From the Editor
by Wendy Vogel
Two spectacular art events were slated to take place in Houston last week. The explosion on October 6 of Cai Guo-Qiang’s gunpowder drawing Odyssey, commissioned by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston for a hefty price tag, took place with a cast of over one hundred unpaid volunteers at an exclusive reception at a Houston warehouse (a video recap of the event is chronicled here). Across town, the performative climax of Mary Ellen Carroll’s project Prototype 180 was scheduled for that Friday, October 8. Carroll’s 180-degree rotation of an unoccupied mid-century house in Sharpstown is the centerpiece of a project ten years in the making that seeks to “make architecture perform.” The house will serve as an institute related to the project, which also includes prototypes for sustainable appliances, Carroll’s active participation in civic associations about land use policy and teaching stints in Rice’s architecture program.
Due to construction delays, the house rotation is being postponed. Nonetheless, the deferral and the dialogue surrounding these two Houston projects not only illuminate some of the key issues of not only the local art constellation, but also frame the questions included in this issue of …might be good.
According to Carroll’s statement on her website, Houston “self-selected itself” for a performative architectural work due to its liberal zoning policy and free enterprise market-friendly system—not to mention a history of support for publicly-sited works, due in no small part to the de Menils’ legacy. But unlike Cai Guo-Qiang’s highly visible project, a Texas-sized 42-panel drawing depicting bucolic landscapes like those found on traditional scrolls, Carroll’s public project does not traffic in easy legibility. Whereas Cai’s public lecture at Rice University on the project sponsored by the Chao Center for Asian Studies, entitled “Asian Culture in My Art,” was an opportunity for him to perform his humility and ethnic authenticity in a way that distanced him from an outright critique of spectacle and conspicuous consumption (conveniently, it included a VIP section for museum and university trustees), Carroll’s project confronts the legacy of public art and wastefulness head-on. Her gesture of rotating a house provokes skepticism from journalists and head-scratching from a general audience, but in so doing, it productively destabilizes the dichotomy that exists in Houston between the critical (coded as visually austere and exclusionary) and the community-based (coded as visually bombastic and intellectually accessible). This project’s embeddedness also affords us the opportunity to reconsider public art, its documents and legacy in a way that is truly performative—having consequences that extend into the future.
In this issue, our writers pose questions germane to Carroll’s project surrounding materiality and conceptual legacies. Barry Stone writes about the HRC’s symposium on constructing a history around (object-based) photography; I discuss Ruth van Beek’s playful interventions in the photographic archive; and Katie Anania explores Internet materiality on the silver screen and beyond the white cube. Allison Myers considers the critical impact of Interrupted Landscapes at Champion Contemporary and its place in the Austin arts landscape. Rachel Hooper applauds Sarah Oppenheimer’s architectural installation at Rice Gallery, and Jennie Lamensdorf offers her first of three installments of “The Third Site of Land Art” in our Artist’s Space. This critical reconsideration of the state of land art monuments extends to a conversation about Prototype 180’s monumental gesture in the suburban landscape, indebted as much to Gordon Matta-Clark as the earthworks artists.
Keep this dialogue in mind and check back next week for an interview by Lauren Hamer with Anna Craycroft on her Work/Space project at the Blanton. And in two weeks, look forward to our next issue devoted to Arthouse, which reopens on October 24 with a suite of exhibitions in a spectacular new building indebted to rethinking anarchitecture.
EDITOR'S NOTE: We regret that Allison Myers' review on Interrupted Landscapes at Champion Contemporary was initially run with fact-checking errors. Sonia Dutton has worked and continues to work as a curatorial advisor for the Artist Pension Trust. The exhibition at Champion Contemporary contains a video (Ben Green's I Know Where I'm Going, 2009) and two sculptural works (Anthony Sonnenberg, Beauty is not Benign (Excerpt), 2009 and Rosario López Parra, Piedras, 2005). The corrected version can be accessed here.
Wendy Vogel is Editor of ...might be good.