from the editor
This week, I’m feeling extremely sanguine about visual arts writing in Austin in the coming year. A few nights ago, a group of ten Austin-based writers gathered at Fluent~Collaborative to talk about regional arts criticism. Not only eager to converse about the subject, but also ready to act, these ten will officially become …might be good staff writers on January 1, working to increase the quality and scope of arts coverage in and around Austin. Simply put, it’s a big deal to have such a solid group of writers committed to covering Austin’s visual arts scene next year. (Look forward to our new staff writers’ “Best of Austin 2008” picks, forthcoming during the holidays.)
In addition to having a closer-knit, larger writing team at …might be good, we want to hear what you, our readers, think about …might be good. Your comments will help us to shape the future of the magazine. We would really like to hear from you via this online survey and, as always, we welcome letters to the editor.
This issue is more lengthy than usual; we wanted to cover as much as possible before the holidays. Don’t miss the coverage of the 2008 East Austin Studio Tour, a review of Justin Boyd at Art Palace and, further afield, a review of the inaugural exhibition at Capitain Petzel, Berlin, which included the work of Austin-based Troy Brauntuch.
Claire Ruud is Editor of ...might be good.
East Austin Studio Tour 2008
Open Studios and Galleries, Austin
November 22 & 23, 2008
By Andrea Mellard
Virginia Yount, Jackpot (detail), 2008, Found lottery tickets, glue, trash, fake money, Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.
Now in its seventh year, the East Austin Studio Tour (E.A.S.T.) has grown to become an anticipated annual event. The tour offers an impossible variety of options, from exploring the environments where artists work, to collecting reasonably priced local art and crafts, to discovering emerging artists. And while E.A.S.T. proves that creativity thrives east of I-35, the diversity of work by over 200 artists and the inclusive nature of the tour make further generalizations challenging. Throughout the weekend two questions echoed among the tour’s viewers: “What studios have you been to?” followed by “But have you seen anything good yet?” Do I wish that I had chosen hardier companions and pressed on to just one or two more studios? Yes, and next year I know which studios I will revisit. The following are my tour highlights including insights into creative practices, process-oriented work, innovative collaborations and playful installations.
Each year E.A.S.T. offers access to studios as unique as the art made inside them. The studios of Philippe Klinefelter and Okay Mountain both offered particularly rewarding behind-the-scenes perspectives. Klinefelter creates “sculptural architecture” using timeless-looking tools in an industrial shop. His latest work in progress, Earth Fountain, a hollowed orb carved from a 57-ton block of granite, offers a glimpse into a master craftsman’s practice. In contrast, the small studios run by the emerging artist collective Okay Mountain are a hive of creative exchange. Details tacked to the walls reveal artists’ processes, like the sketches of cartoon deer that began Peat Duggins’ tapestry project recently shown at Art Palace, or the church-camp group photos that Ryan Lauderdale morphed into psychedelic tribal drawings.
E.A.S.T. avoids categorizing art, and works by Kendra Kinsey and Debra Broz are a model of seamlessly merging craft materials into fine art. Kinsey slices and collages glossy fashion magazines, sometimes wrapping webs of thread and fabric over their cut surfaces. By dissecting and re-packaging glamorous images, often of women’s hair and skin, Kinsey examines the connections between exterior and interior, protection and vulnerability. Debra Broz creates art that flirts with beautiful and grotesque imagery. Like Dr. Frankenstein, she draws on her expertise in ceramic restoration to reconfigure kitschy animal figurines with unusual anatomies. She also alters found books and her own drawings with hand-sewn patterns, delicately obscuring their meanings with sutures of red thread.
A few innovative projects exemplify how the artistic community comes together for E.A.S.T. At Monofonus Press Studio, Ed Davis was screen printing bandanas with standard patterns, that changed with aid of 3-D movie glasses. Michelle Devereux conceived of the 3-D bandana project and together they refashioned the concept of a traditional, mass-produced, utilitarian object. In a studio on site, Matt Rebholz showed off his finely rendered allegorical prints. This bohemian enclave produces an annual subscription for three multi-media packages a year comprised of visual, literary or musical elements by Monofonus collaborators and Rebholz’ Golem prints will inspire their next project. At Big Medium, E.A.S.T. collaborator Shea Little, inspired by a dumpster full of schematic drawings he found, created digital collages of suffocating detail. Wryly, these stark illustrations of the inner workings of electronics tangle together several exploded diagrams with confounding results. At MASS Gallery, blips and bleeps from the musical monster truck, National Instrument, broadcast throughout the parking lot. This hybrid, unlike the tiny Toyota Prius favored by E.A.S.T. tourists, looks as if Rube Goldberg constructed it with parts from a Hummer and a wooly mammoth. Made of found cardboard, 2 x 4’s and house paint, this wonderfully absurd interactive sculpture is the third project since 2007 for collaborators Scott Eastwood, Jules Buck Jones, Drew Liverman and Michael Phalan.
Next year, don’t miss installations during E.A.S.T., some of which may only last for the weekend of the tour. Artist Virginia Yount’s installation, at first glance, looked like swept-up detritus. Grackles sculpted from lottery tickets pick over plastic bags and aluminum cans. Upon closer viewing, this trash reveals treasure, with play money spilling out of the bags. Using found materials, Yount implicates a wasteful consumer culture. Austin Video Bee celebrated their second video compilation with a cohesive show by the collective’s members. Recent videos by Rebecca (Marks) Leopold and Ivan Lozano quietly meditate on memory and loss. Co-Lab celebrated the creativity community at the heart of the studio tour with a BYOM (bring your own materials) participatory installation. Saturday afternoon I entered a neon-colored playhouse filled with graffiti, streamers of tape, toys and, inexplicably, a bucket full of locks labeled “free.” It was clear to the children happily wielding cans of spray paint that anybody can join in and have fun making art. While commendable for its inclusive nature, the result was mixed—a comment true of the East Austin Studio Tour as a whole.
The January 16, 2009 issue of …might be good will feature an interview with E.A.S.T. founders and organizers Shea Little, Joseph Phillips and Jana Swec addressing the purpose, challenges and future of the tour.
Andrea Mellard is Curatorial Associate and Manager of Public Programs at the Austin Museum of Art.
Art Palace, Austin
Through December 20, 2008
By George Pasterk
Justin Boyd, Frames the Wind, 2008, Electro Luminescent Wire. Courtesy the artist.
Justin Boyd’s current show at Art Palace, I Drove the Mother Road Home to the Promised Land, is the third part in his ongoing series of investigations into the traditions, folklore, music, literature and material of our country’s cultural landscape. Boyd intends each of these examinations to tease out a different aspect of what he refers to as the “American spirit.” For the current show, the artist explores the cultural industry that arose around the legendary trans-American channel: Historic Route 66.
In this show, Boyd departs from his usual practice in two distinct ways. First, he eschews his predilection for interactive installations in a wide range of competing media, including sound, video, drawings, DJ performances and even medicinal herbs. Instead, with this body of work, in an effort to produce what he describes as a “B-side” to his customary multimedia approach, Boyd focuses on wall pieces: prints and acrylic and vinyl on MDF. Second, in this show, Boyd’s usual exuberance is overshadowed by what the artist describes as an internal feeling of “untrusting uneasiness.” The artist aims to articulate the sensation that the “institutions you felt were there to protect you,” are, in fact, “conspiring against you.”
In preparation for Mother Road, Boyd sought out and found comrades amongst the snarling agitators of CREEM magazine, alongside the Beat(en) generation’s Jack Kerouac and in the lyrics of Woody Guthrie. But it wasn’t until he re-read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath that he began to hear his own “untrusting uneasiness” echoed back to him. Perhaps this is the reason that Boyd derives many of this show’s textual elements, objects and distinctive patois from Steinbeck’s depiction of this modern westward exodus.
At the entrance to the show, the audience finds a diptych of digital prints comprised of a repetitious symmetrical pattern of overlapping and interlocking avocado green, harvest gold and muted pink ovals—all shades of a bygone era. Four regularly spaced, sepia-toned medallions balance this ultra mod wallpaper pattern. Inside each medallion is an image associated with an aspect of Route 66 life; both the Model A Ford and the hobo’s boxcar are the physical trace of decades of flight, while the Victrola recalls the songs and oral traditions that travelers left behind, such as those recorded by individuals like Alan Lomax or feverishly collected on 78s by Harry Smith. The silhouette of an oil derrick, cotton plants and bees represent the hopes that drifters carried with them down the road.
Moving deeper into the space, Mother Road makes a dramatic shift in materials and style. The awkward seemingly amateurish road signs that populate the rest of the show replace the clean lines and geometric abstraction of the digital prints. Made of MDF, gaudily colored and cut freehand, they have the appearance of outsider or folk art. Boyd models the signs from personal photographs of signage for the motels, restaurants and bars that once sprouted up along Route 66 to meet the quotidian needs of a booming car culture. The room is a processional of wildly inaccurate maps, cockeyed arrows and impossible vehicles. The signs are further layered with references to literature and pop culture. A wonky map of Texas informs us “We can’t do it alone,” while a rather sheepish cloud assures us that “this era is ripe for miracles.” A fuchsia arrow arcs around a doorway, its comet like tail is inscribed with lyrics from a posthumously released Sam Cooke song: “I wish somebody could come an ease my troublin’ mind.” Meanwhile the head of the arrow points down to the doorway as if to imply that the next person through the door could be the one. While this song wasn’t a hit another song from the same album: “Change is Gonna Come,” became an enduring anthem for the civil rights movement.
