Interview: Dave Bryant
by Dan Boehl
Dave Bryant, curator of the recent exhibition Warren Oates in the Economic Crisis of 2008 (closed February 21, 2009) at Okay Mountain had a lot to say about the show and the times in which we live. Bryant co-founded and directed the Fresh Up Club, an exhibition space in Austin open from 2003 to 2005, and he was a key contributor to ...might be good in its early years. Here are just some of his thoughts on Warren Oates, America, the economy and communal suffering.
…might be good: How did you come up with the premise for Warren Oats in the Economic Crisis of 2008?
Dave Bryant: Warren Oates was a male archetype—he played the down and out, usually had a gun in his hand, a vicious smile, and a mean one-liner followed by a lonesome shot of the sunset. I was hooked in Monte Hellman's low-budget western The Shooting, opposite a severely badass Jack Nicholson, when Oates reminded me of my myself—scrambling as character Willett Gashade up a hill, kicking dust up behind him, a total dweeb. I wasn't sure that there were nerds back in the Ol' Western days. But there he was—something along these lines: dweeb, nerd, wimp—something I could relate to. And he still got to carry a gun around.
A show has to have a title, so I knew I wanted mine to relate to Warren Oates. A few of the artists in the show start popping into my head and as I have a few months to gestate, at some point the artists in my list are stewing in some Warren Oates juice. And I don't know if I started projecting or what, but it started to make sense to me. Then, boom, into our lexicon, entered the “economic crisis”.
Nothing did happen or nothing has happened that really affected my economic situation since last fall. I was already in an economic crisis, am in an economic crisis, was born into an economic crisis. But this current economic crisis is one of mutual concern amongst our society. Finally something everyone could relate to—something an artist might actually have something to say about. Even Warren Oates, asleep in the grave since 1982, has something to say about the economic crisis of 2008. This way I’ll always remember that other people were communally suffering during 2008.
…mbg: There were a lot of artists in the show. How did you choose them?
DB: This was the first show I had put together since the Fresh Up Club closed down in 2005. I would say I chose each of the 16 artists for a different reason and I didn't know what the results would be in combining them together.
…mbg: You didn't actually pick the work yourself, but had artists send you work they thought fit the premise. Were there any surprises?
DB: I asked some people for “ugly ducklings”—works that maybe others rejected. I wanted shaggy dog artworks, kinda like Oates might be. In some situations, I left it completely open and took what I could get. And I don't know if they even considered the title of the show, but the work that was sent I was able to rationalize completely how they fit and it all seemed entirely intentional to me.
…mbg: Once all the work came together on the walls, what was the effect?
DB: I did not love all of the work in the show, but I was true to the invitation. If it said, “send anything,” then I was going to hang “anything.” The show had a life of its own which far extended the original intention I had. So maybe I was comparing the artists to Warren Oates, but probably not. Most likely I was setting them side by side, in a list of names, including my own, only to add reference to reference, and see what we would come up with.
…mbg: What do you think of your duty towards the artists as a curator?
DB: I don't see myself as having any duties as a curator. I know it is a loose term but I think of someone in an institution as a curator. But I don't have a body of work that I oversee or anything. I identify with being an artist, or a bohemian or something. There is a lengthy history of art makers being art organizers. I sold $1000 of personal artwork in 2008 and spent a lot more than that. Gotta make a living somehow. So I do a variety of things but mostly art related. I get a lot of satisfaction out of finding a home for lonely artworks. I spend a lot of my time in the no-profit, not-for-profit, and “we're gonna do something one day” realm. But I would welcome any amount of money at any time. That is an open invitation, money, if you are listening. Come on over for a visit.
…mbg: What do you think the economic fallout means for artists and the art making community? Do you think it is a good thing or a bad thing?
DB: The art world, just like the milk world, and the cardboard box world, and the gutter cleaning world, and the drug-dealing world are all being affected by the economic fallout. Naturally if there is less money being spent on goods, art is going to fall into this. When I spend money to ship work down here and Okay Mountain prints invitation cards and pays rent and utilities, I am expecting something back so that we can cover these expenses. It was important for me to present a show of “for-sale” artworks. And do my best to get these in the hands of local collectors. I did not do to good a job. But this was not the economy’s fault. The only collector who even mentioned money problems ended up buying the piece they wanted anyway.
…mbg: How has the Austin community changed since your days running the Fresh Up Club?
DB: Despite the financial meltdown, in my memory, Austin has never had more people buying artwork. Now this may only amount to a total of maybe 10 couples that buy work by nationally known artists and 20 couples who buy regionally—these are totally made-up numbers by the way—but this is a big improvement. A disastrous show for Art Palace now would be the equivalent of our best show at Fresh Up Club, in terms of sales. We paid $200/month rent. That was the only way we were able to operate—but when sales would happen—$100 here or there—we were popping champagne bottles and sleeping on beds of loose change.
I think it was assumed that you would go to LA or NY to make money and that Austin was a layover between wherever you were from and wherever you were going next. In the meantime, you would eat breakfast tacos. Now, I see a handful of emerging local artists who are getting some play out in the extended art community and there is definitely noticeable growth here.
…mbg: Warren Oats had a distinct feeling that it brought together a collection of artists making art for the love of making art. I guess what I am saying is, the show had a very material feel to me. Is this materialism a reflection of your own artistic practice?
DB: The Fresh Up Club was programmed with economics in mind at all times. We were generally limited to having flat works shipped or relying on the artists to delivery larger works themselves. Now even when freed from those issues, I'm generally interested in humble art that travels easy and goes cheaply through the mail. I guess I don't think in terms of Richard Serra because it is just a bit large for me—I have about 100 square feet of personal space.
…mbg: What are the best and worst things about living in Austin?
DB: I think the lack of money is bad but good. I like it when people make things out of trash. I like it when people with money are put in an awkward position regarding their net worth and Picasso budgets versus the rest of the world and their sustenance budgets. Still, I'd take the money and run. I would never glamorize starving artist man—he is way too skinny.
…mbg: How would you like to be seen by the Austin art community?
DB: How would I like to be seen by Austin art community? As an electric guitar flying over the Congress bridge. I would have huge bat wings and the beautiful face of Stevie Ray Vaughn. The blue reflectors that are installed at Lamar and 5th Street would fall from my bottom side—free gifts to the public. I would smell like a breakfast taco, have the aura of a biodiesel light rail train car, vote for Kinky Friedman, and have the legs of Leslie.
...mbg: Somebody told me you were giving up making art. I think it was Barry Stone. Are you giving up making art?
DB: I am not going to stop making art. That is what I do. I talk a lot of shit, though.
Dan Boehl lives in Austin, where he is working on a post-petroleum children's novel.