thewarehousedallas.org) before going to New York anytime soon. Connect the dots by situating the Warehouse’s four gorgeous Sigmar Polke paintings from The Dream of Menelaus cycle within “Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010,” the MoMA retrospective through August 3 on Polke. And then there are the trendily cheeky works by Sterling Ruby, which can be found in gallery three at the Warehouse in Dallas and were on the fourth floor of the Whitney Museum in New York, as part of the weak and unwieldy Whitney Biennial. Ruby’s works show best in Dallas, spread out across space like totems in a lunar landscape, and worst in New York, where they were bunched up together as part of a crowded, harum-scarum collection of work by middle-aged artist insiders.
A studied comparison of art production in Dallas and New York is a must for any would-be culture aficionado. Make the trip — simply for the sake of goodness, gloating and a rounding of the cultural circle.
CHARISSA N. TERRANOVA is the assistant professor of aesthetic studies at the University of Texas at Dallas and a freelance writer and curator. Her book Automotive Prosthetic: Technological Mediation and the Car in Conceptual Art was published in January by the University of Texas Press.
FROM LEFT: Sigmar Polke’s Untitled (Rorschach) (Ohne Titel (Rorschach)). Horton Gallery owner C. Sean Horton. Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston as Lyndon B. Johnson in All the Way, the Broadway play about the Texas president.