Dimension Gallery Proposes a Bold New Model that Blurs and Softens the Edges Between Gallery and Museum
written by A.K. Marx
The uninitiated might suppose that they had happened across a rift in the space-time continuum should a casual stroll through East Austin lead them to behold the over-large wrought iron fence that serves as entrance to Dimension Sculpture Park. Zach Lihatsh’s Line in the Sand lures and welcomes passerby with its use of surrealistic elements and a nod to the weird. The piece seemingly arises out of nothing, spanning about 12 feet, free-standing while looking like an unprepossessing, but notably large, ordinary fence, which then melts into the ground to give way to a portal-sized gap before picking up again as a mirror image version of itself on the other side of the opening.
Lihatsh’s piece does effectively serve as a true fence in spite of its gaping interruption and failure to enclose any space. Yet, more notably, it serves as a question: What is a fence anyway? What is a fence for? The refrain of Rose, the wife of Troy in August Wilson’s Fences, comes to mind as I regard Lihatsh’s fence: Who are you keeping out? The placement of the piece as a proverbial entrance to the open air garden provides its own answer to these questions, since it serves as a sort of doorway, even as the borders of the space are not otherwise drawn. The park grows quite organically out of the neighboring lots at the corner of Govalle and Springdale, so that the common objects in its vicinity are granted a new life by the glow of the composed space. Scrap metal heaped on the trailer, a tree trunk interrupted, traffic cones marking a city gas valve: all deserve a second glance when sharing in the glow emitted from the sculptures next door.
The whole spirit of the park is extremely playful in terms of staging, placing sculptures in conversation with one another and their shared surroundings to make evident the self-awareness of the curators of the exhibit space and the creators of the featured sculptures. Magdalena Jarkowiec’s towering, precarious giant leans forward to peer at its own plaque, exposing an anatomically correct, cartoonish backside in its haste. Off to the far corner is a storage container, the kind usually found in ship yards and behind semi-trucks, but the protrusion of pipes from the top of it is the only marker that it might belong to the park, rather than the refuse of some careless construction site. As it turns out, the container has been fashioned by Colin McIntyre into a fully functional organ, both sculptural and instrumental. Comically, there has been no attempt to remove or alter the CSC label approving the container-turned-organ for transport.
When asked about this piece, Colin said, “I’ve always had an appreciation for abstract creative sound work. For most of my life I’ve worked on that sort of stuff in the background, on the side, [the organ is quite literally to the back and to the side of the other sculptures featured in the park] but in the last four years I’ve let that come more to the forefront of my creative practice. I hope to do more performing with sound and working with synthesis and electronic music production.”
The synthesis of an antiquated instrument’s mechanics with modern technique and materials speaks to not only the electronic music production he’s shifted his attention towards, but also to the material conditions of the organ, housed as it is in such an abstract symbol of our contemporary world. In conversation, Colin readily volunteers that his own sculptural practice is heavily informed by his thoughts about making material things and working with diverse mediums rich with symbolism. This carefulness of thought is perhaps one element to his curatorial practice that shows up as an ability to stage the work of others in the context of the gallery without sacrificing the self-defined terms of the pieces themselves.
After a conversation with the Colin and his wife, Moya McIntyre, the owners and curators of Dimension Gallery, I have become convinced that the balance Dimension Gallery strikes between exhibition space and arts’ center is possible only because of their close collaboration with the artists that they highlight. Unlike the more traditional model for a gallery, which would recover operational costs primarily from commission on pieces sold, the works that Dimension features are essentially commissioned by and for the space and so funded apart from sales.
“Sculpture is hard to sell commercially, so a lot of galleries tend to be non-profit,” Moya explained. She heads the arm of the gallery that helps artists seek city funding to materialize their own solo shows, and she stressed that her work is not simply to write grants on behalf of the sculptors, but to teach them the skill of grant-writing, so that it may continue to be an avenue for funding after their time with Dimension.
Rather than focusing on currying the favor of wealthy buyers, the proprietors of Dimension Gallery are poised to play a part more often reserved for the gatekeepers of the established museums of the world and the academics. The flip-side of this is the value proposition for the artists themselves: mentorship, honing of a new skillset and a space held for their work to be discovered by an audience that has interest and appreciation for it, even if much of this audience will be unable to show their support via the purchase of a sculpture that stands 15 feet tall or weighs hundreds of pounds.
The artists taken on by Dimension Gallery receive a fellowship not unlike what a university might traditionally offer under the same moniker. Every two years, 5–7 fellowships are granted to artists who “have intense connection to their medium,” as Colin puts it. Under such a broad umbrella, one can imagine that the work supported by Dimension is varied and versatile, and one would be right in that supposition. A perusal of the previous exhibits, which can be found on the gallery’s website, shows a diversity of thought and medium. Each artist-fellow prepares for two solo shows over a two year period, and the structure of city funding that they will seek out allows for grants ranging from $2,000–5,000 to support the creation and production of each show.
Colin said of this process, “We have seen over and over how much further an artist can go with a show when they have that support. It can give a sculptor the confidence to go ‘all in’—regardless of whether [the work] will sell or not.”
Moya shared with me some of their concerns about the way the city of Austin has moved to prioritize larger arts’ organizations over individual artists’ grants in the recent year, but she also said they remain hopeful for the long-term sustainability of their model.
If the idea of art spaces that exist through the collaboration of tenured artists and early-career makers excites you, or if you believe in the value of art apart from commercialism, pay careful attention to the questions brought to voters in upcoming local elections (such as the one posed by Prob B, which we voted on this past Tuesday, November 5th).
Located at 980 Springdale Rd, the Dimension Sculpture Park is worth a visit night or day. Across the street, their flagship gallery space can be found next door to Blackfeather Vintage at 979 Springdale, open by appointment or from 10am to 6pm Thursday through Saturday. Colin’s own solo show, System Praeternaturae, is up in the indoor gallery space now through November 30th.