MBG Issue #110: Do It Yourself

Issue # 110

Do It Yourself

November 14, 2008

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Democratic Presidential Nominee, Barack Obama and his family on election night in Chicago, IL on Wednesday, November 5, 2008. (David Katz/Obama for America).

from the editor

Recent interest in the punk scene comes to a head this weekend in Austin: Ian Mackaye (of Minor Threat, Fugazi and The Evens) speaks tonight at St. Edwards; Matt Stokes films tonight’s punk concert at The Broken Neck (Inepsy, Lebenden Toten, Unit 21 and Vaska) into the early hours of tomorrow morning—footage he will use in his upcoming exhibition at Arthouse; Temporary Services presents the culmination of months of conversations with Austin punkers (such as the Big Boys and The Dicks) at Domy on Saturday night and testsite on Sunday afternoon. An obsession with punk isn’t limited to Austin either. Last year, Susan Dynner’s Punk’s Not Dead (2007) made the film festival circuit and later this month, Christie’s is holding its first ever auction of punk memorabilia. The question is: why punk now?

Perhaps punk music and the punk ethos are responses to economic crises engendered by trickledown models. Reaganism, for instance, infused the poles of wealth and poverty with a moral code, to the point where it became revolutionary to project a lack of talent or ambition or musicianship: such a projection perverted an entire moral order. Furthermore, Punk’s simultaneous crises-des-coeurs of populism and misanthropy echo the qualities of zombie movies (a film genre that also sees a spike in production during economic ruin): an unstable code of being-within and being-without. Now, in 2008, Austin’s culture is antithetical to recent mandates of the Bush administration: duty, industry, country, family – and also has a curiously sandwiched position within the rest of the state. Cities like Minneapolis, Kansas City, Olympia – and we would include Austin among this group – develop virulent punk scenes because of the friction of being embedded in an opposing ideology.

“Barack Obama is the punk rock president,” says blogger Rian Fike of the Daily Kos. Many remember punk for its in-your-face iconoclasm, but it also created loose-knit communities that encouraged creative expression not confined simply to the music. If Hillary Clinton “found her own voice” in the New Hampshire primary many moons ago, Obama’s clear and consistent (and very punk) slogans of “hope” and “change” shouted louder and clearer. If Obama had been a member of the punk community in his youth, he would have photocopied thousands of flyers a week and cooked endless vegan meals at Food Not Bombs.

The Republican Party intimately knows the threat of the “community organizer.” It is this figure that threatens the strength of ignorance and hate. If Karl Rove is the Izod-wearing fraternity king, yelling “chug it” at a victory party, Obama is the straight-edge idealist wearing his heart on his sleeve. The propaganda machine of the last eight years is dead and Obama stands quietly alone, ready to help us forge a new future of acceptance and openness. No longer posting flyers, “punk rock Obama” uses the internet as his tool. (Have you seen his Flickr page?)

Deep in the heart of Texas, our bleeding blue hearts stand in beautiful punk rock contrast to our red meat neighbors. We continue to thrash our way towards equality and peace.

Katie Anania, Claire Ruud and Kate Watson are the backbone of Fluent~Collaborative.


Reimagining Space: The Park Place Gallery Group in 1960s New York
The Blanton Museum, Austin
Through January 18, 2009

By Lauren O'Neill-Butler

Reimagining Space at The Blanton Museum of Art (Installation view), September 28, 2008 - January 18, 2009. Curated by Linda Dalrymple Henderson.

The impulse to reassess vital, yet vastly overlooked art and artists from the 1960s is alive and well in Austin, thanks in large part to professor and curator Linda Dalrymple Henderson and Reimagining Space: The Park Place Gallery Group in 1960s New York. Evocative of the vision and intellectual scope of recent museum survey exhibitions, such as WACK! Art at the Feminist Revolution and High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975, this group show equally succeeds in providing a sharp interdisciplinary and thematic overview grounded in thorough research. Similar to the aforementioned shows, the galleries teem with experimental painting and sculpture, including works that resist tidy art historical classifications––Geometric Abstraction, Minimalism, post-Minimalism––through an emphasis on personal experience, biography, metaphor and narrative.

Unlike the previous exhibitions, however, Reimagining Space examines a slightly earlier and shorter period of artistic production—roughly 1963 to 1967—and offers a tightly focused selection of five American painters (Dean Fleming, Tamara Melcher, David Novros, Edwin Ruda, and Leo Valledor) and five sculptors (Mark di Suvero, Peter Forakis, Robert Grosvenor, Anthony Magar and Forrest Myers). In 1963, these artists collectively formed the first large-scale cooperative gallery in New York at 79 Park Place under the directorship of John Gibson and later, Paula Cooper. The gallery moved in 1965 to larger space at 542 West Broadway, which may have created a precedent for the kind of large, loft-like spaces that later blossomed in SoHo and are now ubiquitous in Chelsea. Clearly a labor of love that has its roots in an essay Henderson began in 2002, the exhibition encompasses an intriguing collection of ephemera, films, photographs and excellent exhibition catalog.

