MBG Issue #116: Take that, Cathy Horyn

Issue # 116

Take that, Cathy Horyn

February 13, 2009

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Heyd Fontenot, Dan Reclining, 2007, Oil on canvas, 72 x 48 inches. Courtesy the artist and Art Palace.

from the editor

Dan Reclining and, for that matter, Heyd Fontenot’s entire show at Art Palace right now, reek of Lone Star Style. In that infamous article printed in the pages of the August 2006 New York Times Style Magazine, the Austin art scene saw itself reflected at a moment of burgeoning potential. That summer, Okay Mountain and Art Palace were just taking off and everything seemed to be gelling for the first time. Then along came fashion critic Cathy Horyn looking for the “real deal”—an antidote to the shallowness and media frenzy of the New York fashion world. The only catch: in her quest for authenticity, she transformed Arturo and Ali, Art Palace, Austin and Texas into one magnificently cool scene, one idealized image of itself.

And what a beautiful image it was. As Lauren Hamer suggests in her review, it’s this fantasy of an insider’s art scene in Austin that Fontenot successfully exploits with Business in the Front, Party in the Back. The paintings conjure up a world of pretty people, sexual intrigue, feuds and friends. But Fontenot’s voluptuous, bobble-headed figures concede: this is fairyland.

Two other features in this issue also get at these kinds of imagined, and real, communities, particularly in Austin. Dan Boehl talks about Brit artist Matt Stokes’ these are the days at Arthouse—an “outsider’s” investigation of an “insider” punk scene. Inspiringly, Boehl suggests that Stokes captures punk’s “pure catharsis, born of community and action”—a model for productive and transformative community. For me, Boehl’s review is a poetic call to lived community and real action over idealized representation and passive consumption.

Meanwhile, Katie Anania’s review of Channeling: An Invocation of Spectral Bodies and Queer Spirits suggests the value of queer conceptions of community. She sees possibility in a community that is “subterranean, agonizing, perverse, hilarious and simultaneously close.”

At its best, I see the Austin art community functioning in this way, embracing its instability, awkwardness and messiness, always for the better. Take that, Cathy Horyn.

Claire Ruud is Editor of ...might be good and Associate Coordinator of testsite.


Heyd Fontenot
Art Palace, Austin
Through March 11, 2009

By Lauren Hamer

Heyd Fontenot, Detail from Ten Books/Ten Portraits, 2009. Courtesy the artist and Art Palace Gallery, Austin.

Half-drunk and ten deep, the crush of the crowd at the Art Palace opening is the perfect way to enjoy seeing familiar faces rendered and exposed (naked) in Heyd Fontenot's paintings and drawings. Not surprisingly, I quickly run into a friend. “Last time we talked, I think I had your ex-girlfriend confused with someone else,” I remark to said friend. “Oh yeah? With who?” he replies. “That girl.” I turn and point and we both look, just to our right, at Fontenot’s useful illustration of the latter. The misrecognition is quickly righted, she is certainly not the ex-girlfriend in question. But like all the locals illustrated by Fontenot, she is depicted dead-eyed and square-jawed, nipped at the waist and barely more than an outline. The important bits are granted a gentle swell. But the nudity here is of no personal risk to the kindly modeled subjects (all of whom hail from the Austin art scene), nor is it the source of the crowd’s mild titillation. Rather, the subjects’ familiarity creates the fantasy of a cast of characters, each playing a role as a member of a ‘scene’—an art scene of as little substance as the empty pastel spaces the characters occupy.

When Fontenot's works are compelling, they are tender, as I found several of the smaller monochrome works to be. A work in red watercolor of a boy retains something of its subject. Another of a woman’s head plays up the fish-like spread of her mouth and flared nostrils. Her image is more than simply recognizable: it begins to hint at some psychological depth. Reviewers consistently remark upon Fontenot’s cartoonist style, which here I find to be consonant with both early 90s Disney heroines and a kind of post-Barbie plaything popular with kids these days. A combination of mild provocation in pose and gesture with a reassuring bodilylessness, these kewpie dolls with pubic hair have the tits and dicks to prove they’re not babies. But neither are they particularly human. They all sport a blank, come-hither glance that could belong to an adorable deer or an hour-glass cartoon. In fact, a small cast of mild deer and elk and dogs accompany Fontenot’s pouty subjects, but animal or human, they all look out at you just the same. Both nubile and sexless, plump and adorable, they are anonymous and then suddenly familiar. “Oh, no,” my friend replies, “my ex, she’s on the wall in the other room.”

Lauren Hamer is a freelance writer and graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin. She's particularly interested in the intersection of art and architecture with regard to early avant-garde movements, critical theory and contemporary practice.

Matt Stokes
Arthouse, Austin
Through April 5, 2009

By Dan Boehl

Matt Stokes, these are the days, 2008-09, Two projection installation, 16mm film and audio transferred to harddrive, 6:26 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Arthouse, Austin.