This is only one example of what is at the core of Boyd’s explorations: the freedom to allow all of the disparate components of American history, literature, music, tradition and the personal experiences of the viewer to rub up against one another, produce new relationships and multiply meanings. Perhaps this is what Boyd’s work succeeds most in doing—that is, reveal American identity not as a point of singularity but as a process of increasing complexity and diverse meaning.
George Pasterk is a freelance writer based in Austin.
Women & Their Work, Austin
Through January 10, 2009
By Lee Webster
Sasha Dela, Water Shelve, 2008, Bottles, shelving unit, water, carbon-based ink, 3 feet x 17 inches x 7 feet. Courtesy Women & Their Work.
Sasha Dela’s Let Love Flow investigates Austin’s relationship to its most cherished and endangered natural resource: water. The show, currently at Women and Their Work, consists of two videos and several sculptural installations, continuing Dela’s ongoing exploration of place and ecology. Though the conversation among the pieces in the sparsely filled gallery is sometimes disjointed, the show offers a few beautiful moments in Dela’s vision of a city tormented by a lust for development and a love for the natural resource that is both its threatened lifeblood and its most desired commodity.
Resist the urge to sink into the corporate lounge chair that greets you at the front of the exhibition. This chair faces a video with almost an hour’s worth of talking head interviews. The interviews, conducted by Dela with several of Central Texas’s water conservation activists, are unfortunately dry. The video may provide didactic material and lend context to the show, but its blandness stands in contrast to the rest of Dela’s work, which eloquently addresses similar issues.
Further inside the darkened gallery an even comfier couch awaits you. This comically over-sized leather wrap-around, with a big bowl of butterscotch candies perched on one end, will cradle you as you watch the 9 minute video from which the show takes its name. Let Love Flow (2008) is a loose narrative told through text interspersed with recent video footage of the city. Text and image weave a parable about a city who bore the very children who now eat and drink of her. Coddled within her, they disregard the danger that their unrestricted use of the city brings to their shared future.
As a dance beat starts, the sun peaks out from behind a cityscape and text describes: “The sun moved like fire through the air in the city of Austin.” In a timelapse rush, cars move through the highway veins of the city, residents exercise in a parking lot. The beat of the music with the video is pulsing, the text suggests the drama which is about to unfold. The montage of city images settles on the familiar scene of Barton Springs Pool, filled to the brim with swimmers. Longer shots show the banks of grass filled with sunbathers and swimmers bobbing in the water in quiet contemplation. The text on the screen states: “The bodies of water celebrated the bodies within…” “And they created and procreated.” Day turns to night in Austin. As the pace of the video picks up, the image shifts to a bar on Sixth Street. A grainy close-up shows a man and a woman in the bar, kissing as if desiring to devour one another. Dela’s text asks: “Who are the people of Austin. Are they brave? Are they strong?” The camera then spies a couple in a private embrace in the middle of an empty parking lot, “Do they love enough that the land will not eat them and start again anew?”
Let Love Flow ends with the warning that our city is awaiting the answer to those questions. Though the images are almost too literal to do justice to the text that provides the video’s poetic arc, the piece provides an important schema through which to view the rest of the show. On either side of the comfy couch are sculptural pieces that have found incarnations in Dela’s past work as well. Mixed Volumes 3 (2008), which sits on two beaten-up folding tables, consists of several books with titles like UFOs: Gods of Chariots and Kinetic Theory of Gases. Upon inspection, the pages of Kinetic Theory of Gases are not a science text, but pornography magazine pages cut to size. A book called Rats bears the pages of a familiar car catalogue like AutoTrader, and Nine and A Half Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair is filled with the pages of a catalogue for a building supply store. The books provide a dissociative and tactile experience, one that compliments the picture of a people so inured to the reality of the world around them they might cause its destruction.
Opposite the books, in the darkest recess of the gallery, is a tall wire metal shelf filled on each level with water bottles containing a glimmering, opaque black liquid. The liquid first conjures oil, another Texas commodity. But within the context of the show, the bottles seem to contain the antithesis of pure water; the piece, Water Shelve (2008), becomes the ultimate warning, the answer to what becomes of the city if her people cannot “love enough.”
The beauty of the show is in the parable, the strangeness of a tale that insinuates we could be blinded to our best interests by an almost carnal lust. The video Let Love Flow suggests that a flaw in human nature, a selfishness, could be the destruction of our natural resources. However, Dela leaves much room for interpretation throughout most of the show, which is what makes the juxtaposition of the video interviews jarring. On the way out, you might stop to watch more of the interviews, though ultimately they seem out of place in the gallery, as if they could have been condensed into a pamphlet or wall text. They don’t seem to speak to the narrative Dela has woven in Let Love Flow. That being said, the issues addressed in these interviews aren’t often given voice elsewhere, and education is one of Dela’s primary objectives.
Lee Webster is an artist living and working in Austin.
Kunst im Heim
Capitain Petzel, Berlin
Through December 13, 2008
By Ali Fitzgerald
Installation view, 2008, Kunst im Heim. All images courtesy Capitain Petzel, Berlin.
What happens when two art world titans combine their stables and collecting bases in a city known as “poor, but sexy?” Capitain Petzel Gallery, the joint effort of Gisela Capitain (famed German art-collector and discoverer of big daddy “bad painter” Martin Kippenberger) and Friedrich Petzel (owner of Friedrich Petzel Gallery in New York) is, firstly, an amazing space in an unusual location. The Capitain Petzel Gallery, a stately Modernist building with a beautiful glass façade, sits on Karl Marx Allee, a street peppered with imposing Bloc architecture and the promise of a grand thoroughfare from Germany to Moscow via Stalin’s cold, concrete heart. Karl Marx is by far my favorite street in Berlin, as nowhere else can you see so clearly the dilapidated playgrounds, crumbling worker housing and Soviet sculptures that mark the failed undertaking of Germany’s Cold War era occupiers.
Installation view, 2008, Kunst im Heim.
Capitain and Petzel have composed an elegant inaugural show in a place that once housed Applied and Fine Arts from the Eastern Bloc. Rather than ignore the looming black garland of history that hangs so heavily from the high-ceilinged space, their first attempt interrogates, contradicts and confronts the complicated yesterday that we all share.
After visiting Kunst im Heim, or Art for your Home, a second time (the first time I was bloated with champagne, Puritanical guilt from a weekend of debauchery and Art-Fair turpitude), I decided that it is one of the more compelling group shows I’ve seen in Berlin. Instead of simply showcasing their incredible roster of artists, among them Kippenberger, Seth Price and Christopher Wool, the two curators and friends culled works that address and interact with their surroundings.
After penetrating the incredibly exposed entrance, (with some trepidation if you’re hung over and wearing a sailor suit), one encounters a smattering of glass vitrines, a circumspect shack, a model of an oil rig, a wooden labyrinth and a stern Kippenberger portrait that notifies you immediately of your location in the heartland of emotional contradiction. Kippenberger’s sober German man looks down, the electric blue blinds behind him painted with a flippantly self-assured hand. This painting, like Germany’s complex social history is both solemn and lively. “Achtung! You can’t step on the grass! But, please accompany me to a shadowy sex dungeon with leather fetishists rotating on a spit.”
The thing I find most fascinating about Kunst im Heim is not necessarily the art, but the method of display. Much of the work is enclosed in small glass cabinets, holdovers from the previous incarnation of the building. This presentation references the didactic learning materials that told us that Marx was of the people, that a velociraptor’s diet consists of iguanadons and that Adam and Eve never touched fig leaves until they tied the knot (sorry, I just visited the Creationism Museum in Kentucky). The crux of this show is the conversation that occurs between the display case as propagandistic tool and the artwork sealed inside.
Troy Brauntuch benefits the most from this conversation; his 1976 Three Effects stamp series becomes recontexualized as a succession of beautiful omens portending a film Noir future. The stamps appear as cinematic whispers with cavernous hues and shady figures on the brink of unspeakable actions. To display these deeply mysterious pictures using those age-old instruments of bureaucratic transparency creates an intriguing negotiation of truth and ambiguity.
I can’t help but return to the idea of the “sex dungeon,” that rotating strobe-lit id within all of us, when thinking about the downstairs of the Capitain Petzel space. Indeed, the lower level resembles an old basement or bunker and after descending, one is greeted by Anna Gaskell’s Floater (1997), projected on the concrete floor. Gaskell shows us a lithe young girl drifting to the surface of a pool of water, as the camera moves swiftly in the direction of her open, moist mouth. Surrounding her video, there is a large grainy photo of lips slightly askew by Sam Samore and a mammoth Benglis-like concrete spill by Monika Sosnowska. Sosnowka’s sculpture originates on the top floor, where it drips downward from a modest, unnoticeable hole through which one can see the gaping space below. I must say, the downstairs is very id-like in comparison to the more cerebral pairings of the first floor.
