MBG Issue #106: Forensic-like Activity

Issue # 106

Forensic-like Activity

September 19, 2008

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Daniel Joseph Martinez, Beauty… it rubs against one’s tongue it hangs there hurting one insisting on its own existence finally it gets so one cannot stand the pain then one must have beauty extracted, 2006, (Installed May 2008), East Façade of Building. Courtesy the Linda Pace Foundation. Photo: Justin Parr.

from the editor

The current exhibition at the Austin Museum of Art and a recent conversation with Linda Pace Foundation Director, Rick Moore, got me thinking: perhaps art professionals and serious collectors should hold a larger proportion of the influential positions on the boards of some Austin and San Antonio art institutions. We cover both AMOA and the Pace Foundation in this issue in the form of a review of Where Are We Going? at AMOA and an interview with Pace Foundation Director Rick Moore.

The Austin Museum of Art’s Where Are We Going? is one half—the contemporary half—of a two-part exhibition, Modern Art. Modern Lives: Then + Now. Curated by Director and Chief Curator Dana Friis-Hansen, the exhibition draws from the museum’s own holdings and Austin-based private collections to cluster work around four thematic headings: Who are we? Where are we going? Paradise: Lost and Found and Before and After Battle. (Props to Friis-Hansen for attempting to address the environment and the war—the most au courant issues we haven’t seen enough of in Texas.) Obviously very broad, these categories don’t always do justice to individual pieces, but they have also allowed the curator freedom to select for quality and significance rather than topical exactitude.

Since the works were drawn solely from Austin collections, a point the exhibition brochure highlights, I’m particularly interested in the art-world politics of the show. Over twenty collectors lent work to the contemporary half of the exhibition, but only one work—a Luis González Palma photograph from the collection of Board President Bettye Nowlin—was lent by a trustee of the museum. Of the 63 advisory board members, I found the names of only 5 listed as lenders. Unless the museum is trying to avoid conflict of interest (a difficult feat in our often incestuous art scene), these facts suggest that serious collectors of contemporary art are under-represented on AMOA’s boards.

Alternatively, it’s possible to see this exhibition as a strategic move toward building a community of collectors with ties to AMOA. Could this be a first step towards inviting Austin collectors into a dialogue with one another? If so, such a dialogue might allow collectors to share knowledge and interests, building the strength and savvy of their collecting activities and, thus, of Austin's art scene. But lending artwork to an exhibition is hardly a guarantee of deeper participation. To foster such a community, AMOA would have to increase its own commitment to these types so notably absent from its Board of Trustees.

As for the Linda Pace Foundation in San Antonio, I’m beginning to worry about a lack of contemporary art expertise there, too. Little more than a year after Linda Pace’s passing, Foundation Director Rick Moore is understandably, and importantly, preoccupied with the business operations and building plans of the Foundation. He suggests that it will be years before the Foundation’s building has been completed and until building plans are well underway, it sounds as if the Foundation’s acquisitions, curatorial work and granting functions are on hold. Given the current economic climate, I wouldn’t be surprised if the timeline for all this were further delayed out of financial necessity.

Perhaps I’m still simply mourning the incredible loss that Pace’s death has been to San Antonio, Texas and the art world at large. But I am disappointed that Moore could offer no strategic plan about the future of Pace’s collection or the role that the Foundation will play in supporting contemporary art. Smart collecting and generous giving were at the core of Pace’s work and I hope to see the Foundation prioritize these same aspects of their mission.

In our next issue, we’ll return to David Adjaye with a review of his current exhibition at Artpace. Also in San Antonio, we’ll be covering Chocolate, an exhibition of conceptual art at SAMA. From the west coast, the issue will include a review of a more expansive exhibition of conceptual art, Conceptualism in California at MoCA. From a fellow mid-sized, mid-country art scene, we’ll enjoy a review of Omer Fast’s De grote Boodschap (The Big Message) at MCA Denver and from the east coast, an artist’s space with New York-based artist Robert Amesbury.

Claire Ruud is Editor of ...might be good.


Rick Moore, Director, Linda Pace Foundation

By Claire Ruud


Well-known and beloved San Antonio philanthropist, collector and Artpace founder Linda Pace passed away in early July of 2007, leaving the Linda Pace Foundation in the business-savvy hands of Rick Moore. Moore, Pace’s longtime in-house lawyer and financial expert, now runs the Foundation with the assistance of its other trustees, Jan Jarboe Russell, Dr. Anne Hodges Morgan, Kathryn Kanjo and Dennis Scholl. Recently, Moore sat down with …might be good to talk about the Foundation’s long-term mission and current projects.

The interview, printed here in full, clarified a number of aspects of the Foundation’s present and future role in San Antonio and beyond. First, he explained the special relationship between Artpace and the Linda Pace Foundation. Originally set up, in part, as the mechanism through which Pace funded Artpace, the Foundation continues to give $1 million a year to the non-profit art space and residency program. The amount represents a little over 40% of Artpace’s annual budget. Moore is also on the Artpace board, a position he holds “to watch the core mission of Artpace, which for Linda was the artist-in-residency program.”

Second, Moore discussed the current priorities of the Foundation, which appear to be getting finances, policies and procedures in order and getting a building built. Moore is carefully setting up policies and procedures for the Foundation that adhere to “IRS promulgated best practices.” In the future, he hopes that these policies can serve as a useful model for other foundations.

As for the building, Pace selected David Adjaye as the architect before her death, and his initial design includes all of four exhibition spaces. “Initial thoughts,” Moore tells us, “might be that only one of those spaces might contain a rotating selection of works from Linda’s collection. As for the other three spaces, we’re trying to figure out … what would work to create a vibrant building with these spaces.” In terms of time frame, within about a year Moore says he’s “hopeful that we will have completed the schematic design phase and moved to the design development phase so that we’ll be able to present a model to the public.” Regarding actual construction, Moore suggests that “absent further deterioration in the capital markets” (and this was pre-Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch meltdown last weekend), they might be able to break ground within a “four year window.” Acquisitions for the collection and granting activities (apart from the Foundation's ongoing relationship with Artpace) are on the back burner for now. First, finances must be sorted out, policies and procedures must be instituted and a design for the building must be agreed upon. Until then, we’ll have to hold our breath to find out what kind of a role the Linda Pace Foundation will play in the local and national art scene.

