Justine Ludwig and I spent a lot of time together during this year’s Dallas Arts Week. Previews, openings, after- parties; galas, auctions, dinners. But we never really had a chance to talk. So on Sunday, April 12, I guilted her into picking me up from my hotel at 1530 Main Street, and driving me to her place of work, Dallas Contemporary, located at 161 Glass Street. Not unlike the movie Speed, the following conversation only took place while we were in motion.
HUNTER BRAITHWAITE (MIAMI RAIL): Okay, Justine just started the engine of her Honda Fit. Justine, where are we? What street are we on?
JUSTINE LUDWIG: We are currently on Ervay Street. [ Music starts playing.] I should turn this down.
RAIL: Do you always listen to rap while you’re driving?
RAIL: Good. You’re new at Dallas Contemporary, right?
LUDWIG: I’ve been there for seven months now. I’m the Director of Exhibitions/Senior Curator.
RAIL: But you yourself are not that senior. I mean, you’re pretty young. Where were you before?
LUDWIG: I previously was a curator at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
RAIL: Where’d you go to school?
LUDWIG: I went to Colby College for undergrad and Goldsmiths, University of London for grad school. In undergrad, I studied sculpture and early medieval art. In grad school, I studied global arts in the visual cultures department, where I primarily looked at issues of globalism and terrorism as related to aesthetics.
RAIL: For the record, Justine just ran a red light.
LUDWIG: Hey, c’mon, it was yellow!
RAIL: Look at that nice Chipotle sign. [A faux-vintage Chipotle sign is painted on the side of a brick building. ]
LUDWIG: I know, it’s fabulous. It’s trying to emulate the old ghost signs [that are fading on the historic warehouses] around us. That’s something that I really love about Dallas. There’s this very strange overlapping of things that are actually historical and recent attempts at creating a new history within the city.
RAIL: Can you see any parallels in the art world, in how contemporary art interacts with history?
LUDWIG: There’s a really strong interest in the contemporary. I see Dallas as a very progressive city, and so even the encyclopedic institution, the Dallas Museum of Art, has a really strong focus on contemporary artistic practice. This is a city that likes the new, that likes change, that likes embracing progressive thought.
RAIL: Yes, but there are exceptions. Yesterday, I was at Marguerite Steed Hoffman’s collection. On one wall she had a Laura Owens, but then she took us into a room and showed us a 700-year-old illuminated manuscript. Both of those things were equally important, it seemed.
LUDWIG: A lot of collectors are invested in what they love, what they care about really deeply, rather than just following trends.
RAIL: How does your institution fit in?
LUDWIG: We are a non-collecting institution. For me, that means that we should be committed to focusing on new commissions, and a wide array of local, national, and international art presented in the context of one another. We’re not doing big career retrospectives. We’re showing art that was made now, in the past few years.
RAIL: You have three exhibitions up right now. David Salle, Nate Lowman, and Anila Quayyum Agha. Friends With You also has a sculpture outside. These artists are quite different, yet the shows are unexpectedly harmonious. How did they come together?
LUDWIG: Well, the David Salle project and the Nate Lowman project came together around the same time. The idea was to have a conversation about contemporary painting—where it’s been and where it’s going. So the idea was to install those next to each other to engender a conversation there. The project with Anila came up a bit later. ArtPrize is coming to Dallas. We wanted to show that it presents some very critical and very interesting work. So we brought the winner of both the public prize and the jury prize.
RAIL: You said you are working on a book.
LUDWIG: I’ve been looking at the relationship between architecture and memory in visual arts among displaced peoples, specifically looking at the border regions. So far I’ve written primarily on Kashmir. Sophie Ernst did a really interesting project about India and Pakistan. She created these architectural models and projected drawings over them, like people that are remembering their homes after being ejected from them. I’ve started writing on Palestine and Israel, and artists that sort of engage directly in that subject matter.
RAIL: Texas is another border region. Is there a strong Latin American influence in Dallas?
LUDWIG: There’s a very sizeable community that identifies as being Latino or Hispanic. I think we’re up to almost 45 percent of the community now.
RAIL: How do you think that plays into the art world?
LUDWIG: Dallas Contemporary identifies as a bilingual institution. We’re trying to integrate more of that into our programing. I have long been interested in Latin American art; it’s something that I’m hoping to bring more of into the institution. Right now we’re doing a project with Pedro Reyes, who is based in Mexico City.
RAIL: How do your writing and curating relate?
LUDWIG: My curatorial practice is very much research-driven. I tend to spend a lot of time engaging with a subject matter. So I find that it’s very conducive to a writing practice. For me, writing is the way that I work out ideas. Even if something is not being published, I write extensively on subjects surrounding all of the issues that I curate. And then it’s also something that exists after the show is taken down, which I believe to be very important. Moving forward, I hope that there will be greater integration between my writing practice and my curatorial practice—at the very least, producing digital publications for everything that I do. I love writing, it’s something that’s always been very important to me, and I make time for it just about every day.
RAIL: On a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being the most provincial backwater and 10 being the epicenter, how would you define Dallas, as an international art city or as a more regional one?
LUDWIG: That’s a really complex question, because it depends on which aspect of the city you’re looking at. It’s an unbelievably multifaceted city. So I see it as super international. People generally are quite well traveled. There are people from all over that live here. The job market is really good, so people are constantly moving here, and there’s energy. But yet there is this very specific Dallas identity. There’s something that is very uniquely Dallas that makes it seem very small and unique in some ways. It’s not a bad thing or a positive thing; it’s just that there is this super Dallas culture. While a place like New York or London is such a crazy melting pot that the city is sort of constantly forced to reimagine itself in some ways, Dallas identity is so strong that you don’t really have that.
RAIL: Is Ross Perot still alive?
LUDWIG: [Laughs.] I get asked that all the time. The answer is yes, he is.