The lower level also includes Christopher Eamon’s Closely Watched, a selection of films from the Eastern Block, ranging from 1965 to 1990. I’m not sure which film I watched, but I believe it was a Czech movie that centers on an illicit affair that crosses ideological and marital boundaries. At one point, a woman, lover of “Ludvik,” states that she has “longed for a simple, straightforward man,” to which Ludvik replies that “people should stop pretending.” This statement seems particularly apt in light of Capitain Petzel’s willingness to dig up and scatter thorny remains that were buried not so long ago beneath Karl Marx Allee 45. As I’ve heard chanted so many times here in Berlin, “Never forget.”
Ali Fitzgerald is an artist currently living and working in Berlin. She recently exhibited with the space Extraraum at the Berliner Liste Fair.
Light & Sie, Dallas
Through December 20, 2008
By Noah Simblist
Adi Nes, Untitled (Ruth and Naomi Gleaning), 2006, C-print, 59 x 73 inches. Courtesy Light & Sie, Dallas.
Biblical stories aren’t too common in contemporary art. References to Moses, Adam or Job were usually the fodder for high modern myth makers like Mark Rothko or Barnett Newman who poured meaning into their abstractions with titles full of pathos. Today, maybe there has been a reaction to the failed universalizing gestures of modernism. Or maybe the absence of Biblical references has to do with the general antipathy of the art world to organized religion and its association with the American religious right. Or maybe contemporary cosmopolitan western citizens simply no longer share the Old and New Testaments as a common lexicon.
However, for Adi Nes, an Israeli photographer, Biblical imagery remains rich territory. For Israelis, the Bible is not only a story. It is a specter that haunts the landscape of everyday life. As I write this, the streets of Hebron are still burning after the Israeli army evacuated a group of Jewish settler squaters from a Palestinian house, prompting riots by Jewish settlers and counter demonstrations by Palestinians. While there might seem to be political, legal and nationalistic action and reaction that fuels this particular flair up in the Middle East, the roots of these events are Biblical. 500 Israelis have stubbornly held their ground in a West Bank city with a Palestinian population of 166,000 because it is the location where Jews and Muslims believe that numerous Biblical figures (specifically Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah) are buried.
One of Nes’s prints, Untitled (Cain and Abel), which depicts two men in modern clothes in a fistfight, might seem on the surface to be a straightforward image mythologized by its title. But this reading neglects the unavoidable presence of Biblical narratives in the daily life of Israeli society. This is not to say that Israeli society is predominantly religious—on the contrary, most of the country is quite secular. But Nes reflects upon a national condition in which even the post-Zionist, secular Israel is easily read through a Biblical lens. A fight on the streets of Hebron can be a petty squabble between neighbors over property rights, while also having mythological overtones.
Untitled (Ruth & Naomi Gleaners) depicts two women sifting through the castaway detritus of what looks like the aftermath of a busy market. They are bent down, like two figures in a Millet painting (as the title suggests) gathering half-rotten onions. This allusion to an artist from another time underlines the tradition of painters who used both realism and narrative to evoke allegory. At the same time, this image of poverty evokes the story of Ruth, a woman who found herself at the mercy of landowners but who eventually became the mother of David, the righteous king of Israel. What does this Biblical allusion imply for the poorest Israeli Jews or Muslims, commonly seen in a similar position?
Caravaggio also merged a relentless realism with divine images from the Bible. As Frank Stella has noted, “We remember that Caravaggio has made us see his models as real, an experience altogether different from other painting where we have seen merely a picture of rendered models.” Stella notes that the power of these images is the “ability of his model/actors to go both ways—to be total and complete participants, to be both performers and spectators.” This has a tremendous impact on the viewer’s relationship to visual Biblical imagery. If the models themselves are both spectators and performers in relation to the construction of an image and its content, then we too become complicit—both subject and object in relation to these stories.
In the Bible, Cain was a farmer—dependent on land and, as a result, ownership and materialism. Abel, a shepherd, was nomadic by nature. Cain kills his brother Abel out of jealousy, an emotion tied to possession. Could this violent act based on an identity predicated by an attachment to land be the first gesture in a history of conflict that is still playing itself out? And if we take Stella’s ideas about our complicit participation in images to heart, where do we fit into this image. Are we simply spectators?
Instead of painting, Adi Nes uses the language of photojournalism, all too commonly the narrative in which the story of Israel/Palestine is told. But he self-consciously stages these images, admitting that the truths often told through photography are constructed and beholden to a network of ideologies. Nes riffs on the strategies of photographers like Cindy Sherman who frame the interplay between the gaze of the viewer, the artist and the object of that gaze in a photographic realm that shifts back and forth between the real and the imaginary. Sherman and others have revealed the powerful effects that images have, not only to reflect but also to construct identity. By transposing the questions of feminism to Israeli identity, Nes has revealed that photography can act similarly. This combination of staging, realism and allegory make these photographs function as intertextual references to history, mythology and the complex social and historical conditions of Israeli society. Anna R. Morgan, “The Other Israeli Conflict: The Jewish State Struggles Once Again Over How Jewish It Should Be” The Washington Post July 11, 2004: B03.
 I use this term to refer to the changing nature of the State of Israel, which began with the socialist utopian dreams of Theodor Herzl where agriculture and industry would provide the Jewish people, traditionally victims of anti-Semitism around the world with a self-sufficient safe haven. But after the privatization of the Israeli economy, burgeoning biotech, software and defense industries and nuclear superpower status, and a prolonged aggressive military occupation of the Palestinian territories, Israel no longer follows the design of traditional Zionism. See Benny Morris. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. New York: Vintage, 2001.
 Frank Stella, Working Space. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986. p. 17.
 See Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1989.
Noah Simblist is an artist, writer and Assistant Professor of Art at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. His work explores the political role of the artist, the history of abstraction and the ideas of home, borders and exile in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Through January 20, 2009
By Walton Muyumba
Kirsten Macy, A Girl Named Ham & the Sportsman Royal, 2008, Mixed Media. Courtesy Barry Whistler Gallery.
Vicious Pink, the playfully ostentatious new show curated by Mary Benedicto at Dallas’s Centraltrak Artists Residency, might also have been called Viscose Pink because of its thematically thick, semi-fluid consistency.
Val Curry’s amalgam of melted plastic and stuffed animals illustrates one constant throughout the show: the documentation of states of change or process. Curry’s vertical piece, learning (2008), greets viewers immediately upon entering the gallery space and evokes the fierce softness of the show’s title. The overall shape of learning references the heart muscle, the integrated, pink engine of human motion. Balancing atop a fat tree branch braced by steel pipes, plush animals ride Curry’s frazzled plastic forms, hanging between motion and stasis. The shifting mode of the piece suggests simultaneously the artist’s desire for integration, formally and materially, and an awareness of the effort and complexity inherent in and required by such integration.
Two corollaries to learning are Kirsten Macy’s outdoor installation, A Girl Named Ham & the Sportsman Royal (2008) and LeeAnn Harrington’s video Falling Into the Night (2008). In the boldest, largest work in the show, Macy has painted the interior of a Sportsman Royal van pink and wired it for sound, broadcasting a female voice narrating Ham’s story. The eerily lit, abandoned vehicle, once Ham's home, with a beaten mattress jammed in the back cargo area and clothes, shoes, cups, eating utensils and leafy branches strewn about its insides, offers a record of a life vacated, its remnants decaying. In evocative contrast with Macy’s work, Harrington’s channels four video loops of a young woman’s falling and rising into the quadrants of a large LCD panel. Rather than noting a state of decline, Harrington’s static repetitions give rise to moments of caesura in the clips, when the body is between rest and motion, an acknowledgment of the body in process.
While Curry, Macy and Harrington hesitate in a liminal zone, Jesse Meraz’s Ball in THA Hall (2008), a large, blinking ornament, composed of bubble-wrap, packing tape and construction paper and tagged with dime-sized blue lights, forces interaction between the piece and patrons. In order to venture down the long corridor of the residency, one must negotiate the pink ball, a vicious/viscose obstacle, rolling it from one side to the other, or up and down the hall to create passage. On opening night, this piece caused a circling stir of delight and confusion as folks wondered out loud whether they could touch it.
Lanie Delay’s Network IV (214-824-9302) (2008) also invites viewers to participate in making the piece. Delay has arranged four pinkish/flesh-toned analog telephones at the compass points around a large circle of wrinkled telephone line. Connected to the residency’s communications circuits, the phones ring, their red lights flashing, when calls come through the main line. At the opening reception, patrons were encouraged to field calls, but many resisted, choosing instead to circle and stare as the phones clamored. Staring pensively, an index finger on his lips, a towheaded toddler finally picked up a receiver, spuring others to answer the bells as well.
Benedicto’s smart, well-arranged show highlights brightly a range of talented Texas artists interrogating form, stasis and motion in various mediums. Thus one departs with the ironic sense of having both traveled and loitered, of having participated as both voyeur and tableau. Vicious Pink invites visitors to both appraise and swim within the stream of profuse contingencies between art making and art appreciation.
