Devon Dikeou, Insider, Aims to Re-Democratize Jazz History

Devon Dikeou began her art career in the basement of Tibor de Nagy Gallery. She was sent down, as John Post Lee’s intern, to organize old issues of Artforum magazine. Flipping through one, she was struck by a six-page spread of the work of Lucas Samaras. The first spread featured a full-color painting of a skeleton with the word “Artist,” the second  a black -and- white image of the skull with the word “Dealer,” and the third zoomed in on the skull’s teeth, with the word “Collector.” At least that’s how she recalls it. Years later she found a copy of the same issue and realized that it was not “Artist”, but “Critic” that was the word  on Samaras’s work.

Since then, Dikeou’s art and life, have concentrated on exploring the complicated and complicit roles between artists, dealers, critics, collectors, viewers and the spaces they occupy. Dikeou may be an insider – she’s the editor/publisher of Zing Magazine, an artist, an independent curator, critic and collector – but she’s one insider who has made that status a subject of her ongoing interrogation of that system.

At Artpace in San Antonio, guest curator Heather Pesanti features Dikeou in IAIR 11.1. Dikeou titled her exhibition “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” – after the Willie Nelson song – because she construes the “hard, American lifestyle of the legendary cowboy” as an apt metaphor for artists, or for  jazz musicians – who are her subject here.

Dikeou’s installation features 56 color photographs of brass nameplates of jazz musicians that she took at a boutique hotel in Argentina, dedicated to telling a “history” of jazz. Mounted on wood panels, each  8”x10” photograph becomes part of a haphazardly hung row. The omissions struck her just as hard as who was included. To that end her exhibit includes a 17 by 12 foot photo-mural featuring the name Sonny Simmons.

Who is Simmons? And why is his name so much larger than the others? Precisely the point, indicates Dikeou.

“Somebody had curated this hotel of all the jazz musicians they respect. Many (names) were missing. I created a plaque for Sonny because he was the one I thought of. He’s 80 years old and he had this great jazz project he wanted to do for Zing magazine: Sonny Simmons plays the tunes of Charlie Parker, but we had already used our budget.”

Dikeou explained that she showed Simmons the images of the jazz names she photographed – leading him to tell her his “astounding” stories about his peers, anecdotally. “After I was selected  to be part of 11.1, this just made the most sense. The idea …  that I’m curating Sonny back into the history of jazz.” Dikeou also produced a Sonny Simmons jazz CD that is given away free to visitors. The voice of Simmons talking about each of the jazz greats is audible throughout the show.

To reflect her interest in how social media is changing the art world, Dikeou and Art Pace have included a Wikipedia page for the exhibit. It lists all 56 jazz legends and links to 54 Wikipedia pages.

“Some people don’t realize they are trying to be part of the art world,” Dikeou said. “But social media is converging the differences. On Facebook, a young artist can be a friend of Jerry Saltz and have a conversation with him, whereas when I was first starting out, that would only happen if you were lucky. What’s most unique about the art world is that it was about an invitation and making sure those barriers are in place, but social media has destroyed those barriers.”

Perhaps not entirely, but they are crumbling.


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