Barry Whistler, a Savant of the Dallas Art Scene for 28 Years and Counting

In the last 50 years, the Dallas art scene has been deviating from neighborhood to neighborhood across the Texan city. In the ’60s, it was Uptown Dallas where Claes Oldenburg staged his first “Happening” outside of New York City, but each neighborhood—Fair Park, Oak Cliff, and Deep Ellum, among them—has had its turn as art hub en vogue. Deep Ellum, in particular (named for “Elm Street” spoken with a southern drawl) was once home to brothels, blues clubs, and high crime—and hit its heyday in the ’80s as the meeting point for the Dallas avant-garde, though the hotspot eventually simmered. Today, as the neighborhood experiences something of a renaissance, we chat with Barry Whistler, the stalwart who, in nearly 30 years, never left the area.

In 1985, perhaps riffing off a chance meeting on the streets of SoHo with fabled Italian-American art dealer Leo Castelli—“who taught me always to be open”—Whistler opened his namesake space in Deep Ellum. After having spent 10+ years working in museums, including the Dallas Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Whistler designed his program with an institutional goal: “From the beginning it has always been a mission to place significant works in museum collections to inspire and move a wider audience,” he told Artsy, a sentiment that today gives charge to the emerging artists he stands behind. “It is the kind of space local emerging artists aspire to, understanding that a spot on Whistler’s roster means the artist has made it in the Texas art world,” the Dallas Art Museum’s Leigh Arnold wrote in an essay on the Deep Ellum neighborhood.

No doubt enjoying the revival of a neighborhood he’s never left and the art scene he largely helped build, Whistler is in the company of 500X, the oldest artist-run cooperative in Texas (circa 1978), Club Dada (a once-closed and now reopened performance venue by the collective Victor Dada), and several others who’ve held strong. Of his excitement for the overall Dallas art scene, he mentions the ongoing John Wilcox retrospective, so we aren’t surprised to learn that this week, as Whistler sets up for the sixth-annual Dallas Art Fair, the Texan-born painter will be the highlight of his booth.

“His recent death in 2012—at the age of 57—leaves much of his work to be showcased,” Whistler says of Wilcox, whose studio he maintains as a satellite venue with the help of the artist’s brother, David. “His concise paintings highlight the delicate value of line, texture, and language, but focus on the mortality of our own short life cycles. John’s work utilizes a minimal aesthetic without sacrificing humility.” Of the Dallas Art Fair booth, he names a six-foot painting of the artist’s bed, to scale, as leading the charge. “Its careful pointillism speaks to a temporal emphasis on the space of a resting body,” he says. “Wilcox leaves room to reflect upon the spaces in which we take refuge.” To learn more about the works, stop by Whistler’s booth at the Dallas Art Fair or explore the works on Artsy. 

Visit Barry Whistler Gallery at the Dallas Art Fair 2014, Booth C7, Apr. 10th–13th.

For more information on the history of the Dallas art scene, explore the Dallas Museum of Art’s DallasSITES.

Explore the Dallas Art Fair on Artsy.