References to the fourth dimension, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Buckminster Fuller, space-warps and cosmic consciousness abound in the show, although the specific attitudes and preferences of each artist are also evident. For example, Fleming’s paintings appear most interested in mysticism; Forakis’ work mainly examines geometry; di Suvero’s sculptures appear nearly weightless in their investigations of space and time; and Myers took the space age and new technologies as his primary interest. Although several of the artists were included in groundbreaking exhibitions of Minimal art—including Systemic Painting at the Guggenheim and Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum (both 1966)—most of the works in Reimagining Space have fallen through the cracks of art history and have not been seen simultaneously, or at all, in over forty years—until now.

While lofty themes are pervasive here, the show also casts a critical look at formal qualities, including color and materials. Prominent art critics, such as Lucy Lippard and Donald Judd, were interested in the latter subject, as evidenced in their exhibition reviews of the Park Place sculptors. In her appraisal of the first Park Place invitational in 1964 for Artforum, Lippard notes, “The Park Place Gallery . . . is becoming a center of polychrome sculpture, and their invitational show includes examples in plaster, wood and metal as well as commercial plastics,” and Judd writes in Arts Magazine that the, “bright colors and new materials are pregnant.” Indeed, nearly all of the sculptures and paintings in Reimagining Space offer a robust palette. Tamara Melcher’s three canvases, for example, explore a range of colors in their perceptual abstraction. Her Untitled (1965), which is installed between Dean Fleming’s Lime Line (1965) and Peter Forakis’s JFK Chair (1963), depicts bulging and folding triangles in a dazzling palette of light blue, brown, grey and chartreuse. Installed on the same wall, Melcher’s Untitled (1967) appears invested in the harmonic timbres of red, blue and purple, but takes the shape of four interconnected triangular shaped canvases. With these works almost bookending the back gallery wall, one gains a sense of Melcher’s (and others’) playfulness with color, shape and space, as well as a general movement away from standard four-sided canvases to shaped, multidimensional canvases, as if the bright, symbolic forms are trying to be released from their supports.

In a section of the show dedicated to exhibition announcements, press and other ephemeral objects regarding the Park Place Gallery group, viewers can watch North Star (1977) a film by Barbara Rose and Francoise Menil. In one scene, Mark di Suvero sits on his New York City rooftop and notes that, “this place says more about my life than any other place in the world.” Indeed, his massive sculptures of discarded building materials, such as The “A” Train (1965-67) and Stuyvensanteye (1965) make clear links to the urban environment, as do paintings by Edwin Ruda and Dan Fleming. Ruda’s Redball (1965) recalls the geometric forms of Russian Constructivist art, but also references the slang for an express train. Looking at the work recalls the frenzied spirit of riding a crowded subway car during an early morning or late night commute. Stuyvensanteye offers a more direct reference to New York and its Stuyvesant Town, an urban renewal project that uprooted thousands of residents in the 1940s. This is just one of a few works in the show that directly suggest social history and politics, themes that are not as strongly considered here as other more scientific ideas such as perception.

For instance, David Novros’s and Leo Valledor’s paintings evoke the most fascinating and heightened experience of space, the underlying theme of the show. Novros’s 2:16 and 4:32 are installed near di Suvero’s "A" Train, as they were once positioned in the artists’ two-person exhibition at the gallery in 1966. One gains a sense of the materiality and heft of Novros’s large vertical canvases while traversing around them. Conversely, across the gallery a friction between surface and illusion occurs in Valledor’s revelatory Serena (1964). For many years, this work resided in di Suvero’s studio on Front Street and in a fleeting moment in North Star, one can catch a glimpse of it. Seeing the canvas in the context of the studio provides a conceptual underpinning to the show that emphasizes community and friendships, as well as a moment when art was really just about art (and not money, fame, or success), at least for this small group.

One wonders, of course, what would and could have happened if this gallery had remained active after 1967. While several of the artists moved away (notably, Fleming formed the Libre community in Colorado), others gained international recognition, particularly di Suvero and Grosvenor. Nevertheless, this exhibition proves that while art history may favor sharply defined movements and moments, such breaks are not always the most important elements to consider. Perhaps more valuable are the little known and vastly underrated pockets of time—moments in which uninhibited experimentation emerges that, once discovered, might radically change the way we think about history, all things considered.

Lauren O'Neill-Butler is the managing editor of Artforum.com and teaches art history at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

Susan Collis
Lora Reynolds, Austin
Through November 15, 2008

By Kate Green

Susan Collis, Installation view of Trojan horse, 2007, Wooden table, diamond, fresh water pearl, oyster pearl, mother of pearl, conch shell, Brazilian opal, white opal, white howlite, magnecite, gold mother of pearl, cultured pearl, agate, orange calcite, 28 1/4 x 31 1/4 x 49 1/4 inches. Images courtesy Lora Reynolds Gallery.

