In Their DMA Show, HOMECOMING! Committee Changes The Past To Better The Art Scene's Future.

It was exciting news earlier this year when the Dallas Museum of Art announced its ambitious summer exhibition, “DallasSITES: Charting Contemporary Art, 1963 to Present.”

After all the recent talk surrounding Dallas's viability as an internationally competitive city in terms of visual art, it seemed like the show might serve a culmination of sorts.

But when the exhibit finally opened, it actually told a good deal more than originally expected. The title is apt, to say the least — “DallasSITES” maps out the history of contemporary art, categorizing movements and happenings by neighborhood over the course of about 50 years. A timeline spans one of the walls, while glass cases display artifacts (if a document from the 1970s could be considered an artifact) from Uptown to Oak Cliff.

Then, about two months after “DallasSITES” opened in late May, the DMA unveiled another entity: “Available Space.” While the former is an expansive, thoroughly researched, largely informational and educational exhibition, the latter, an “experimental project space,” engages with current and relevant artists and creatives in Dallas. “Available Space,” in that regard, is rather remarkable; it's a strong effort to demonstrate the living, breathing, thriving aspect of North Texas's contemporary art scene — in some ways, quite literally.

One gallery branching off of the museum's barrel vault is housing a series of performances and workshops courtesy of PerformanceSW, the fledgling collaborative project of Alison Star and Courtney Brown. Oak Cliff-based Oil and Cotton, meanwhile, has turned another gallery into a makeshift classroom/project space in which they host art making activities for museum visitors of all ages.

But perhaps the single most intriguing transformation of the DMA's allocated space has been taken on by the Fort Worth-based art collective known as HOMECOMING! Committee for the “Post Communique” show.

On the opening night of “Available Space,” the entrance to one of the exhibition's galleries was covered with brown paper. Cleverly, HOMECOMING! Committee recruited members of Perish High School's football team to run and break through the paper, officially opening their installation to the public. The image of a football team breaking through a crepe banner pre-game is a familiar one to the American public — but it's just half of the reference here. The collective is also paying homage to Japanese artist Saburo Murakami, known for performance pieces in which he would break through large sheets of paper tightly stretched over giant frames.

Inside their gallery space, HOMECOMING! has staged a “retrospective” of their art world involvement since the mid -20th century. Text underneath a Plexiglas-encased football explains that Saburo Murakami was actually inspired to create his own signature performances after being invited to and attending a football game in Texas by HOMECOMING! Committee in 1955. The exhibition is rife with other references, too. HOMECOMING! has systematically inserted its own history into the activities of such artists as Robert Smithson and Gerhard Richter, even writing themselves into a counterfeit issue of ArtForum and appropriating the imagery of other art historical artist collectives. In the back third of the gallery stands a wooden structure that looks something like a cross-section of a two-story house; during museum hours, black-uniform-outfitted members of the collective are in there — typing on a MacBook, participating in a game of chess or reading one of the many books laid out on a long conference table.

Thing is, HOMECOMING! Committee has of course not been around for 60 some years. Its current members are also its founding members.

Still — and perhaps unsurprisingly — most casual museum visitors are quick to accept the account of art history fabricated by the collective. Their logic is sound enough. Why would a museum lie to its audience?

Here, of course, lies the significance of HOMECOMING! Committee's use of “Available Space.” Their installation works to call into question alleged facts and alleged objective sources — art exhibitions, news reports, textbooks or any kind of institutional resource, really. Their ruse works especially well in a museum setting — an educational institution where people expect an almost didactic, one-sided experience. No one would necessarily be considered foolish for readily believing the outlandish claims made by HOMECOMING! Committee in their exhibition — museum visitors have been conditioned to simply accept such claims as fact.

Some leave the exhibition believing everything they've encountered. Some with more background knowledge and familairity with the North Texas art scene feel privileged to be “in on the joke.” Still others have openly reacted to the group's fabricated narrative with what HOMECOMING! member Gregory Ruppe describes as “agitation and anger.”

“We obviously want people to understand it,” says HOMECOMING!'s Bradly Brown. “But it's always good to get some pushback and frustration. It makes people think more.”

That much is certainly true. Unlike traditional museum exhibitions, HOMECOMING! Committee's installation opens up a channel for true, direct dialogue and exploration. Every day, throughout the duration of “Available Space,” members of the collective are on location in their space. And while they have, in fact, presented one account of art history up on the walls and within their glass cases, their exhibit's flimsiness can be fairly easily revealed if visitors take the time to sit down and speak with any of the several on-duty members who are always there.

“We are showing that proper investigation on the part of the viewer is a shared responsibility,” says HOMECOMING! member Kris Pierce.

Indeed: HOMECOMING! Committee's contribution to the DMA's month-long experimental program playfully reminds us that history is not a closed text. The collective's very inclusion into this project — along with the presence of other relevant North Texas artists and groups in and around the DMA's barrel vault — is evidence of this.

It's a valiant effort altogether. HOMECOMING! Committee's tale of its own storied past may be fabricated, but their effort sharing those lies reveal a greater truth: Contemporary art is alive and well in North Texas.

We can't wait to see what comes next. Real or not. But hopefully real.

Cover photo via HOMECOMING! Committee's Facebook page.

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