New Works Now
Artpace, San Antonio
Through September 9
by Wendy Atwell
Meditations on time and the harnessing of information play a key role in New Works Now, a fitting subject for five past ArtPace International Artists in Residence. All are from Texas, including Alex De Leon (1996), Juan Miguel Ramos (2002), Katie Pell (2006), Katrina Moorhead (2005) and Lordy Rodriguez (2001).
The deadly playfulness of addiction still reigns in De Leon’s painted ceramics.
Just a Few Beers, a large magenta vessel adorned with painted cans of beer, is inspired by a friend of the artist who drank a case of beer in one sitting. De Leon paints the cans at the moment when the top is popped and cold foamy bubbles burst forth. In contrast to the discus throwers, lovers and musicians populating Grecian urns, De Leon’s cans are suspended in space, with no sign of a drinker, in a non-narrative design. Just opened, they are already obsolete and hence almost already litter, a haunting statement about vapid materialism of contemporary culture, but also humorously ironic because of the media he chooses for his subject matter.
An animated cartoon-drawn couple dances to classic Tejano music in Yo Vendo Unos Ojos Negros. A 360-degree photographic scene of an empty bar revolves around them, giving the spinning effect of dancing. The treatment of time in Ramos’ 2:40 video loop is metaphorical and poetic. Watching the couple dance while listening to the Spanish lyrics, one imagines that the man might be aging, and that some kind of black magic is at work, as if he is caught in an eerie time warp. The turns made by the dancers suggest the cycles of youth and age.
Huge canvas quilts, featuring rubbings of beechwood trees, create a virtual forest. Pell’s quilts hang in layers to create the space of the woods, but, unlike nature, these images possess the allure of drawing and narrative. Taken from the trees from behind her childhood house, the trees’ carvings have the seediness of thoughtless graffiti. It almost feels like there could be something going on behind the panels, such as the scene of Marcel Duchamp’s Étant Donnés. But, as suggested by the words carved into the trees, initials of lovers or words like “dickass,” only the trees have borne silent witness to the scenes played out before them and the emotions and thoughts carved into them.
In one hundred 10 x 14 inch pen and ink drawings, Rodriguez morphs his continued subject matter, maps and other visual systems, into beautiful color abstractions. The sources for the drawings seem traceable—they appear to be taken from images such as the color resonance of scans, satellite photography and microbiology. Yet Rodriguez’s drawings look zoomed in to the point of abstraction, changing the image’s purpose as a source of information to a source of visual delight. The multitude of images and Rodriguez’s treatment of them calls to mind current technological capabilities to change locations so easily, blurred with the equally disorienting of blizzard of information.
A puzzling tableau includes a desk with mysterious scientific objects like crystals, a white powder molded in to geometrical shapes, lamps, three deflated mylar balloons and a beautifully precise drawing of a sphere on the wall behind it. Katrina Moorhead’s sculptural documentation of her investigation into a mysterious all-blue rainbow she recently witnessed in Iceland. This led to her own discovery that the all blue rainbow she saw may actually have been the rare phenomenon of a “moonbow.” An ephemeral blue light shines on the gallery wall behind the tableau, and this scene actually exists as Moorhead’s “pseudo-scientific” recreation of this phenomenon.
The art by Pell and Moorhead appears especially imaginative in comparison with the work exhibited during their respective residencies. Moorhead’s residency exhibition disoriented the viewer as she placed on the floor what normally is on the ceiling, chandeliers and plaster ornamentation of a ballroom. While it was transportive and beautiful, her new work is challenging and confounding; it expects more of the viewer. Pell’s show-stopping hot rod appliances exhibited during her residency contrast with her quiet monotone trees, yet these images possess an evocative presence. Their new art is like more negative space on a canvas, leaving the viewer ample room to contemplate their artistic choices. This group exhibition functions much like the AIAR program as the only similarity shared between the artists is the curator’s selection of their work. Instead of a unifying theme, this exhibition demonstrates how the artistic process evolves.
Wendy Atwell received her M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The University of Texas at San Antonio. She is the author of The River Spectacular: Light, Color, Sound and Craft on the San Antonio River.