James Surls & David McCullough: Art in Exposition Park — 1973

by Paula Bosse

surls-mccullough_dec-1973From the DMA archives (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Above, a postcard advertising a 1973 art show at 839 1/2 Exposition (Parry & Exposition, across from Fair Park), featuring the work of James Surls (right, next to one of his sculptures) and David McCullough (left, in front of one of his paintings).

James Surls (b.1943), originally from East Texas, came to Dallas in the late-’60s to teach sculpture at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, from 1969 to 1976. His first mention in The Dallas Morning News, though, was on Sept. 12, 1967, when a 23-year-old Surls was mentioned as a participant in a group sculpture show at Atelier Chapman Kelley (on Fairmount Street) alongside major artists such as Georges Braque, Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson, and Henry Bertoia. Surls made his first professional impact on the art world while he was living in Dallas, and for years he was known as a “Dallas artist.” Surls eventually left Dallas for Spendora, Texas, and he now lives and works in Colorado and is an important internationally admired and collected sculptor.

After studying in Boston and Kansas City, and after a stint in California working on “happenings” with Allan Kaprow and Dick Higgins, David McCullough (b. 1945) moved to Dallas in 1970 where he quickly became part of the local art scene. After only seven months as a resident of the city, McCullough was commissioned by the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts to execute “Baggie Mantra Sanctorum March,” an art and performance piece which was Dallas’ first outdoor environment “happening.” A respected artist, McCullough continues to create and continues to call Dallas his home.

The McCullough/Surls show touted in the above postcard paired the two local artists and was well-received by local publications. The exhibition space at 839 1/2 Exposition was McCullough’s studio at the time, and the show presented sculptures by Surls and “relief wall paintings” by McCullough.


For a FANTASTIC look at this period in Dallas’ contemporary art scene, Ken Harrison’s 1975 documentary “Jackelope” (which aired on KERA, Ch. 13 in January, 1976) is absolutely essential. (Watch it here.)

jackelop_dmn_012576-photo“Jackelope” subjects Wade, Green, and Surls

It profiles Surls, George Green, and Bob “Daddy-O” Wade (who will forever be known in Dallas as the creator of Tango’s dancing frogs), and the Surls and Wade portions are extremely entertaining. I watched this documentary earlier this year, and I’ve found myself thinking about it frequently. I highly recommend this deliberately slow-moving documentary for anyone interested in Texas art (…or just art). Or for anyone who’s a fan of incredible Texas accents (why don’t we hear accents like these anymore?).


Here’s a great clip showing Surls with friends and students laboriously transporting one of his pieces, the name of which is given as “Point to Point,” through the streets of Old East Dallas before it is taken to Houston. In 1975, Surls was teaching at SMU and living at 5019 Tremont, in a house which is still standing. (WFAA News Film Collection, Jones Film Archive, Hamon Arts Library, SMU, Oct. 1975)





Sources & Notes

Postcard is from the Paul Rogers Harris Gallery Mailings Collection, Dallas Museum of Art Archives; found as part of the interesting article “Fair Park-South Dallas: The City’s First Arts District” by Leigh Arnold, here.

To see just a few of James Surls’ wonderful pieces, click here. To view a slideshow of the DMA retrospective, “Visions: James Surls, 1974-1984,” click here. His official website is here.

Articles of interest from the Dallas Morning News archives:

  • “Kelley to Unveil Sculpture Show” by John Neville (DMN, Sept. 12, 1967) — first mention of Surls in the pages of The News, this announcement of an upcoming sculpture show at Atelier Chapman Kelley has Surls alongside big-hitters such as Georges Braque, Henry Moore, and Louise Nevelson
  • “Loft Offers ‘Big Art’ Space” by Janet Kutner (DMN, Feb. 16, 1974) — review of the show advertised on the postcard at the top of this post
  • “Surls Casts ‘Sams’ for Movie Awards” by Janet Kutner (DMN, March 11, 1972) — about the bronze movie awards — the “Sams” — which Surls created for the 1972 USA Film Festival
  • “Art for Dog’s Sake” by Janet Kutner (DMN, Dec. 7, 1975) — about a 1975 group show at SMU consisting of over 50 artists (!), which Surls organized (and created a sculpture for) on a $50 budget; contains a thoroughly delightful interview about “The Dog Show” (“It’s both serious and non-serious, maybe ‘arf ‘n ‘arf…”)
  • “Texas Artists in TV Special” by Janet Kutner (DMN, Jan. 25, 1976) — review of the film “Jackelope”

For a profile on David McCullough that appeared in The Lakewood Advocate, click here. To watch an entertaining video in which he paints before a crowd at the Dallas Arboretum as the Dallas Wind Ensemble plays, followed by an interview, see the YouTube video here. McCullough’s website is here.

Read the background of McCullough’s 1971 “Baggie sculpture” — the outdoor “happening” at the lagoon at Fair Park in these Dallas Morning News articles:

  • “Baggie Sculpture in Park Lagoon” (DMN, June 12, 1971)
  • “McCullough Creates ‘Baggie Happening'” by Janet Kutner (…that lady was busy!) (DMN, June 20, 1971)


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.