New Dallas gallery’s show of American street culture has a surprising source. Leo Gabin’s new exhibition of videos and silkscreens on canvas fits right into the scene on West Jefferson Boulevard, the historic main drag of Oak Cliff.
Entering Sean Horton's immaculate new art gallery there, the lively culture outside — commercial, multicultural and truly American — is reflected back in the sophisticated artworks inside. The exhibition, Horton’s first since relocating to Dallas from New York, sets an ambitious standard for the gallery’s next chapter here in town.
Looking closely at the canvases, one sees a wide collection of imagery straight out of American hip-hop and street culture: bottles of cough syrup, Florida State Seminoles ball caps and a slick pickup with custom rims and a lift kit. Even the houses and streetscapes visible in some of the artworks appear local to Dallas.
But there's a twist: Leo Gabin is an artist from Ghent, Belgium, looking at American culture from the outside in. This realization provokes wonderment: What are they driving at? Do they really understand what's going on? How did they find all this stuff?
Even the artist's name is synthetic: "Leo Gabin" is a team of three people (Lieven Deconinck, Gaetan Begerem and Robin De Vooght) who mashed their first names together to form their collective.
But Gabin’s work is clearly an expert production. It’s subtle enough that I never would have guessed that its makers weren’t from around here. The five large canvases in the front room use the multi-layered approach — combining silk-screening with lacquer, acrylic and spray paint — first made famous by native Texan Robert Rauschenberg in the 1960s.
This multi-layered technique is an excellent way to bring together disparate sources of imagery in a single, unified visual field, and thus for capturing the diverse ephemera of mass culture.
But its import has evolved over time. When Rauschenberg (and later, Andy Warhol) brought the halftone dots of printed photography into their work, print media was at the cutting edge of culture. Now, in 2019, the same style in Gabin’s work looks positively retro, never mind the up-to-date subject matter.
The spirit of the age is found instead among the selection of short digital videos in the back room. Gabin appropriates, edits and remixes YouTube-style footage of young people showing off, cutting it together with a range of propulsive, rhythmic music.
Isolated and extracted from their original context, the actors in the videos lose the original meaning of their gestures, and instead come to resemble dancers (or even robots, in the more extreme cases). These videos belong to the same remix culture as DJs and meme-makers, and they’re catchy enough that you might be inspired to dance a little bit while watching them.
While the videos are more immediately attention-grabbing, the canvases seem ultimately more complex and may offer more repayment of interest over the long term. Both, however, reflect the same fascination with American mass culture that continues to exert an appeal for artists worldwide.
Sean Horton’s arrival in town — like the rise of the Dallas Art Fair and the arrival of international transplants such as Galerie Frank Elbaz in the Design District — is a sign of the development of the local art scene, offering every indication of ongoing growth and health.
Ben Lima is editor of Athenaeum Review, the new University of Texas at Dallas journal of arts and ideas, and a Dallas-based art historian.