Because the Foundation has been somewhat shrouded in mystery for the past year, our editors print the interview with Moore here in full. Although it may seem rather long and dry at times, it is chalk full of information we wanted to be available to the public. Read on for all the gory details.

…might be good: There is an air of mystery around the Linda Pace Foundation right now. Can you explain the distinction between Artpace and the Foundation?

Rick Moore: Let me take you back to the original creation of Artpace. Artpace was incorporated in March 1993, but it didn’t open its doors until 1995. At that time, it was set up as a charitable trust and was called Artpace, A Foundation for Contemporary Art San Antonio. The rationale for this legal structure was that Linda [Pace] did not want a board. She wanted to be able to fund Artpace and make all the decisions relating to its artistic character. The only legal structure in the state of Texas that would allow this arrangement was a charitable trust. Artpace, A Foundation for Contemporary Art San Antonio, stayed in that legal form until January of 2004, when we re-organized Artpace as a charitable corporation. At that point, we transferred all the assets to the new Artpace corporate entity. Legally, you may not have a board unless such powers are specifically granted within the charitable trust document. Much of the public may have been unaware of this reorganization of Artpace.

In both forms, Artpace itself was a creative laboratory. It was always the place where Linda and Laurence [Miller], wanted artists to drive that creative process. Linda always described Artpace as purely the creative process and was very firm that she never wanted Artpace to be a collecting institution. She did not want the creative, artist-driven process to be in competition with collecting. That was the fundamental reason she formed the Linda Pace Foundation.

…mbg: When did she form the Pace Foundation?

RM: The Linda Pace Foundation was formed in April of 2003. In that first year, there were three trustees: Linda, myself, and her best friend and colleague, Jan Jarboe Russell. Linda set it up as a conduit foundation. This simply means that when Linda desired to fund something charitable, she placed money into the Linda Pace Foundation and then the Foundation distributed the funds directly to that charity, allowing Linda to receive an appropriate charitable deduction for her funding of charitable activity. Linda also began to fund her annual support of Artpace through the Linda Pace Foundation after it was formed.

During that first year of the Foundation, Linda was very focused on the question, “how do I get Artpace to survive beyond me?” Linda was still the sole trustee and Artpace had become extremely successful, both nationally and internationally. She was very concerned about Artpace’s continued growth and its ability to fundraise. Quite frankly, it was becoming quite difficult for Artpace to fundraise when Linda was the sole trustee, as the public perceived that Linda was Artpace’s sole means of support and did not feel that Artpace needed the public’s support. As the first step in creating a structure in which Artpace could sustain itself, we began to work very hard on identifying the people that Linda wanted on the initial board. Linda worked very closely with Kathryn Kanjo, the Executive Director of Artpace at that time, through this entire process. Artpace had its initial board meeting in January of 2004, with its new board of directors.

…mbg: Apart from funding Artpace, what was the role of the Linda Pace Foundation at that point?

RM: Once Artpace’s board was in place, the Linda Pace Foundation became focused on Linda’s vision for the future. She viewed the Linda Pace Foundation as the other side of the creative process, a compliment to Artpace and a continuation of a process that she began in creating CHRISpark. Artpace, CHRISpark, and the possible exhibition space which would display part of her collection represent the trilogy of creation, contemplation and reflection that Linda envisioned as a philanthropist and for the citizens of San Antonio. This was a journey for Linda that really encompassed that last twenty-plus years of her life.

…mbg: So when did you come on board, Rick?

RM: I first met Linda in 2000. I became involved through Dr. Ann Hodges Morgan, who’s also a trustee of the Linda Pace Foundation and who also had been a personal advisor to Linda Pace since the mid 1990s. At the time Linda contacted me, she was concerned about the legal and financial aspects of her various entities. She was also providing all the financial support to Artpace in terms of a staff to manage the financial operations of Artpace, and she was concerned about the issues surrounding the proper operation of a non-profit, the prudent management of her personal portfolio and the legal and financial compliance of the various entities that she operated. I came to see Linda Pace in San Antonio in January of 2001. I spent three days with her and did a legal audit of her various entities and their operations. I interviewed all the employees at Artpace and the other employees who worked for Linda; I also examined many legal documents. At the end of that visit, I shared my observations with Linda and empowered her with different ways for her to think about how she was running her business enterprises and charitable operations. After that visit, both Linda and her employees engaged in constant dialogue with me regarding strategic planning and different responses to operating issues and strategies. From the time of that visit, Linda and I developed a very close working relationship that included additional visits to San Antonio.

In May of 2001, Linda invited me down in conjunction with the opening of her Red Project (1999-2001) at the San Antonio Museum of Art. I remember when I received the call. as she was quite emphatic about me coming to her opening at the San Antonio Museum of Art. After the night of the opening, the following day, we went to lunch, just the two of us. We sat down, and she looked at me and said, “Will you come to work for me? I need the financial and legal expertise to come in-house and I need someone who will look out for my interests.”

…mbg: What was your background?

RM: I was with a large law firm in Oklahoma City for seventeen years and I’m also a CPA. At the time I left the firm I was the managing partner for a law firm with approximately 250 employees. For about 3 or 4 years prior to my departure, I began to be increasingly dissatisfied with the formal practice of law in a traditional legal setting. I had a couple of intervening job offers along the way, both in the for-profit and non-profit sectors, but none of those offers satisfied what I was seeking in my career.

When I met Linda, it was different: I saw a person with very real needs and organizations which needed greater legal and financial oversight. So I left that career of seventeen years with the law firm and came to work in-house for Linda. For me, it fulfilled a need to help in a different way. The pure lawyer role, in which you bill a client for everything you say, has an oppressive side to it as it relates to the client. I was doing a lot of non-profit work and lectured nationally on non-profit operations and stewardship, but my practice also included a typical corporate, transactional practice, so the transition to come to work for Linda had a short learning curve, as the type of work I was doing in private practice was very similar to the work for Linda and her various entities.

…mbg: Do you have a background in contemporary art?

