MBG Issue #118: What’s so sexy about a cat fight?

Issue # 118

What's so sexy about a cat fight?

March 13, 2009

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Freeway flyovers and the Buffalo Bayou, Houston, 2008, Digital print, 22 x 14 ½ inches. Courtesy the CLUI Photographic Archive.

from the editor

Recently, LA Times critic Leah Ollman mentioned to an audience at The University of Texas that critics publishing on the internet trade the relative silence of a print audience for the relative inanity of web audience posting off-the-cuff comments. Nonetheless, this issue of …might be good introduces a comments feature. You can now (finally, we know, it’s been a long time coming) post your thoughts and responses at the bottom of any article.

Boston’s Big Red & Shiny beat us to this a while ago. In their most recent issue they address the tone of the comments posted to their articles, and Steve Aishman notes the differences between an argument and a fight. We welcome arguments.

Take advantage of our new comments section to join the conversation about the Texas Biennial in this issue: an interview with curator Michael Duncan, thoughts on the TXB from Dana Friis-Hansen and Jade Walker, and my review of Kelli Vance’s TXB solo show. Also in this issue, an interview with the CAMH’s soon-to-be new director Bill Arning only begins to portray Arning’s warm, energetic disposition. We can’t wait to have him in Houston. Bill, check out those highways (above).

In our next issue, look forward to reviews from Austin (Birth of Cool at the Blanton and Tom Molloy at Lora Reynolds), Fort Worth (Jeff Elrod at The Modern), Houston (Rachel Hecker at Texas Gallery) and New York (Florian Slotawa at P.S.1). And, best of all, Gavin Morrison will propose a Texas Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennial. We've got our own, now we want to crash someone else's.

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


Bill Arning
by Claire Ruud

Bill Arning. Photo by Topher Cox.

Bill Arning will arrive in Houston, where he's been appointed director of the Contemporary Arts Museum, early next month. Making the leap from curator (he's been at MIT's List Visual Art Center for the last eight years) to director may come naturally to him. Not only is he at "that point" in his career, but he also been a director before, when he was at White Columns from 1985 to 1996. A recent interview with Big Red & Shiny informed some the questions I posed to Arning when we talked on the phone earlier this week.

…might be good: So you’re learning to drive before you get to Houston.

Bill Arning: I’ve had six classes, and I’m beginning to understand why people get addicted to their cars.

…mbg: What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you arrive at the CAMH on April 6?

BA: I’m going to sit down and meet one on one with all the staff. A change of directorship is an opportunity to do an inventory of how staff talents and energies are used. In every institution, people have to step up to the plate to get things done and take on duties that are never written down in any job description. This is an opportunity to reevaluate, find out what’s getting in the way of productivity and match people’s talents with what they’re actually doing.

…mbg: Anything you’re particularly looking forward to doing as a director?

BA: In this type of a leadership position, I get to encourage the creativity of others. Given the current financial situation, fundraising will be difficult and we’ll have to rely on limited resources and innovative thinking to generate excitement around the institution.

Walking through the Armory last weekend, everyone was talking about the losses their institutions have suffered in terms of staff and donations. The whole field is braced for the worst; everyone had a stiff upper lip about it and was focusing on the positive elements of the situation.

…mbg: The CAMH used Phillips Oppenheim to find you. How do you think this huge placement firm changed the face of museum director searches across the country?

BA: They’ve streamlined the process so that people don’t have to rely on their personal networks to find or fill positions. For the past five years, they’ve checked in with me every four months or so. They keep in touch with everyone and keep track of who’s at what point in their careers. As I said to Big Red & Shiny, there’s some pressure for good curators to step up and become directors, because there’s a fear that if we don’t, business people will take these jobs. But even though the fear is there, we’re not really seeing that happening right now.

…mbg: So are there less bad fits with Phillips Oppenheim?

BA: There will always be the occasional bad fit. Jeffrey Weiss has been very open about what a bad fit DIA Beacon was for him, coming out of the academy as he did. [This “match” was not facilitated by Phillips Oppenheim.] Curators become ready to direct in many ways. At the Armory, I ran into two new curators turned directors, Madeleine Grynsztejn and Philippe Vergne, and they both told me, “you’re going to love it.”

…mbg: So what is it about Houston and the CAMH that make this the right fit for you?

BA: Houston has one of the strongest ecologies of alternative spaces in the country—Lawndale, DiverseWorks, Project Row Houses. I come from this kind of background working in alternative art spaces.

…mbg: What’s the CAMH’s place within this ecology?

BA: Given the complex network of alternative spaces that already exist, the CAMH has the opportunity showcase contemporary practice that informs the idea of “today,” particularly in terms of what’s happening globally.

…mbg: You’re known in Boston for making young alternative spaces part of your regular circuit. What kind of exploring of this sort have you done in Houston so far?

