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Three SMU Artists Participate in "Modern Ruin"

Art Show Held Feb. 20-21 Still Drawing Buzz

A remarkable art show opened for just two days in Dallas, Feb. 20-21, and though the show has come and gone, the buzz continues to build.

Here’s what happened.

In September 2008, the U.S. government took over Washington Mutual, selling most of it to JPMorgan Chase.

Roughly a year earlier, at the height of a frenzied economic bubble, Washington Mutual began building a new $1 million branch at 5030 Greenville Avenue, just south of Lovers Lane. Right after its completion, the government seized WaMu, and JPMorgan Chase decided not to occupy the building.

The new building was never opened, never used, and sat as an empty shell for more than a year.

On February 20, 2010, a two-day exhibition opened in the space, organized by Christina Rees and Thomas Feulmer. The exhibition, Modern Ruin, was the only use for the million-dollar building before the demolition process began the following week. The organizers said that the bank building was a truly modern ruin - a building that never met its purpose, and only existed as potential activity, potential economy, and hoped-for growth.

Seeking to take advantage of the space—its social and cultural connotations, its materials, and its presence as direct and immediate evidence of the current economic condition—15 artists created work inspired by and in dialogue with the building. Some artists altered the building’s materials and corporate interior, while others staged actions and interventions within, and still others used the background of the space as context for their work.

Three SMU artists participated in the exhibition: Michael Corris, chair of the Division of Art; Noah Simblist, associate professor of art; and Jeff Zilm, a master’s student in studio art.

Michael Corris’s work in the show was a "conversation with the dead" that took the form of a printed pamphlet modeled after a typographic sample booklet. The text included quotes from obituaries of art historian Charles Harrison, paired with excerpts from texts that he co-authored with Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden. Corris said, “It's about a certain kind of after-life; reputation that remains when the physical being ceases to exist. How reputation becomes a subject of conversation and is altered, or dissolves entirely, over time.”

Noah Simblist had a piece titled “Double Trouble” in the show. The text, spray painted on the wall, reads: “In 2008 we gave them $2.4 billion. In 2009 they destroyed 4,290 homes.” While the statistics refer to the amount of foreign aid given to Israel and the number of Palestinian homes destroyed that year by Israel, Simblist said he wanted to keep the pronouns ambiguous so that the text might be interpreted as the amount given for the bank bailouts and the number of Americans left homeless because of foreclosures.

“I thought that the entire project was exciting and amazingly successful,” Simblist said. “Thomas Feulmer and Christina Rees came up with a great idea and all of the artists they invited were spectacular. We all got along well and were excited at each stage of our respective creative processes to see what the other was doing. The one-night event attracted a huge and diverse crowd – larger than almost any other art event that I have seen in Dallas – especially one without an institution or a budget.”

“There's more to the Dallas art scene than meets the eye,” said Corris. “This is just the beginning of a groundswell of activity in the visual arts in this part of Texas. And what do you know? SMU's Division of Art is right there in the eye of the storm!”

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