# 53, September 9, 2005 Austin, TX
Vacant Building to Public Geometry
Place Like Home: 2 Views on Gallery 3's
Resonance from the Past: African Art at SAMA
Optical Anxieties, Art21, y Más!
Vacant Building to Public Geometry
On view now
You can’t drive along I-35 in downtown San Antonio anymore without
noticing the side of the old Lack’s building on the corner of San
Pedro and Quincy. Bright, with multicolored shapes like the Colorforms
we used to play with as kids, the vacant building has been transformed
into a support for bankrupt industrial symbols. (Click
here for image detail). Anton Vidokle used his summer
Artpace exhibition, Optica, to complete the third installment
of a project series he has been working on for 4 or 5 years. Working in
a similar fashion, Vidokle can now check another piece in a series off
his list with Public Geometry, an extension of his Popular
Geometries. Although he had previously attempted to create this wall
piece in Brussels, the city began tearing up the street the same day his
work was to start, effectively shutting down his operation. In San Antonio,
the artist saw his idea completed at the end of August with support by
Artpace, as well as the American Payroll Association, who offered up their
now-vacant building into perpetuity (or at least until the building sells
or gets rented.)
Vidokle believes that public art, like his Popular Geometries
series, is important for creating shared experiences. The easy, decorative
nature of this most recent piece contributes to its status as part of
a popular movement. Vidokle, who came to America from Russia when he was
15, revives elements of Russian Constructivism in his work. He pulls from
this movement as if its history contained remnants of failed utopia. His
interest lies in that brief moment when geometric abstraction was the
voice of the people, and when art was connected to science, engineering,
efficiency, and internationalism.
Today, geometric abstraction is most often seen by the "common man"
in private sector logos and brand symbols. Vidokle strives to capture
this paradox on his newest billboard-sized creation. He takes the stripped
down brandings from Eastern European and Latin American corporations who
couldn’t compete on the world market, and uses them to create a
two-dimensional bouquet of solid-color shapes designed to be pleasing
to the eye. Many of them resemble El Lissitsky’s
abstractions or Naum Gabo’s translucent string
sculptures, but at first glance they are clearly elements of industrial
sign language. In Latin America, where Vidokle says modernism was strongly
embraced in the 1930s, symbols tend towards interlocking forms and visual
tricks from Gestalt psychology—like the three diamonds that make
up a two-dimensional rendering of a cube, these abstract forms resist
While former Austinite, Mikey Reyes, filmed the "installation"
process for a documentary, Vidokle directed assistants on the scissor
lift from an air-conditioned minivan. This account recalled stories of
Henri Matisse directing assistants from his recuperation
bed in the 1940s. Matisse’s experimentation with colored cut-outs
led to his highly-regarded Jazz, which happens to be on view
right now at the McNay. Like Public Geometry, Jazz plays
with formal elements like composition and color. Now, in such close proximity,
the two works make a formidable duo in San Antonio.
131 San Pedro Ave.
San Antonio, TX 78205
Place Like Home: Two Views on Gallery 3's First Show
view through October 1
With last week's unforeseeable trauma fresh in our minds, an exhibition
focusing on the stability of home is all too apt, and, in a bizarre and
equally unforeseeable way, comforting. As our neighbors from Louisiana
arrive shell-shocked and stumbling into shelters and safety-nets in Texas,
some trailing clothing, photo-albums, family heirlooms, and some with
nothing at all, the psychic qualities of “home” are very much
in the public mind. Similarly, in the aftermath of a natural disaster
which permanently altered both architecture and geography, the physical
qualities of home, which often seem inviolable, have been shown to be
unstable as well.
The works in No Place Like Home illuminate disquietude with the
concept of home in distinctly different ways. While the four-artist show
seems to fragment at times due to the proximity of four vastly different
styles, their combination under the banner of “home” (or no
place like it) gives the viewer an opportunity to consider this seemingly
straightforward theme from vantages that are refreshingly askance.
In Ali Fitzgerald’s mural-size, hallucinogenic
contribution to the exhibition, history, geography, and personality crowd
the swirling canvas. Fitzgerald’s style speaks to the layering of
memory, myth, and tall-tales across the West. Covered wagons drop to the
background, nodding to modern 18-wheeler pioneers, and wanderers from
our day head straight for the brassy cowgirl of yore at the painting’s
center. Fitzgerald deftly accents the bluebonnet in the bottom right of
her canvas, punctuating the mono-chromatic composition with the signature
of Texas, as it was, is, and will be. Using a markedly different vocabulary,
Erick Michaud attacks his subject with a camcorder, focusing
on the stasis of the physical, despite the fact that his neighborhood
is rapidly evaporating. His town has headed for better jobs and increased
opportunity in larger communities, while Michaud, it seems, has arrived
only in time to record their wake.
Works by Dave Woody and Jared Steffensen
appear serene in comparison to the aforementioned frantic layering of
history and emotional confrontation. Woody’s images of Austin residents
have a photojournalistic quality evocative of images made by WPA artists.