You will be forgiven if at first you miss the point of, or even the art in, London-based Susan Collis’ elegant show at Lora Reynolds Gallery’s new space in downtown Austin. The gallery is scattered with what initially appear to be leftover work tools (coveralls, screws, a broom). Closer inspection reveals the trick. Collis, whose drawings, sculptures and performance projects highlight the invisibility of labor—imagine a post-Feminist, object-oriented Merle Ukeles—has embellished these usually marginalized items with precious time and material: those paint stains are actually intricately inlaid pearls, diamonds, turquoise and so forth. The resulting pieces are gorgeous, witty, delicate and collectible to the point of distraction; ultimately, they prevent the show from provoking a truly complex consideration of the role of labor in the making and circulation of art.

Susan CollisFixed (detail), 2008 (for complete credit view gallery).

Collis’ interest in transforming the work involved in showing art into the art itself is evident in the largest piece in the show, which occupies the main gallery. Here, on a wall more than sixteen feet long, is a constellation of screws, anchors and other elements used to install pictures (Fixed, 2008). Each sparkle rewards the attentive eye: the screws are actually cast in white and yellow gold, the anchors made with bits of turquoise and coral and the holes composed of black diamonds, sapphires and other deeply hued gems. Around the corner, the back room has three works which further reify labor: an old wooden table (Trojan horse, 2007), a discarded piece of timber (The sum of my parts, 2008), and a tattered wood-handled broom (Good self image, 2008). The well-worn surfaces of each are marred with grooves, nicks and scratches that turn out to be painstakingly made of opals, amber, pearls and other coveted material.

Though these sculptures are all handsome and well-made, the most stimulating piece in the show does not make use of jewels. 100% Cotton (2004), just inside the doorway to the first gallery, is a discarded pair of used coveralls whose paint splatters are actually composed of colorful embroidery. The less-polished, hand-made nature of this work allows it to come closer than the others to challenging the normally hidden nature of human labor. Perhaps, if the exhibition had included more pieces in this direction (such as the artist’s recently performed Sweat (2008), wherein a team of craftspeople worked in the gallery to create trompe l’oeil plastic shopping bags out of paper) and less of Collis’ bejeweled sculptures, it could have generated a compelling discussion about the invisible value of labor. Such a mixture of works would push Collis’ highly-finished, precious objects beyond the realm of the desirable and into the realm of the provocative.

Kate Green teaches modern and contemporary art history at Trinity University and regularly contributes to Modern Painters, ArtLies and other publications. She has been a curator and educator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Dia Art Foundation and Artpace San Antonio.

The Pump Project & Pink, Austin
Through November

By Álvaro Ibarra

Enrique Martínez, Tag Team Death-Match, 2008. Courtesy the artist.

The exhibition Enmascarados: An Homage to Lucha Libre (Mexican Wrestling) had a limited showing at The Pump Project Art Complex last month. The three-day event featured nineteen works by eleven Latino artists from the United States, Mexico and Venezuela, all referencing some aspect of Mexican wrestling. If you missed it, there is now an opportunity to see a month-long encore showing at Pink Salon & Gallery.

The concept for the show came from Los Angeles artist Angel Quesada. He did not curate so much as orchestrate the exhibition, petitioning fellow artists to contribute works as well as their time and resources. Quesada describes the process for the realization of Enmascarados as a “hustle,” as opposed to a traditional curatorial endeavor. There are inherent risks, such as inconsistency, in hustling an exhibition into existence But despite Quesada’s communal approach, the eclectic collection of works in Enmascarados achieves a certain harmony due to the spectacular nature of the subject matter.

As a spectacle, professional wrestling offers itself up to be scrutinized by the general public. Roland Barthes described the wrestling as possessing a grandiloquence matched only in the formulaic theater productions of the ancient world. There is a transparency of meaning in the appearance and actions of pro wrestlers.[1] The displays are superficial and based on overarching (some might say universal) narrative tropes, such as good versus evil, beautiful versus ugly, clever versus dim-witted and so on. Its appeal has made pro wrestling a multinational phenomenon, with varying traditions practiced primarily in the United States, Japan and Mexico.

Professional wrestling in Mexico is known as lucha libre, literally “freestyle wrestling.” One distinguishing characteristic of Mexican wrestling lies in the athletes’ ability to perform jaw-dropping acrobatic feats, unlike their lumbering American counterparts. The second and most visible distinction is Mexican wrestlers’ colorful, outlandish costumes—outfits often punctuated with a mask. The mask protects the wearer’s identity and adds a dramatic layer of mystery for the audience, especially American spectators that find the displays exotic and bizarre.

It is in the appeal to the universal that Quesada’s exhibition is most cohesive. However, the most successful works in Enmascarados are those that access the broad appeal of wrestling in general, even as they consider more specific elements within the Mexican tradition. Artists Fidencio Durán and Enrique Martínez succeed in communicating the dialogue that occurs between the athletes in the ring and the fans in arenas around the world.

