“Either you like it or you hate it. That’s what all art should be,” Peter Doroshenko, Dallas Contemporary executive director says about K8 Hardy’s work and the upcoming show. He’s been leading the museum for two years. “You should have an emotional response.”
Doroshenko was impressed by the international scope of Hardy’s previous exhibition venues. In the last six years or so, her work has been seen at the Tate Modern and the Serpentine Gallery in London, the Generali Foundation in Vienna, the Moscow Biennial, Casco Projects in the Netherlands, the Lyon Biennial in France, and all around New York — the Brooklyn Museum, Light Industry, and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, in addition to the prestigious Whitney Biennial.
“K8 came across my radar a few years ago, when I saw an exhibit in New York,” Doroshenko said. He was then the director of a private museum in Kiev, Ukraine. “I had read that she was from Fort Worth, so when I knew I was heading to a new position in Dallas, I scheduled a visit with her.”
As both curator and decision-maker, he talked at length with Hardy about possibilities for her Texas solo debut in Dallas. “She had some ideas. She visited us here. There’s a whole process that a curator does. I’m the filtering system for artists’ ideas.”
Unique in North Texas, the Dallas Contemporary is a “non-collecting” museum: It only shows new artwork or assembles exhibitions of existing work that has never been seen or shown. With 35,000 square feet of gallery space to use, Doroshenko is able to commission large custom exhibitions. “We provide a commission to the artist that can run anywhere from a nominal fee up to $100,000,” he said. Hardy’s contract was roughly in the middle of that range.
“We work closely for a long period of time. For the curators and staff, it becomes a real yin-yang scenario,” he said. “We have worked with K8 for a year and a half.” That balance of what the curators want for the art venue and what the artists can create is important.
“It’s amazing what the Dallas Contemporary does,” Hardy said. With a decent budget upfront, she was able to hire a professional photographer, professional models, and a wig/hat/headpiece designer who goes simply by “Duffy.” “It’s something of a luxury, because usually I am my own model and my own photographer.”
Hardy makes a lot of her work on herself, echoing the aesthetic of conceptual self-portrait photographer Cindy Sherman or ethereal, experimental photographer Francesca Woodman. She is technically proficient in photography, darkroom work, lighting, and videography. Early in her career, she freelanced around New York City as a photo stylist, music video assistant, wardrobe wrangler, and stylist for fashion photo shoots. “As much as I learned, and as much as I enjoyed that, I’m glad to say I’ve been able to make art full time for myself for about two years now,” Hardy said. “I’m lucky.”
Doroshenko said the Dallas Contemporary space is ideal for Hardy’s work, both static and theatrical. She’ll produce and perform a new runway show, slated for Oct. 4 as a fund-raiser for the art center. More traditional gallery space will feature her photographs and sculpture through Dec. 30.
Hardy is calling her show September Issues, presumably with a nod to Vogue’s recent documentary titled The September Issue. “Fashion makes people nervous,” Vogue editor Anna Wintour observes in the film, as if she knew what K8 Hardy and Peter Doroshenko have planned for Dallas.
“September Issues” will highlight the full range of Hardy’s talents, which are difficult to classify within any single art genre. “Performance art is a label. Sculpture is a label,” Doroshenko said. “Some of those things don’t make sense in the 21st century.”
He appreciates the way conceptual art can put issues and ideas into fascinating contexts, and he talks passionately about how Hardy’s art works in that sense.
“It’s not only that K8’s work is in your face, or that her images seem very black and white in terms of what the viewer is literally looking at,” he said. “She creates surprise. Change is happening right in front of her audience.”
Doroshenko said he understands where she’s coming from and thinks exhibition visitors will too. “Her work defies the standard labels. Models in her runway shows are living sculpture. Her work is informed by fashion, yet she presents a female critique on what’s right and what’s wrong in that world and in today’s world.”
In one photo for the Dallas Contemporary show, “Positions Series 19, Chapter 1,” Hardy strikes a Vogue-ish pose, dressed in a mini-skirt and strapless white bra printed with little hearts. Her knees are tightly squeezed together and her ankles crossed. She’s posed as motionless and pale as a cadaver, in a slipper chair covered in floral-print chintz. The wallpaper behind her matches the print. She’s sporting a spiky black wig, huge dark sunglasses, and nearly black lipstick. The composition features a superimposed white silhouette of the artist.
“That piece challenges the viewer to think about any advertising or fashion image styled like this,” Hardy said. “When people look at photos of other people, so much goes into it. I’m trying to shift your perspective so that you become aware of that. I want the audience to question what they are seeing.”
He doesn’t want to give the story away, Doroshenko said, “but our show is very much in the line of what K8’s been doing — very smart, very engaging, very topical.” He calls it another chapter in Hardy’s art-making process and completely specific to Texas. “Everybody will be drawn into it. It’s much more amazing than I ever thought.”
Part of his amazement comes from knowing that Hardy grew up in Fort Worth.