Lately I’ve been walking around like the newly freed, happy to live in a transformed America, yet waiting, like the child of abuse, for the tormentor’s fist to fall again. And I don’t think I’m alone. So, what happens to us now that things are purported to change, yet the men who orchestrated the grandest heist of America’s freedoms and economic wellbeing, admitted liars and torturers, are allowed to return to their mansions, consciences clear and wallets stuffed? The political rhetoric of the day is reconciliation, but I’m still angry.

With his film these are the days (2008-2009), Matt Stokes has elevated this feeling of righteous anger into a high art, streaked in sweaty beauty and ritualized violence. Produced by a Brit about an insular Austin music genre, the film operates like real democracy should. Shown on two side-by-side screens, the projection on the left features the roiling leather-clad and pin-studded crowd of punks filmed at the Broken Neck on the Eastside. On the right screen stands the 5 piece punk combo Stokes put together as a kind of Austin punk super group. Stokes showed the edited Broken Neck footage to the newly minted band and gave the musicians 36 hours to write a song to, get this, live up to the expectations of that festering audience.

This audience is made up of the disenfranchised suburban youth of Texas. They should be the inheritors of the middle class American boon. But like the rest of us living in a hijacked America for the past eight years, they’ve inherited nothing of value. They’re angry and need their release.

Though the entire film offers a window into the process of group catharsis, one moment in particular sticks out. During a lull in the song, the band hangs limply to their instruments, seemingly exhausted, while on the screen beside them a group of men take advantage of the lull, raising their beer cans in near perfect unison. They finish drinking, and the band, as if on cue, secures their instruments, and thrash back into the song. The moment exposes the raw fellowship and community inherent in punk as a movement and a way of life. It also offers a simple analogy of the plebian punk aesthetic: music for the people and by the people.

Before creating the film, Stokes interviewed more than 80 people instrumental in Austin punk over the last three decades. Many shared with him the ephemera of the movement: records, posters, beer cups, articles and zines. For the exhibition, Stokes filled the majority of the gallery space with an archive composed of all this stuff. The archive is Stokes’ attempt to contextualize the movement and pay homage to those who created the punk community, a community that shaped the liberal Austin of today.

But in the end, the archive is merely baffling. It looks like an historical overview, the likes of which you find in at the Ransom Center, though without any label copy. There’s no overarching order or purpose to the display and no way for the visitor to contextualize the materials. Still, the archive will help sell catalogues to the SXSW crowds that will flock to the show. And that’s okay.

But I worry because most visitors will spend a minute watching the film, then spend an hour perusing the cases, wondering just what the hell those records on the wall sound like. Akin to collecting ubiquitous political stickers, posters and snapshots, this is an American problem: we’re more interested in the ephemera surrounding an idea than the substance of a movement. Cheney and Rumsfeld are safe because we prefer objects to action, relics to actual ecstasy. But Stokes’s film features pure catharsis, born of community and action. It’s through this kind of fellowship that we subdue our anger, transforming it through creativity into some kind of art.

Dan Boehl lives in Austin, where he is working on a post-petroleum children's novel.

Photography in the Abstract
lora reynolds gallery, Austin
Through March 7, 2009

By Rachel Cook

Walead Beshty, Two Sided Picture (YY), Fujicolor Crystal Archive Type C, December 14th 2006, Valencia, CA, 2006, Color photographic paper, 14 x 11 inches unframed. Courtesy the artist and lora reynolds gallery, Austin.

The cover of ARTnews read: The New ABSTRACT PHOTO. Maureen Mahoney decided to probe. As her starting point for the exhibition Photography in the Abstract, Mahoney began with a series of questions: is the most authentic abstract photograph made by light only? When can a representational photograph be considered abstract? Could a photograph of something in the world that looks abstract be considered truly abstract, when it is the subject and not the process that is abstract? Mahoney selected a variety of artists to hash out these questions, among them both contemporary and historical photographers, video and conceptual artists. Each of these artists pushes the limitations of the camera and darkroom processes, creating a dialogue about the nature of abstraction within the photographic image. Although not everything in the exhibition addresses Mahoney’s questions head on, some of the most interesting contemporary works create a compelling conversation about light and materiality, abandoning the recognizable subject matter that a photograph often delivers.

Walead Beshty’s work operates in “the tension between the material and the optical in the photographic artifact.”* At Lora Reynolds, Two Sided Picture (YY) (2006) and Two Sided Picture (RR) (2006) create the impression of kaleidoscopic prisms of blue and yellow or rose and orange triangles. By folding color photographic paper and exposing it to light, Beshty creates a multi-dimensional geometric abstract image of tone, shape and unusual, haunting colors. The title of an earlier image, Pictures Made by My Head With the Assistance of Light (2006), could describe any photograph; like a Joseph Kosuth instructional work, the title references the process by which it was made. Beshty’s strength is in using the intrinsic properties of photography—light and materiality—to create something that looks nothing like a photo.

Eileen Quinlan’s work explores the boundary between a still life and an abstract image. To create each image, Quinlan sets up a series of mirrors, colored gels, burlap and smoke and then photographs it, essentially creating a gothic-esque still life. The resulting photographs, such as Demystification #8 (2008), have an eerie transparency and depth to them. Surprisingly, her images look most akin to Beshty’s even though the two artists' processes are so disparate. Quinlan thinks of the work as photographs of nothing. By cropping, or editing out any evidence of the still life she is photographing, Quinlan renders the image completely abstract, a photograph of light and smoke.