Fidencio Durán’s Tornillo (2008) is an action-packed painting that renders the finale of a tag-team bout. The central figure is caught mid-flight, apparently executing an aerial corkscrew maneuver. There is a hyper-realistic quality to painting, particularly the extraordinary amount of detail present throughout. But the fact that Durán renders the foreground and the background in sharp focus presents a physiological impossibility that the viewer has difficulty negotiating, eroding the three-dimensional illusion. All of these factors contribute to a surprisingly static composition. Durán’s carefully constructed subversion of viewer expectation comes complete with a caption in the lower-right-hand corner that warns us, “Sometimes the good have to use tricks to beat the bad.”

Tornillo is compellingly paired with Enrique Martínez’s Tag Team Death-Match (2008), another painting with a similar theme. Unlike Durán’s precise approach, Tag Team Death-Match features a frenetic technique appropriate for his cartoon-like figures. In this piece, two iconic Mexican wrestlers are clearly getting the best of two American superstars. Although Durán’s style is not especially remarkable, the significance lies in the overtly humorous and covertly tragic narrative the artist communicates. More often than not, Mexican legends who managed to cross over into American productions have been presented as strange foreigners or even masked villains to be quickly dispatched by all-American wrestlers. Tag Team Death-Match is a fantasy for Latino fans that followed wrestling on both sides of the border.

Many of the works in Enmascarados manage to capture some of the idiosyncrasies inherent in professional wrestling. However, the organization of the paintings was too random and did not take advantage of the overarching theme to create more dynamic juxtapositions for the viewer. Organizer Angel Quesada readily admits that the entirety of the project was done on a voluntary basis and over a very short period of time. Nevertheless, Quesada and his ambitious vision deserves recognition, manifested in a second opportunity to experience the spectacle.

Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. by A. Lavers (New York, 1972), 15-25.

Álvaro Ibarra is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History at The University of Texas at Austin.

Fahamu Pecou
Conduit Gallery, Dallas
Through November 24, 2008

By Claire Ruud

Fahamu Pecou, Warn-A-Brother, 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 66 x 54. Courtesy the artist and Conduit Gallery.

Fahamu Pecou’s most recent paintings, now on the walls of Conduit Gallery, are seductively spare. Warn-A-Brother (2008) depicts Pecou in three-quarters profile against a white background on the cover of Spread ArtCulture. Pecou flaunts oversized shades and pops the collar of a white T-shirt bearing the Warner Brother’s insignia and the phrase, “If you see police… Warn-A-Brotha.” The image cuts off at Pecou’s thigh, where large squares of browns and grays serve to censor the area between his unclad legs, in effect drawing attention to his implied phallus. To the left of his hip appears a list of the magazine’s features: Fahamu Pecou in larger letters at the top, followed by Shawn Bell, Amidou Diallo, Abner Louima and Yusef Hawkins. The connections here are apparent. The legend—and threat—of the well-hung black man, the history of police and civilian brutality, and the distrust of the police force transform the magazine’s title, Spread, into the voice of a cop commanding a young black man into a position of passivity and subjection.

Writers have made much of the distinction between Fahamu Pecou "the image" and Fahamu Pecou "the artist." Often, they set up Pecou the image as a “fake” alter-ego of Pecou the artist, who is, by contrast, “refreshingly down to earth” in NYArts, “bespectacled, soft-spoken, almost retiring” in Atlanta Peach and writer of “erudite manifestoes” in Alarm. The subtext of this distinction seems to be that the artist and the man he depicts are mutually exclusive identities. Writers use their descriptions of a well-mannered, smart artist to validate the work and, even more problematically, to ward off the man they see in his paintings. But Fahamu Pecou is messier than that. In the artist’s most recent paintings, Fahamu Pecou materializes and dematerializes in the paint. It’s impossible to distinguish between “being” and “faking.”

All seven of the paintings in Pecou’s show at Conduit follow the format of his earlier paintings, placing Pecou on the cover of various art and culture magazines. In earlier work, Pecou set his figure in various locations, such as a barbershop, a wall covered in graffiti, or an artist’s studio, and was often accompanied by female groupies or the paraphernalia of a boxer or an artist. This time, however, Pecou’s compositions are simpler. Canvases are painted white, text is at a minimum, Pecou usually appears alone, nude or semi-nude. Paring down his imagery, Pecou zeros in on his conceptual engagement with black masculinity so that, he says, viewers can’t mistake his work for a sexy commodity without some recognition of political content.

In these works, Pecou’s painting, and his body, solidifies. The simple compositions draw attention to the artist’s skillful brushstrokes, most notably in the depiction of his body. Set against the white backdrop, stripped down and painted with increased realism, Pecou’s body is more central and more substantial than in previous work. Nonetheless, as in his earlier work, Pecou continuously throws the availability of that body into question. In older work, Pecou often used text to thwart the viewer’s fantasies. Scrawled across the paintings, phrases like, “I can’t b your loverrr,” “and I ain’t been shot a whole buncha times,” and “can’t work da hustle” dissolved viewers’ projections of the sexually available, violent, and lawless black man onto Pecou’s body. Through juxtaposition of his image and text, Pecou simultaneously opened his body up to the viewers’ projections and thwarts them.

