Texas Biennial: Austin
Through May 14
by Dan Boehl
There is a lot going on in this installment of the Texas Biennial. Perhaps a reflection of the way the Austin art scene has changed in the last two years, the venues are scattered and disparate. Work is displayed in traditional gallery spaces like Women and Their Work and at the newly renovated Visual Arts Center, but there is an undercurrent of utilitarian space that mirrors the real estate bubble. 1319 Rosewood is an empty house. One of the two empty office spaces in the 816 Congress building used to house an arm of the Obama campaign. The checkered venues felt apropos of the diminished presence of gallery spaces in Austin and created an interesting parallel of the economy. I spent the better part of a Saturday riding my bike around and visiting all the Austin sites. If you don’t have time to see everything, I recommend the installations at 816 Congress and 1319 Rosewood: Congress because it is packed full of work; Rosewood because everything in the house is worth seeing.
Here are my favorite things:
Joshua Bienko (1319 Rosewood)
Bienko makes art-historically referenced rap music. His beats are good, the lyrics interesting, in an art insider way. The video images of exploding rockets and 16-bit graphic video game samples are funny and smart. TehChing Hsieh (2009) and Lewitt, Sol (2010) are too insular to really exist on their own as songs, and they are too full of themselves to think as anything more than self-aggrandizing propaganda or teaching pieces, but both showcase a possible explosive talent. TehChing Hsieh digresses into a rap about grocery shopping that is as mundane and enthralling as the digression in “Rapper’s Delight” where the Sugar Hill Gang raps about eating bad food at a friend’s house. And it’s all delivered in a Beastie Boys screech.
Catherine Colangelo (816 Congress)
Colangelo’s boats, all given women’s names, are crafted with a loving aura that arises from the obsessive patterning. Not quite Asian, not quite Western or Americana, these gouache-on-pencil boats float between worlds, ferrying something precious from one place to another.
Clarke Curtis (816 Congress)
Curtis’ intimate collages fill me with the same feeling I got when I was a kid looking at the book Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee. The creatures Curtis depicts, made from what appears to be fashion magazine pictures of haute couture, have personalities all their own, lives that are impossible to fathom. Like the creatures in Faeries, these animals are not quite menacing, but you can tell they don’t care about the viewer. Like looking at a runway model. It is a hard and odd feeling to capture.
Gabriel Dawe (Pump Project)
One of the best works in the Biennial, Dawe’s string sculpture (Plexus No. 5, 2011) visually undulates. The whole structure flattens, then becomes three-dimensional as the viewer passes through the gallery. At one point the thing falls apart, evaporating into a pool of pixilated color. I’ve seen Dawe’s work before on sites such as ffffound and Design Sponge, but the images cannot do Dawe justice.
Nathan Green (816 Congress)
I have always been a fan of Green’s paintings, and now that he has moved fully into sculpture, I see him as a reverse Guston. Where Guston painted the guts of those bulbous heads before he knew the heads even existed, Green is painting the world so it resembles the insides of his paintings. Green is telling us the most earnest joke he can muster: the world is beautiful and silly and cobbled together from utter nonsense. We are basically looking at parts of Green’s brain.
Hillerbrand + Magsamen (Big Medium)
A man and a woman take objects you might find in a garage (lawnmower, cooler, water jug, folding chairs, bike) and pile them in the middle of a darkened room. Light shines from a hole above. There are sounds of percussion and an auctioneer calls. The piling is desperate and deliberate. Soon the man is able to climb the pile and escape through the hole. Then the woman struggles, perched precariously on the junk, as he attempts to pull her up. They escape. But the action of the video is bookended by the image of the man reaching down into the emptied dark space, holding onto a laughing girl who spins in a slow arc.
TJ Hunt (1319 Rosewood)
I missed Hunt’s performance but caught the aftermath. For her performance on April 9th, Hunt carved “the true artist carries the weight of the world” into the backyard of an empty house. She used a hatchet-like spade and punched the words into the turf until she got halfway through the word “carries.” The photos of the performance at 1319 Rosewood show Hunt to be dirty and exhausted. An empty house foundation gazes upon the earth she sculpted. When I was standing in the backyard looking at the installation, a couple of white and pink kids’ three-wheelers looked on from a bare concrete slab. The house next door, a gentrified affair with huge windows, was playing some Bob Marley.
Jessica Mallios (816 Congress)
In 1:1 (2011) a gigantic camera dominates the dance floor as people shuffle dance around it in a wide arc. There is some Spanish language television projected against the bar’s wall, showing infomercials. The men wear cowboy hats and the women’s clothing barely contains them. Mallios’ video is about sex and the desire to be a part of things while standing apart. It is the best thing in the show.
Ricardo Paniagua (816 Congress)
I met Paniagua on the Arthouse rooftop during the Biennial party. He was wearing a long blond wig, a thermal blanket as a cape and a pretty nice suit. The day before, at the Biennial opening, he was wearing something equally ridiculous. I liked meeting him. All I said was, “You did those paintings,” and pointed to the postcard in his hand. He said, “They are skyscrapers.” I said, “That sounds better than office buildings, but what if you are short, like a child, and see that they don’t reach the ground. Do they still look like skyscrapers?” Paniagua did not know and I do not know either. Fresh Gong Go Bong Bong (2010) looks like it stepped right out of our cloud city future. A future bathed in blood.
Abby Rondales (1319 Rosewood)
At one point in the short video (Future Perfect, 2010-11), one of the characters, Abby, an artist in her thirties who has abandoned her career to stay at home and raise her son, says that when she is left alone she has time to… and here she merely sticks out her tongue. It is a moment of total exasperation. Can we be artists and still raise families, have houses, work jobs? Of course.
Barry Stone (Women & Their Work)
An image of Alan Greenspan confessing everything he ever believed turned out to be false. Greenspan’s image sampled and turned into a rainbow. A black cloud floating. A crop from a museum cloistered painting taken and yellowed. Stone’s work is at once playful and challenging, exploring subtle personal mythologies by masking momentous events. These works seem like design posters without slogans, but the slogans are inside somehow, telling us to hang in there.
Dan Boehl is a poet and novelist living in Austin, Texas. His book Kings of the F**king Sea is available from Birds, LLC.