Creative Research Laboratory, Austin

Closed August 16, 2008
by Rachel Cook

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      Amuse-Bouche, Installation Shot
      Photo: Ben Aqua
      Courtesy Creative Research Laboratory

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      Tiny morsels in your mouth, or literally a mouth amuser, an amuse bouche or amuse gueule are served in fine dining restaurants to excite the taste buds before ordering the meal. Amuse-Bouche is a perfect title for a summer group show: take a small number of artists and offer a tiny morsel of their work to whet the viewer’s appetite for more. Organized by graduate students from the Art History Department at UT Austin, this show continues the tradition started in 2002 in which the graduate students of the Departments of Art and Art History collaborate on a summer exhibition. This year, each of eight curators selected one artist to present. A few problems have arisen with this shift in organizational format. Essentially, the curators have created eight solo shows that must exist within one curatorial premise and must co-habitate a single gallery space. As a result, Amuse-Bouche falls short in both curatorial concept and installation.

      Trimming the fat, so to speak, from past years of all-inclusiveness might at first seem like a good idea. But in this case, it leaves the curators with too few pieces to play with in terms of placement in the gallery. The installation lacks balance and the space seems almost empty in pockets.

      In addition, much of the work tastes a bit bland to me. Jonathan Aseron’s colorful mixed media wall painting, Robert Melton’s ambiguous videos, Sonya Berg’s series of paintings in muted colors and Teruko Nimura’s hanging sculpture of organic forms all blend together with the feeling of same-ness. As a group none of them appear to be offering anything new. For example, Nimura’s sculpture is reminiscent of a whole slew of 70’s female artists and yet the artist doesn’t present anything that is substantially new with her forms, colors, shapes made from these feminine fabrics.

      As for the rest of the show, a few pieces deserve further investigation and some provide curious flavors, but it might be too early to judge whether these artists will continue to push in a productive direction. Joshua Welker’s geometric sculpture, Joseph Winchester’s optical videos, Michael Coyle’s ambiguous small sculptural and text based work, and Kristina Felix self-portrait video shorts are works that merit further investigation. Welker’s work is an intriguing investigation of shapes as themselves. Both works in the exhibition deal with the shape of a pedestal. Untitled in Plaster (2008) actually looks more like a disheveled mille-feuille or an opera cake with the layers of plaster being replaced by puff pastry sheets than a pedestal, while Untitled in Plexiglas (2008) looks more like a speaker sound system than an “exploding pedestal.”

      Michael Coyle’s work also raises questions that peak interest and borrows from art history in sly fashion. Searching for Just the Right Feeling of Incompleteness (2008) presents two even stacks of white letter paper, on one stack a mass of pink eraser shavings and on the other a small figure carved out of the same material. The shavings not only allude to the creative process of carving, but also suggest associations to the fragility of life or even death by cremation. Coyle appears to be pulling Tom Friedman’s work, Untitled (Eraser Shavings) (1990), from the Rolodex of art history. But Coyle puts a decidedly dark twist on Friedman’s sense of humor.

      Another work that has potential is Kristina Felix’s video, a spoof on the Wedding and Celebrations: Vows column from The New York Times Online, which presents videos of couples describing their relationship from the initial meeting to the proposal. Felix inserts herself into the place of the bride-to-be and repeats the woman’s words from each video. The work appears to be the seed of an attempt to critique gender and heterosexual monogamy. But because Felix only inserts herself as the female voice, she ends up simply recreating a skit. Why, I wondered, doesn’t she insert herself as the male voice, too? She has further to go in order to speak productively to gender roles and relationships.

      Despite the few standouts that seem to have potential, much of the work seems to fall into this murky, cloudy category of sameness. Then againm the exhibition was envisioned as a mouth amuser, so perhaps much of the work functioned in exactly the way it was intended, creating various flavors and sensations and inspiring a yearning for a bit more. However, the curatorial model for the CRL summer show still needs to be tweaked. Given the space’s name—a Creative Research Laboratory—and given the collaborative premise of these annual exhibition—a collaboration between graduate students from the Departments of Art and Art History—these exhibitions should be breaking more rules than they abide by; they should be a laboratory for new and creative exhibition models.

      Rachel Cook is an artist, writer, and independent curator currently living in Austin. She is currently working on a show for DiverseWorks in 2009 entitled “Now that I’m by myself,” she says, “I’m not by myself, which is good.”


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