The body seems more present than ever in Pecou’s newer paintings. Nonetheless, the white field seems to overtake parts of the figure in places, particularly around the ankles and feet. White socks pulled up around the ankles blend into the background, truncating the figure at the lower calf. The white soles of shoes can barely be distinguished, an effect that pins the figure down to the canvas by the bottom of his feet. Similarly, shoes painted without shading look heavy and two-dimensional, making the otherwise sculpted, active figure look stuck to the painting. Slipping between two and three dimensions, Pecou’s body is bound by the canvas and yet expands beyond it.

The paring down of imagery includes the evanescence of the magazine cover. Moving away from the most well-known art periodicals, the magazine’s label is no longer lending currency to Pecou’s image, but the other way around. Now, Pecou’s figure is the trademark that offers cultural capital to younger, lesser-known journals. Correspondingly, Pecou’s selection of magazines has focused on the double entendres he can produce through their titles. In one example, Olympic Torches: the Roof is on FIYAH (2008), he uses esse magazine to raise questions about what it means "to be," in this case presumably, to be a black man. Further, Pecou crosses out and replaces the title of the journal’s most recent issue, actions réciproques, with actions répétées. This choice alludes to theories of being, elaborated most prominently by Judith Butler: we often understand being through repeated actions and, in addition, these ways of being are delimited by a set of historically defined possibilities. In painting another, P.L.D. (2008), he pairs a reference to “We Wear the Mask,” an 1886 poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, with the cover of 2wice. Together, the concepts of masking and doubling suggest the distinction between what people see on the outside of a person and what happens on the inside.

Slipping between two and three dimensions, between performing and being and between marketed and marketer, Pecou’s paintings suggest the untidy relationships among these terms. When Art Nouveau Magazine asked whether he had received more attention from women “by claiming to be Mr. Pecou,” the artist replied, “I am Mr. Pecou.” He is.

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

Teresa Hubbard & Alexander Birchler
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Through January 4, 2009

By Charissa Terranova

Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler, Grand Paris Texas, video still, 2008, High-definition video with sound, Installation dimensions variable, Commissioned by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Courtesy the artists.

A provocative though understated confusion of media unfolds in the upstairs galleries at the Modern in Fort Worth, which currently hold the decidedly filmic videos and photographs of Austin-based internationals Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler. Their body of work displays a tension between the capture of time in the still, photographic image and the slow deliberative movement of storytelling in film. One feels this friction with the juxtaposition of two projects: the on-going photographic series of the Filmstills and the 54-minute video commissioned by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Grand Paris Texas (2008). In both projects Hubbard and Birchler investigate the the movie theater as a cultivator of vision and knowledge.

Two large C-print photographs, Filmstill – Gloomy Sunday (2000) and Filmstill – Tinseltown South (2002), hang on facing walls, each centering on the façade of a movie theater, one old and the other new. The blue-gray tones and the tumbledown architecture of the former offer a stark contrast to the pop of the green, blue and red of the new multiplex in the latter. This pairing tells a story of the transformation of the movie theater through time. Yet the moral to this story moves beyond the seeming simplicity of the images before you. The images are composite set ups, which the artists have concocted from several shots of each façade taken over time. Theirs is a moral rooted in fabrication: they tell us of the construction of vision through directorial legerdemain and, more precisely, they suggest that that celluloid and movie houses carry a powerful epistemology.

This idea is equally central to the documentary-cum-film Grand Paris Texas. Hubbard and Birchler mine young and old citizens of Paris, Texas for their take on the now derelict movie theater on Main Street and the effects of Wim Wenders’s 1984 film Paris, Texas. Mimicking the roundabout nature of Paris, Texas, Grand Paris Texas is not forthrightly about Wenders’s film. Rather the concern of this documentary is the status of a cultural heirloom – the town movie theater. The documentary, like most of their work on view at the Modern, seems both substantively and formally influenced by Wim Wenders.

With respect to the actual message or story at hand, both the Filmstills and Grand Paris Texas recall Wenders’ Kings of the Road (1975), the first of the director’s famed road trilogy. Wenders’ film does not really tell a story, but follows two men traveling in a truck along the border between West and East Germany. The main character Bruno Winter is a roving movie projection repairman. The film follows Winter from run-down theater to run-down theater, where he does his magic, bringing the machines of cinema back to life. As with the Filmstills and Grand Paris Texas, Kings of the Road is concerned with the decline of the movie theater and how it might be symptomatic of the death of cinema as a public art form.

