The Family Business
The mother-and-son team of Susan Roth Romans and Jordan Roth have been making a bold statement on the North Texas art scene this last year, operating as an art consultancy with no less than two spaces in the Uptown and Downtown areas of Dallas, plus partnerships with others (including the McKinney Avenue Contemporary) in what could only be described as a sweep of invigorating shows that keep the duo always on the move.
Stating a deep committed to providing opportunities to local artists, Susan has been a fixture with the arts community for some 30 years. She owned a gallery in Fort Worth called MJS International, which hosted groundbreaking exhibitions and brought Texas regional artists to international art fairs, including Art Basil in Switzerland. Working with artists from college programs at Texas Christian University and UNT, back in the 1970s, she found her niche working with young artists and being part of the artist’s early professional development. It’s a track record that she now can shorthand to positive results.
“I put the shows together in my head first. The practice of curating becomes second nature after you have been doing it for so many years. Working with artists from college programs at Texas Christian University and UNT, back in the 1970s, Susan found enjoyment in working with young artists and being part of the artist’s early professional development,” she said.
Growing up in the art business, Jordan’s career path seemed an obvious one. The influence of art and the artists who create are the dominating factors in his life. There is a sense when you talk to Jordan he is invested both emotionally and intellectually in local arts.
“When you love what you are doing, none of it feels like a job. Supporting artists and being a part of that energy is exciting,” states the thirtysomething young gallerist.
Innovation is no stranger to this art team from their desire to stay fresh by innovating ways of working in the art world to their commitment in emerging local artists; most recently out of a desire to grow their business and share their knowledge, they have instituted a new intern program. The skills learned from the start are both practical and crucial to the aspiring art professional.
This summer Ro2 Uptown will be hosting Glass 2012 — Part II: Master Glass Invitational. This milestone glass exhibition features 31 nationally recognized artists working in the glass media, all with ties to the Texas region. It is just one partnering exhibition with other galleries that serves as a continuation of the celebration of the media initiated by the Chihuly exhibition now on view at the Dallas Arboretum.
A+C caught up with the Roths for some insight into the local arts market and what lies ahead.
A+C: Why does art fascinate you? What are some of your personal experiences where art made an impression on you?
Jordan Roth: My fascination with art began at an early age. Being raised by an art dealer afforded a lot of opportunities for me to meet artists and collectors, and to navigate the gallery world even before my first visits to the museums. I can remember trips to the Kimball and (then) Fort Worth Contemporary Museum as a first grader — and I would ask the guides where the paintings were by the artists I personally knew — I was confused by the fact that they weren’t hanging on the walls.
Susan Roth: Art has always been an integral part of my life. My father and older brother were both artists. It was always taken for granted that I would be, also. After much struggle, I realized my eye was better than my hand and I chose the gallery side of art.
A+C: What is your strategy behind having several art spaces around town?
Susan Roth: We have been fortunate to have the support of The West Village and Downtown Dallas. I think it is important for every city to have an arts district or destination, but I also think it is important to have art galleries and spaces throughout the city. Art should be part of everyone’s life, everyday.
Jordan Roth: We already have Uptown Gallery at West Village and Ro2 Art Downtown is established with two gallery spaces: a project space at 110 N. Akard in The Kirby Building and a more formal gallery space at 1408 Elm Street in the Third Rail Building, across the street, allowing people to walk between the two when we have dual shows. We’ve recently expanded to Addison, where we have been working with city officials to develop programming for their new visual arts center at Village on The Parkway.
Susan Roth: These spaces allow us to always have our artists on view. It also allows us to explore the different ideas and concepts according to the specific area and presentation space.
A+C: How did you select the work for your venues? What themes or requirements are part of your selection process?
Susan Roth: In general, I look for trained artists without representation that are technically good, and hopefully the work touches either an emotion or a nerve, or even a funny bone. Usually, I pick art that I would personally like to live with. It’s helpful that Jordan has a different eye than me, and sometimes he sees things that I miss. But, with me I think it’s instinctual. We’re fortunate to be in this Region, an area full of wonderful artists to choose from.
A+C: What are the strengths of your venues, visually and/or conceptually?
Susan Roth: Uptown is a very high traffic area, with people from all over the world. There are two entrances, which we’ve divided into a traditional gallery and a small works gallery. In the small works gallery, we are able to show more artists and some of the work is accessible to a broad audience. At Akard Street, we have a great downtown space. It’s comfortable and great for experimental shows, young shows, and some fun shows. Downtown Elm Street is our most traditional gallery in that it’s white walls, and a boxier space. It’s good for large works and more “typical” gallery shows.
A+C: Do you think it’s more important to have a solid body of consistent work, or a great concept proposal?
Susan Roth: I think it is good to have a great concept but necessary to have a solid body of consistent work behind it, with rare exception.
A+C: Do you ever refer artists to other spaces they’d be better suited for?
Jordan Roth: We’d refer an artist to another gallery if they’re very good, and we see right away that they’re possibly a better fit elsewhere. In general, we realize that galleries are being approached quite regularly and every gallery has different criteria for submissions. So, we usually suggest that artists who are new to town or re-entering the community seek out opportunities with organizations that have open shows or allow members to show annually, such as The McKinney Avenue Contemporary.
A+C: What are the challenges that lie ahead in the North Texas art scene, and what ideas do you have to meet those challenges?
Jordan Roth: The Dallas art scene is definitely becoming very interesting. It’s growing rapidly, and the visual art community seems to be more embedded into the cultural fabric, perhaps, then it was a few years ago. There seems to be a lot of anticipation for what’s going to happen next. With regard to challenges, according to my Mom, what hasn’t really changed is, there is still a problem of getting the people who live here to consistently frequent galleries. It’s getting better, but it takes active support from the collectors to keep galleries going. But galleries are such an important component to a thriving art community.
Susan Roth: Dallas has an art community rich with seasoned gallerists, each of whom can provide a different perspective. The up-and-coming gallerist or consultant would benefit from experiencing the various perspectives offered by those established galleries in the city, who each have carved out specific niches within the scene. We’re all in this together, and I think that a win for one, is a win for all; however, we have to recognize that time is a precious commodity, and we need to focus on serving the artists we represent. It takes an effort to maintain balance between being part of the community and working to help the artists achieve their goals.