One of the more controversial Tuner Prize recipients, Wolfgang Tillmans has had a long career as a photographer. Better known for images of his peers and various subcultures, Tillmans has also created two more abstract series, Lighter and Paper Drop. In these series, Tillmans uses the paper on which the picture is printed as both the subject and object of the work. In this exhibition, Tillmans’s Lighter 56 (2008) and Lighter 63 (2008) use exposed paper to create deep aqua marine stripes as well as one dark grey stripe that hint at the qualities of an oil painting with their rich, thick hue. Tillmans also embraces the accidental folds or creases that can occur during the developing process, so that the photographic image becomes a sculpture of paper and light.

Together, the works in Photography in the Abstract raise a fundamental question: isn’t every photograph an abstraction of reality? Mahoney’s answer is yes. The very title of her exhibition resists the classification of “abstract photography” and replaces it with a broader conception of abstraction in photography. Some critics might classify some of the contemporary works in Photography in the Abstract as “abstract photography,” but Mahoney’s exhibition successfully suggests that these artists aren’t thinking about abstraction per se. They’re thinking about photographic processes and the material and optical qualities of the photograph. Abstraction is merely an after-effect.

*2008 Whitney Biennial Catalogue, http://www.whitney.org/www/2008biennial/www/?section=artists&page=artist_beshty.

Rachel Cook is an artist, writer, and independent curator currently living in Austin. She is currently working on a show for DiverseWorks in 2009.

Ben Coonley & Kevin Bewersdorf
Austin Film Society: Avant Cinema
January 15, 2009

By Mary Katherine Matalon

Kevin Bewersdorf, Photograph from series Stock Photos of American Life, 2008. Courtesy the artist.

As a verteran of more artists’ talks than I can possibly count, I can say with confidence that the lecture cum performance format is tricky to pull off. In the best case scenario, the audience leaves with a new appreciation for the artist’s work (think Walid Raad’s presentation of his work under the aegis of The Atlas Group). In the worst case scenario, the audience leaves absolutely baffled (think the Art Guys on an off day).

In No Drinks Allowed in Screening Room, Austin Film Society’s latest installation of their Avant Cinema Series, new media artists Ben Coonley and Kevin Bewersdorf delivered up two examples of why the performance-lecture is such a difficult format. While both artists showed some genuinely smart work, their performance personae—particularly in Bewersdorf’s case—did them a disservice.

“Now that’s America.” As he clicked through his Stock Photos of American Life (2008), Bewersdorf would periodically pause and then utter this declaration with mock solemnity. Bewersdorf’s refrain cut to the bone of his performance persona: the earnest artist utterly consumed with capturing the “truth” of American life. As the title Stock Photos of American Life (2008) suggests, Bewersdorf’s photographs are purposefully banal shots of suburban vignettes; many capture people at work or rest in the parking lots of big box super stores. The point—that America is defined by these suburban spaces—is well taken, and his photographs simultaneously convey both the vacuousness of the suburban landscape and its occasional, unintentional beauty. However, Bewersdorf’s over the top performance persona destroyed the delicate balance he achieves in his photographs. His unending proclamations, provoking laughter in the audience, transformed these works into condescending spoofs on conventional landscape photography.

Ben Coonley’s performance began with what at first appeared to be a conventional lecture entitled “Remapping the Apparatus: Cinematographic Specificity and Hybrid Media.” However, Coonley’s computer “broke” in the first five minutes of the lecture and he was then forced to rebuild his power point presentation from scratch with disastrous, yet humorous results. Coonley’s performance was infused with a staged, mock earnestness akin to Bewersdorf’s and at some points it was all a tad too cutesy. For instance an on-screen cat named Otto Content helped him reconstruct his power point (Coonley points out that Otto Content is a pun on the Auto Content Wizard, in case the audience somehow missed it). Nonetheless, Coonley’s performance is a spooky reminder that Power Point is not a neutral container for content; the program is steeped in the logic of corporate capitalism.

In the end, both Coonely’s and Bewersdorf’s ironic over earnestness felt slightly dated given that actual earnestness has returned to America with the triumphant election of Barack Obama. While the artists can’t be blamed for being on the wrong side of America’s emotional sea change, their posturing ultimately simplified complex body of works. Perhaps these days earnestness is grace.

Mary Katherine Matalon is pursuing her Ph.D. in history at the University of Texas at Austin.

Channeling: An Invocation of Spectral Bodies and Queer Spirits
The Hideout, Austin
January 24, 2008

By Katie Anania

Shana Moulton, Whispering Pines #7, 2006. Courtesy the artist.

