A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, a short-lived but influential Austin art gallery opened by Dave Hickey in 1967, helped to launch the careers of a group of Texas artists who became prominent in the 1970s and 1980s. The gallery expanded on the legacy of Jermayne and Douglas MacAgy and James Johnson Sweeney, who introduced much contemporary art to the state through their directorships of Dallas and Houston museums in the early and mid-sixties. Hickey's gallery established a niche for unconventional contemporary art by young Texas artists that was further developed by Henry Hopkins, director of the Fort Worth Art Museum (now the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth) from 1969 to 1974, gallery owners Janie C. Lee and Murray Smither of Dallas, and Fredericka Hunter of Houston.
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place was named after a short story by Ernest Hemingway. Hickey and his wife Mary Jane borrowed $10,000 and converted the downstairs portion of an old home at 2300 Rio Grande in Austin into an exhibition space. The gallery opened with a show of Jim Franklin's work. Franklin was a cartoonist who, with Glenn Whitehead, depicted the armadillo as antihero, in whose honor the Armadillo World Headquarters was named. Despite the gallery's links with the armadillo and other standard-bearers in what Hickey called "the great Texas tradition of weird enterprises," it remained distinct from Austin's counterculture by advocating a pop sensibility reminiscent of Andy Warhol's Factory studio in New York City.
Hickey perceived his role as that of a coach. He encouraged his artists to "do their own thing" while avoiding, if possible, the trap of using strictly Texas imagery. He promoted A Clean, Well-Lighted Place as a "pilot" gallery dedicated to showing the work of young artists, and it did, in fact, help to establish the careers of such artists as Barry Buxkamper, whose paintings, drawings, and sculptures used docile cows as their principal subject matter. Other artists closely associated with A Clean, Well-Lighted Place were George Green, whose green linoleum tile-coated wooden sculptures celebrate institutions such as the rodeo, Buicks, and Elvis Presley; Mel Casas, who combines images and words in paintings that address racism and other issues; and Luis Jiménez, who casts cars, motorcycles, vaqueros, and other cultural images in larger-than-life fiberglass sculptures. Hickey also exhibited the works of Jim Roche, a sculptor and painter who made potted ceramic "mama" plants with breasts, and works from Terry Allen's Juárez series, a collection of songs, drawings, and prints that chronicled the travels of two couples throughout the Southwest. Peter Plagens, Bobbie Moore, June Robinson, Earl Staley, Jack Boynton, Juergan Strunck, Vera Simons, and Willard Midgett also exhibited at A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.
In 1969 the Hickeys moved their gallery to a more spacious location at 600 West Twelfth, where they organized a series of successful exhibitions such as Six Sculptures by Six Artists (1970), which, in addition to the work of Roche and Green, displayed Harry Geffert's light sculptures, minimalist pieces by Scott Grieger, Jim Schinder's hanging tapestries of "found objects," and Haydn Larson's painted assemblages of scrap metal and farm tools. Old-Fashioned Painting (1970), which presented the work of abstract painters Stephen Mueller, Richard Mock, and Warren Davis, anticipated the 1980s revival of Expressionism by a decade.
Perhaps Hickey's most successful exhibition was South Texas Sweet Funk (1970), which featured many of the artists associated with A Clean, Well-Lighted Place and was held at St. Edward's University in Austin. The exhibition included the cadre of underground comic-book artists, among whom were Jim Franklin, Gilbert Shelton, and Steve Gosnell; sculptors George Green, Luis Jiménez, Jim Roche, and Robert Wade; Bobbie Moore, whose delicate drawings in colored pencil recast the suburban mothers of 1940s children's books in a sexual context, and many other artists. This exhibition crystallized the perception of these artists as a group, now defined by the name "Texas funk," that simultaneously attracted attention and confined the artists within a somewhat limiting regional categorization.
In September 1971 the Hickeys moved to New York City, where Dave ran a gallery and published critical articles on art and gallery reviews. A Clean, Well-Lighted Place closed several months after they left. As a critic and executive editor for Art in America, Hickey continued to write about Texas and to attract national attention to the artists working there. Jim Roche, George Green, Robert Wade, Jack Mims, and others established an artists' colony in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas that continued to feed the "Texas funk" mythos spawned by "South Texas Sweet Funk." Many of the artists whose work had been shown at Hickey's gallery and whose critical reputation continued to flourish, however, developed other forms.