Treasured art space in Dallas' Design District to close after 7 years
A one-of-a-kind gallery space in Dallas' Design District will close its doors: Site 131, which showcased young and up-and-coming artists, will close on Saturday, June 18 with a going-away party from 1-3 pm, as a thank you and farewell to the North Texas arts community.
Guests are invited to celebrate the history of the venue, located at 131 Payne St., and are encouraged to wear bright white, as a hat tip to an artist's blank surface.
Site 131 was founded in 2015 by acclaimed curator and critic Joan Davidow and her son Seth Davidow as a kind of museum, to experience and learn about art, with a special focus on emerging and under-recognized artists — a unique niche in the museum world.
The reason for the closure is not surprising.
"It has everything to do with the pandemic," Joan Davidow says. "We were closed for more than a year, and since we reopened, our attendance has been down. On the past few Fridays, always one of our most popular days, we've been the only ones here. The handwriting is on the wall. People aren't coming out like they used to. It's a stark change."
Pre-pandemic, opening events drew anywhere from 150 to 300 people. Post-pandemic, the turnout has not topped 50.
"The pandemic changed us — I think there are people who still aren't coming out," she says.
Prior to opening Site 131, Davidow served as an art critic for KERA and worked for museums and galleries including the Dallas Museum of Art, Arlington Museum of Art, and Dallas Contemporary. A collection of her art is on permanent display at the University of Texas at Dallas.
In its seven years, Site 131 showcased 21 exhibitions featuring 114 artists — 55 female, 58 male — encompassing a diverse mix that included African American, Asian, and Latino artists, with about 40 percent from Texas and 60 percent from the U.S. and abroad.
The current exhibit is Exploring Constructs, with abstractions by mature New York artist Harriet Korman and self-taught Houston sculptor Ronald Llewellyn Jones' hand-tied string sculptures, thanks to New York's Thomas Erben gallery and Houston's Hooks-Epstein Galleries, with additional thanks to SITE131 Foundation for its pivotal support of adventurous exhibitions of new art.
In addition to exhibitions, the gallery led artist talks, community chats, fashion shows, dance classes, educational programming, workshops, and concerts. The goal was to make art "touchable."
"I do feel that I am doing something here that isn't happening elsewhere in town," Joan said in 2016. "I did what comes so naturally to me, which is: let’s look at a piece of art and talk about it together."
One bright spot was their fall 2021 exhibit, Fresh Faces From the Rachofsky Collection, presenting emerging talent from the legendary collection of Howard and Cindy Rachofsky. The exhibit only finally took place after being postponed due to the pandemic more than once. It's among their most important exhibitions.
"It meshed with our entire mission, which has been to find young and new and never-seen art, 'while the paint is still wet,'" Davidow says.
Site 131's closure is not an isolated incident; the Goss Michael Foundation remains "temporarily closed" after two years, and The Reading Room, a small art space near Fair Park, closed in 2021 after 10 years. These represent losses not only in that they provide one less platform for young artists, but also as a symbol of the changes wrought by the pandemic on the way we live and interact.
"We don't know how things are going to roll out, but I think it's such a loss that we're not being with each other and not sharing responses communally," Davidow says.