BA: Aurora comes to mind. In fact, the Saturday after I arrive in Texas, I’m going over to Aurora to see the work of a friend of mine, Emily Hubley. I want to get plugged in as soon as I can; I don’t really understand what people who don’t get involved with this stuff do for fun. Last Saturday I spent the evening in Williamsburg seeing a lot of performances at off-the-grid spaces. I think I saw almost every one on my list.

…mbg: Where did you get the list?

BA: I find things on Facebook. In Boston, all the schools draw a lot of young artists, theoreticians and writers, and they open up tons of small spaces that often have kind of short shelf lives. If you’re not on the email list or in the Facebook group, you don’t hear about them. In fact, I just heard about the Orange Show and joined their Facebook group.

…mbg: Do you twitter?

BA: I joined twitter a while ago but never really got into it. But I update my Facebook status from my Blackberry. Last weekend I saw the Kippenberger retrospective, and his really strong death drive seemed to run throughout the entire show. He was obviously a genius but super depressed, and the show left me feeling quite down that no one in this social artist’s world intervened. I wrote on Facebook that I found the death drive in the work to be troubling, and not an existential statement, and it sparked a whole conversation between maybe twenty people.

…mbg: Yeah, the 160 character limit on status updates encourages short, pithy statements that can be quite provocative. So can I friend you?

BA: Please do.

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

Michael Duncan
by Katie Anania & Katie Geha

Jayne Lawrence, Integument (detail), 2008, Graphite, watercolor and colored pencil on Lenox, 48 x 48 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Michael Duncan, an L.A.-based independent curator and critic, chatted with ...might be good over email about his experience curating the Texas Biennial this year.

…might be good: What criteria did you have in mind when selecting artists for the Texas Biennial?

Michael Duncan: Since the group shows are based on open submissions, I wanted my selections to be as broad-minded as possible. Of course, my own prejudices came into play as well. I happen to respond best to figurative and narrative work but I made room for abstraction and a few conceptual pieces. I tried to include work in as many mediums as possible: painting, sculpture, crafts, ceramics, installation, printmaking, photography, performance and video.

…mbg: As you traveled around Texas visiting artist's studios, were there certain themes that re-emerged throughout the artists' work?

MD: The themes don’t seem specific to Texas art. Some of the recurring themes center on the fragmentation of the human body, a skewed sense of nature, celebratory ornamentation and a sense of place and displacement.

…mbg: On the Texas Biennial website, you compare the Texas art scene to that of Los Angeles in 1991, when you began writing and curating in that region. You comment on the "deep spiritual integrity" and "free-spirited thinking" of Texas artists and imply that many of these artists are marginalized by the larger art world. What are the stakes of romanticizing or essentializing this region, that is, casting Texas as a nascent, "Wild West" climate that is underdeveloped with respect to other, larger cities?

MD: I think celebrating the idea of independent thinking is a healthy thing to do. All visual artists in our mass-media-dominated, dumb-dumb culture are “Wild West” pioneers of thought and image. I’m happy to essentialize good visual artists as being independent free-thinkers. Texas just seems to me a more independent, less brainwashed locus for art-making today. I do feel that the art in the Texas Biennial is fresher than most of what I've seen in LA galleries in the past three years. Too much there is trendy, ponderous, attitudinal, sloppy, solipsistic, boring or hateful. I like the opposite of all those things.

…mbg: To perhaps efface the last question (I love doing that), you do put certain "regional" artists into broader art historical contexts in your curatorial statement. If you were constructing an imaginary show to include someone like Kelly Fearing—a show that would travel and might be exhibited at larger venues—what might such a show look like?

MD: A show including works by Kelly Fearing would center on meditative, spiritually evocative nature studies and portraits. The exhibition might also include works by Morris Graves, Melissa Miller, John Wilde, Jared French, Sarah Canright, Tom Knechtel, Thomas Woodruff, Pajama, John Paul Jones, Julie Heffernan, Joan Brown, Gregory Gillespie, Gertrude Abercrombie, Alice Neel, Louise Bourgeois and Kiki Smith. If only an American museum had the nerve to present such a radical show.

…mbg: What have been the advantages and disadvantages of putting the Biennial in the hands of a single curator from outside of the state, rather than, say, a curator more familiar with Texas-based artists?

MD: The only real prejudice in the selection process was an attempt to make the show less Austin-centric. The Biennial needs funds to help promote the show during submission season so that more artists across the state know about it. It must be stressed that the funding for the Texas Biennial is miniscule and the project has relied almost solely on the good spirit and generosity of its organizers.

I hope the Texas Biennial continues next time with a solo curator. It was certainly fun and a real revitalization for me.

…mbg: If you had to choose a title for this Biennial, what might that title be?

MD: Art is Big.