RM: As Linda and I used to joke with each other, she didn’t hire me for my contemporary art expertise; she hired me for the overlay of a business model in both the for-profit and non-profit aspects of her world. It helped her bring a logical, realistic basis to the various activities in which she was engaged.

Really, bringing me on-board gave Linda a sense of confidence because she had immediate access to information and she knew there was someone dedicated solely to protecting her interests and helping her achieve her objectives. It empowered Linda in a very unique way. I worked with Linda in the same way I’ve worked with other people in my career. I would provide her with information and knowledge and say, “Here’s the information that I’ve observed, here are the issues I see, here’s what the law says about those issues, here’s your financial situation, here are these facts.” Then Linda would make an informed decision from those facts and her own observations. So Linda and I had a very collaborative-type process through the years that was based on trust. Linda was incredibly bright and creative which only added to my personal enjoyment in working with her. She taught me a lot about art, and I taught her a lot about legal, business and financial issues as they related to her journey as a major philanthropist.

…mbg: How did you become the Foundation’s president?

RM: After her diagnosis, Linda specifically asked me to stay because I was the person who knew the most about her world from the standpoint of operations and her own personal issues. She and I, along with the other trustees, had the opportunity to discuss the operation of the Linda Pace Foundation and what she envisioned in the future. My bosses are now my fellow trustees on the board of the Linda Pace Foundation which consists of four other people. Linda died on July 2, 2007, and on June 30 we had a board meeting and I was elected to this position by the Trustees of the Foundation. I agreed to accept the position, but not until after Linda’s death, as I wanted Linda to remain the President of her Foundation until her death.

…mbg: Was Linda involved in that decision?

RM: She was unable to be at that board meeting, but she had shared with everyone before that meeting that she wanted Rick to run the daily operations of her foundation due to the level of trust that had been established between us and my working relationship with the other trustees.

…mbg: Can you talk a little bit more about the selection of the other trustees for the Pace Foundation?

RM: In addition to herself, Linda initially chose the two people she trusted most in her life: Jan Jarboe Russell, her closest personal friend, and myself. The three of us were the only trustees until January of 2005, when Linda added Dr. Anne Hodges Morgan. As I indicated, Dr. Morgan had been a consultant for Linda since the mid 1990s and is a bright, intelligent person for whom Linda had a lot of respect. Dr. Morgan is an integral part of our Board and her history and relationship with Linda are invaluable to the trustees.

It was not until Linda was diagnosed with her illness that Jan and I and Anne looked at Linda and said, “You need to get some people on the board that are art-world savvy and have extensive contemporary art world experience.” At that point, Linda asked Kathryn Kanjo [former Director of Artpace] to join the board as its fourth trustee. About two weeks after that, Linda added Dennis Scholl, who’s a lawyer and CPA like me, but also a significant collector in the contemporary art world, and a highly successful businessman.

…mbg: In the Linda Pace Foundation’s mission statement, it sounds as if grants to artists will be your primary focus. What kind of granting programs are you considering?

RW: Grants to artists are included in our mission statement; however, while we’re in this ramp-up stage, we are not actively making grants. Right now, we’re classified as an operating foundation, which just means that we’re using our budget to run our own programs, such as CHRISpark. Our predominant focus right now is figuring out the component of the mission relating to the public exhibition of Linda’s collection.

Let me introduce the concept of the building from a historical perspective. Jan and Linda and I, in late 2004 or early 2005, had a meeting of the Foundation trustee’s and Linda was talking about a building in San Antonio, some day in the future, for her collection. And Jan asked, "If this building were to be built, who would you want to be the architect?" Linda gave us five names. Zaha Hadid was one of them, who was very popular at the time. Another person on the short list was David Adjaye. Linda also identified certain architects that she did not want involved with her building.

In early 2007, Linda and I were discussing the future and the possible gift of the Hondo Partners building to Artpace as a component of her estate plan. As we talked about that gift, Linda wondered aloud where the offices of the Linda Pace Foundation would be. And I said, “Linda, that really doesn’t matter. What matters is what the Linda Pace Foundation does. It doesn’t matter where it is; it could be in any building downtown.” Well, I didn’t realize it at that moment but I had provoked her. I’d provoked her in a very positive way. When we gathered for a meeting that evening, she looked at me and the other Trustees and she said, “The Linda Pace Foundation offices will not be in just any building downtown. They will be in a building that is distinct and significant and meaningful to the public. And I’ve contacted David Adjaye and I told him to get on with this building program.” That’s the genesis of David actively starting to work on the building itself.

…mbg: What can you tell me about the building?

RM: That building is the most significant aspect of the mission that Linda left us that we are trying to accomplish. We are in the early schematic design phase. We do not yet know the final design of the building or its buidability or affordability. The financial markets and the economic conditions are not helping the journey right now. But all of the Trustees are strongly committed to the building because it fulfills the last component of the mission statement for the Foundation that Linda gave to us. Linda was actively working on the building prior to her death and for Linda and the rest of the Trustees, the building is incredibly important to San Antonio. Linda was absolutely committed to David Adjaye as the architect due, in part, to his strong artist sensibility, but also because Linda wanted San Antonio to not only experience the Collection, but almost equally important was the introduction of a new kind of architecture to San Antonio. Linda, as I always say, was a frustrated architect. She was anxious for the people of San Antonio to see architecture in a different way, and David was the one that Linda chose to make this introduction to San Antonio.

…mbg: Did Linda have a chance to see any of Adjaye’s design proposals?

RM: That’s actually a beautiful part of the journey. She had met David about two years earlier on a trip to London. Isaac Julien had introduced them and I have a picture of them together. Linda and David had a number of different conversations and he was able to do some initial sketches for her and get her reactions and even met in person with Linda, Jan and Laurence Miller, in June, 2008, about the building. So there was some incredible dialogue between Linda and David Adjaye that occurred and that is reflected in the architect’s current drawings.

…mbg: What are your initial thoughts about the way the new building might look?

RM: We haven’t quite figured it all out yet. In David’s initial design he has four exhibition spaces. Initial thoughts might be that only one of those spaces might contain a rotating selection of works from Linda’s collection. As for the other three spaces, we’re trying to figure out what that would mean. In terms of the public’s involvement, in terms of Artpace’s involvement, what would work to create a vibrant building with these spaces?