Walton Muyumba is a writer, critic, and professor living in Dallas. In 2009, the University of Chicago Press will publish his book, The Shadow and the Act: Black Intellectuals, Jazz Improvisation, and Philosophical Pragmatism. Muyumba is working on essays about the relationship between contemporary American fiction and visual arts.
Cinema Remixed & Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image since 1970
Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston
Through January 4, 2009
By Katie Geha
Tracey Rose, Still of The Wailers, 2004, Digital video projection, color, 6:19 minute loop. Courtesy the artist and the Project, New York.
Upon entering The Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, Cinema Remixed & Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image since 1970 presents the viewer with a large 16mm projected image of young boys dressed in suits, floating under water, attempting a game of basketball. Tracy Rose’s The Wailers (2004) introduces the viewer to a sense of uneasy immersion that the mediums of video and film often require. The push and pull of the figures as they move through water, bubbles rising from their mouths, is not unlike the experience of viewing the films and videos on exhibition—it demands a large amount of attention and patience and, at times, can be emotionally taxing. To extend the metaphor even further, this seminal exhibition of black female video and film artists will leave you gasping for air.
Just to the left of the entrance, Jessica Ann Peavy’s five-channel video fully encapsulates the subject of the exhibition. Her hilarious video installation (yes, race and gender can be funny) Note to Self: There’s a Hot Sauce Stain on My Gucci Bag (2006) plays on accepted characterizations of black women, as each monitor shows a triptych of images and a female speaker taking on a variety of roles. Speaking with tongue firmly in cheek, one character discusses straightening her black hair, another arches her back and sticks out her backside while commenting on the objectification of black women’s bodies, while a different character approaches the screen, licks her lips and seductively states “Popeye’s chicken n’ biscuits? Oh no, I don’t eat that.” Each video loops, weaving in on itself, creating a cacophony of voices, the high-pitched cry, “Booty! Booty!” playing out across the gallery over and over.
Peavy’s dissection of stereotypes makes use of the inherent reflexivity of her medium— video. As Rosalind Krauss argued in 1976, the video monitor acts as a mirror, uses the human psyche as a conduit, and reflects concurrently the reception and projection of the image. Thus, in this exhibition, “black woman video artist” is not just a category that denotes the artist’s gender and race. Rather, it is the very subject matter that each of these artists confronts: “What does it mean to be a black woman today?”
One way to answer such a question is through the harnessing of stereotypes. When it is executed well, as in Lauren Kelley’s Big Gurl (2006), a campy stop-motion animation of black Barbies’ bodies that morph into frantically generated claymation boobs and butts, this confrontation of the status quo successfully reveals the variety of layers that are inherent to any stereotype. However, in other works, for instance several videos that use blackface, such commentary skirts the dangerous line of reifying a stereotype, rather than breaking it down.
Other artists in the exhibition focus on how black women are portrayed in popular (white) media. Tracey Moffatt and Gary Hilberg, in Lip (1999), critique cinematic representations of black women by mashing together a variety of scenes from movies that depict black female slaves or servants “mouthing off” to the white people they work for. Meanwhile, Jocelyn Taylor deftly defies cinéma vérité by playing with Jean-Luc Godard’s Armide. While Godard’s film centers on females worshipping male body-builders, Taylor presents a sweet and strange story about the adoration of black women body-builders. Finally, Elizabeth Axtman, an incredible young artist, exhibits American Classics (2005) a video of herself lip-synching scenes from films that deal with what it means to be mixed-race in America. Fully inhabiting these various roles and facing the viewer head-on, Axtman simply and powerfully engages with the complexity that issues of race demand.
Axtman is also responsible for the most resonant video in the exhibition, Expletives Owned (2007). A small screen imbedded in the gallery wall shows repeating courtroom footage of the 1992 Jeffrey Dahmer hearing. In the short clip, Rita Isbell, sister of victim Errol Lindsey, walks out from behind the courtroom podium and lunges at Dahmer screaming expletives that were blanked out for national TV airing. Axtman fills the gaps with similar expletives spoken by black comedians Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and Bernie Mac. The appropriation of the two, comedy and courtroom drama, is jarring and bizarre. Yet, the repetition of the clip turns Isbell’s frightening rage into a cathartic event. Dahmer’s eyes remain downcast as, shaking and out of control, she calls him by his first name: “Never again Jeffrey! Never!” It is impossible to look away.
Cinema Remixed & Reloaded is skillfully installed with a variety of closed off rooms for viewing longer videos. And while it is certainly a noisy exhibition, such a massive array of videos and voices reminds the viewer of the colossal amount of work that is being done by black female video and film artists (especially by young artists— the number of artists exhibiting here under the age of 30 is astounding). The curators, Valerie Cassel Oliver and Dr. Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, complete the survey by including early groundbreaking video artists such as Adrian Piper, Julie Dash and Howardena Pindell. The exhibition is not arranged chronologically, rather, it seems to flow organically and refuses any concrete formal categorization.
However, the one organizing principle of the exhibition—that the artists be black, female and working in video or film, is a difficult categorization. As curator Hazma Walker has noted, “Race is no less mercurial and complex as an organizing principle for an exhibition than it is a tricky issue in general. Just as one might ask what, one might also ask where is race.” Due to Oliver and Brownlee’s refusal to neatly organize this exhibition to make these unwieldy themes easier to digest, a specific location or definition of “black woman” will not be found in these darkened galleries. Instead, after hours of viewing these videos and films, something much more truthful emerges—race and gender not as specific categories but, rather, as points in which to explore messy implications and fraught contradictions.
Katie Geha is pursuing a Ph.D. in Art History at The University of Texas at Austin.
Every Sound You Can Imagine
Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston
Closed December 7, 2008
By Allison Myers
John Cage, Aria, 1958 (excerpt)
9 x 24 inches. © 1960 by C.F. Peters Corporation, New York.
For those of us that can’t tell a piano from a forte, going to see an exhibition of musical scores might seem a fruitless endeavor. Having happened upon such a show at Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum, I was doubtful about my abilities to really appreciate the finer points of Steve Reich’s dense notations or John Cage’s delicately composed haikus. It was thus a pleasant surprise to find the exhibition, appropriately named Every Sound You Can Imagine, to be a fun and engaging presentation of the ways experimental musical scores have transcended the boundaries that traditionally divide the musically visionary from the musically blind.
The show includes a whopping seventy-five composers and artists with works as early as 1950 and as recent as this year. Some of the works, especially the earlier ones, maintain the traditional medium of handwritten notations on music paper. These pieces do well to provide a framework for the rest of the show, which, without them, might be mistaken for a graphic design exhibition. Using digital illustration, video and even a computerized “algorithmic visual program,” these composers and artists question what it means to write, read and perform music by creating scores that use graphical images, maps and idiosyncratic notations in place of standard directions.
This is especially apparent in Wallace Berman’s Untitled (Musical Score) (1974), which makes use of staff lined music paper and numerical notations but substitutes Hebrew letters for notes. Since the letters formally resemble eighth notes and have a rhythmic fluidity of their own, the substitution is not immediately clear. This subtle shift allows the work to succinctly address the literal and conceptual similarities between reading music and reading text. Since neither reading music nor Hebrew are ultra-common skills of the general population (at least in the U.S.), the illiterate viewer/performer must interpret the look and feel of the score – perhaps a fluid, calligraphic sound?
Berman’s work is approachable as a score since it makes clean references to classical notation. Other works, however, throw off the crutches of the staff lines and key signatures entirely, relying solely on images. It is especially these works that, in the words of curator Christoph Cox, “envision the production of the score as a branch of visual art parallel to and partly independent from musical performance.” Though most of the graphically oriented works are stunning examples, Alison Knowles’ Song #1 of the Three Songs: Onion Skin Song is especially compelling. The score is simply a sienna blueprint of onion skins; performers are instructed to choose an instrument and interpret the prints as they please. Even if the viewer has never picked up an instrument in his or her life, it is impossible not to wonder, “what are the sounds of an onion skin?”
Musical notation, at least to those who don’t deal with it frequently, seems like a closed circuit. The composer writes music and the musician reads it and performs it. But here, the composers write (or draw or paint or shoot) notes on a page often without any standard or specific instructions. Performers are thus encouraged, and often forced, to improvise the literal notation while reading the spirit of the score. This breakdown has two primary outcomes. First, the relationship between the composer and the performer is no longer dictatorial but symbiotic, as the score is simply a suggestion for a certain kind of improvisation. (This frees the performer from his or her traditional role as a glorified player piano.) In addition, it democratizes the music circuit by moving beyond the performer’s capacity to read music. Performers and non-performers alike can interpret the sound of onion skins. And this is the beauty of the show: it can engage viewers who know nothing about music just as well as it can excite professional musicians.
Allison Myers is pursuing an M.A. in art history at The University of Texas at Austin.
Tapas: A Sampler of Cinema and Media from the Americas
Aurora Picture Show, Houston
November 15 & 16, 2008
By Nancy Zastudil
Ximena Cuevas, Still from Someone Behind the Door, 2005, 12 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Aurora Picture Show.
