MBG Issue #113: Best of Austin 2008

Issue # 113

Best of Austin 2008

December 26, 2008

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Happy Holidays from ...might be good. Image by Carolyn Moore.

from the editor

As you wrap up the old year and bring in the new, …might be good sends a retrospective look at the past twelve months in and around Austin. In no particular order, our Best of Austin 2008 come to you hand-picked by our editors and new staff writers—Dan Boehl, Rachel Cook, Katie Geha, Lauren Hamer, Alvaro Ibarra, Laura Lindenberger Wellen, Mary Katherine Matalon, Allison Myers, Lee Webster & Eric Zimmerman.

Happy Holidays!

Best New Space
Domy Books

Having opened their Austin site in May 2008, Houston-based Domy Books has already proven itself to be Austin's go-to place for the most exciting books on art, design and culture. From the black-light prints back in June to Lane Heraclitus' drawings of blues-men currently up in the gallery, they've also given Austinites yet another reason to look toward César Chavez for fun and interesting shows. AM

Best Austin Produced Documentary

In this film, co-director's PJ Raval and Jay Hodges tell the story of Trinidad, a sleepy town in southeastern Colorado, also known as the "sex change capital of the world." In the telling of a town, the directors also introduce the brave women of Trinidad who have undergone or are preparing to undergo sex change operations but do not shy from showing the complexities and heartache that go along with such a transformation. KG

Best Museum Exhibition
Jorge Macchi: The Anatomy of Melancholy at The Blanton Museum of Art
Macchi’s deftly cut maps, poetic videos, drawings, and sculptural works combined in a wonderfully installed exhibition that was poetic, emotionally and intellectually complex, and just plain beautiful. The Anatomy of Melancholy quietly got under my skin and reminded me of the power of conceptual subtlety in concert with flawless formal execution. EZ

Best Outdoor Studio Visit
Catherine Lee
Lee's studio is nestled in the hills of Wimberley near the Blanco River where she can walk her dogs. Walking with Lee you start to notice how the shapes of the cypress tree trunk and roots relate to the shapes and language of her sculptural pieces. I went to her studio for an interview for The Austin Chronicle and one of the best things she said was, "If you don't have to make art—and I mean really, really have to—then don't." She also said that, "staying inspired is never the problem; what I need are breaks. At 57, I realize there's no way I'll ever get it all done, never finish, never catch up, so I'm always at it." RC

Best Housekeeping Supply as Art Object
Erick Michaud’s Mop Spear in Longest Day of the Year at Art Palace
Michaud’s Mop Spear distills the essence of hometown frustrations tempered by a healthy, if not nostalgic look at the personal aspirations of anyone who wishes to forge a meaningful life from their labor. Bittersweet and tender, the folksy rendered town nestled in the starlit woods and the gravestones of famed artists betray the maker’s larger ambitions. It isn’t a tool or a weapon. It’s a dream. Though I saw a few cleaning supplies appropriated as art objects this year, Mop Spear is emblematic of artistic Austin at this moment, a town stuck between its ambitions and the reality of its economic standing. DB

Best & Coolest Locally Specific & Nationally Important Exhibition Lineup
(and Best Museum Exterior)

The Museo Alameda, San Antonio
When it opened in April 2007, the Museo Alameda caught flak from The New York Times for “suffering from conceptual problems.” The 2008 lineup at the Alameda, however, showed the variety and complexity that makes for a vibrant museum, responsive to local interests and engaged with contemporary international art communities. The Alameda is bringing in a diverse range of work that speaks to local, national, and international conceptions of Latino and Latin American culture. With frequent film screenings, community festivals and a central location in historic Market Square, the museum is working to become an active community center. And, who can resist the beautiful building façade, with its pierced metal exterior and evening light show, or Franco Mondini-Ruiz’s fantastic botánica in the museum gift shop? LLW

Best Energetic "Community Organizer"
Ron Berry
If you haven't met Ron Berry yet, you probably will soon enough. Berry's been living and working in Austin since 1996 within the theater community as an actor, director, writer, producer and Artistic Director of Refraction Arts, a nonprofit that manages both The Blue Theater and MASS gallery. But best of all, Berry and Refraction Arts are about to celebrate the fifth year of their most ambitious project, Fuse Box. Fuse Box, a festival featuring performance, dance, music, visual art and more, is leading the way in collaboration across mediums in this town. In such a small community, there is no excuse for artists and writers, musicians and theater practitioners not to be coming together regularly and having a vibrant dialogue—what's working and not working? Where's the funding? Where's the cheap space? Where's the party? For ten days each year, Fuse Box gives us all a chance to show each other what's possible while also giving us an opportunity to meet fascinating artists from all over the place. Thanks, Ron-can't wait for next time. KW

Best Reminder of Why We Make and See Art
The Rude Mechs' Grrl Action Program
Grrl Action's year long mentoring program for teen girls culminated in the Spring Wrap Party this past April. Though they pursued multi-disciplinary projects throughout the year, each student created a single performance piece from her larger project for the Wrap Party. The pieces ranged from spoken word and video to more conceptual and interactive performances. While each performance maintained a clear connection to its autobiographical inspiration, the variation of the projects and the innovation of the students were truly inspiring. This is the only performance I have witnessed at which the majority of the audience was audibly weeping at one moment and only minutes later, sharing in a communal enchillada. I look forward to see what comes in 2009. LW