Cinema, in its infancy, was readily associated with the supernatural. Late 19th-century films by the Lumiere brothers drove some visitors out of theatres, overwhelmed and terrified by the shock of moving images. Channeling: An Invocation of Spectral Bodies and Queer Spirits brings this unassimilable mystery of film to bear on queerness. When the compilation DVD broke during the screening at The Hideout in Austin, the jeering and silences that followed re-enforced all of the other sensory details that were supposed to call me back to fin-de-siecle entertainment. Plywood seats creaked. The equipment rustled and chirped. Images flashed onscreen and then abruptly died. The premise of the show’s US tour—that itinerancy and failure are productive properties of queer experience—became an enacted reality as we hooted, checked the flickering streams of information on our own electronic devices and waited.

Even in its imperfect execution, Latham Zearfoss and Ethan White’s chosen lineup of short videos demonstrated that some permutations of “the spirit world” were more effective delivery devices for queer problems than others. Campy mock-horror was a good conduit for the terror of queerness, we learned, as we tittered at Michael Robinson’s Carol Anne is Dead (2008). Through camp we discovered that queerness is a curse, a hex upon the American family capable of creating searing wormholes through which queerness sucks (ahem) our children. Shana Moulton’s Whispering Pines #7 (2006), the most recognized work in the program, showcased Moulton’s surrealistic wit by making a cardboard sphinx “sing” the Last Unicorn theme song during a teenager’s beauty ritual. An ineffable hesitancy bordering on the monstrous, Moulton seems to say, is embedded in gendered practices. The twinned and tripleted female figures in Jillian Peña’s Compromise (2005) matched this monstrousness with their creepy, vacuous conversations about incest and desire. I found the above works more evocative than, say, Elliot Montague’s Well Dressed (2006), which displayed a broad array of bodies (cruising, transgendered, and pregnant—finally, someone acknowledging the queer freakishness of pregnancy!) so candidly that it was difficult to find them particularly liminal or ghostly. Still, in a tour schedule that (commendably) included both major and minor cities, even these shorts might be truly revolutionary to those less exposed to queer culture.

Zearfoss and White understand the stakes of framing queerness as something subterranean, agonizing, perverse, hilarious and simultaneously close. As gay characters loom large on television shows such as the L Word and Workout, are we any better prepared to conceive of queer identity at its ownmost? These carefully crafted media icons seek to provide more concrete (if thoroughly hyperbolized) representations of gays and lesbians. But are they queer? And can they efface the stubborn terror invoked when elementary school students point at each other and exclaim, “You’re gay!”? But the stars and auteurs of Channeling refuse to headline at Los Angeles’ most popular lesbian café (though on second thought, that sounds like a pretty fun night). Their stalled screenings, in their very instability, are blazing, beautiful and coming to get you.

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

Pat Graney: House of Mind
DiverseWorks, Houston
Exhibition Only on View through February 21, 2009

By Kate Watson

Pat Graney, House of Mind, 2009. Photograph by Tim Summers. Courtesy the artist and DiverseWorks.

The walls of Pat Graney’s House of Mind seemed to murmur that familiar 2nd-wave feminist anthem, “the personal is political.” I couldn’t help but ask myself—is this still true? “The personal,” at least in the visual arts, has been an icky topic during the last decade. Many contemporary artists weave multi-layered narratives, but have preferred to explore the topic of identity in more abstract terms (think Mika Rottenberg or Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn). But House of Mind, Diverseworks’ most ambitious project to date, unabashedly embraces the personal. Graney, a Seattle-based choreographer, merges stunningly elaborate installation with contemporary dance, seeking to (obsessively) catalog the depths of her personal experience through epic visuals and movement.

Wandering through the maze of oversized rooms built around the main dance space, I was shocked by the sheer number of objects incorporated into the exhibition. Trickles of water flow across a wall composed of 100,000 mother-of-pearl buttons. Adjacent to this wall, 4,000 well-loved books are stacked quietly in obsessively neat, colorful piles. Graney conjures up personal ghosts and serves them to us on an eerie platter—giant dolls’ dresses loom above in one room; ancient police reports (written by Graney’s policeman father before he was killed when she was a child) tell the official tales of gangster violence in Chicago on the narrow walls next door.

If “less is more” is a familiar refrain in contemporary art, Graney’s House could use some decluttering. I give myself the heebee jeebees saying this, but the piece actually feels overfunded (No, NEA, this is not an invitation to slash funding for the arts, although Tom Coburn would have a field day with this show). Despite the (at times) overwrought installation, the lush, abstract movement of the performance saves the day.

Skip the knick knack cubbies—much of the installation feels like an unoccupied set, and I’m not sure what it’s doing there. The best objects and spaces in the show are the ones that the dancers activate with their beautiful choreography—a solitary, nude dancer emerging from a clawfoot bathtub in the opening of the performance; the “family” gathering together at a dining room table to eat freshly baked birthday cake. The dancers move deliberately, sometimes obsessively, through the space in a maze of domestic ritual. Mary Janes clack sonorously across the floor; chairs are rearranged endlessly, sometimes sweeping up the dancers with them. Individual dresser drawers emerge from nowhere and bodies suddenly crunch up inside of them. The mechanical and the sensual merge: frenetic chair “line dances” quickly give way to aromatic cakes baked in an old fashioned oven and languorous bodies overlap in momentarily intimate scenarios.

