Whatever Gets You Through the Night

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I thought I just really hated art. Or the art world. Like Dave Hickey does. Maybe I do. Maybe not. Let’s find out together.

One month ago, I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BD-NOS), or, in less official parlance, bipolar 3. My new psychiatrist describes bipolar 3 as a mixed-mood disorder triggered by an antidepressant. In my case, this med is a popular SNRI called Effexor that I started taking for anxiety (rather than depression, though that was emerging) around the time I had to shut down my gallery Road Agent and take a new job as curator at TCU. That was 2009. It was the worst year of my life.

Stephen Fry: The most excellent poster man for bipolar

Things got better for a long while before they got worse again. I weaned myself off Effexor in late August 2012, when it was clear that the law of diminishing returns was wreaking havoc on my personal and professional life. It was incredibly confusing, and sometimes really frightening. After nearly three years on Effexor, which had done a hell of a job of banishing any and all anxiety, I had entered one long mixed hypomanic state (which had been going on for many months), and it didn’t end when the drug was out of my system. This state was characterized by aggression, apathy, addictive behavior, impulsiveness and general surliness. I hated the art world. I hated most art, most artists, most galleries, exhibitions, all art magazines, most art writing. Most everything. (The thing about art’s relationship to commerce? I got over that one a long time ago.)

And usually, I didn’t care that I didn’t care. I could pretend to care, on occasion, and did pretend at times, and even, with a little reflection, I could recapture some of what made me want to write about art or show art—especially if I was really angry about something—but that was generally more than I could be bothered with. I knew something was different, and wrong with me.

Then again, was that it? Maybe the state of the art scene in this region really is as bad as all that, and I was over it. I’ve never been that nice, especially in writing about art. Sometimes I think bipolars see the world more clearly than the general population. But I knew I was different from how I was before the Effexor.

M’s Pants Dance at FWCA (2011)

Nonetheless, I’m taking lithium now (kickin’ it old school). I can feel it working. I’m not nearly as irritable anymore. I like people again (some people). I get excited about the idea of future projects. I cry at movies. I laugh a lot. I’m much nicer to my husband, my family, my friends. I’m laying off the booze. I want to write. I am writing, privately and sometimes for publication. I know what shows I’d like to curate or organize, whether that happens at FWCA or some other venue. I’ve known that for a while, but I feel renewed interest in the projects, and new project ideas are coming all the time.

Now I have to figure out what’s going on in the DFW art scene. My lithium-stabilized brain needs to know if it’s any good. There are a couple of new galleries I haven’t been to; there are shows I haven’t seen. Is anyone doing anything worthwhile? Are we in an up or a down cycle? Dallas is growing while most of the country falters in an ongoing recession. It seems this could signal a time when Dallas finally hits that critical mass, that kind of lithium-like state of stability, and the cycles even out and lose the crazy highs and lows. Or maybe it’ll always be subject to trends, whims, fashion, greed, lack of great art schools and studio spaces and general superficial victimhood.

Months ago, Houstonian Robert Boyd published in his blog “The Great God Pan is Dead” a piece in which he documented his first deliberate foray into the Dallas art scene. Despite my Effexored mind at the time, I was fascinated by it, not the least because a few of the places he named were totally unfamiliar to me. So I’m in the process of checking things out again.

But I have my doubts. A few years ago, shortly after I’d taken the job at TCU and opened the show Death of a Propane Salesman, and Michael Corris and Jeremy Strick had landed here and the arts district (“THE ARTS DISTRICT”) was set to open up, I remember talking to a great local artist who’s been around forever and has influenced so many here. I won’t name him; that would piss him off. But he said, and I paraphrase: “As much as I’d like to get excited about these things, and as much as I hope this will be the stuff that will change everything, I know better. Things cycle. This will be an up cycle, everyone will get excited for a while, and then the bottom will drop out again, and it’ll be so disappointing.”

Houston’s Michael Bise at FWCA (2012)

He’s not the only one who’s said as much. Other artists and curators in town, ones who have been around for decades, say much the same thing. Such is life, though, no? Everything cycles.

Next year, the Dallas Museum of Art will launch an exhibition called (tentatively) The History of Contemporary Art in Dallas, 1963-Present, tracing the evolution of the Dallas art scene, or really, the North Texas art scene. I know those in charge of the exhibition have been researching it for ages. Most people I know have been interviewed for it, including me, by the very personable and thorough Leigh Arnold, with promises of follow-up interviews as the museum gets closer to the launch date. I wonder how the show will come off. Thin or generous? Profound or brittle? Or both. If it’s honest, it will be both.