The work of Hubbard and Birchler bears a tension between image and story that is also central to the work of Wenders. Wenders put it this way: “In films the images don’t necessarily lead to anything else; they stand on their own.” As in Wenders's work, in Hubbard and Birchler’s films, the still image and moving narrative work in conjunction. The still image becomes part of the long, drawn-out, deliberative unfolding of a story. House with Pool (2004) is a slow-moving 20-minute 39-second narrative of a runaway daughter and quiet beseeching mother. The shots of the mother, her hands on the piano, then daughter, her hands on the piano, then pool cleaner, his body in the pool digging out a dead fawn, are episodic in nature. Hubbard and Birchler string each of these autonomous images together to create the seamless circle of the filmic loop.

Describing this episodic nature in Wenders’ filmic images, Alexander Graff explains “The telling of a story is thus not the immediate objective of the films; rather, the story is an integral part of the act of filming, one that does not necessarily serve any specific goal.”

Charissa N. Terranova is Assistant Professor of Aesthetic Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, Director of Centraltrak: The UT Dallas Artists Residency and a freelance critic. Her writing appears regularly in the Dallas Morning News, Art Lies, Art Papers, Sculpture Magazine and Art News.

Catherine Opie
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Through January 7, 2009

By Quinn Latimer

Catherine Opie, Bo, 1991, Chromogenic print and wood frame with metal nameplate, 17 x 22 inches, Edition of 8. © 2008 Catherine Opie. Courtesy the artist and Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

project space

Riley Robinson

By Katie Anania

San Antonio-based artist Riley Robinson spent the majority of his recent residency in Norway walking and riding his bicycle through town plotting out artwork in his head. The execution of Robinson’s work takes place largely in its planning; its material deployment is a result not of fabrication but of thinking through an object and its effects before he sets up the work in space. Reading Robert Smithson embodies this practice: Robinson’s eyes scan a page of Robert Smithson’s writing for 49 seconds; we see Robinson’s eyes move but do not see the text. Since reading is normally a private and preparatory act for artists, the piece serves the viewer with the peculiarly anterior image of an artist studying something without re-encoding it into other visual material. There’s nothing cryptographic about Robinson’s influences here. To produce this work, we know he was Reading Robert Smithson. Like an unpainted canvas, no extra information clouds the (excuse the pun) reading of the act of reading.

The private and performative dimensions of Reading Robert Smithson are not lost on Robinson, who has a history of producing works whose central components, either narratively or visually, are his own eyes. Who are you looking at? (2006) featured a 4 x 6 inch flat-screen monitor installed at eye level on a couch in Austin’s testsite gallery space. Robinson designed a computer program that would allow an image of his eyes to follow the viewer around the room as they looked at art (not Robinson’s) already installed in the space. Almost an inversion of Reading Robert Smithson, the 2006 work bestowed a quality of being-viewed-ness on both the included artwork and the viewer, fracturing a viewing experience that, since the Enlightenment, we have assumed to be private, unilateral and contemplative. In an even earlier project at San Antonio’s McNay Museum, Robinson’s description of one of his pieces announced that he had recorded his own face reading biographies of artists featured in the museum. Both language and the act of looking, in all three of these cases, become Robinson’s materials. Through these materials Robinson deploys an atemporal observation—observation both in the sense of looking (to observe a flower) and acting (to observe a holiday)—of something at once public and private.

The use of language as material and occasion for execution exemplifies the Conceptualist paradigm in art history. One recalls artists like Lawrence Weiner and Adrian Piper, who used the simultaneous mutability and straightforwardness of “pure” information to dismantle the notion of art as a circumscribed material experience. Reading Robert Smithson responds to Weiner’s proposition that the work of art is determined by the condition of receivership; Robinson here records the condition of receivership. It’s as though we’ve grown so naturalized to Weiner’s idea of specific reactions to general propositions that Robinson can edit his work down to that very experience and nothing more. He records viewers’ unique experiences, whether his own as he reads Robert Smithson or yours as you look at art on the walls of a gallery.

In this way, Robinson’s video work takes some familiar Conceptualist idioms and places them within a more contemporaneous framework of looking. And while Robinson may be part of the 60s genealogy in the sense that language is a generative point for larger comments on materials and personal exchange, Reading Robert Smithson inverts the public and the private in a way that prompts a deeper historical consideration of surveillance and selfhood.

The components of Robinson’s larger body of work run the gamut from ready-made objects to transformed quotidian matter such as bronzed overalls. Like the jokey reticence of his other works, Reading Robert Smithson has wicked, self-referential subtext. Robinson admits to being curious about the current generation of artists’ almost universal devotion to Smithson and says that that he himself is “always in a hurry… the piece was sort of a commentary on the way I look at things. Smithson’s writing is dense, and I had to stop and re-read that particular passage several times.” The planning stages of his work, then, sometimes merit not just recounting – as Robinson did for me about his trip to Norway – but display as well. As a brief, isolated act of readership, Reading Robert Smithson merges process, idea and material into 48 seconds of blank communication.

