Oil & Cotton DMA Available Space

The usually pristine galleries in the Dallas Museum of Art’s barrel quad look a bit lived-in right now. In the space currently occupied by Oak Cliff-based Oil and Cotton, it’s sometimes downright messy.

“The materials in the museum are usually dead, for lack of a better term, and this is very much alive,” says the DMA’s Gabriel Ritter, who lives in Oak Cliff.

It’s the first time in 30 years that the museum has handed over gallery space to artists, Ritter says. It happened somewhat accidentally; the time between the Cindy Sherman and Jim Hodges exhibits was “too long of a time not to do something, and too short of a time to do a full-blown exhibit,” Ritter says. So with the space available, Ritter curated a 30-day exhibit called, fittingly, “Available Space,” which began July 19 and lasts through Aug. 18.

Though it is something of a stop-gap, the experimental nature of Available Space is something that Ritter, a Los Angeles transplant who joined the museum about a year ago, believes in.

“I took the opportunity and ran with it because it’s something I would like to see in a museum and something we should be doing more of,” he says.

It required “growing pains” for the DMA to make it happen quickly, he says. Inviting art materials into a gallery usually inhabited by fine art that requires white gloves is “not the norm,” Ritter says.

Oil & Cotton DMA Available Space2The local artists, while thrilled, also had to scramble to make it happen. Oil and Cotton’s Kayli House Cusick and Shannon Driscoll received a call in late May inviting them to inhabit one of the gallery spaces.

“Our first response was, ‘Let’s do it!’ ” House Cusick says. “Then we thought, ‘How are we going to do it?’ ”

Camps and workshops for out-of-school children make summer about four times busier for Oil & Cotton than any other time of year, she says. The DMA exhibit roughly doubled their already stressed summer schedule. But it’s worth it, House Cusick says, because “the Dallas art community is getting what it asked for.” She hopes that the exhibit’s exposure of local artists may mean enough attention “to get them out of a waitress job and keep them in the studio.”

Altogether, six local art curators and collectives were invited to take over the museum’s barrel vault and its surrounding galleries. Ritter knows how much the access means to the local art community because, for many reasons, he says, the art community and the art museums historically have had a strained relationship.

“If this can be a first step to remedying that situation, or at least opening up dialogue, then I think it’s been successful,” Ritter says.

Oil and Cotton’s programming at the museum ends on Aug. 9. Its workshops as well as museum admission are free, though some require registration. House Cusick recommends visiting Saturday, Aug. 3, which is filled with activities for all ages, or Sunday, Aug. 4, which will be a “free-for-all,” she says. (If you can’t make it before Aug. 9, the art studio’s fall class schedule also is 20 percent off right now.)

While at the museum, visitors can look through another exhibit with Oak Cliff connections — DallasSITES, which charts contemporary art in six different Dallas neighborhoods over the past 50 years. It’s no surprise that Oak Cliff is one of those neighborhoods, and the exhibit specifically highlights “The Oak Cliff Four” and their contribution to funky art in the early ’70s. More about this exhibit on oakcliff.advocatemag.com next week.