Ultimately, it’s a beautiful window into Graney’s world. Rarely (especially in Texas) do we get to see such a massive multidisciplinary undertaking, and it’s fascinating to explore how contemporary dance and sculpture work together, and how they don’t. House of Mind could tell us more and show us less and we’d leave just as satisfied. Yet in this new political moment (Obama has, after all, won two Grammys for his spoken word), the personal seems suddenly refreshing.

Kate Watson is Coordinator of testsite and Associate Editor of ...might be good.

Nature's Way
Unit B Gallery, San Antonio
Through March 7, 2009

By Wendy Atwell

Casey Roberts, Kill Kill Kill Kill, 2008, Cyanotype drawing. Courtesy the artist and Unit B Gallery, San Antonio.

Nature’s Way may sound like a brand of vitamins, but the vagueness and simplicity of this show’s title belies the artworks’ provocative content. Kimberly Aubuchon, who is responsible for the artist-run space Unit B, met three of the artists included in Nature’s Way during an Ox-Bow residency. Ox-Bow’s history strangely forecasts the show’s concern: humanity’s relationship to the natural world. The name “ox-bow” derives from the shape of a bend in the Kalamazoo River. A popular riverfront resort during the arts and crafts movement, the site became a lagoon in 1907 after the river was redirected along a more direct route to Lake Michigan. Following the loss of tourist traffic, two artists turned the property into an artists’ retreat. Since then, Ox-Bow has remained a “haven for artists” and is now affiliated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Two large cyanotypes by Casey Roberts dominate the show. Made from a photosensitive process that dates to the Civil War era, the paintings appear bathed in twilight—that shadowy, transformative time of day when clarity slips away with the sun. Roberts’ graphic style lends a cartoonish menace to the scenes. In Kill Kill Kill Kill (2008) the title’s words are written in all caps over a freshly cut tree stump, surrounded by looming dark trees. Mysterious plumes emanate from the sides of the stump; they might be smoke from the chainsaw or they could even symbolize life force escaping from the tree itself. Two smaller cyanotypes of cut tree stumps are titled i did real good 1 and 2 (2008); the titles portray a flippant disregard for the destroyed trees and, consequently, the pictures possess the unnerving feel of a Hitchcock murder.

In her small scale, delicate pencil drawings, Stephanie Nadeau captures the disappearance of nature due to development and climate change. A visual trickery occurs in Nadeau’s drawings. In Onward (2008), an orchard’s orderly rows of trees vanish as the rows progress from left to right. Another drawing of a tree, Pining (2008), is equally delicate, except in the center, which appears purposely out of focus. It suggests our “fuzzy” thinking about nature and our uncertainty about where it lies in our priorities. What does it mean to lose a single tree, and what are the repercussions?

In a video by John Fleischer, wonderings (2008), a hand, writing with a stick, renders an invisible list on a white background. Most numbers and letters may be discerned from the hand’s movement (strung together, they spell each of the Seven Wonders of the World). But keeping track of the letters while listening to the scraping of the stick as it writes is an exasperatingly futile exercise. The frustrating evanescence of the words spelled out in wonderings—Giza, Ephesus, Babylon, Olympia, Halicarnassus, Rhodes, Alexandria—suggests that the passing of time and the forces of nature wear away even the grandest man-made constructions.

What exactly is Nature’s Way? Several truths about it are suggested in this exhibition: impermanence, the immanent rhythm of cyclic time, and the cruel indifference of both humanity and nature. Nadeau’s foggy tree, a small example for a behemoth issue, encapsulates the careful negotiations between man and nature that result from these truths, and emphasizes the important role of perception in this process.

Wendy Atwell received her M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Henry Art Gallery, Seattle
Through March 22, 2009

By Noah Simblist

Eve Sussman & The Rufus Corporation, Photographic still from The Rape of the Sabine Women (Disintegration at Hydra), 2005. Courtesy the artists and Roebling Hall, New York. Photograph by Ricoh Gerbl.

Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay Adaptation offers a self-referential look at the popular phenomenon of adapting feature films from novels. However, creation through revision is more freely explored by artists not limited by populist commercial constraints, artists such as those in the exhibition Adaptation, organized by the Smart Museum in Chicago and currently on view at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. For instance, I can’t see Les Noces (2007), Arturo Herrera’s play between abstract images, cartoons, comics and a Stravinsky score, making much headway at the multiplex.

As a video exhibition, with long pieces by Herrera, Guy Ben-Ner, Catherine Sullivan and Eve Sussman & The Rufus Corporation, this show takes time. But the longer I spent in the galleries, the more I sank down into the rabbit hole of each work. This isn’t simply because of the power of narrative or my suspension of disbelief. It is also because an experience of each piece is simultaneously an exploration of its many referents—source material including literature, music, painting, film, ballet, email correspondence and video art.

