20 years on, Marfa’s exhibitions 2d remains a home for gallerist and artists

Dennis Dickinson on the porch of exhibitions 2d. Photo by Martha Hughes.

MARFA — Twenty years ago, Dennis Dickinson, founder of exhibitions 2d, moved to Marfa and opened the doors to his dream gallery. 

He had served in the Navy, designed sets for television commercials in Los Angeles, and worked in galleries in Santa Fe as an art handler and packer, or, as he jokes, as the “director of spackle.” Then it came time to move, and Dickinson set his sights on the arts “mecca” that is Marfa.

“Dennis Dickinson visited Marfa 18 months ago and his life changed course,” reads a 2003 edition of The Big Bend Sentinel that profiled the start-up gallerist.

A 1985 architectural model of Dickinson’s fantasy gallery. Photo courtesy of Dennis. Dickinson.

After years spent executing others’ visions, it was time to execute his own: to set up a gallery where he could act as a conduit between artists whose work he championed and considerate collectors.

“I want art that has depth and is made by people who have something to say,” said Dickinson. “I want it to be for people who buy art for themselves, don’t want it to necessarily match the sofa, and want to spend time looking at what they buy.”

The art purveyor was one of few in town at the time, and remains among the longest-standing commercial galleries to set up shop in the remote enclave. 

exhibitions 2d — after his initials — is a physical manifestation of that core philosophy. The high-ceilinged, white and gray-hued house once served as a local ranching family’s Sunday home. Its sunlit rooms are now populated by reductive, geometric art. It’s minimal, yet domestic; carefully curated, yet warm. (It is also Dickinson’s home — he lives out of the back of the gallery).

Works by Gloria Graham and John Robert Craft. Photo courtesy of Dennis Dickinson.

“He’s created this environment — I don’t want to say it’s like a library or a meditation hall, but it’s something in between,” said Susan York, an artist Dickinson has worked with since the inception of 2d. 

Stylish and sleek chairs and end tables, including Wassily Chairs designed by Marcel Breuer, dot the space, inviting visitors to get lost in the artworks, as Dickinson often does. “I’m the guy that wants to sit in a chair and look at the piece,” he says laughing. 

Dickinson represents 2d’s distilled aesthetic in what he drives, a 2019 Camaro SS 1Le — upgraded with the track performance package, and outfitted with a custom license plate reading MINMAL — and what he wears. A local fixture about town, he can often be seen in oversized black frames, a boxy white dress shirt, crisp dark jeans and designer shoes — on one recent occasion, knit Balenciaga “Speed” sneakers. But he doesn’t take himself, or life, too seriously. He’s quick to cut a joke — at one point, during an interview with The Big Bend Sentinel, he ducks out of the room to cough and quips “getting old is a bitch” upon his return. 

Dennis Dickinson, founder of exhibitions 2d, has withstood the test of time, having opened his fantasy gallery in Marfa 20 years ago. Photo by Mary Cantrell.

“You think he’s gonna be this super zen, minimal, everything calm kind of guy but he’s actually a little bit of a raconteur in his own way,” said William Jess Laird, a New York-based photographer who grew up going to 2d. “The white Camaro with the MINMAL license plate, the Supreme. He has a little bit of a punk element as well.” 

When Laird was just a kid, around 11-years-old, he was really into skateboarding and Dickinson allowed him to ride one of the limited edition artists’ decks he had on display around in the gallery. “If you think about how he treats that space, I cannot believe he was cool with that,” said Laird. 

That convivial nature has allowed Dickinson to maintain loyal collectors. He’s also exhibited the same cast of artists, around 10 individuals, for the past 20 years. The “newest,” and only Marfa local, painter Laszlo Thorsen-Nagel, started showing work at the gallery 10 years ago. 

In one room, cast iron sculptures by John Robert Craft, a self-described “cowboy artist that doesn’t make cowboy art,” who is known to transport works on his F250 flatbed truck, accompany paintings by Gloria Graham, scientific ruminations inspired by molecular patterns. 

Solid graphite blocks of varying sizes, made by York, are hung in another room. Dickinson said he hopes the works he curates encourage a close look, contemplation, and ultimately, a connection — between the artist and the viewer, but also between viewers who feel similarly about the work.

Sculptures by Susan York at exhibitions 2d. Photo courtesy of Dennis Dickinson.

“We live in a culture of display, and that is the way we express ourselves,” said Dickinson. “We think, ‘That person’s seeing the same vision of the world that I’m seeing.’”

Those sentiments are felt by the artists he represents, said York, who speaks to Dickinson often multiple times a week on the phone, to discuss new work, how it looks in the space at 2d and collectors’ reactions. She said his attentiveness to each artist’s work, quick payouts — he snaps and sends videos of him putting checks in the mail — and regular feedback make him an atypical gallerist. 

“With a lot of galleries, you don’t ever hear any of that, it’s a little bit more distant,” said York. “He engages us in a way where we feel that we’re [more] a part of the gallery.” 

Laird said many of the artists 2d represents are outside of the bicoastal art conversation, operating in their own unique orbits. He said 2d has come to represent a singular vision most galleries strive for.  

“The [iconic galleries] come to represent an idea, and I think, even if it’s on a smaller scale, Dennis has really championed a very specific vein in art-making today that is really valuable, and it’s only going to get more valuable through time,” said Laird. 

Paintings by Laszlo Thorsen Nagel at exhibitions 2d. Photo courtesy of Dennis Dickinson.

Dickinson has witnessed Marfa change over the past 20 years from his minimal art dojo. Some changes were good, like when internationally-known painter Charlene Von Heyl set up her studio next door, causing their shared dumpster to begin smelling like paint and turpentine, reminding Dickinson of an artists’ presence. Some changes were bad, like when Carmen’s Cafe, where he used to witness local characters like the late Brit Webb having a coffee and a donut in the same space as then-Chinati Director Marianne Stockebrand, closed for the last time. 

He used to leave the gallery door unlocked. Now, he tends to operate by appointment only, mostly due to the fact that tourists visiting Marfa are more prone to seeing it as an “Instagram heaven” than an arts pilgrimage, he said. 

exhibition 2d’s artists will soon host a celebratory dinner for Dickinson, where they will each contribute a dish in his honor. 

exhibitions 2d, located at 400 S. Highland, will be open during Chinati Weekend Friday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.