Recently, film scholar Margarita De la Vega-Hurtado curated Tapas: A Sampler of Cinema and Media from The Americas, a survey of South American approaches to documentary filmmaking at Aurora Picture Show in Houston, TX. While impossible to fully represent a continent’s artistic spectrum in one evening, Tapas proved to be an engaging selection of provocative, culturally revealing documentary film and experimental videos.
The Tapas program began with La Corona, a 40-minute film directed by Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega (USA/Columbia, 2007) that builds on the power of appearances. The film depicts a beauty pageant in a women's penitentiary in Bogotá, Colombia. There are four main contestants, all younger than 25 years old, nominated to represent their respective cellblocks: Angela, a professional thief; Angie, arrested for gang-related robbery; Maira, a former hired assassin; and Viviana, incarcerated for guerilla activity. The girls tell their stories to the camera, explaining that the pageant competition gives them hope—something to which they can look forward. The girls, adorned with gang tattoos and elaborate donated costumes, walk the runway and stand before their fellow inmates to answer the pageant judge’s questions with fiercely passionate Columbian pride. Amidst the jealousy, accusations and overall ugliness that the beauty competition ignites, La Corona illustrates that dreams are vital to sustaining the human spirit. Yet the fantasy of the dream is tempered by the reality that no matter who wins the crown, the girls must ultimately return to a jail cell.
In All Water Has a Perfect Memory (Mexico/USA, 2001, 19 min), Natalia Almada uses the “character” of water as both destroyer and healer to gingerly broach the topic of her sister Ana Lynn’s accidental death. Members of this bi-cultural family—mother, father, brother and Almada—narrate the film with memories of the day that Ana Lynn drowned and the painful days thereafter. Almada pairs the storyline with family photographs, home movies and concocted imagery—most poignantly a close cropping of an electric sewing machine needle and the twirling hem of a child’s white dress. The cyclical nature inherent in the image references the rituals that get us through the day, as well as the bloodlines that connect us, described by curator Vega-Hurtado as "the thread that never goes away.” Almada delicately accompanies the images and expereinces with ambient sound, echoing the intimate bittersweet nature of memory.
The second half of the evening was comprised of short works by film and media artist Ximena Cuevas; this was her first in-person presentation in Houston. Programmatically set against the more linear and traditional documentary styles of Micheli/Vega and Almada, Cuevas’s videos force viewers to take stock of an image on its own terms, in the midst of the collage-like, even surrealist, nature of her work. Three videos particularly impressed me: Estamos Para Servirle (We Are Here to Serve You) (1999), Natural Instincts (1999) and La Puerta (The Door) (2000).
Estamos Para Servirle is humorous and employs a “disembodied” fork, or fork-as-flying-insect, which feeds pieces of fruit to a woman lying by the pool. An electronic-sounding voice names the piece of fruit repetitively as it hovers above water, going back and forth between feedings. Natural Instincts, which is the artist describes as “a video of musical terror,” interrogates her culture’s desire to be blonde and the fantasy of “waking up white.” The disturbing video begins with harsh electronic screeches as a billboard displays what seems to be an old Hollywood film clip of a mother pulling back a bed sheet to discover her dead baby. Cuevas applies bleach mixture to her hair and dancing cheerleader types—blondes of course—sing a Mexican hallelujah chorus. La Puerta is one of her more somber and psychologically haunting works. The camera hurriedly searches what seem to be hospital hallways, capturing no other signs of life. The audio is layered with labored breathing and multiple voices uttering the same few names and numbers over and over, perhaps alluding to the dumb luck of a Bingo game and the gamble one takes with personal heath and illness; it may also refer to the disorienting nature of the health care system. We move with the camera through doorways and hallways until finally ending at a large foggy window, with no resolution or escape, only a dead end.
Tapas offered a thoughtful survey from the Americas, yet I question the decision to present conventional documentary with the experimental works of Ximena Cuevas. I can't help but think that the respective sensibilities would be better served on their own terms rather than being subjected to unavoidable expectations and comparisons. The strength of the works chosen, however, lies in the documentation of personal, experiential subject matters in ways that do not rely purely on nostalgia or stereotypes.
Nancy Zastudil moonlights as a curator based in Houston, TX, and currently works as Program Manager at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston. She is cofounder of Slab, an exhibition method that collaboratively facilitates art projects and events.
Texposé and It's Gonna Be Reverything
Urban Culture Project, Kansas City
Through January 10, 2009
By Blair Schulman
Okay Mountain, Untitled (detail), 2008, Ink and latex, 16 x 14 feet. Courtesy Charlotte Street Foundation.
The artists from Okay Mountain are mining a rich vein of self-supporting artist collectives more often found in larger cities with bottomless resources. Their work is on display at Urban Culture Project's Paragraph Gallery and Project Space in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Urban Culture Project, which operates a series of venues for multi-disciplinary contemporary arts programming, is an initiative of the Charlotte Street Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting artists in Kansas City. Thanks to an exchange of ideas and like-mindedness,a hand-selected group of works by Austin artists, the Okay Mountain group among them, are on display in Kansas City.
To create the sensation of being within their own work environment, for It's Gonna Be Reverything, Okay Mountain devised a work station to bring to Kansas City: Conference Table (2008), a colorful picnic table of hand-painted wood, allowed visitors to relax and appreciate the mural created specifically for this exhibition. This mural, Untitled (2008), a 16 by 14 foot wall of ink and latex, was devised from an original idea and contrived from about fifteen drawings by different group members. It can be seen as a skewered, modernist vision of Edward Hicks’ The Peaceable Kingdom (c. 1834). And like Hicks’ expression of faith, this piece (a bright blue background adorned with animals in a near-sylvan setting) illustrates the objects (boom boxes, cell phones, televisions) that underscore the inherent strength in the group’s freedom to create in their own self-contained Eden.
The “beeramyd,” All The Beers We Drank Together (2008), which got a few eye rolls but was nonetheless well-crafted and great fun, went right to the point of Okay Mountains' mission. The interior of their 11-foot high Lone Star label-papered pyramid was adorned with a color scheme of blankets directly linking the work hung on the walls, confirming the camaraderie and communal experience of all the artists involved.
Texposé in Paragraph Gallery features other Austin-based artists: Erin Curtis, Ryan Lauderdale, Erick Michaud, Jill Pangallo, Joseph Phillips and Virigina Yount. Their work is curated by Kate Hackman, Associate Director at the Charlotte Street Foundation, Kansas City-based artist Grant Miller and Sterling Allen, Founding Partner of Okay Mountain. Ryan Lauderdale's drawings are reminiscent of Werner Erhard-like gatherings with the bold, saturated colors of Aztec textiles. His felt tip marker and ink drawings reach out to the audience with a sense of ease that becomes more emboldened as the viewer stands back and soaks in the whole experience to—using est-speak—“get it.” Images like Glorious Group Therapy (2008) and Mayan Choir (2008) lead you right to the precipice before submersion into a suffocating miasma of groupthink.
Through Joseph Phillips one sees an eerily precise suburban landscape. From the prim backyard perfection of Oak Ridge Gardening Club (2008), to the hale and hardy WaveMaker Beach with Bar and Waterslide (2008), Phillips' work of pencil, ink and gouache reveals a fanatically antiseptic existence—an existence that is both enchanting for its precision and slightly unnerving for exactly that reason. At the same time, his use of orange work cones in the farthest parameters of each image confesses a telling state of “flux” in these environments. Erin Curtis' Pool Shot (2008) is a more relaxed metaphor for this good life, but behind the luxury one could imagine an equally high price for contentment.
Texposé and It’s Gonna Be Reverything bring the artists of Austin to Kansas City, creating a productive dialogue between the artists of two mid-sized cities that empowers the local arts scenes in each. This exchange further impresses upon these communities what their support brings to the surface.
Based in Kansas City, Missouri, Blair Schulman has been a Contributing Writer to Review, Mid-America's visual art magazine, since 2002. He is also a contributor to Kansas City Home Design magazine.
Ours: Democracy in the Age of Branding
Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons The New School for Design, New York
Through February 1, 2009
By Nicole Caruth
Ariel Orozco, Contrapeso, 2003, C-print, 27 1/2 x 19 1/2 inches. Courtesy the artist.
It seems unfair to formulate an opinion about Ours: Democracy in the Age of Branding after one or even two lengthy visits. It is, after all, made up of multiple platforms and “structures”: An exhibition, a sizable web component, interpretive materials (handouts, a cell phone audio tour, posters and stickers), performances, lectures, charettes (solution-driven workshops) and panel discussions that take place over a 4 month period.
The first of two curatorial statements declares the exhibition “a stage, conceived as a platform for debate,” hence the show’s centerpiece, a 60 x 47 foot podium, or stage, designed by the British artist Liam Gillick. The statement goes on to offer two trajectories: First, an examination of desires (fulfilled or unfulfilled) generated and promoted by the brand of American democracy, such as choice, participation, freedom of expression, a sense of belonging, and the promise of individual success; second, an investigation of both aesthetic and political systems of representation developed in response to these desires, particularly addressing the underrepresented, or the voiceless. The exhibition subtitle is certainly a hefty bag to unpack.