Guy Ben-Ner’s Wild Child (2004), adapted from the 1970 Francois Truffaut film, is more accessible than Herrera’s but equally confounding. As Tom Gunning points out in the on-line catalog, Ben-Ner’s work is self conscious of the copy inherent in adaptation by revealing its artifice. The sets, costumes and props in a video like Wild Child (2004) are clearly little more than the stuff of child’s play. Indeed, the possibilities of imagination are taken for granted by both children and artists. Perhaps it is this connection that Ben-Ner is interrogating with his version of Truffaut’s tale of an 18th Century savage who is tamed by a French doctor. But in the process of adaptation, Ben-Ner lets go of Truffaut’s romanticized vision of feral nature—a nature assumed to be shared by artists, children and the uncivilized.

Catherine Sullivan’s Triangle of Need (2007) is much more refined in terms of its production values than Ben-Ner’s work, but her abstraction of the narrative creates other kinds of spaces for allusion and interpretation. Sullivan uses film, theater and dance to create a hybrid form that tells a story from multiple sources. The setting for this work includes the apartment of a factory worker in Chicago, the opulent turn of the century Miami estate of the factory owner and a Nigerian email scam that offers a portion of this estate. A trio of Neanderthals is brought to the estate for a breeding experiment which links the questions of the wild and the civilizing properties of science to Ben-Ner’s Wild Child (2004).

This tension between Eros and Logos is carried further by Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation’s The Rape of the Sabine Women (2005). Adapted from the classical myth, it evokes famous painted adaptations of the same, such as those by Nicolas Poussin and Jacques-Louis David. The film tells the story exclusively through images and a score by Jonathan Bepler. Set in 1960’s Greece, it eerily evokes the most recent student protests on the streets of Athens. In this version, sleek dark suited men and elegantly clad women lounge about until tensions build as they tear the clothes off of one another in a violent tumultuous brawl. Raucous abject violence is revealed to be seething beneath a veneer of cool refinement.

The galleries of Adaptation are filled with an intertextual performance of stories, and images that blur not only the boundaries between art and life but also between mediums. The gestalt of Les Noces (2007), made collaboratively between its visual and musical parts, is simultaneously by Herrera and Stravinsky. This multiple authorship allows the video’s creation exists on a continuum rather than being fixed at one specific point in time, and like the other work in this exhibition, it creates a landscape of possibilities suited only for unabashed intellectual and sensual play.

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.

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A Natural Selection
Austin, This Week

By The Editors

Skote (Jill Pangallo & Alex P. White), Courtyard by Marriot Event, 2008, single-channel video, 8min 42 sec. Courtesy the artist.

A performance
It’s already sold out tonight, but if you and your honey are quick, you might still be able to get Valentine’s Day tickets for the tragic, rave-style love story Iphigenia Crash Lands Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart at Salvage Vanguard Theater. Fittingly, the psychedelic collective Totally Wreck will install The Everlasting Godstopper in the SVT gallery (opening celebration on Sunday), which should put you in the right head-space for Iphigenia’s tranced-out aesthetic.

An Artist Talk
The headlines proclaim: our savior Obama wants to rid the world of nuclear weapons. In light of the media attention currently accorded to all things nuclear, Lisi Raskin's upcoming exhibition at the Blanton seems all the more timely. In 2008, Raskin's travels to nuclear test sites across the country inspired a series of projects, one of which will be on display in the museum's WorkSpace gallery beginning March 6. At a lecture on Wednesday at 5pm, Raskin will discuss her work, which resonates so strongly with our current political climate.

A Screening
“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” Austin Video Bee takes Darwin’s implied advice to heart with 2, a video compilation based on collaboration. The release party and screening will occur on Thursday evening at the Carousel Lounge. (Full disclosure: our very own Kate Watson is a founding member of the Bee).

Two Openings
Next weekend, Lordy Rodriguez’s States of America opens February 21 at AMOA, and The Birth of Cool opens February 22 at The Blanton.

In the metroplex, The Modern, Fort Worth, is hosting two important artist talks this week and next: Jeff Elrod and Austin’s own Mike Smith (Tuesdays at 7pm). In Houston, the French collective Claire Fontaine—the “readymade artist”—presents work at para/site (opens February 21, 5 -7pm).

announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

Johanna Heilman & Ray Umscheid: Farewell Analog!
Co-Lab Space
February 15, 7-11 pm

We grew up on it, and we're gonna miss it: analog television. Heilman and Umscheid's installation at Co-Lab, like a proper wake, will offer us time and space to celebrate the life of analog TV and mourn its passing.

Caroline Wright: I Do Not Know What it is I am Like
Bay6 Gallery
March 7, 2009, 7-10 pm

Borrowing from the title of a Bill Viola film, I Do Not Know What it is I am Like features a variety of new works by Austin-based artist Caroline Wright. The line got stuck in the artist's head and became the underlying theme to a variety of works exploring the emotional qualities of landscape and the non-linearity of the working process.

Lordy Rodriguez: States of America
Austin Museum of Art
February 21-May 17, 2009

Take a road trip with Lordy Rodriguez and witness his remapping of America. Rodriguez's decade-long project explores the addition of five new states that have saturated our geography--the Internet, Hollywood, Monopoly, Disney, and Territory. Lordy Rodriguez: States of America is curated by Eva Buttacavoli, Director of Exhibitions and Education at the Austin Museum of Art.

Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury
The Blanton Museum of Art
February 22–May 17, 2009

The Blanton Museum of Art presents Birth of the Cool, a blockbuster show encompassing the painting, architecture, furniture design, decorative and graphic arts, film, and music that launched mid–century modernism in the United States and established Los Angeles as a major American cultural center.

Installation features include iconic examples of Eames chairs, Noguchi sculpture, and a jazz lounge; film, animation, and television programming; Van Keppel Green furniture and architectural pottery; hard–edge abstract paintings; selections of art, architectural, and documentary photography; and an interactive timeline that highlights examples of California, national, and international culture and history of 1959.

Furniture Landscapes and Oceans of Ink
d berman gallery
February 26, 2009, 6-8pm

In Furniture Landscapes and Oceans of Ink, artists Leslie Mutchler and Naomi Schlinke explore the intersection of contrast. Mutchler investigates consumer desire and organization through digital drawing and collage using catalogue imagery from Ikea, Crate & Barrel, and other magazines whereas Schlinke uses ink on clay board to explore the sensuous and contemplative qualities of the media.

Austin on View

Carlos Rosales-Silva: No National Monument
MASS Gallery
February 7-21, 2009

Okay Mountain member Carlos Rosales-Silva presents art works influenced by the his rediscovery of his cultural heritages at MASS Gallery. Works include helium filled gold balloons, vividly colored installations, and gold-embossed letters on paper packed with humor and wit.

Warren Oates in the Economic Crisis of 2008
Okay Mountain
On view until February 21, 2009

Curated by Dave Bryant, this group show finds inspiration from deceased character actor Warren Oates. Though participating artists were not given Warren Oates as an assignment, but rather have been identified as being from the same cut as the actor--an actor whose films were mostly underground and low-budget, but filled with allure, familiarity, and strangeness. Bryant wonders and asks, "What are we to learn from these artists at this particular time [in our economy]? What are they making right now?" Artists include Matt Bua, Steven Canaday, Bruce Conkle, Dana Dart-McLean, Shawna Ferreira, Mark Flood, Andrew Guenther, Nick Lowe, Lauren Luloff, Michael Mahalchick, Brian Mumford, Mike Pare, Johnny Ryan, Jocelyn Shipley, Jennifer Sullivan, Matthew Thurber, Jim Tozzi, Michael Williams.

Dallas/Fort Worth Openings

Richard Patterson
Goss-Michael Foundation
Opens February 21, 2009

YBA Richard Patterson currently lives and works in Dallas. While it's beyond us why anyone would move from London to Dallas, we feel blessed to have Patterson around.

Houston Openings

Claire Fontaine: Call + 972 2 5 839 749
galería perdida
February 21, 2009, 5-7pm

Claire Fontaine is a politically-charged Paris-based art collective who claims that love, love as found in a collective, allows us to unite and rise against fear and governmental terror. Through Claire Fontaine's works of appropriated and altered found objects and visual culture, they hope to simultaneously subvert and call attention to these cultural and political realities of today.

announcements: events

Austin Events

Social Series
Austin Museum of Digital Art at Moose Lodge
February 13, 2009, 7-11pm
Admission: Free for AMODA members, $5 general admission

Join the Austin Museum of Digital Art in their second Social Series event with performances by Car Stereo Wars and Ibid Ellipse and art by Boling and Morales, Guthrie Lonergan, Catherine Ross. Ages 18 and up.

Artist Talk: Lisi Raskin
Blanton Museum of Art
Wednesday, February 18 at 5pm

The headlines proclaim: our savior Obama wants to rid the world of nuclear weapons. In light of the media attention being accorded all things nuclear, Lisi Raskin's upcoming exhibition at the Blanton seems all the more timely. In 2008, Raskin's travels to nuclear test sites across the country inspired a series of projects, one of which will be on display in the museum's WorkSpace gallery beginning March 6. At a lecture on February 18, Raskin will discuss her work, which resonates so strongly with our current political climate.

The Perfect Belt
Okay Mountain
February 18th, 2009, 8:30pm

The Perfect Belt is a one-act play by Andy Rihn, featuring Chrissy Paszalek as Aunt Cheryl and Andy Rihn as Boy. Original scored music by John King and set design by Mike Parsons.

Release Party: Austin Video Bee 2
Carousel Lounge
February 19, 7:30pm - Midnight

No unnecessarily heady themes here. Refreshingly, AVB continues to keep things simple with its second video compilation entitled 2. The videos are, surprisingly enough, about all things "2": collaborations, pairs, binaries, twins, doubles... Come raise a glass to Austin's very own multimedia video collective. (Full disclosure: Fluent~Collaborative's very own Kate Watson is a founding member of AVB.)

Open Critique & Discussion
Co-Lab Space
February 22, 7-9pm

Do artists, whose discipline relies upon a practice called the "critique," learn to take constructive criticism better than the rest of us? Co-Lab's monthly open, informal critique and discussion session occurs on the last Sunday of each month.