Katie Anania is a curatorial researcher at Fluent~Collaborative and an assistant editor at ...might be good.

Announcements: news

Texas News

Texas Biennial: Solo Exhibitions Artists Announced

The Texas Biennial has announced that Lee Baxter Davis, Jayne Lawrence, Kelli Vance and William Cannings will be the four artists receiving solo shows in 2009.

announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

Rapture in Rupture
Opens November 15, Artist Talk 2pm

Rapture in Rupture, exploring the affective content of work by artists Lauren Kelley, Shiri Mordechay, Mindy Shapero and Nicolau Vergueiro, may serve as an Austin counterpart to Damaged Romanticism at Blaffer Gallery in Houston. Perhaps these exhibitions speak to our zeitgeist, in which brokeness seems inseparable from beauty and pain intimately linked to hope.

Justin Boyd: I Drove the Mother Road Home to the Promised Land
Art Palace
Opening Reception: November 22, 8-10pm

In this exhibition, Justin Boyd continues his search for what he calls an "American Spirit:" the ideas and artifacts that embody our culture and truly define us as American. I Drove the Mother Road Home to the Promised Land investigates the signs, words and dreams of Route 66 through video, digital prints and an installation of signs incorporating text and images. The press release mentions Boyd's new "psychedelic aesthetic," an aesthetic that seems to be circulating in these parts right now, for example in the work of The Totally Wreck Institute seen recently at CRL and Ken Adam's work currently at Sala Diaz.

Wonderous Instruments
Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata

MNAE never fails to delight, offering up all sorts of curiosities for inspection. In this exhibition, Wonderous Instruments will display an array ranging from "Rare Musical Instruments" to "Weird Gadgets that 'Make Life Easier.'"

Houston Openings

Mequitta Ahuja, Cory Wagner and others
Lawndale Art Center
Opening Reception: Friday, November 21, 6:30 - 8:30 pm

Five solo shows are opening at Lawndale on the 21st: AJ Liberto and Jesse Robinson, Cory Wagner, Ann Marie Nafziger, Mequitta Ahuja and Emily Sloan. We're especially looking forward to Wagner's Personal Panopticon and Ahuja's Flowback. After Foucault, Wagner's panopticon seems somewhat overambitious, but we're willing to hold back judgement until we've seen it. Ahuja just finished up a residency at the Core Program and her work is an evocative investigation race, gender and sex. We can't wait.

Fort Worth Openings

FOCUS: Ranjani Shettar
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Opens December 14, 2008

Curator Andrea Karnes presents the abstract sculptural installations of Ranjani Shettar, a contemporary artist born and currently living in Bangalore, India. Shettar creates large-scale artworks through the combination of industrial and natural materials, such as PVC pipe, stainless steel, cloth, wood, and beeswax. Her artwork includes elements of humor, and deeply influenced by her culture, the artist also represents aspects of Indian philosophy and symbolism into her work as well.

Nuevo Laredo Opening

Hasta La Basura Se Separa
Antigua Aduana
Opening Reception: November 15, 7-11pm

With a special emphasis on found objects and the use of recycled materials the artists in this exhibition mix their personal memories with our greater cultural histories.

San Antonio Openings

Anne Truitt: Sumi Drawings (1966)
Lawrence Markey
Opening Reception: Friday, November 14, 5-7pm

Sumi Drawings presents ten drawings by sculptor Anne Truitt (1921-2004) and is the first exhibition of the artist's work since 2004. Truitt once said she believed in something "James Joyce calls equivalence... that you find in the outside world, the exterior or material world, you find in material itself a match for concepts which belong to you which you already have" (Oral History Interview with Anne Truitt in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution). A beautiful idea, and perhaps you can look for it here.

Alex Rubio & David Vega: Smoke and Mirrors
Unit B Gallery
Opening Reception: Friday, November 21, 6:30-10pm

A collaboration between artists Alex Rubio and David Vega, this exhibition explores vice, illusion and beauty. These two have collaborated successfully before, notably for Alex Rubio's residency at Artpace about a year ago. We're looking forward to see how their work together has developed.

Dallas on View

Adi Nes: Biblical Stories
Light & Sie
Through December 20, 2008

Light & Sie presents an exhibition of Israeli artist Adi Nes's Biblical Stories series. The works pair an investigation of homelessness with an engagement with Biblical imagery. The work continues Nes's engagement with masculinity and Israliness, while exploring more broadly the concepts of dislocation and disenfranchisement.

Joseph Havel and Annette Laurence
Dunn and Brown Contemporary
Through December 13

Two solo shows, David Havel: And never at any time have you resembled snow and Annette Lawrence: Free Paper, make a beautiful pair at Dunn & Brown this month. The work Havel exhibits centers around the destruction of The Dream Songs by John Berryman-a book that the artist has used in his work for over thirty years. Annette Lawrence shows stacks of hand-torn paper: junk mail the artists received at her home. The passage of time resonates in different ways in both these artists work, creating a rich dialogue.

