Artists adapt their work to the “Bottomland” terrain of Sweet Pass Sculpture Park

It felt like summer already on a clear, cloudless day in early June as I crossed the formidable span of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. Across West Dallas, beyond downtown in the Trinity Groves development, was my destination: Sweet Pass Sculpture Park.

This neighborhood has been welcoming new restaurants and apartments for several years, and gentrification is in full swing. As I passed between a row of new buildings and a cascade of construction sites, the street began to reveal a hidden wooded area, invisible from the main road.

An open doorway framed by trees opened into a sort of secret garden – brimming with nature, shade, plants and vines – that Sweet Pass Sculpture Park calls home.

The park is actually a non-profit arts organization founded in 2018 by artists Tamara Johnson and Trey Burns with the aim of showcasing large-scale outdoor works of contemporary sculpture executed by artists from diverse backgrounds.

Emily Lee’s “Four Floods and Drawing for a City Public” features a column with a disk at the top, representing a sundial that illuminates several small ceramic pieces buried in the surrounding ground throughout the day.(Nan Coulter / Special Contributor)

Here, projects are temporary achievements. In the case of the current “Bottomland: A Site Sensitive Exhibition,” six artists were chosen to create sculptures that respond to the terrain and history of the area, hence the “sensitive site” in its name. .

Not just a fast track to a final installation, it was a year of preparation that began with a two-week conversation in which all attendees discussed the Texas Blackland Prairie, where Dallas is located.

As the site and driver of the sculptures the artists would create, they considered it to be “the most threatened large ecosystem in North America”; less than 1% remains in light of how construction in Dallas has altered the region.

A diverse array of responses to the site collides with the history of the built environment and the cultural history of Dallas.

For example, upon entering the park, you might notice something that looks like one of those ubiquitous portable toilets around town. Spread throughout the installation, Isaac Dunne’s 3 small jars, structures crafted entirely in blue that engage with the history of Dallas and the area. From the outside they all look the same, but inside there are details that refer to specific places.

One is titled Sixth Floor Museum; it is adorned inside with details taken from Philip Johnson’s Kennedy Memorial. Another one, Dallas club, features a bathroom in a gay cowboy bar. The third, Frankford Churchpoints out the Frankford Preservation site in North Dallas.

An amazing cedar sculpture by Emily Lee, Four Floods and Drawing for a City Audienceforms a kind of column surmounted by a disc, representing a sundial which illuminates several small ceramic pieces buried in the surrounding ground throughout the day.

For a dose of archaeology, climb down a ladder in the Hélène Schlumberger museum The hole: a drama. Around 6 feet deep, this intervention recalls the earthworks of the 1970s, but here the artist identifies the passages with text.

Visitors can go down a ladder in Hélène Schlumberger's house "The hole: a drama."
Visitors can climb down a ladder in “The Hole: A Drama” by Hélène Schlumberger.(Nan Coulter / Special Contributor)

An arch indicates “Approach”, while a map legend on a table describes the whole sequence. There’s even a fake historical marker that looks authentic from a distance, an ironic proposition that perhaps suggests the need for a real one to commemorate Blackland Prairie.

Nearby, on a neighboring property, is a house with a video inside that explains the details of the park as well as the energetic multi-channel video play Big Tex burns by Brook-Lynne Clark. Outside, the house is reinterpreted by a hollow geometric structure made of two-by-four greens, some sections filled with soil from the area. Title Down house, Panicum virgatumthis minimalist sculpture by Nathalie Alfonso combines an element of the site built in the past with a contemporary aesthetic.

No outdoor park is complete without a water feature, and Coffee beans by Colombian artist Susana Oliveros Amaya features a bold and intricate arrangement of components complete with a reference to Southfork Ranch from the dallas TV series.

This exhibition as a whole, along with the six artists chosen to participate in it, grew out of an experimental inaugural program that the founders named the Sweet Pass School of Sculpture. Their quite didactic research and related materials are available on the site, giving visitors a choice of how deep they might choose to delve into this fascinating project.

So far, this young organization is off to a good start, with the hope of a long life within our artistic community.


“Bottomland: A Site-Adapted Exhibit” continues through September 24 at Sweet Pass Sculpture Park, 402 Fabrication St., Dallas. Free. For hours of operation, visit, email, or search for the park’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

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