…mbg: So you’ve been focusing on the building but you’re continuing to give grants to Artpace, correct?

RM: Yes, we continue to give Artpace $1 million a year in quarterly installments.

…mbg: It appears that you have a special relationship with Artpace in terms of granting. How is that set up?

RM: We do. I am actually on the Artpace board. And we, the Linda Pace Foundation, also have a second audited position on the Artpace board. It’s rotated between the Foundation’s board members, but that person doesn’t vote. They are just present to observe and interact and understand the dynamics of what is happening with Artpace.

The $1 million we give Artpace every year currently represents 42% of Artpace’s budget. Obviously we’re going to continue supporting Artpace. The only request that Linda had of her Trustees on this issue was to watch the core mission of Artpace, which for Linda was the artist-in- residency program. She did not want us to let Artpace deviate from that programmatic focus, because it was the whole reason that Artpace was legally separate from CHRISpark and the Linda Pace Foundation. As I said before, Linda did not want that residency program, that creative, artist driven process, to ever be diluted by by anything else, such as collecting.

…mbg: On the subject of collecting, I’ve noticed that you are still making acquisitions for the Pace collection.

RM: Since Linda’s death, we’ve made two acquisitions and committed to one more acquisition. The two we’ve recently completed are both by Daniel Joseph Martinez, represented by the text mural piece on the external side of our east façade of our office and the Carrara marble figures of the Black Panther Revolutionaries Hughey Newton and Bobby Seale. Both of these works were commissioned by Linda before her death.. The third acquisition is the 2007 Artist’s Multiple from Artpace by Do Ho Suh. As a part of her collecting, Linda had acquired every one of the Artpace multiples, and we wanted to continue the precedent that she set.

…mbg: So who’s doing the acquisitions at this point?

RM: We don’t have an acquisitions committee. It was the five of us who said, "Let’s acquire this piece," because Linda had acquired every single multiple that artists had made for Artpace up to that point, so we wanted to go ahead and continue that process. So those two aspects of our mission—granting to artists and collecting—really are not developed and are not the directed focus of the Foundation right now.

…mbg: Will you need a curator?

RM: That’s something that we will try to figure out with Kathryn and Dennis’s help but we don’t know yet whether that’s something we’d need for the new building. It is under consideration by the Trustees.

…mbg: What’s your relationship to contemporary art these days?

RM: I was around Linda for six and a half years and she taught me a lot about contemporary art. For me, it’s about appreciating Linda’s mission, vision and journey and protecting what she put in place. Contemporary art is a central part of that journey, but the journey contains so much more. It’s about Linda’s legacy as a philanthropist and helping people continue to understand and appreciate the impact that Linda has made not only in San Antonio, but in the broader contemporary art world.

I used to say to Linda that Artpace will be your greatest creative contribution recognized in the art world, but the public doesn’t understand that as much as they do CHRISpark. And on numerous occasions when Linda and I were walking in CHRISpark, I witnessed people coming up to her and saying “Are you Ms. Pace? Thank you for giving us this park.” It’s something that the public understood. She used to smile at me when I said that, but one day, she said, I finally understand what you are saying and agree with you. The rest of her legacy is what the impact of the building will be on the landscape of San Antonio. And that’s exciting, but it’s also rather daunting for us, because if you look at CHRISpark and Artpace, the common element was Linda. And it’s very humbling to think about moving forward with the building without Linda as the main component of the creative process. But we also know that she trusted us with this project. Toward the end of her life, with the Trustees at her bedside, she looked at me and said “I had a lot of work to do.” We all remember this moment and it is quite empowering to us as we move forward with fulfilling Linda’s mission that she defined for her Foundation.

…mbg: What’s coming up for the Foundation in 2009?

RM: I am hopeful that we will have completed the schematic design phase with the building and moved to the design development phase so that we’ll be able to present a model to the public that we know that we can build. I cannot say for certain the time horizon for the building. Absent further deterioration in the capital markets, I would tell you a four year window but that could be longer depending on market uncertainties.

We also need to complete the administration of Linda’s estate and get the proceeds from remaining assets to the Foundation. Also, we’ve been setting up policies and procedures for the Foundation, following the IRS promulgated best practices guidelines for non-profits. We’ve been very particular about making sure that our policies and procedures can be used by other foundations as a model. In fact, I’ve already been asked by the Southwest Conference of Foundations to share some of our policies with them, which I’ve done, so that other member foundations may pattern their own policies after policies that we have created. Hopefully we’ll continue to be a role model for strong internal procedures and strong policies that will strengthen the integrity and openness of operations at foundations across the country.

Claire Ruud is Editor of ...might be good.


Demetrius Oliver: Observatory
D'Amelio Terras, New York
On view through September 27, 2008

By Quinn Latimer

Demetrius Oliver, Ember IV, 2008, digital c-print, 29 x 43 1/2 inches AP2, Edition of 3, 2 APs. Courtesy the artist and D'Amelio Terras Gallery.

Strange scenes of forensic-like activity glowed like so many moons in Demetrius Oliver’s first New York solo exhibition, which turned D’Amelio Terras’s gallery into the titular Observatory. In a series of square photographs featuring fish-eyed images framed by dense, planetary darkness, the formerly Houston-based conceptual artist is shown in his studio engaged in seemingly exploratory maneuvers. In one, Oliver balances on a ladder holding up a kerosene lantern, illumining an empty corner; in another, he probes a fireplace with a fire stoker, shifting about the tumble of illuminated lamps that fill its recesses. In some images the artist is absent and here, clues to human (perhaps alien) presence abound: electrical cords snake across the floor; shovels and pick axes are laid out neatly in front of a fireplace; a meteor-like fragment sits silently on a dark red carpet (the same sparkly fragment sits disconcertingly near you on the polished white floor of the gallery).

In each of these images, the camera that took it (often in the tarnished silver reflection of a tea kettle) is front and center, eyeing you as you eye it, contributing to a discomfiting hall of mirrors effect. Adding to this surreal space-like milieu is a series of stacked white plastic buckets laid out on their side that streak across the gallery floor like the blur of a shooting star (or a telescope, as the title suggests). Projected into the bottom of the first is a slide show of a crashing wave rotating in a circle, its cresting white foam evoking the pale pebbled surface of a moon. On a far wall, a video of an actual spinning moon (from a drawing by Galileo) is screened as well, over which John Coltrane’s Intersteller Space album plays dreamily.

