DALLAS – A bit of Britain has arrived in Texas, thanks to English pop star George Michael and his Texan partner Kenny Goss.
The couple has begun displaying their collection of edgy, contemporary British art at their sleek gallery in the city's hip uptown area — just north of the skyscrapers that define the distinctive Dallas skyline.
"We want to expose the Dallas art community to work that they've quite potentially never seen if they weren't able to travel, these works that in some ways may be a little controversial for one thing, a little strong," Goss said. "But let's face it, art a lot of times is about sex, love, death, loss."
The Goss-Michael Foundation's gallery is showcasing works by Damien Hirst, including his "Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain" — a black calf encased in a formaldehyde solution, its body pierced with arrows.
"Most people initially freak a little bit about Sebastian, then they stare and stare at it and they say, 'That's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen,"' Goss said from the foundation's office on a bright spring day.
The show, curated by Hirst, also features "Bitterness," which at first looks like a textured canvas and then reveals itself to be composed of dead flies in resin. Another piece shows a dove caught in flight in a formaldehyde solution.
What began in 2005 as a gallery featuring art for sale morphed into the nonprofit foundation in June 2007.
With one of the foundation's goals being to help educate the public about art, Goss said he's been thrilled with the numbers of young people who come to the gallery.
"They sit in front of these pieces. They sketch it. They write about it. They think about their thoughts. I've come here before and I've seen four or five students just sitting on the floor writing," he said.
There is a library in the gallery open for researchers and plans for lecturers in the fall, said Joyce Goss, the foundation's executive director and Kenny Goss' sister-in-law. And plans are in the works for a British artist-in-residence program in Dallas.
The foundation will be awarding two $5,000 scholarships to students at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, one in Michael's name for music and one in Goss' name for art. There are also two more $5,000 scholarships offered, one for Dallas-Fort Worth area students, the other for students statewide.
The foundation's gallery has provided a good resource for students at Booker T., which is in walking distance of the gallery, said Cassie Edmondson, who teaches photography and drawing at the school. She said that the foundation's focus on current artists helps round out students' education.
"That's kind of what's cool about Goss-Michael Foundation. It's right now," she said.
The foundation is also sponsoring an art contest this spring for Dallas-Fort Worth area high school seniors with the theme of "Abstinence." The first-place winner receives a $1,000 savings bond.
"We're here for the community, not just to show our art," Kenny Goss said.
The work of Hirst — a kind of rock star of the art world — has brought everyone from art students to parents with their children.
"People love it. The first month of Damien's show, there was a line out the door," Goss said.
Goss and Michael, who have been together for about 12 years, split their time between homes in London and Dallas. When he's in London, Goss said he's constantly going to galleries and museums, keeping an eye out for new trends and art to buy. Over the years, his focus has been honed to works that fit into their collection.
"We are definitely collecting only museum-quality pieces at this point," he said.
"It works great for us. We live in Britain almost all the time. We have a house here. So we collect amazing art in Britain, bring it to Dallas and everybody gets to see it. It keeps us busy in both places."
The couple's focus spans from current artists to the so-called YBAs, or Young British Artists, an art movement that began forming in late 1980s featuring edgy pieces by artists such as Hirst.
"It was about kind of an unleashing of the emotions if you will of contemporary art," said Charles Wylie, a curator of contemporary art at the Dallas Museum of Art. "It was very intense."
The foundation's gallery is located only blocks away from the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center.
"It's nice to have a very focused space like that — a collection that is quite extensive and thorough," said Wylie.
Dallas art collector Howard Rachofsky said that the foundation adds to the scope of the Dallas art scene.
"Kenny and George have sort of filled that gap with representation of that work in Dallas," Rachofsky said.
The foundation's next show, set to open May 16, will be "Tim Noble and Sue Webster: Works From the Collection." The exhibit featuring work from the British pair will run through mid-September.