IPHIGENIA: Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (a rave fable)
Salvage Vanguard Theater
February 13-March 7, 2009, 8pm
Admission: $10-14

Greek tragedy spun into a sleek netherworld of sex, drugs, and trance music, IPHIGENIA: Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (a rave fable) is about the daughter of a political celebrity and her embrace of sensuous excess with a transgendered glam rock star named Achilles. The performance features Adriene Mishler as Iphigenia and Jude Hickey as Achilles with music by Graham Reynolds and video design by (...mbg staff writer!) Lee Webster.

No Idea Festival 2009
Blue Theater
February 26 - 28 at 8pm

Warning: free improv is not for the faint of heart. Chris Cogburn organized the first No Idea—a free improv music festival—in 2003, and since then, the festival has just kept on growing. This year, in addition to Austin, the festival is going to more cities than ever: San Antonio from February 16-21, Fort Worth on February 24, Houston on March 1 and New Orleans on March 2.

Houston Events

Buffalo Soldier Mutiny: Houston 1917
Museum of Fine Art, Houston
February 21, 2009 at 7pm
Admission: $6-7

Buffalo Soldier Mutiny: Houston 1917, a 2008 documentary film, investigates the Houston Mutiny and Courts-Martial of Buffalo Soldiers in 1917-18 who refused to adhere to racist Jim Crow laws enforced by Houston. Join the cast and crew for this special event and a reception. The film will also be shown the following day at 2pm.

Dallas/ Fort Worth Events

Artist's Talk: Jeff Elrod
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Tuesday, February 17 at 7pm

"He's a maniac." So artist Giles Lyon once spoke of Jeff Elrod. Maybe you can figure out what Lyon was talking about at Jeff's talk on Tuesday, which coincides with The Modern's exhibiton of his work opening on the 15th. Jeff uses a computer mouse and a simple computer graphics program to make preparatory drawings for his paintings and then meticulously transfers them to canvas.

Mike Smith: A Night With Mike
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Tuesday, February 24 at 7pm

Of course, Mike Smith's won't be your average artist's talk. Mike—an everyman, a loner, a bumbler—will alternately crack you up, bore you and inspire you. Just for an hour, step into Mike's World.

Austin Events

The Films of Charles & Ray Eames
Domy Books
Thursday, February 26, 7:30 pm

Think you know Charles and Ray Eames? Best known for their groundbreaking contributions to architecture, furniture design, industrial design and manufacturing, the Eameses were also prolific filmmakers. Come check out some of their short films.

announcements: opportunities

Call for Entries

Graduate Research Scholarships: Early Texas Art
March 1, 2009

CASETA, the Center for the Advancement and Study of Early Texas Art, is pleased to announce two $1,500 Graduate Research Scholarships for students pursuing original research on early Texas art and/or artists. Graduate students in Texas public and private universities are invited to submit a proposal for an original research project on early Texas art and/or artists that is endorsed and supported by a faculty mentor. These scholarships are for the support of research not yet undertaken. Visit their website for more information.

Employment Opportunity

Tenure Track Sculpture Position, University of Texas at Austin
University of Texas at Austin
Candidate should possess an MFA, a broad understanding of traditional and contemporary sculptural practice and theory, and have a strong record of creative work. A wide range of knowledge in contemporary integrated technologies is welcomed. College level teaching experience beyond TA is preferred. Teach all levels of undergraduate and graduate sculpture and 3D foundations. Excellent communication skills required. Service on departmental and university committees is expected. Hired applicant will in fall 2009.

Please submit cover letter, CV, teaching statement, names of three persons from whom letters of reference may be obtained, 20 slides OR 10 slides and only one 3 minute video clip. Committee will not review additional materials. Applications will only be accepted online here. Do not send any materials to the department.

Curatorial Assistant, Asian Art
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Open until filled

Salaried, Exempt, Full-time, 35 hours/week, Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Hired applicant must provide curatorial assistance to the Curator, Asian Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. S/he must possess a broad knowledge of Asian art history (China, Japan, Korea, India, Southeast Asia, Tibet and Himalayan Art) and meet the foreign language requirement: fluency in either Chinese or Japanese (reading, writing and speaking). A minimum of a B.A. in Art History required, but a M.A. in Art History with emphasis on Contemporary Art and Asian Art (China, Japan, Korea or India) is preferred. Also, a minimum of one year museum experience in a curatorial or research area is desirable. See their website for further information on job opening and application process.

Chief Preparator
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston seeks a Chief Preparator with a minimum of five years of progressively responsible experience in the preparation, construction, and installation of exhibit displays. Applicants must possess a minimum two years of supervisory and management experience. Visit their website for more information.

Assistant Curator for Acquisitions: Special Collections Dept- University Library
Texas State University, San Marcos
Open until filled

The Texas State University, San Marcos seeks an Assistant Curator for Acquisitions. The hired applicant will work for the Special Collections Department of Texas State's Alkek Library and report to its Curator. S/he will also be responsible for identifying and acquiring significant archives of Southwestern writing and significant works of Southwestern and Mexican photography on behalf of the Wittliff Collections. Visit their website for more information on the position and application process.

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