From the Editor
by Claire Ruud
In the face of adversity, Austin artists and art institutions—from the most DIY to the most established—are rallying. We’re envisioning coalitions, alternative economies and creative synergies that might transform the worst of time into the best of times.
These tough times call for even tougher conversations. (As if the financial crisis isn’t already hard enough to stomach.) Like Obama’s administration, we have to look for programs that aren’t working and radically re-envision them. Rather than replicate the same old models, Austin’s art institutions need to pool their resources, each one focusing on what it could potentially do best.
At testsite, we’re looking at a host of new projects for the Fall taking advantage of Austin’s preexisting strengths: a participant-led seminar program, a new video works series and an apartment gallery project. By scaling back the number of exhibitions we host every year, we plan to redirect our resources toward creating spaces thoughtful conversation and community. Nothing’s firmed up yet, but we’re working on it.
Major changes are necessary at Austin’s largest institutions, too. First up, the Austin Museum of Art. It’s widely agreed that the downtown space, with its drab, office-lobby galleries, is depressing. Money has been poured into three costly attempts to rectify this situation with a new building. We can’t afford to continue this pattern. AMoA’s greatest strength is its beautiful campus at Laguna Gloria. AMoA should abandon its attempts to revive its downtown space and focus its attention there. Exhibition space is limited there, but the site has a rich history. Given these things, AMoA should consider becoming a non-collecting institution supporting site-specific installations by contemporary artists, or even better, artist residencies.
AMoA’s other big contribution to the community over the past decade has been its New Art in Austin triennial. The resources AMoA puts into this exhibition could be productively put toward supporting the Texas Biennial; there’s no need for two regional -ennials in this town. The Biennial, meanwhile, needs to continue moving away from the juried group show and towards the curated, city-wide exhibition. The entry fee artists pay to submit work to the Biennial creates a bias toward the amateur; most mid-career and established artists won’t consider participating. And the Biennial’s crowded salon-style hang doesn’t flatter the work.
Meanwhile, The Blanton provides an outstanding collecting institution for a mid-sized city like Austin. The largest university museum in the United States, it boasts solid collections in American & Contemporary Art, Latin American Art and Prints and Drawings. Generally conservative in its taste and collecting with education in mind, it provides a solid art historical base for the community. Latin American Art, where the museum has traditionally been the most adventurous, should continue to be its top priority.
Arthouse, then, is becoming the primary venue for international contemporary art, with a bias toward Europeans. A residency program is in the works there already. If AMoA started a national residency program, Arthouse could focus primarily on bringing international artists to town. Arthouse could also eliminate its New American Talent, contributing those funds, its exhibition space and its connections to making the Texas Biennial an event worthy of national attention.
Other productive reorganizations are possible as well. For example, E.A.S.T. and Art Week Austin might consolidate. Galleries might mount more video and performance exhibitions in conjunction with the Fuse Box Festival. East side organizations—Art Palace, Big Medium, Co-Lab, Okay Mountain, the Pump Project—might coordinate occasional Saturday bicycle tours of their spaces. In short, there are tons of opportunities for synergy. Now, at our most exhausted, we have to push the hardest.
Claire Ruud is Editor of ...might be good and Associate Coordinator of testsite.