Vernon Fisher in an earlier incarnation

But I’m psyched to see it. I don’t even have to pretend to be excited. I’ve been on this scene in one way or another since the late ‘80s (aside from a stint I spent in a couple of other cities), so plenty of it should be familiar. How will it hold up? And for god’s sake, can we stop thinking it will “hold up” against New York or LA? I want to know how Dallas holds up to Dallas, or perhaps other cities in Texas at most, and how current Dallas holds up to its own past.

Plus, people’s memories are short, aren’t they?  For anyone reading this now and not realizing any of the trenches I’ve experienced, please understand: I’ve been here a long time. I know a lot of people. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs myself, and even caused a few of them. But I’m ready to dig in again, unearth the good stuff. Show it off. I like living here. I like the people here, and I know many of them are capable of great things. I had just forgotten it for a little while.

That written, if anyone has any amazing things they think I should check out now (and, no, this does not include individual studio visits), please let me know. Me and my lithium will jump in the Scion and be on our way.

also by Christina Rees

12 responses to “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”

  1. Christina, great article. You have a point, but I hope Dallas isn’t going through another cycle (less it’s just spinning its wheels). There’s exciting things happening, and I would add that the most exciting events are for free. As soon as Dallas artists can get over the commercial aspects of art, I think we’ll find a very dynamic group of up-starts that are more focused on presenting interesting work rather than what can sell. In comparison to other cities, Dallas is an alternative space in which we can afford to work and have a new discourse. Best to keep things in the positive, the negatives are what will truly bring it down.

    Please, come out and play!

  2. I’m glad you are feeling better! :)

  3. Glad to read all of this.
    Let’s lunch and thrift again soon.
    Very soon.

  4. Long LiVE Lithium.
    Thank you for writing this.

  5. Truth: the Texas art scene is riddled with uninteresting art.

    However, wallowing in self-loathing or useless comparisons to other cities/regions is also uninteresting. As you imply.

    What has always been wonderful about Texas, what irresistibly lures people to stay, is the fact that you can do whatever the hell you want here, for better or for worse. The implications for art making are profound; and sometimes, Texas art delivers in spades.

  6. you got your car cleaned up and you’re ready to play…
    do your thing and rep your hood, CR.

  7. A good journey to hell and back…
    Thank you for sharing.

    Check this out and let’s give a shit:


    k, bye.


  8. Don’t know about lithium. I’m still on effexor after about eight years and doing well enough. I’m guessing you talked with Vernon, although I wouldn’t bet my life on it. I enjoy some contemporary art, but never would want to think it’s the only game in town. That’s for fools. Globally, we’ve been making things for too long in too many places to put all of our eggs in the one, Western culturally-determined basket. Always better to wait until time shakes out the narcissism. And not to get too caught up in what any of the media have to say.

  9. Glad to hear from you and that you on the road to a much better place in life. We have never officially met but I have known of you and followed your career. One thing you must know is that you are revered in the art business so keep on truckin!
    As far as Dallas is concerned I lived and worked there from 1987 to 1996. My studio was at 1700 Routh St. That’s right, in the heart of the “new” arts district. At that time you couldn’t pay anyone to travel south of 635. Even the great Native American Art Council of Dallas could not attract most Dallisits to their annual Indian Market. I was in charge of the jury for them for 5 years (no I am not Native) and when I discussed the festival with others they were astounded that such a Santa Fe type Indian Market was in their own backyard.
    I did pretty well with my art in Dallas only because of the gallery who represented me and believed in me as much as I did, and have been very esential to the development of the Dragon Street area for art galleries etc. Not sure if that kind of attention to artists still exists and is here in Houston but I’m very hopeful lately.

  10. Christina,
    Writing about your struggles with anxiety and depression is so courageous. So many people don’t talk about it and live with fear and shame. You are such a dynamic force in the art world here. Your story will give others hope. So happy to hear you have regained your passion for art and writing. I look forward to seeing you soon.

  11. Excited to read your evaluations. I trust you won’t go easy on us, and that’s good.

    I would recommend going to see Kyle Davis perform at Homeland Security on January 26th. He’s based in Austin but does amazing work, and Eli and Kelly are doing good things at that space.

  12. “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

    Garrison Keillor

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