Ours was obviously (and justifiably) curated and designed with students and course work in mind—to be revisited, taken apart, reevaluated and discussed. Still, it is an overcrowded room, predominantly red, white, blue, and grey in color; a mishmash that might be compared to a crudely deconstructed flag or a chaotic swap meet. Gillick’s sprawling and unpopulated platform with circular benches serves to push some of the exhibition’s best objects to the margins, functioning more like a blockade than an apparatus for exchange.
Despite the need for refinement, occasional diamonds in the rough by artists such as Miguel Luciano, Kota Ezawa, Nadine Robinson, Asaf Koriat, Ariel Orozco, Judith Werthein and Rumo Lagomarsino, evoke the blatantly obvious sparkle of Ours—its relevance at this moment. Will the ways in which American national identity is “packaged, distributed and consumed” look, sound and feel the same going forward? How have artists interpreted democracy in recent years? Post-election, as we head toward a historical inauguration, are the ideas embodied by these objects already outmoded or begging for amendment?
Approaches to branding and democracy in Ours are both local and global and thus differ in perspectives and definitive implications. Miguel Luciano’s Cuando las Gallinas Mean (When Hens Pee) (2003) greets visitors at the door. Like the toy-filled vitrines commonly found at arcades and stores ending in “Mart,” a central hen sits above a heap of plastic eggs. Viewers are invited to insert a quarter to receive a prize. The piece refers to a Puerto Rican saying meant to silence children: “You can speak again when hens pee.” After depositing my coinage, the hen makes some loud noises, pees and releases an egg. I open mine to find a button that reads “$uckce$$.” I take it to mean that the monetary success achievable in democratic societies has a “sucky” side, encapsulated in consumerist desires for material things. When Hens Pee is the first object to bring capitalist values to the exhibition: For Luciano’s apparatus to function at full capacity, it requires active involvement and contribution, resulting in a quick and, hopefully, worthwhile return. The adage that Luciano employs as his title further suggests silence and pacification brought about by material possessions.
Adjacent to Luciano, American-born artist Brian Tolle renders a familiar portrait of Benjamin Franklin using his aphorisms, printed so small that we must come unusually close to make out the phrases. Man of Characters (2006) attempts to push beyond our immediate associations with the hundred-dollar bill (and perhaps the subtext of success as defined by the 1990s song “It’s All About the Benjamins”) to the character and defining principles of the former United States president.
Purchasing power and material fulfillment are raised in works by the German-born artist of Japanese descent Kota Ezawa, and Judi Werthein, an Argentinean artist based in New York. Two works from Ezawa’s IKEA light box series feature slogans incorporating the word “your” such as “What’s Happening in Your Life.” The artist raises the irony of advertisement that addresses the individual, particularly given this brand of cookie-cutter home goods, made to resemble the specialty of high-end design only on the surface. At the same time, the artist’s Katzian technique—a flat, pared-down, computer-generated style—illustrates a false sense of uniqueness; though pictures and showrooms differ, in the end, everything is the same.
Werthein’s sneakers branded Brinco (meaning “jump”) raise a still touchy issue in American politics and media. Manufactured in China, each pair of shoes contains a map of the border area on the inside of the soles, a compass, pockets to hide money and medication, and other “necessities.” In 2005, Werthein became part of the discourse about border regulation when she designed, distributed free-of-charge and also sold the sneakers at a retail price of $215. Reports about the piece by Fox News and CNN stream on multiple monitors in the exhibition. Though they at first appear to be staged and skillfully edited, Werthein was indeed accused by Lou Dobbs and others as aiding and abetting illegal immigration across the Mexico/U.S. border. The artist appears in at least one televised interview grinning, presumably a sign of the absurd logic that sneakers would truly help one making the risky crossing. The news anchor, however, seems to believe it a very serious offense. Werthein’s sneakers, like black berets of the past or keffiyehs of today, are symbols of compassion and desire for change not only in the discourse, but the everyday reality of the situation.
Brinco resonates with an ongoing piece by Los Angeles-based artist Ashley Hunt, a chalk board that invites audiences to write their definition of terms from a nearby world map; each week the definitions are uploaded to a photo-based glossary. When I visited, the word “privilege” seemed to be the hot button, defined as:
America(n) [WASP], or the haves and the have nots; primarily belonging to the whitest and few in the world, “privilege” is the state of having reached the pinnacle of Maslow’s pyramid socio-economically; to exclude one’s self from traditionally cultural institutions such as government, basic human sympathy, and all senses of morality…and sometimes logic.
I might add: The ability to organize an exhibition that critiques the very government under which you live without reprisal.
Mixing cynicism and sound, Nadine Robinson’s Americana, Version Two (2008) raises the artist’s own skepticism toward the power of democracy to bring about justice. Two towers of nine speakers on either side each bear an American flag and the phrase “made in the U.S.A.” The sculpture plays historic and present-day samples of American political speeches, in which moments of applause have been replaced with laughter. I catch bits of John F. Kennedy. (1917 - 1963), Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968), and President-elect Barack Obama (b.1961). Given the recent proliferation of Obama’s portrait alongside those of Dr. King and President Kennedy, the three voices at the moment suggest that as a nation we are beyond the point of mere dreams of the Civil Rights era. Though discussions about discord, especially pertaining to race, seem politically incorrect at the moment, has the 2008 election truly transformed the image of American democracy or will we later find it a “little improvement” and “cosmetic distraction” from deep long-term injustice under democratic systems, as Robinson’s piece alluded at the time of its first incarnation in 2001?
Tel-Aviv based artist Asaf Koriat’s one-channel, split-screen video The Brave (2006), simultaneously shows nine celebrities singing the “Star Spangled Banner” (Justin Timberlake, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston among them). It is the American Idol picture of opportunity—a country in which you can be anything you desire to be. The picture of the individual is inseparable from the masses in this so-called “critique and celebration.” As the voices come together in less than harmonious accord, the idea of distinctive voices competes with the projection of collective identity.
Ours is an exhibition of complex ideas in smartly executed works. But as we are seeing President-elect Obama begin to take the reins of American government, it might have better served this exhibition’s pedagogical goals to likewise parse out and tackle one thing at a time. Contrapeso, a stunning photograph by Ariel Orozco shows the Cuban-born artist grasping a flagpole to hold his body out horizontally in mid-air. Against the backdrop of a partly cloudy sky, Orozco performs a flag, not made up of stars, stripes or, necessarily, colors, but an individual. What is on the horizon for the image of democracy, a brand in and of itself that molds and adapts to the time. Perhaps Parsons will follow up in four to eight years with Rebranding Democracy in the Age of Obama. That will be quite a thing to behold.
I have only covered the experience of the exhibition in the gallery, writing little about the works online: I imagine if you can read this, you can experience them for yourself. All fairly strong (a success of the exhibition given the number of empty Web projects included in exhibitions of late), some to note are Rebranding Acts by Wooloo Productions; Transferring Patriotism by the Institute for Infinitely Small Things; Why They Hate Us by Steve Lambert; and The Good Life by Carlos Matta.
Nicole J. Caruth is a freelance writer and curator based in Brooklyn. A regular blogger for Art21, her writing has been published by the Studio Museum in Harlem, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and Gastronomica. Her personal blog, Contemporary Confections, merges two of her greatest loves: art and sweet foodstuffs.
Sala Diaz, San Antonio
Through December 15, 2008
By Wendy Atwell
Ken Adams, Terra Lucida, 2008, Digital Collage. Courtesy the artist and Sala Diaz.
Enchanting psychedelia and shamanic journeying abounded in Terra Lucida at Sala Diaz, “psychedelic pictograms presented as digital animation and prints,” by Austin-based artist Ken Adams. Lured there by the artist’s website, americcansatori.com, I went in search of what exactly might be an American satori—an American experience of this Zen term for enlightenment. I found ornate, multilayered and, in the case of the film, multi-sensory visual stories, a ticket for a Disney ride spun backwards, a tour through Space Mountain at the flow of molasses, a bricollage of imagery and unnerving alterity of sound.
Many images could be predicted, things (for our culture) exotic and strange: lots of mushrooms, frogs, Eastern and Indian imagery, mandalas and the like, signposts of the universal hallucinatory experience. Adams collages these images together seamlessly in pictograms that hang in the first gallery and the film in the room next door opens with similar imagery. There, a hippie-like arrangement of assorted pillows and blankets lie on the floor, offering very comfortable reclined viewing.
In the film, windows, or screens, of imagery slide away in a three dimensional black realm. The scenes depict ancient stone tablets, temples, nineteenth or early twentieth century photo albums, Buddhas and lotus flowers. We’ve seen this before, jaded as we are by the beauty of Photoshop and stock photography. This overabundance of imagery has a downfall; in economic terms it cheapens their value. Yet the true exotic in Adam’s work has nothing to do with the photographic content; the exotic is in a cyber graffiti that Adams performs over these stock images, much like the spraypainted designs seen along the moving side of a train car. These light paintings appear in and out of the photographs as they emerge and recede. The non-objective, abstract, pulsing lights resemble medical and biological imagery, neurons firing, thoughts blazing. A huge starburst clump glows and then flakes away like an invisible lover picking the petals off of a rose.
