From the Editor
by Claire Ruud
2009 was a hell of a good year for seeing visual art in Austin. The year opened with a series of shows that brought us back to Austin’s DIY roots. At Arthouse, Matt Stokes delved into the archives of punk to produce these are the days, an exhibition of punk ephemera and a film installation capturing the ecstasy of the live punk performance. Meanwhile, Art Palace showed meticulously drafted and vibrantly painted canvases by seasoned Austinite Heyd Fontenot, whose playful and tenderly rendered nudes (many of them figures who have made up the backbone of Austin’s art world) hinted at the webs of relationships and private moments that hold our lives together. And of course, the Texas Biennial, a prime example of what Austin’s DIY culture can produce, brought us gems such as Lee Baxter Davis’s rich allegorical drawings and Kelly Fearing’s mystical mid-century paintings.
Granted, the fact that 2009 was a good year for seeing art in Austin does not mean it was an easy year for the city’s artists, galleries and museums. As we rang in the new year, The Austin Museum of Art dropped the bomb that it was, yet again, postponing construction on its new downtown building. In May, Fluent~Collaborative put its experimental exhibition space testsite on hiatus, and in December the commercial gallery Art Palace closed its doors to move to Houston.
If it wasn’t an easy year for anyone, a number of institutions weathered the storm with poise. While AMOA was downsizing, The Blanton Museum of Art made two stellar additions to its staff: Director Ned Rifkin and Manager of Public Programs Aimee Chang. So far, Rifkin has kept a low profile while he’s been taking in the lay of the land, but with these two rounding out the Blanton’s capable team, we can expect great things from the museum in the coming years. Likewise, Arthouse moved forward with an ambitious remodel and promoted its curator Elizabeth Dunbar to Associate Director. And if testsite went AWOL, other no-profit ventures such as Co-Lab and Okay Mountain maintained the frontlines with plentiful exhibition schedules. Finally, Lora Reynolds Gallery takes the cake for an outstanding year of programming; Practice Practice Practice, organized by Michael Smith and Jay Sanders and dominated by new video work, was hands down year’s best group exhibition in Austin.
Of course, there were letdowns, too. Despite its other successes, the Texas Biennial still hasn’t figured out how to organize a compelling group exhibition. At AMOA, Lordy Rodriguez’s solo show was disappointingly monotonous—a missed opportunity to create a dynamic relationship among his maps, the viewer and the exhibition space. And call me a puritan, but Tom Molloy’s solo show at Lora Reynolds (“lesbian” porn overlaid with war images) wasn’t clever, it was in bad taste.
However, overall Austin had a great year in art. Significantly, the tenor of critical discourse in Austin has shifted changed for the better, too. National coverage in Art in America, Art Lies and on artforum.com is part of this, as is Glasstire’s growing visibility on a national level. So is the hard work of a few critical writers—Katie Anania (artforum.com), Dan Boehl (…might be good), Salvador Castillo (‘Bout What I Sees), and Eric Zimmerman (Cablegram) heading up this list. Even more importantly, lately the DIY spirit I mentioned earlier has prevailed over a sense of exhaustion. Established projects like the Fusebox performance festival and the East Austin Studio Tour have continued their meteoric rise and new endeavors like the apartment gallery SOFA and the curatorial-team-on-a-bus Circulatory System have found their sea-legs. A few Austin-based artists can boast break-through moments this year, too: Nathan Green’s formal exploration in Polymict at Okay Mountain, Adam Schreiber’s photographic investigation of the archive at The Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, Jade Walker’s visceral installation Spectator Sport at AMOA, and Okay Mountain’s impressive collaboration on Corner Store at Pulse, Miami. Austin is alive and kicking.
Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.