His subjects include a young Hispanic boxer tight-lipped and emotionless
after a fight, and a laborer, shoulders slightly bowed and eyes full of
resignation. They appear foreign and timeless, holding their own personal
histories close to their chests, inserting mystery into the Austin community
we thought we knew. Steffensen’s fabric and cloth constructions,
on the other hand, offer the most overt narrative of displacement in the
exhibition. With portable cloth mountains and felt trees on rolling platforms,
the artist implies not only that we can reconstruct place as easily as
we construct clothing, but that it is the traveler’s choice (and
burden) to drag places from the past along with him.
By blind luck
(or so it seems) the School of Architecture’s Solar Decathlon house
model occupies Gallery 3 as well. This scale model, accompanied with glossy
site elevations and slick posters, represents our best-laid plans for
a stable, sustainable, impermeable homestead. Inadvertently thrown into
relief by its closeness to the Solar Decathlon, No Place Like Home
seems to be the emotional response to the engineered ideal: it communicates
a belief that homes cannot be blueprinted, but must be created in the
process of living.
"The Secret of the Ruby Slippers"
Thoughts on No Place Like Home by curator Amanda Douberley
Where is home? Is it the place you live, the town where you were born,
or the house you grew up in? How does a new environment become home, or
at least like home? Is home even a place at all, or is it no place, more
a memory or illusion than an actual location? We typically think of home
as a stable place, fixed in one location, embedded in our everyday lives
as a source of comfort and ease. Being at home is a physical state as
well as a psychological condition, however, and just as where you’re
living now may not feel quite like home, where you’re from may eventually
end up being a place you can only visit in your memories. These competing
interpretations of home are examined in No Place Like Home through
paintings, photographs, sculptures, and videos inspired by the places
where these artists live and work.
The physical passage from one place to another, from home to “where
I’m living now,” (to use Dave Hickey's term) leaves us psychologically
homeless, at least until the latter becomes home. For some artists in
the exhibition, this transition drives work that reflects their efforts
to make a home in Texas. David Woody and Ali
Fitzgerald take opposite approaches; while Fitzgerald explores
Wild Western stereotypes, reveling in cowgirls, cacti and cowpokes, Woody
focuses his large-format camera on the individuals he encounters in his
wanderings around Austin and beyond.
Other artists in the exhibition look back on the places they consider
home, inspired by a sense of longing for the things they have left behind.
Jared Steffensen’s recent sculptures are born out
of homesickness, nostalgia, and reverie. Based on elements of the Salt
Lake City landscape that he left two years ago for Austin, these portable,
often wearable sculptures literalize the idea that we carry our past around
with us—or at least that we wish we could.
In the video Garage Sale, Erick Michaud addresses
another widespread experience: his hometown is slowly disappearing. This
summer Michaud returned to Madawaska, Maine to find the town dotted with
“For Sale” signs. He spent four hours walking up and down
the streets of his old neighborhood and nearby downtown, surveying the
impact of recent layoffs at the local paper mill. The relentless repetition
of signs on the video loop reflects Michaud’s mounting anxiety as
he trudges past favorite hangouts and childhood haunts, all soon to be
vacant or already abandoned. His frustration lies not only in the thought
that some day he may not have much of a town to return to, but also in
the loss of a way of life as factories across the United States continue
to be outfitted with machines that take the place of workers.
For the artists in No Place Like Home, home is in a state of
constant flux, characterized more by instability than permanence, constantly
recreated and reformulated as much by global economics as individuals’
decisions to leave town and start again some place else. As Salman
Rushdie writes in an essay on The Wizard of Oz, “…the
truth is that once we have left our childhood places and started out to
make up our lives, armed only with what we have and are, we understand
that the real secret of the ruby slippers is not that ‘there’s
no place like home,’ but rather that there is no longer any such
place as home: except, of course, for the home we make, or the homes that
are made for us, in Oz: which is anywhere, and everywhere, except the
place from which we began.”
3 at the Co-op
2246 Guadalupe, Third Floor
Austin, TX 78705
from the Past: African Art at SAMA
Exhibition in the Cowden Gallery
On view through October 2
Resonance from the Past sets a portion of the New Orleans Museum
of Art’s collection of Sub-Saharan African sculpture on a summer
road trip. As it appears now at the San Antonio Museum of Art, the well
organized texts and objects give viewers a cultural tour of Africa and
a sampling of its diverse styles, rites, and traditions. With Africa so
often portrayed by the media as a monolith, it is important to realize
that this immense continent is a tapestry of different cultures.
For example, objects by the Asante and Fante are naturalistic. In
contrast, Dogon artists expressed qualities through abstraction and simplified
forms particularly heavy with symbolism. The
Baule stopped making wooden doors by the mid-1960s, but a single example
at SAMA depicts the cannibalistic act of one fish devouring another.