The accompanying soundtrack plays a vital role in Terra Lucida, because the sounds and lights/images appear to organically move together, forming a synesthetic experience. Artist Steve Marsh provided futuristic and distorted sounds made from a handmade electrodyne device; these are combined with a relatively archaic, slowly strumming string instrument.
In and out of this soundtrack comes the “spoken word” taken from “trance recordings” by Terence McKenna (1946-2000), world traveler, shaman, mushroom farmer and renowned advocate for the mind expanding qualities of hallucinogens. McKenna’s voice can be quite creepy sounding at times, especially when it takes the form of incoherent gibberish and startling, maniacal laughter. But it is not creepy at all when he slowly narrates and reiterates revelatory truths: “Everything is made of light,” and “Astonishment is the proper response to reality.” During these moments, McKenna sounds like the spiritual leader that he was and the revelations he shares are part of the package of this art experience. “I am speaking from the Imaginatrix, domain unknown…this is the place that shamans have known for millennia, they’ve passed through the portals reserved for dead souls. There’s a technology and an understanding that you can barely imagine. This is the idea behind the secret of magic.”
McKenna’s implication is that computer technology and the internet are akin to a kind of psycho-spiritual retreat, a portal into Heaven. Colorful morphing imagery gathers out of the black, growing and then diminishing, at its peak bundled together like a synthetic but sophisticated version of childhood’s sugarplum dreams. The film’s amazing beauty stems from the gorgeous, colorful abstract imagery, colored light, liquid paint, that shimmers and reflects like water in response to the soundtrack. McKenna proceeds with his tantalizing dream, offering promises and salve to parched mortality, “the richness of reality folded into itself; infinity in a grain of sand, time out of time.”
Some may dismiss McKenna’s theories as crackpot and half-baked but they are one of many feathers in mankind’s hat of religion, the ideas crafted to to adorn life’s mysteries and cap off eternity. Adams’s art leads viewers into an alternative realm of delight, surprise and the bizarre, a generous offering of clean hallucinations for the apprehensive and (probably) of deeply resonant experiences for those who authentically engage.
Wendy Atwell received her M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The University of Texas at San Antonio.
By Lyra Kilston
In a recent article, the contemporary art market was declared to be a bubble economy unparalleled since the days of 17th century Holland, when a single tulip bulb sold for three times the cost of a townhouse. Two years ago, Brooklyn-based artist Robert Amesbury also recognized the uncanny parallels between the Dutch empire and our own in a series of paintings titled Pronk. These richly colored gouache-on-paper paintings update typical Dutch and Flemish scenes, such as still lifes and flower arrangements, to reflect on American habits of extreme desire and consumption. One painting, Big Fish Devour Little Fish (2006), based on Pieter Bruegel’s engraving of the same title, depicts a large fish choking out a lobster claw, a strand of pearls, a Budweiser can and a plaid Burberry purse. Spilling out of a slit in the fish’s side are a bunch of glassy grapes, a can of beans, and a carton of glistening McDonald’s French fries. A pink and white tulip arcs into the water. While researching the period, Amesbury came across the word “pronk”—a Dutch term meaning to show off, or dress ostentatiously. His paintings reflect the opulence of the time not only in content, but also in their detailed rendering of luminescent pearls, opulent threads of blue smoke and even a glossy pink-glazed donut glowing in a ray of morning sunlight, a la Vermeer.
Amesbury, 32, has been painting for the past decade. While his style has evolved from broad strokes to his current tiny-brushed exactitude, his use of bright colors has been consistent, an affinity he credits to having grown up on the small, tropical island of Guam. As he explains, his move from Guam to Boston for college and then to New York about six years ago was jarring, noting the latter city’s barrage of advertising imagery. This kicked off a series of pop paintings crowded with products and logos, where Hello Kitty, Frosted Flakes, and Clorox bleach mingled in a candy-colored riot. Amesbury culls his imagery from several sources—online images, art history books, product labels, photographs he takes in neighborhood gardens—and arranges his compositions digitally. This accounts for the precision and flatness of his work, as well as the occasional swathes of topographical depth. He isn’t pursuing a digital look per se, but sees painting as a medium that can unabashedly absorb many sources.
Stacked in teetering piles on the wood floor of Amesbury’s studio are an unusual assortment of books, spanning Disney animation, Maria Sybilla Merian, Durer, Beowulf, mathematics and Japanese ghost stories. “I go to the library a lot,” he laughs. His current series of paintings have left commercialism behind and are honing in on two other periods of art history—17th century botanical drawings and 19th century British fairy paintings. In one corner, a 6-foot tall painting in-progress depicts a shellacked sky blue chrysalis, a lavender tangle of tree branches and the shiny gold and black swirls of a snail’s shell. In two paintings leaning against the walls, a beetle’s green metallic chitin and the half-opened petals of an Echinacea flower are ensconced in a tableau of flora impossible in its perfection. This series reflects an idealized nature that conjures museum display cases or the crisp landscapes seen in animated films like Princess Mononoke. Despite their impressive detail, there is an intentional artificiality and conversations with the artist can tend to parse what, in art history, can be considered natural or unnatural depictions of nature. He mentions a couple lines from Wallace Stevens “In order to see the actual world / it helps to visualize a fantastic one”—a fitting explanation for his work.
Lyra Kilston is a writer living in New York. She is an editor at Modern Painters.
Lane Heraclitus: Suns Gonna Shine in My Back Door Someday
Opens December 13, 2008, 7-9pm
Domy Books presents new drawings by Lane Heraclitus (AKA Yar!, Treon Rick, Gunther Imperfectus, Darnell Williamz, Bo Jackson, Nietzsche Rimbaud, Jacques Faust, Lane Stinkypinky, WTFTW) of forgotten blues musicians. In this youtube video, Lane says his favorite people are Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Rimbaud.
Margaret Meehan: On Sugar Mountain. Up Shit Creek.
Opens Saturday, December 13 from 6-8 pm
"Meehan’s concern with locating the sublime in the grotesque is as grounded in a traditional Victorian obsession with medical anomalies as it is with defying our more recent attempt to banish all nastiness and discomfort from our daily experience. In Meehan’s eyes, oily real life indeed seeps up into our fluffy, shiny world, and that’s where things finally get interesting (and often quite funny and absurd)." Don't miss it!
On Solid Ground
The Public Trust
Opens December 13, 6-9 pm
Featuring Kevin Bell, Colin Chillag, Christi Haupt and Steven Larson, all of whom are currently featured in the 2008 West Edition of New American Paintings.
Show # 20: Peter Barrickman and Petra Cortright
December 13, 2008, 6-9pm
And/Or Gallery presents Show #20, paintings and digital landscapes by Peter Barrickman and Petra Cortright. On view through January 17, 2009.
Equivalence: Acts of Translation in Contemporary Art
Laura Lee Blanton Gallery at the Glassell School of Art
Opens December 12, 2008, 6:30-8:30pm
Equivalence: Acts of Translation in Contemporary Art features video and sound installations, paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by John Baldessari, Mel Bochner, Omer Fast, Spencer Finch, Nina Katchadourian, Sherrie Levine, Johnathan Monk, Anri Sala, and Brooke Stroud.
Frank Olson + Mike Field
The Joanna Gallery
Opens December 13, 6-9 pm
Both artists create surreal landscapes and textural abstractions via fractal computer-based art.
Austin on View
Mark Hensel: Cryptostructures of the Urscape
On view through December 20, 2008
MASS gallery presents Cryptostructures of the Urscape, an exhibition of Mark Hensel's documentation and representations of the forms found in the Urscape, a mystic zone.
Rapture in Rupture
Arthouse at the Jones Center
On view through January 10, 2009
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.
Benjamin Butler: Dark and Leafless
Lora Reynolds Gallery
On view through January 10, 2009
New York-based painter Benjamin Butler comes back for a second solo exhibition in Reynolds' gorgeous new space.
Dallas on View
Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson
Dallas Museum of Art
On view through March 15, 2009
This exhibition gathers works from major public and private collections worldwide and presents Olafur Eliasson’s diverse range of artistic production from 1993 to the present. Artworks include installations, large-scale immersive environments, freestanding sculpture, and photography.
On view through January 20, 2009
In Vicious Pink artist use pink materials to create objects that straddle the divide between high art and camp. The show offers commentary on the uses of pink through symbolic references, material and design.
Houston on View
Beside You in Time
On view through December 27, 2008
In ArtStorm’s first custom made installation, Texas-based artist Joshua S. Goode creates a monumental sculptural for ArtStorm’s backyard and a site-specific installation for the interior galleries. Also on view are corresponding drawings, prints and collages.
On view through January 10, 2009
Stack is currently the John & Rebecca Moores Professor of Art at the University of Houston, where she has been a faculty member since 1980.
Pleasing Punch, Personal Panopticon, Once Removed, Flowback, and To Whom it May Concern.
Lawndale Art Center
On view through January 10, 2009
The Lawndale Art Center presents five exhibitions featuring an installation of found object sculpture by AJ Liberto and Jesse Robinson, a maze of mirrors installation by Cory Wagner, a stenciled installation by Ann Marie Nafziger, graphite drawings by Mequitta Ahuja, and artwork by Emily Sloan.