In the past, Oliver has consistently mined the history of American literature and race relations (William Faulkner, Emmett Till) for works that conflate identity politics with conceptual art practices like performance, photo-documentation and videos of odd, isolated acts. In these new works, however, Bruce Nauman’s body-in-the-studio investigations are a clear precursor, as is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, at solitary work in his basement room, cut off from the chaotic injustice of the world outside. And, in a nice postmodern turn, Jeff Wall’s famous portrait of Ellison’s hero is also evoked by the many light bulbs populating Oliver’s images.

But the artist’s new attention toward the cosmos recalls something else as well: a more recent movement among artists of color—Simone Leigh and Olalekan B. Jeyifous, among others—who are using tropes of science fiction to critique contemporary race and identity issues or create utopian worlds in which they are not at play. In the literary world, similar work by esteemed writers like the late Octavia Butler has long been coined speculative fiction—a designation that might also be applied to Oliver’s new body of work. His man-in-the-moon (or man-in-the-studio) character is nothing if not a speculator. Sequestered off in Other worlds that weirdly mirror our own, he displays all the signs of a pioneer: testing, probing and longing for the new, whatever, and wherever, that might be.

Quinn Latimer is a poet and art critic based in New York and Basel, Switzerland. Her poems have appeared in the Paris Review, Boston Review and Prairie Schooner, among other journals, and her art and literary reviews regularly appear in Modern Painters, where she is an associate editor.

Where Are We Going? Artists Address the Issues of the 21st Century
AMOA, Austin
Through November 2, 2008

By Katie Geha

Installation View, Jonathan Marshall's Bicycle Boat (2007), Waves (2007) and Book of Lenny (2007), Austin Museum of Art. Courtesy Austin Museum of Art. Photo: Peggy Tenison.

Hidden in the front gallery of the Austin Museum of Art, Vija Celmins’s small works are the perfect metaphors for an exhibition that asks big questions. Celmins’s two prints depict a flat expanse of a night sky and a grey-tinted spider web, respectively. Like this exhibition of big questions, the prints expand out, into the vastness of the open sky, and contract, telescoping in to minute forms of life. Art Historian Lane Relyea describes Celmins' work as both a “nest and a void.”[1] The exhibition, curated by Dana Friis-Hansen, Executive Director and Chief Curator of the museum, poses questions about modern life: “Where are we going?” “Who are we?” and “What is our relationship to nature?” The exhibition succeeds in asking big questions while refusing to tacitly serve up clean answers. Rather, the often phenomenal works, all of which come from Austin institutions or private collections, complicate the big questions—they scan out to the void, while simultaneously tightening the nest.

What is easy about the exhibition is the digestible themes through which Friis-Hansen organized the works. The first gallery, “Where are we going?” is filled by Jonathan Marshall’s large-scale works. Not unlike the story of Huck Finn, the epic Marshall tells is the, albeit somewhat vague, story of Lenny, a supposed everyman searching for something. Friis-Hansen does a nice job of creating a tableaux among the works: a large bike-motored boat sculpture is placed in front of a large canvas depicting a wide expanse of blue sky. The two objects act as remnants of a larger story depicted in an adjacent video—an awkward journey in which Lenny encounters costumed bears and fords rivers in search of his truth, whatever that may be. And while Marshall may not know exactly where we are going, Lenny is a hopeful vision for those active enough to start wondering and looking.

Like Marshall’s wandering man, a painting by Owen McAuley also implies that “where we are going” is unclear. Madison, NY (2004) is covered almost entirely in a photographic black that suggests depth. In the foreground, a small section of snow with fresh tracks is expertly depicted. The painting has a narrative quality—the spectator appears to be sitting in a car, the snow illuminated by the headlights, the icy road ahead. It reminded this viewer of the last lines of a Tobias Wolff story, a story that describes a dangerous night drive in the snow: “And the best was yet to come—switchbacks and hairpins impossible to describe. Except maybe to say this: If you haven’t driven fresh powder, you haven’t driven.”[2]

Does this work convey that “where we are going” is a dangerous place? If so, the theme of the connecting gallery is an apt one: “Paradise Lost and Found.” This gallery looks at humans’ relationship to nature and the changing environment. At times the works in the gallery points toward the broader story, as in, for example, Chris Jordan’s large scale photographs of crushed cars, and at other moments, the works offer smaller, more intricate meditations, such as Anna Appleby’s glowing set of four monochromatic paintings Shirley Poppy (2004). The muted green and pink colors in the canvases are abstracted from the actual hues of the flower and the addition of wax to the oil paint creates a dimension of luminosity. Surprisingly, these minimal paintings are the only works in the exhibition that even hint that “where we are going” has anything to do with the legacy of modernism.

The paintings in the exhibition are largely figurative and this is no more apparent than in the next section: “Who are we?”—a big question, addressed by a series of portraits in varying media. On all my visits, a crowd was gathered around Noah Kalina’s video portrait Everyday January 11,2000—July 31, 2006 (2000-2006), a time-lapsed video that, in 5 minutes and 45 seconds, shows a picture of the artist everyday over a six year time-span. The fast paced movement of the images makes the work mesmerizing, like a screen saver on your computer, and it’s neat to see Kalina’s hair grow and then get cut, just to grow again. But the over-seriousness of the work is bothersome—Kalina’s big doe eyes and straight set mouth remain the same in each frame while a piano intones a heavy-handed melody. The work implies that “who we are” is in stasis—a state where only our hair changes, a state where we never laugh or smile or have any sense to not take ourselves so seriously. Does changing, growing old or moving forward, have to be such a somber act? Yet, the influence of the work is undeniable—it is a viral video (it has had 10 million views on youtube) that has inspired many knock-offs, including a commercial for Time Warner cable and a spoof on The Simpsons.