The three-dimensional works from NOMA begin to challenge our definition
of art as a separate category of cultural discourse. These wares are for
everyday use and ceremony—masks, bowls, utensils—and rather
than being commodities for sale, they display merit. In the Dan section
of objects, “Perfect Women” possess carved wooden ladles that
are ordained by the Supreme Being to be the female counterpart to men’s
masks. The surfaces of both kinds of objects are burnished and beautiful.
Interestingly, one of the masks includes forehead scarification thought
to relieve migraine headaches.
Many of the objects are political. An adze from the Democratic Republic
of Congo gives the chief the power to speak with authority. An iron blade
juts out of the mouth of a carved head as its lowered eyes contemplate
the strange protrusion. Meanwhile, a reptile climbs the adze’s shaft,
alluding to the speaker’s supernatural powers. Meanwhile, the Wé
peoples of Côte d’Ivoire have masks with a very appealing
purpose—they are worn by members of a secret association to call
an end to unstoppable wars and political disputes. This notion of “art”
ending war is phenomenal.
A dance costume looms over the viewer from its pedestal in the middle
of an aisle, masked and full skirted, a collage of soft, textured material
and beadwork. Egungun is the spirit of the dead that returns to dance
among, and judge, the living. When the wearer spins, he sets “spirit
in motion.” The Yoruba peoples passed this tradition into the African
Diaspora, including traditional cultures of Brazil, Cuba, Barbados, and
the United States.
Amazing beadwork is also part of the royal tradition in the Cameroon grasslands.
Smoothly decorated, colorful masks and accessories contrast with a frightful
monkey mask used to combat witches. African art is often assumed to appear
frightening, possibly because the items that are meant to instill fear
are so well executed, they are unforgettable. A reliquary figure from
the Sango peoples is so unsightly and dangerous, for instance, it is kept
in the darkest corner and only the initiated can look at it.
There is just as much beauty in these works, though. An Mboko Bowl Bearer,
a carving of a male figure holding an open vessel, is a traditional genre
of Luba peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These figures hold
the finest goods in the house, such as beads and chalk. Chalk, in their
culture, is “surrogate moonlight”, symbolizing benevolence
and peace. When visitors come, they pull out some white chalk and rub
it on their arms and chest out of respect.
Concepts such as these weave a spell throughout the exhibition, which
at first is almost depressing with its low light levels. Culturally, there
is a lot to take away from this show, and of course Westerners have been
taking the physical forms back to their studios since the age of imperialism.
This exhibition brings out distinctive nuanced style, so even if you’ve
seen your share of African art, you haven’t seen everything yet.
Antonio Museum of Art
200 West Jones Avenue
San Antonio, Texas 78215
1. Pilson Talks Shop: Hudson (Show)room artist and visiting
professor at Bard College, John Pilson, will speak at
Artpace on the evening of Thursday, September 22. His talk, entitled “Disappearer:
Optical Anxieties Before and After Photoshop,” will begin at 6:30
2. NPR Senior Correspondent Ketzel Levine Speaks at Blue Star:
In conjunction with Blue Star Contemporary Art Center’s exhibition,
In Response to Place: Photograph’s from The Nature Conservancy’s
Last Great Places, NPR senior correspondent Ketzel Levine
will speak about experiencing pristine natural places. Levine’s
talk will run from 6-9 PM on September 9. Attendance is free, but call
1.800.622.9877 to reserve a seat.
3. Art21: Stay tuned to PBS for the third season of Art21.
The close of each episode this season will feature a short piece by University
of Texas at Austin professor of art Teresa Hubbard and
her partner Alexander Birchler. The four-part Art21 series
will be structured around the themes: Power, Memory, Structures and Play.
It will air on Friday nights starting September 16 and running consecutively
through October 7.
4. Poetry on the Plaza: On September 28 and 30, actors
from the London Stage will recite poetry in the Harry Ransom Center’s
Prothro Theater. Poetry begins at noon, and following the recitation listeners
can attend the HRC’s exhibition of Ansel Adams
photography, Ansel Adams: A Legacy.
5. Chalk it Up! Artpace is seeking volunteers for its
annual chalk-art festival, Chalk it Up! The outdoor event will take place
on Saturday, September 24. Volunteers are needed for four three-hour-long
shifts throughout the day. The first shift starts at 7:30 AM and the last
shift ends at 6:00 PM. Call 210.212.4900 to volunteer, and please respond
by September 14.
6. Loads of Openings this Weekend: If you’re out
and about in Austin this weekend, make a point to look at some of the
city’s newly-opened exhibitions: Lora Reynold’s Gallery (opened
Thursday), Fielding Lecht Gallery (Friday), Creative Research Laboratory
(Friday), Arthouse (Saturday). Look for reviews of these exhibitions in
the next issue of …might be good.
Courtesy of Arthouse. Robyn O'Neil, "As darkness
falls on this heartless land, my brother holds tight my feeble hand,"
Graphite on Paper. 90.5 in. x 166 in.
See this piece and works by Ludwig Schwarz, Eileen
Maxson, and Robert A. Pruitt at Arthouse starting
as they compete for the Texas
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