Stephanie Syjuco: Total Fabrications
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
On View through February 22, 2009
In her first solo museum show, San Francisco-based Stephanie Syjuco presents "bootlegged videos, counterfeit remnants of the Berlin Wall, appropriated Houston newspapers, forged modernist furniture, and photographs made with pirated tourist snapshots." Excellent!
New York on View
Trenton Doyle Hancock
James Cohan Gallery
On view through January 10, 2009
Houston-based artist Trenton Doyle Hancock is well known for his absurdist narrative of the battle between good and evil in a variety of media that includes painting, collage, sculpture, print and the performing arts. The artist's densely layered works incorporate text, drawing, collaged paper, plastic, felt, fur, and paint to create a collision of symbols and visual tropes that evidence Hancock's singular vision and distinctive means of storytelling.
San Antonio on View
Ben Marlan: Imaginary Landscapes
Cactus Bra Space
On view through December 22, 2008
New York artist Ben Marlan creates vistas that are born out of his love of bright saturated colors and simple peaceful forms. The trees, hills, sun and other features of the landscapes become living creatures, moving around, conversing and relating with each other, and the viewer. Curious, indeed.
Rimanenze: Lost and Found
Blue Star Contemporary Art Center
On view through February 1, 2009
Blue Star Contemporary Art Center presents Rimanenze: Lost and Found, an exhibit that features the work of Dennis Olsen. Inspired by archaic documents and codices, Olsen creates tablets and small objects in bone china that reference jade, marble, and ivory and mimic artifacts which convey languages of other times and places.
Smoke and Mirrors: Alex Rubio and David Vega
Unit B Gallery
On View through January 3, 2009
In this collaboration, San Antonio- based Rubio and Vega "create intricate individual depictions of a personal vice, then break up the two harsh images into innocuous fragments, diffusing and intermixing the ambiguous pieces and collectively forming an amorphous cloud of their indulgences." We're not sure what this means, but we're intrigued.
I've Never Been So Happy at the Off Center
The Off Center
December 11, 12, and 13, 2008, 8pm
Rude Mechanicals presents I've Never Been So Happy, a transmedia performance party featuring music and lyrics by Peter Stopschinski and book and lyrics by Kirk Lynn in an exploration of the wild frontier of parenthood. This event (may) also include a short documentary film, the Rude Mech's "Ask the West" booth, an art-making installation, as well as video puppetry, and many other spectacles for your delight.
Salvage Vanguard Presents: Still Fountains
December 14, 2009, 2-4pm
Salvage Vanguard Presents Still Fountains, two short plays about family, friends, love, homophobia, racism and politics, written by Michael Mitchell and directed by Katie Pearl. Visit http://www.frontgatetickets.com or call 888.512.SHOW for tickets.
The Harry Ransom Center Archives Film Series Presents: The Name of the Rose
Harry Ransom Center
December 15, 2008, 7pm
Admission: Free, but seating is limited.
Adapted from Umberto Eco's novel, The Name of the Rose is a mystery film staring Sean Connery as a Franciscan friar and Christian Slater as his apprentice who attempt to solve a death in a medieval abbey.
The Mexican American Cultural Center Presents: Dia de la Virgen
Mexican American Cultural Center
December 12, 2008, 6-10pm
The Mexican American Cultural Center celebrates with the public its first Dia de la Virgen, a celebration of the Virgen de Guadalupe. This free outdoor event will feature music by El Tule, Ballet Folklorico de Roy Lozano, mariachi music, a performance by Los Viejitos, and Christmas Posada.
Artist Lecture by Nina Katchadourian at the Glassell School of Art
Freed Auditorium at the Glassell School of Art
December 12, 2008, 5:30pm
Featured in the Glassell School of Art exhibition, Equivalence: Acts of Translation in Contemporary Art, Nina Katchadourian will speak to the public on the exhibit and her artwork.
Call for Entries
New American Talent 24: Call for Online Entry
Arthouse at the Jones Center
Deadline: Janurary 10, 2009
Arthouse calls for entries of artworks of all media types for the annual exhibit, New American Talent 24. Eligibility Open to all artists living in the U.S.A. Artwork must be completed in 2006–2008. Artists included in NAT 22 and NAT 23 are ineligible. Juror: Hamza Walker, Director of Education and Curator, The Renaissance Society, Chicago, IL. Exhibit will be on view April 4 – May 3, 2009 at Arthouse. Selected artwork will tour museums, galleries, and universities after the exhibit at Arthouse ends. Please see Arthouse's website for submission details.
Austin Art in Public Places Request for Proposals
City of Austin
Deadline: January 26, 2009
The City of Austin's Austin Art in Public Places (AIPP) requests conceptual proposals from visual artists or design professionals who live and work in Austin or the surrounding area (within a 100 mile radius) for its Susanna Dickinson House Project. Artists and design professionals collaborating with writers or poets are especially encouraged to apply. The proposal must involve the construction of a courtyard that reveals the history of the people and/or places within early 19th century Texas. The courtyard is intended to provide space for programs and events related to the Susanna Dickinson and the O. Henry Museums, as well as the Brush Square Park. Visit the AIPP website for more information.
Norman Public Arts Board: Request for Qualifications and Concepts for Public Art Project
Norman Public Arts Board
Deadline: December 15, 2008
The Norman Public Arts Board (PAB) of Norman, Oklahoma seeks an artist or team of artists to create a permanent, public, outdoor artwork for the center island of the East Main Street Roundabout, located on East Main between Porter/Classen and NE 12th Street at the intersection of Main, Acres, and Carter streets. The installation should embody a theme representative of central Oklahoma. The style of the sculpture may be traditional, architectural, figurative, or contemporary and may be of any material. For more information please Click Here.
The Visual Arts Society of Texas Presents: 41st Annual Visual Arts Exhibition
Visual Arts Society of Texas
Deadline: January 2, 2009
The Visual Arts Society of Texas (VAST) welcomes entries for their annual spring exhibition of visual art. 2-D and 3-D works, such as painting, drawing, photography, textiles, sculpture, jewelry, and metalworks, are eligible. Installation works are not accepted. Juror: Dan Piersol, Deputy Director for Programs and Chief Curator of COllections and Exhibitions at the Mississippi Museum of Art. Best of Show award: $1000. Total cash and merchandise awards: over $10,000. Please Click Here for an entry form and additional information.
Experiments in Cinema V4.2
University of New Mexico
Deadline: January 10, 2009
Experiments in Cinema V4.2 is an annual event collaboration between Basement Films and the Department of Cinematic Arts at the University of New Mexico. Experiments in Cinema V4.2 will take place at the Southwest Film Center at the University of New Mexico. Entries must be "un-commercial, un-industrial, un-classifiable, un-dependant experimental works." For those films or videos in languages other than English, the work must include subtitles in English, dubbed in English or submitted with a hardcopy of the dialogue in English. Maximum running time is 40 mintues. See the Basement Films website for more details.
Call for Proposals
Luleå Art Biennial
Kilen Art Group, Luleå, Sweden
Application deadline January 31, 2009
For the past 19 years, the Kilen Art Group, together with the City of Luleå, has held and developed international artistic events in Luleå in northern Sweden. The aim is to produce high quality art events of international standard.
2009 MAP Fund Grant
Deadline: January 20, 2009
MAP provides project-specific funding to playwrights, choreographers, directors, composers, and performers experimenting in any performance tradition or discipline. MAP seeks to especially support work focuses on issues of cultural difference or the concept of the "other" based on class, gender, generation, ethnicity, or formal consideration. MAP only supports projects that contain a live performance. Please Click Here for eligibility requirements and guidelines. MAP awards $1 million to a maximum of 40 projects each year. Please visit www.mapfund.org for more information.
Terra Summer Residency 2009
Terra Foundation for American Art
Deadline: January 15, 2009
The Terra Foundation for American Art is offering 10 summer fellowships to artists and scholars from the United States and Europe for an 8 week stay in Giverny, France. Residency includes lodging and a study or studio space, daily lunches, and a program of either independent study, meetings, and/or seminars. Senior artist and scholars will be asked to mentor fellows as well as pursue their own work. Applicants must be nominated by a senior professor at an academic institution and must be American and European doctoral candidates researching a significant American art component or examining artistic exhange between American and Europe or must be American or European artists with a completed masters degree in mixed media or painting. For a complete list of requirement and additional information please Click Here.
SAR Native Artist Fellowships
Indian Arts Research Center
Deadline: January 15, 2009
The Indian Arts Research Center (IARC) at the School for Advanced Research (SAR) invites Native artists to apply for residence fellowships. Each of the three available fellowships includes a $3000 monthly stipend, housing, studio space, supplies allowance, and travel reimbursement to and from SAR. The fellowships support diverse creative disciplines, traditional and non-traditional. Please Click Here for more information and an application form.
The MacDowell Colony Summer Residency Call for Applications
The MacDowell Colony
Deadline: January 15, 2009
The MacDowell Colony seeks applications for artists interested in residency. Selected applicants receive a private studio space, three meals a day, and are encouraged to participate in occasional presentations, slide shows, and other events to stimulate this supportive environment. Maximum length of residence is two months. An average stay is four weeks. Twenty to thirty artists are in residence at the Colony at any given time. Please Click Here for additional information and an application.