Margarita Cabrera’s recreation of the contents of an immigrant’s backpack—a backpack she found in the border patrol’s archives—looks more carefully at who we might be in the 21st century. The objects of what one carries into a new life—a bottle of water, a can of beans, and a pornographic comic book—are reconstructed in fabric. Such a rendering creates a dual portrait—one that describes, through the choices of objects, the immigrant, and one that describes the artist as her hand traces these objects in the remaking of their forms in cloth.

The exhibition is most successful when the pieces, like Cabrera’s, do not hold too literally to the theme to which they are assigned. An artist addressing the question “Where are we going?” is not, by any means, a new phenomenon. We can agree that to be an artist is to be a visionary. Thus, the best pieces in this exhibition extend and subvert the themes under which they are grouped. These works continue to complicate the big questions; they are the works that point out the difficulty in finding our way.

[1] Lane Relyea, "Vija Celmins' Twilight Zone," in Vija Celmins, Lane Relyea, Robert Gober, Briony Fer (New York: Phaidon Press, 2004): 87.
[2] Tobias Wolff, “Powder,” The Night in Question (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 37.

Katie Geha is pursuing a Ph.D. in Art History at The University of Texas at Austin.

Contemporary Art in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez’ New Socialism
August 2008

By Ursula Davila-Villa

Installation View, De plomo en oro (Weeping Gold), La Carnicería Arte Actual. Courtesy La Carnicería. Photo: Gabriela Di Stefano.

Caracas is an enigmatic place. The present political conditions of the country—under the idiosyncratic socialism of President Hugo Chavez—have transformed the city, giving way to extreme political tension, increasing pressures to suppress any opposition against Chavez, and deliberate acts of hate among citizens (who, in the past, coexisted peacefully despite differing political beliefs). Caracas, once a singular example of a modern project that saw the arts as integral to public space and democracy, still manages to maintain this idealism in some of its creative communities today. Despite the circumstances, young initiatives among artists and art enthusiasts with shared values have opened new roads of communication through the language of contemporary art.

One of my favorite things about Caracas is the presence of public art in the most unexpected settings. It is fascinating to see modernism still standing in the shape of buildings and art throughout the city and, especially, in the superb modern project of the Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas. The complex—regarded as a masterpiece of architecture and urban planning—was designed by architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva in 1953. One the highlights of this campus is the display of public art that connects buildings, green zones, libraries and internal roads. Several artists were chosen to participate in the project, among them Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Alejandro Otero, Jesús Soto and several others. By bringing artists into the design team, Villanueva intended to find solutions to the urban problems faced by modern cities by using art as a bridge between public and private space thus humanizing the urban experience.

Present political tensions have limited the ability of museums to present either contemporary art or high quality shows of important Venezuelan artists, such as Jesús Soto, Alejandro Otero, Carlos Cruz-Diez and Reverón. To my surprise when I visited the Museo de Bellas Artes—also designed by Villanueva—their program was an exhibition about the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata; such programming evinces the influence that national politics now have on the state-run museums.

However, while the museum system collapses under the pressure to present populist rhetoric, alternative exhibition spaces have taken up a new and important role in Caracas. These smaller, private spaces, are defining the face of contemporary art in Venezuela today. Although authorities label much contemporary art “elitist,” the art market and interest in contemporary art appear to be thriving. Indeed, private interests and artists’ initiatives have changed the landscape of the art scene, which historically has been dominated by the same museums that are closing their doors to the art of today.

Among these alternative art spaces, a highlight is a group of galleries called Periférico Caracas. Each gallery operates under a different initiative, either private or artist-run. Among them are Fernando Zubillaga Galería de Arte, Galpones de Los Caobos, Espacio T, and Oficina #1. During my visits to these spaces, the work of artist Pepe Lopez at Fernando Zubillaga Galería de Arte particularly caught my attention. Lopez’s work is a thought-provoking reinterpretation of the historical tradition of geometric abstraction—a tradition that became emblematic of Venezuelan art during the second half of the 20th century. At first sight, López’s work seems like a pure formal exercise in using paper and color tape to build colorful geometric compositions. But upon closer examination, the works become imaginary cartographies that map fictional geographies, speaking to the ephemeral condition of the human experience.

In a very different neighborhood, Galería La Cuadra sets a very different tone. Neither an experimental space nor a pristine white cube, the gallery is a privately-run commercial art gallery that promotes work by emerging artists. Here, I encountered the best show I saw during my visit to Caracas: Victoria Regia, an exhibition presenting the work of Nayarí Castillo, a young Venezuelan artist based in Weimar, Germany. Originally trained in Venezuela as a molecular biologist and currently finishing her MFA at the Bauhaus University, her work makes use of all kinds of media—video, photography, installations and ready-mades—and utilizes in-depth academic research as a subject matter to shed light on the ways history is constructed and the vulnerability of the written word.

In Victoria Regia, Castillo thoroughly investigates the travels that German scientists undertook in Latin America during the 19th century, building a narrative through a series of ready-mades and videos that echo the ideas of German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. One of the most interesting pieces was Tapirus Terrestris from the series Archeology from a Journey. The work presents a video installation showing a close-up shot of a tapir that can be seen through an antique magnifying glass. The framing of the video as an object within a cabinet of curiosities transforms the moving image into a historical reference to the removal of tapirs from their natural habitat in America to European lands as a result of the research done by German scientists. Castillo’s work poses two qualities that are rarely seen together in contemporary art: in-depth research presented in an abstract form and strong formal attributes that allow each work to communicate without the need for an extended explicative text.

Among all of the alternative art spaces in Caracas, my favorite was La Carnicería Arte Actual (literal translation: “The Butchery Present-day Art”), open since 2006. The space, an old butcher shop, has become an experimental and commercial gallery, as well as a photography workshop offering courses at various levels. La Carnicería is located in an industrial and gritty neighborhood; nonetheless, the opening I attended was packed with artists, curators and collectors.

Working with a small budget, the directors of the gallery, Carmen Araujo and Roberto Mata, have used the existing limitations to their advantage, proposing a highly sophisticated model for a new type of alternative art space. For each show, Araujo and Mata invite a different curator—emerging or established—to select an artist or group of artists and write the exhibition text, which is published in the form of an illustrated brochure. This structure, which separates the curatorial role from that of coordination and sales, has resulted in excellent exhibitions; most importantly, the artists who have worked at the space have felt respected and supported by both the curators and production team.