Best AMOA Traveling Show
LeWitt x 2
The premise of LeWitt x 2 was to place LeWitt's work alongside work from his collection as a way to provide context for both his and the artist's work. It is always an eye opening experience to see what other artists collect and how these works inspire or influence their own work. RC

Best Investigation of the West
Rude Mechs' I’ve Never Been So Happy
The Rude Mech’s funny, well-informed multimedia performance was a refreshingly queer interrogation of the West. Moreover, I’ve Never Been So Happy felt like a Brechtian extravaganza for art and theater geeks, evoking everything from WOW Café camp to Bruce Nauman’s post-minimal studio practice to Kara Walker’s silhouettes and shadow puppets. CR

Best Art Historical Talk
Molly Nesbit
This spring Molly Nesbit's talk "Light in Buffalo" seemed more like an incredibly well researched poetry reading than a scholarly lecture as she deftly wove a reconstruction of Foucault's missing lecture on Manet and the politics of Buffalo, NY in the late 1960s into a simple, yet ambiguous inquiry: "What is the physical reality of a thought ripped open? a lecture? a painting? " KG

Best of the Non-Visual Arts, aka, the poets are still with us!
Michener Institute Poets
The Michener Institute at the University of Texas is nationally renowned for attracting young poets and creative writers, but it does not seem to be a recognized part of the Austin art scene. Unfortunate, as several of its poets, including S.E. Smith and Malachi Black, were included in this year's Pulitzer Prize winner curated anthology Best Young Poets and produce work that is widely published and read. A recent trip to a reading that included work from these two left me in tears, near hysterics and coughing up my wine—and all in a good way. Michener Institute readings, events and lectures will probably make you reconsider what you think about contemporary poetry. The surprise is that it can be hilarious, sick, strange and everything else you probably like about art already.

Best Exhibition with a Perm
Enmascarados: An Homage to Lucha Libre at Pink Salon & Gallery
I can’t imagine a better place for an exhibition of contemporary, often tongue-in-cheek images of Mexican wrestling than in the hipster-urban South Congress Pink Salon & Gallery. As I walked through the space, it was loudly bustling, with hair-dryers, conversations, shampoos & clipping. This is the way I love seeing art—in a space that moves and is cluttered, full of people, mirrors, and laughing: the luchadores looked right at home. LLW

Best Collaboration between Young Artists and Venture Capitalists
Okay Mountain Mural at Austin Ventures
This massive project sprang from the brilliant minds of local collector Julie Thornton and Fresh Up Club founder Dave Bryant, with a simple mission-fill the walls of the 22nd floor Austin Ventures office (Thornton's husband, John, is an AV partner) with an ambitious multi-panel mural. By hiring wunderkind collective Okay Mountain for the job, Thornton and Bryant essentially handed over the keys to Lamborghini-large scale funding (in a desperately needed moment), creative freedom AND a chance to make a permanent political statement about the dangers of capitalism (on the walls of venture capitalists' offices). The east Austin creative community needs to spread outward like this more often, specifically to the young and prospering tech (mini)moguls who, all in all, seem slow to pick up on the vibrant scene exploding to the east of I-35. Only in the capable hands of visionaries like Thornton and Bryant (with funding in hand) can these types of vibrant exchanges flourish and evolve. Now if only the rest of us could see the mural—c'mon, y'all, no official opening for this project?! KW

Best Place to Beat the Texas Summer Heat and Watch a Classic Film
The Paramount Theatre Summer Film Series
Chinatown, Vertigo and Knife in The Water were just a few of the excellent films The Paramount was showing this summer during its film series. They pull out all of the stops and show a series of 70mm classics as well. Jacques Tati’s Playtime is the most memorable of these from the past few years, and well, I couldn’t resist Al Pacino in Scarface either. EZ

Best New Public Sculpture Initiative
Landmarks: The Public Art Program of the University of Texas at Austin
Way to go, University of Texas, for finally developing a public sculpture program! Coordinated by founding director Andrée Bober, the Landmarks program has brought 28 sculptures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to UT Austin, and has dropped them across the Forty Acres, literally re-directing how students are able to move through and around campus. Further, the program has a clear plan for future acquisitions and will allocate a certain percentage of the construction costs of new buildings to buying public sculptures for campus. LLW

Best Horror Movie Filmed in Austin
Who knows what inspired director Mitchell Lichtenstein to make a movie about a girl with a vagina dentata? (For you non-Latin speakers, vagina dentata translates as toothy vagina.) Shot primarily in Austin, Teeth follows the trials and tribulations of the squeaky clean virgin Dawn as she discovers her hidden gift of, well, you know. Despite some truly gross scenes, Teeth cleverly taps into some of most spooky collective anxieties about teen sex, evangelical Christianity, and even the environment. While Teeth's cinematic greatness is debatable, the film will provide you with almost endless fodder for dinner party conversations. MKM

Best Event for Art-world Celeb Spotting
Cult of Color, Call to Color
The ballet was a compelling foray into interdisciplinary collaboration for artist Trenton Doyle Hancock, choreographer Stephen Mills and composer Graham Reynolds. On the opening weekend, I saw more familiar faces from the pages of artforum.com’s “Scene and Heard” around town than I saw throughout the rest of the year. Given this excellent list of “Best of”s, I’m surprised I didn’t run into these faces more often. CR

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