Issue #174
The Times They Are A-Changin' (Again) September 16, 2011

Kara Hearn
TREMENDOUS (film still)
Interactive performance/ installation at Recess Activities Inc. & video (trt: 1 hr 14 min)

From the Editor

Lately Austin’s art community has been getting chummy with transition. Major changes, that within the next few years will dramatically change the face of Austin’s visual art scene, have been unfurling at a rapid pace. Amidst some turmoil, Sue Graze, at the helm of Arthouse for the last twelve years, announced last week that she would be stepping into an advisory role as Director Emeritus beginning October 14. We can only speculate, but it’s likely that her successor will oversee the future arts conglomerate created by the merger of Arthouse and the Austin Museum of Art, whose long-time director Dana Friis-Hansen also recently vacated Austin to become the Director and CEO of The Grand Rapids Art Museum. 

Not immune from the flux bug, Houston was also met with news of departure from one of its most venerable institution’s directors. Diane Barber, Co-Director and at the wheel of Diversework’s visual art offerings for the past fourteen years, announced last week that she too would be moving on. Barber’s position will not be filled. Sixto Wagan takes the role as lone Artistic Director while an Executive Director is sought. 

While Texas’ laundry list of directorship vacancies is lengthynotably including the DMA and MFAHthese changes mirror ones in the larger art world, where fluctuation in leadership is par for the course. The Association of Art Museum Directors recently found that more than 60% of the organization’s members will be retiring within the next 10 years, laying the groundwork for institutional changes not just in Texas, but around the globe. Changes in leadership reflect changes in direction, and perhaps more significantly, a shift in thinking that comes with a new generation of directors. These will be individuals whose relationship to technology, spatial thinking, the role of arts institutions and the objects within them are drastically different from that of the current batch of overseers. 

In an era when museums are rethinking their traditional roles as cultural stewards and adopting strategies more akin to corporations and more popular forms of entertainment, these inevitable changes carry with them serious consequences. Will we see fewer scholarly curators and more bottom line administrators filling these roles? In light of the current economic malaise and the bulk of boards consisting of financiers, management consultants and businesspeople, it’s likely, for better or worse, that we’re trending towards the latter. We can only hope our new museum directors will be a hybrid of the two, at once respecting and understanding the unique characteristics of art institutions and objects while deploying sound management in order to make their institutions healthy and viable places. 

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but as this institutional refashioning takes place, and budgets are dwindling, time based mediaincluding video, sound and social media projectshave come to the fore. I’ll leave deciphering institutional programming decisions to you and let this issue’s contributors provide some potent starting points. Writer and independent curator Michelle Hyun takes a look at Eliane Radigue's latest collaborative release on Black Pollen Press, addresses its status as sound art, music and commodity. New York artist Kara Hearn answers writer and curator Rachel Cook’s questions in an interview revolving around Hearn’s most recent film project, Tremendous, and Paul Ryan’s collaborative idea of "threeing." From Austin, artist and writer Sean Ripple puts the pieces of Colby Bird’s solo exhibition Dust Breeds Contempt at Lora Reynolds Gallery together, while writer Mary Caitlin Greenwood examines Xochi Solis’ project for SOFA Gallery and finds an ode to the now dwindling summer months. In Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s film installation The House at The Art Institute of Chicago writer Claudine Ise finds a parallel protagonist in Roman Polanski’s violent psychological thriller Repulsion. This issue’s Project Space features San Francisco based artist Chris Sollars whose transformative sculpture, video and performances provide a thoughtful point of departure for thinking about time and the change that is an inevitable part of it.

It’s tempting to think the worst of change, and there are certainly things of grave concern, the least of which are rudderless and irrelevant arts organizations. If, as things in Austin and elsewhere shift, the mistake is made in thinking that art institutions can be run like your local for-profit taco stand, and art objects are turned wholly into entertainment saturated commodities, then we’re in for some bleak times. Until then, with fingers crossed and faith in the better angels of governing boards, I’m choosing to look at these evolutions as a point from which beneficial changes can be made, and a new generation of curators and directors can lead us down the road with fresh eyes and contemporary concerns. These are good transitions, not only for our institutions and the objects within them, but the audiences they serve.

Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.


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