During my visit to the space, five artists were preparing for the show, De ploro en oro (Weeping in Gold), which was about to open. Each artist seemed very conscious that his or her work was receiving the space—discursive and physical—it needed. A deep understanding of the artists’ work was evident in both the curatorial and production teams. This combination of results is difficult to attain, even in big institutions with handsome budgets. Thus, it is refreshing to see how a space such as La Carnicería is able to do the same with much less.

A sense of disorientation pervaded my entire visit to Caracas. Political tensions are evident in the streets, in everyday conversations, in the faces of people and in the contemporary art. The day-to-day struggle is evident at every level, but as in many other episodes in history, art is becoming a transformative force within Venezuelan society. Crossing gender, age, and class, the alternative art spaces in Caracas are becoming a powerful call for society to come together to fight for their city by keeping art at its core. Hopefully, museums will one day play the role they once had again, by joining in this thriving desire to bring a young and energetic generation of artists to civic spaces for the community.

Ursula Davila-Villa is Interim Curator of Latin American Art at the Blanton Museum of Art.

to the editor

Rachel Koper

Hi Claire,

I'd like to reiterate your "Option 2" [see last issue's From the Editor]. If you have a thought about local arts coverage, write a letter to the editor. It's the editor's job to digest and respond to public feedback. Trust me, Robert Faires, the Chronicle's arts editor, doesn't read all those artist's blogs, but he will read a "letter to the editor."

As a person who wears more than one hat in the Austin arts community, I find artists need to know it's important to direct comments to the correct person. Otherwise you're just talking to your own armpit. I write cheerleading-style arts essays for the Chronicle, big deal. If you want to write scathing reviews of bad shows for the Chronicle, it's pretty easy to get a job over there. My advice is try it and see. I started writing reviews with the mentality, "I can't possibly do worse than what's currently going down." I mean this in a punk and positive way.

Editors hire writers and set the tone. People like me are part time freelancers and don't control anything. Where does leadership come from?

Rachel Koper

...mbg recommends

Bayou City

By Kate Watson

Oil slicks in floodwater surround a pumpjack, September 14, 2008, in High Island, Texas, Smiley N. Pool/AFP/Getty Images. Courtesy Boston.com

As Houston and our fair neighbors to the east struggle to clean up from Ike and recover normalcy, many major art institutions have brushed themselves off and are reopening this weekend. Upon examining the recently opened shows in H-Town, …mbg was struck by the timely nature of much of this work. Threads of activism, environmentalism and optimism (in the face of loss and destruction) run throughout projects currently on view at DiverseWorks, Rice University Art Gallery, Blaffer Gallery and more (all of these spaces are now reopen at press time).

Of all of the fabulous exhibitions in these spaces, Aurora Robson’s massive, whimsical installation, The Great Indoors at Rice Gallery, takes the cake for uncanniness. Using 15,000 plastic bottles, Robson and a large staff of assistants have created an eco wonder world that truly challenges the viewer to consider the physical qualities and consequences of this very contemporary consumable. Douglas Britt of the Houston Chronicle interviewed Robson on Wednesday (September 17) as she put the final touches on her gorgeous sculptures that explore cellular structures, the body, and objects that are literally the stuff of (the artist’s) childhood nightmares…or perhaps The Magic School Bus.

At Blaffer Gallery, Damaged Romanticism prevails. The press release offers a fascinating sentiment, saying, “stubborn optimism takes the place of dreamy utopianism in Damaged Romanticism. In this sense it embodies an aftermath aesthetic…” Particularly, the internationally acclaimed work of Canadian photographer and filmmaker Edward Burtynsky strikes a chord as horrible, beautiful news images flood in from Galveston and Port Arthur. Burtynsky is a master examiner of industrial wastelands, traveling to the ends of the earth to capture the aesthetically stunning and often ghastly sites of globalism’s underbelly.

Lastly, Ben Tecumseh DeSoto’s 20-year investigation of Houston’s street life, Understanding Poverty, opens today (September 19th) at DiverseWorks. DeSoto’s powerful images create a narrative for those so often left silent and invisible, especially as a community undergoes times of strain on public resources. Most importantly, this ongoing project is a much large effort that works in conjunction with many other community organizations and participation from individuals, including the images’ subjects themselves.

As Texas assesses the damage that Ike has caused, these shows raise timely questions about the fragility of our nation, of our global, fossil fuel-dependent economic structure, of the health of our environment and so much more. This is less a fascinating coincidence, and more the vulnerable yet hopeful sentiment of now.

For more information on reopening institutions and arts events in the Houston area (as well as updates on the hard hit Galveston Arts Center), please see http://blogs.chron.com/artsinhouston.

announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

William Cordova: pachacuti pachacuti pachacuti
Okay Mountain
Opens September 27th, 2008, 7-10pm
Join the mountaineers as they roll out the red carpet for major player William Cordova. Cordova, fresh off of his residency at ArtPace, will show several installations completed during the past couple of years. If we know Cordova, this show should prove to be quite epic.

Susan Collis: Why did I think this was a good idea
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Opens Saturday, October 4, 2008 6-8 pm; artist talk at 7 pm
Lora Reynolds is moving and we can’t wait to see the new spot! What better way to celebrate than to show a solo exhibition by British artist Susan Collis, a project focusing on the transition of spaces. Collis’ pieces disguise themselves as ordinary tools used for constructing, cleaning and hanging an art exhibition. As such, at first glance the exhibition might lead viewers to believe the gallery is still under construction. Further investigation of the space however will reward the viewer, leading him/her toward Collis’ notions of hidden labor, within a complex network of contradictions and revelations.

Houston Openings

Ben Tecumseh DeSoto: Understanding Poverty
Opening Rescheduled for September 19
After many years of documenting life on the streets of Houston, photographer Ben Tecumseh DeSoto seeks to tell the stories of the homeless and working poor, the “broke and the broken,” with his exhibit Understanding Poverty, which will kick off DiverseWorks 08-09 season with an opening reception on Friday, Sept. 12, 2008.

