Issue #176
Have Gun Will Travel October 14, 2011

Cao Fei
Shadow Life (film still)
Single channel color video with sound
10 minutes
Courtesy of the artist and Lombard Freid Projects, NY

From the Editor

For all practical purposes I set out with this issue looking to make a series of observations regarding what’s labeled the Texas art scene. Think Darwin aboard a virtual HMS Beagle, taking notes, collecting specimens and shaping them into a coherent set of postulations whose parts evidence larger themes while providing a map for future endeavors. But alas, that ship has sailed, and sunk, many times before and with little practical effect; the grand panacea for Texas’ art world woes is an elusive if not an altogether hallucinatory species. We can easily list the basic characteristics of this beast, but when it comes to witnessing these qualities at work and in practice we’re left staring longingly into our binoculars, or are we?

Cozily nestled in the digital age I tend to think of each of Texas’ cities as parts of a whole that together represent what people think of when they hear the phrase ‘Texas art scene.’ This is not to ignore the many differences between places, only that when you put the pieces of each cities art communities together you’re presented with a dynamic and coherent picture that communicates the diversity of Texas’ art communities in a manner that is far less muddled than each city manages individually. Other places get this. A group of galleries and museums in Seattle and Portland—not even in the same state—have a full-page ad in this month’s Artforum letting us know what’s on tap for the coming season. From a practical standpoint this is beyond a clear and effective strategy.

Distances, while not an excuse for the lack of cooperation on the part of art cities, are in Texas, by and large fairly immense. With Southwest Airlines more skilled at blocking beneficial high-speed rail between Texas cities than Republican representatives legislation it takes some effort, and a car, to make the necessary pilgrimages to other places in order to see art. For a road-trip junkie this is a positive. For better or worse, it also acts as a form of preservation by maintaining regional distinctions across the state, none of which are sacrificed by seeing the bigger picture on occasion. To claim that any one region or city has a monopoly on the art world power ladder or is poised to be the lone center would be silly. Hegemony of this sort went the way of VHS, giving way to interconnectedness that while not without its problems, has certainly opened up the playing field to arts workers of all stripes.

Clear evidence can be found in each of Texas’ cities, who play host to international and local artists alike. To get you primed for that art viewing road trip our Project Space features artist Justin Boyd’s venture, Shotgun Series: Drifting Mix. Boyd presents us with the meditative view recognizable to those for whom the car window is a familiar frame through which to view the landscape. In San Antonio Artpace is currently host to Canadian duo Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, whose sound and video works receive writer Wendy Atwell’s pen. The Visual Art Center in Austin has an exceptional group of exhibitions currently on view (see the Queerstate(s) review from our last issue) and Ph.D. candidate and writer Katie Geha walks through Mika Tajima’s project with her while discussing the idea of passive refusal à la the iconic film Slacker and the detached observer embodied by the flâneur. John Sparagana actively addresses politics in his current exhibition at Bryan Miller Gallery in Houston. Writer and UT Arlington Assistant Professor Benjamin Lima finds dynamism in Sparagana’s rich pool of references that meld Kazimir Malevich and last springs protests in Tahrir Square just to name a few. Chinese artist Cao Fei’s heady Shadow Life, on view at Arthouse in Austin, is the subject of Ph.D. candidate and writer Kate Green’s thoughtful review. Finally, Hills Snyder places us squarely in the family station wagon and heads back to San Antonio for a look at Kelly O’Connor’s recent exhibition at David Shelton Gallery.

While I’m happily prone to speculation outside the rigid diktats of practicality I also like seeing things actually happen. Concrete actions (Wall Street Protests et al.) provide ballast for the fireside chats and bar side grousing over the state of affairs from which none of us is immune. This issue represents only a small sliver of the things currently happening within Texas and while not in the quantity of bigger cities, is no less diverse or engaging. Calls for stronger financial support, better programming, smooth mergers and stronger institutions are not going away, nor are they hot news. These specters haunt every art community and finding a solution to catching one is as elusive in the Lonestar state as it is anywhere else. Here’s to the continued search, and a healthy dose of hands-on doing while we’re at it. 

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

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