Houston on View

Viewfinder: New Images by Texas Artists
Houston Center for Photography
Through January 10, 2009

Curated by Austinites Risa Puleo of The Blanton and Arturo Palacios of Art Palace, Viewfinder exhibits the work of fifteen Texas-based artists. Refreshingly, the show's press release doesn't try to fake a curatorial theme where one doesn't exist; the curators have simply chosen new work they think is good.

Michael A. Salter: too much
Rice Gallery
Through December 14, 2008

Even though many of his works are made of Styrofoam, some of Michael Salter's sculptures might be considered new media art: to create his "Styrobots" Salter re-uses the molded Styrofoam used to pack electronics for shipping. And Salter has a sense of humor. In his work, the waste produced by our incessant consumption of technology takes on a life of its own to become a giant, lumbering robot. Threatening? Or perhaps simply pathetic in its immobility.

San Antonio on View

Ken Adams: American Satori/Terra Lucida
Sala Diaz
Through December 15, 2008

According to the artist, this exhibition features a collection of "psychedelic pictograms presented as digital animation and prints."

Of special note will be the first public screening of Terra Lucida (World of Lights). Terra Lucida is a high definition, animated digital painting developed around recently recovered 'trance recordings' of psychedelic theorist/performance artist, Terence McKenna. We're dying to know more!

Houston Openings

Opening Reception: Friday, November 14, 6-8pm

Notions of time play through the work of the artists in Thrive, an exhibition organized in conjunction with a conference at University of Houston: "Gender, Creativity and the New Longevity." Don't miss the opening night performances by
Elia Arce and Joanne Brighham.

announcements: opportunities


Executive Director
Cultural Council of Victoria
Deadline: December 1, 2008

The Cultural Council in Victoria (CCV) seeks applications for its Executive Director position. CCV, located in Victoria, Texas, provides its community information, services, and outreach programming in the arts. The Executive Director oversees CCV and its policies, programs, and services and implements CCV's mission statement and long-range plans. Please visit www.culturalcouncilofvictoria.com for additional information.

Call for Entries

Celebrate Texas Art 2009
Deadline: November 21, 2008

The Assistance League of Houston seeks to recognize outstanding Texan artists at a juried showcase next year. Winners of the juried art show will be announced on opening night with cash prizes. Assistance League of Houston volunteers will provide arrangements for the opening night reception and will distribute awards.
Juror: Shelley Langdale, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Opening and Award Presentation: March 12, 2009
Public Exhibition Ends: April 17, 2009
Please register online at www.callforentry.org (each artist is limited to 4 entries).

The Hunting Art Prize 2009
Deadline: November 30, 2008

The Hunting Art Prize was established in 1981 in the United Kingdom before relocating to Houston, Texas in 2006. The Hunting Art Prize seeks to recognize artists, provide sponsorship, and grant artists the opportunity to have their artworks viewed by broad audiences along with a $50,000 award.

The Hunting Art Prize is open to artists who are legal residents of Texas. Entrants must be 18 years of age or older. Only two-dimensional paintings or drawings will be considered.

Only one artwork by each applicant will be considered. This single piece of work cannot exceed 72 inches. The artwork must also have been completed within 3 years prior to November 30, 2008.

Register at http://www.huntingartprize.com/sign-up/ and submit a digital JPEG format file between 1MB--3MB. After a panel of jurors evaluate online submissions, a second jury will choose finalists to submit the original artwork. The winner will be announced at the Hunting Art Prize Gala in Houston on May 2, 2009.


The Idea Fund
The Warhol Foundation, Aurora Picture Show, DiverseWorks and Project Row Houses
Deadline: December 1, 2008

The Idea Fund provides cash awards to up to 10 artists, associations of artists and/or curators in Houston. The Fund will accept proposals from artists or curators focusing on the visual arts, performance, film, video, new media, social practice, and interdisciplinary projects. Projects may include an exhibition or exhibition series; a public art project; a one-time event or performance; the ongoing work of a collective, collaborative, or artist space; an online project or publication; an artist residency; a series of screenings; and more. For more information visit The Idea Fund.


Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture
Deadline: February 1, 2009

Skowhegan, need we say more? Application and instructions for this excellent summer residency are available at www.skowheganart.org.

Call for Entries

Social Environmental Aesthetics (SEA): Five Open Calls
Exit Art
First Deadline: January 15, 2009

In 2009 - 2010 Exit Art’s subterranean venue, Exit Underground, will present five exhibitions for its new initiative SEA (Social Environmental Aesthetics). SEA  presents a diverse multimedia exhibition program addressing social and environmental concerns.

The five exhibition themes are explained at length on Exit Art's website:
1) Vertical Gardens - Proposal Due January 15, 2009
2) End of Oil - Proposal Due February 15, 2009
3) America for Sale - Proposal Due February 15, 2009
4) Consume - Proposal Due March 15, 2009
5) Contemporary Slavery - Proposal Due March 15, 2009

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