San Antonio Openings

Delusions of Grandeur
Unit B Gallery
Opens Friday, September 19, 2008, 6:30-10pm
This group show plays with the phrase "delusions of grandeur" and its multiple meanings. The work explores subject matter such as the preservation of trivial items for posterity, intergalactic communication and the artist as Superman.

Dallas On View

Richie Budd: New Work
Road Agent
On view through October 11, 2008
Budd, who received his MFA from the University of Texas at San Antonio, is a current artist in residence at the acclaimed Artpace program in San Antonio. Budd’s recent work is primarily sculpture—biomorphically strange, dark, funny, and repulsive—always hinting at underlying violence and hijinks.

Scott Anderson: Rendezvous Point
Light & Sie
On view through November 1, 2008
Rendezvous Point is an exhibition of new paintings and drawings by Chicago-based painter, Scott Anderson. Taking the theme of travel as a foundation for this series, Scott has created new worlds of wonderment that defy physical laws of time and space.

Houston On View

Damaged Romanticism
Blaffer Gallery
On View through November 15, 2008
This group show, rescheduled to open this weekend, features fifteen internationally recognized contemporary artists working in painting, sculpture, installation, photography, and video. All linked by a defiant optimism, or “damaged romanticism,” this timely show promises to be excellent.

The Dead Weight of a Quarrel Hangs: Selections from The Atlas Group Archive
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
On view through November 23, 2008
The Glassell School of Art's Core Exhibition Program continues this fall with work by the provocative Lebanese-American artist Walid Raad. Beginning in 1989, Raad produced his work under the rubric of an artistic alter ego, The Atlas Group, which he describes as an imaginary foundation whose goal was to document the Lebanese Civil Wars of 1975-1990. For approximately fifteen years, Raad/The Atlas Group collected or produced an extensive archive of audio, visual and literary documents to record the war-torn country's history.

Aurora Robson: The Great Indoors
Rice Gallery
On view through October 26th, 2008
For this commissioned, large-scale installation, native Canadian/Hawaiian (current New Yorker) Robson is practicing some seriously weird science (she's super green AND obsessed with string theory?!). In The Great Indoors, Robson focuses on the intricacies of the human body as a three-dimensional environment.

announcements: events

Austin Events

Austin Museum of Digital Art (AMODA): Digital Showcase 44
Austin Museum of Digital Art
Saturday, September 20th, 2008, 9pm-2am
Admission: $7 general; $5 members
This special Digital Showcase (hosted by Club Deville) features art and music inspired by video games. This event is organized in conjunction with Arthouse’s current exhibition RESET/PLAY, a critical exploration of the intersection between video games and visual art.

Houston Events

Ellen Spiro: Body of War
Aurora Picture Show
Saturday, September 27, 2008 at 8 pm and Sunday, September 28, 2008 at 3 pm
Admission: $6.00
In collaboration with Austin Film Society's monthly documentary presentation, Aurora Picture Show presents Body of War, directed by University of Texas Associate Professor Ellen Spiro on Saturday, September 27 and Sunday, September 28. The event is co-presented with Documentary Alliance, and filmmaker Ellen Spiro will be in attendance for Saturday evening's screening only (September 27).

Marfa Events

The Marfa Sessions
Ballroom Marfa and various locations throughout Marfa
Opens September 27th, 2008, Noon
With events happening throughout the weekend of September 27th, The Marfa Sessions (Ballroom Marfa’s first exhibition devoted to artists working with sound) promises to be big. Independent curators Regine Basha, Rebecca Gates and Lucy Raven will bring together fifteen artists with specific interests in sound work and its potential as a transgressive medium across place and geography. Individual sound projects will be installed at Ballroom Marfa and embedded within the public spaces and private corners of Marfa, creating a sonic portrait of this unusual West Texas town. A project on this scale is worth the epic journey (greasy I-10 tacos included)!

Fort Worth Events

Tuesday Evenings at The Modern: Kara Walker
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
September 23, 2008, at 7 pm
Kara Walker, whose work is featured in the Modern’s current exhibition My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, presents the ideas and issues behind her compelling installations, drawings, paintings, and text-based works, which are as disturbing as they are beautiful. Walker’s unforgiving representation of the complex dynamics and ramifications of slavery has been the subject of much praise and controversy. This Tuesday Evening presentation offers insight into works of art that rattle and reconfigure historical perceptions, nudging and posing questions about personal and collective views on issues of race, gender, and sexuality.

announcements: opportunities

Employment Opportunities

Assistant Director for the Bush Artist Program (BAP)
The Bush Foundation
The Bush* Foundation of Saint Paul, MN is seeking to fill the full-time position of Assistant Director for the Bush Artist Program (BAP). The Assistant Director will have the opportunity to continue work on the BAP's program expansion and to enhance services for individual artists in the Foundation's three-state area. The job description is posted on the Bush Foundation's website under About Us/Job Opportunities.

* This Bush family founded the 3M Company, and is not related to the Bush political dynasty.

Production Coordinator
Eyebeam Atelier, Inc.
The Eyebeam Production Coordinator supports the development, coordination, and production needs of Eyebeam’s fellowship and residents programs. Eyebeam is an art and technology center in New York, NY, that provides a fertile context and state-of-the-art tools for digital research and experimentation. Application deadline: September 19, 2008. Please send resume, cover letter and two professional references with the subject heading "Production Coordinator" to: alice@eyebeam.org

Technical Staff Assistant
The Blanton Museum of Art, the University of Texas, Austin
The Technical Staff Assistant provides skilled art handling and A/V installation and maintenance to the Blanton Museum of Art installation department. Apply online at The University of Texas online job database.

Call for Entries

New Call to Artists: Northwest Recreation Center Expansion
The City of Austin Art in Public Places (AIPP)
Deadline: Midnight, October 19, 2008
The City of Austin Art in Public Places (AIPP) program of the Cultural Arts Division seeks to commission visual art professional to create an environment that provides a transition from the exterior to the interior of the Northwest Recreation Center, in dialogue with the proposed architecture and facility's programs. The City of Austin requests qualifications from visual arts professionals who live or work within the state of Texas. For more information: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/aipp. Questions, call Meghan Turner, AIPP Coordinator, at 512.974.9314.

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