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

Katie Geha is pursuing a Ph.D. in art history at the University of Texas at Austin.


Carlos Rosales-Silva
MASS Gallery, Austin
Closed February 21
by Dan Boehl

Carlos Rosales-Silva, Installation view of No National Monument at MASS Gallery, 2009. Courtesy the artist.

There has been a lot made of Shepard Fairey lately. I won’t go into that. But the most powerful work of political art I saw during the election was at E.A.S.T. last year. It was a simple piece of watercolor paper with the words “BLACK PRESIDENT,” centered, all caps, written across its middle, leafed in gold. At the time, like the much-touted Fairey piece, the sentiment was a mere aspiration. The possibility of a non-white president was the dream of the heavens, an act of redemption pushing a hole in the clouds to see sun. That simple yet elaborate piece was the work of Carlos Rosales-Silva, and it worked so well because it put into balance the historically oppressive identity marker, BLACK, and the greatest aspiration for political achievement, PRESIDENT. The piece was at once simple and monumental in a powerful historical moment.

For his show at MASS Gallery, Rosales-Silva continues to plumb the depths of racial identity, focusing on his own Native American and Mexican heritage. Flavored by a healthy dose of machismo and pop culture, No National Monument is dominated by two sculptural works. On one end, the words VATOS LOCOS 4EVR are spelled out in huge gold Mylar balloons and float in three ranks like pipes in an organ. The reference comes from the film epic Blood In, Blood Out, but it’s used here as a totem of the Mexican-American youths who graffiti the walls of their border towns with the slogan. The letters hover like a collection of Koons rabbits, lifted by their own aspirations of buoyancy, upward mobility and beauty. The letters are also sad, the way a piñata is sad, doomed to be smashed, its cavity emptied.

On the other end of the gallery, a balloon wrapped hatchet juts from a log and is surrounded by a wheel of yellow, white and pink decorative sand. A dangling feather and two cameos of Indian warriors adorn the title piece, No National Monument (2009), completing the reference to Native spirituality and masculine power. Bookending the space, the two sculptures are emblematic of Rosales-Silva’s strengths. They are at once reverent and self-deprecating, loaded with clichés yet defying the clichéd, able to address issues of identity while infusing a sense of humor into the overall assemblages.

Five works on paper hang on the walls. All but one feature quotes Rosales-Silva gleaned from Mexican-American themed movies and stuck on watercolor paper in gold leaf. The phrases he choose, “Death don’t have no mercy/ in this land,” “Then the cops showed up/ and we lied like rugs,” “I am immortal/ I have inside of me blood of kings,” “If you don’t give me heaven/ I’ll raise hell,” belie a deep emotional connection with the sentiments they convey. The gold leaf on white elevates the phrases, like plaques, to a form of public/governmental art the likes of which you find on DC monuments. The final work on paper simply says, “FUCK SPAIN.” The statements are short, witty and poignant. By re-contextualizing these phrases, which otherwise are quaint and sentimental, Rosales-Silva memorializes them. The words are no longer simple statements, but become epic assertions shining in gold. Part of the reason this re-contextualization works is because the statements are so incongruous with the medium in which they are presented. There is a lot a humor in that, and it’s this humor working with the monumental sentiments that I would like to see more of in the future.

Rosales-Silva is treading familiar ground here. The Indian and Mexican clichés are old, but what makes Rosales-Silva’s work interesting is the idea that these clichés can gain new life when elevated and seen through a filter of humor. No National Monument is an attempt to reclaim culturally constructed images of Native Americans (cameos, hatchet, feathers) and Mexicans (phrases from movies), and transform them into emblems of spirituality, beauty, and strength. And Rosales-Silva has a real knack for elevating the quotidian symbols of Native American and Mexican life, transforming them into the very monuments that his show’s title claims do not exist.

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

Lordy Rodriguez
Austin Museum of Art, Austin
Through May 17
by Eric Zimmerman

Lordy Rodriguez, Texas, 2006, Ink on paper, Triptych, each panel 63 x 45 inches. Courtesy the artist and Finesilver Gallery, San Antonio.

Cartography is just one instance of an essentially anthropocentric attempt at organizing the world—an attempt wherein the notion of space is subordinated to locations of significant places. Seductive in their formal qualities of line, shape, color and text, Lordy Rodriguez’s nomadic maps are no exception to this desire to order our experiences of the world. States of America is a decade long project that, utilizing the language of cartography, sets out to re-map the United States. In addition to the fifty known states Rodriguez gives us five more to complete his project: Internet, Hollywood, Monopoly, Disney and Territory. The presence of these additional states suggests that our geography is as much a state of mind as a concrete reality, a key idea surrounding all of Rodriguez’s drawn places.

Lined up and stacked atop one another throughout AMOA’s central galleries, Rodriguez’s mythical States are visually striking. Multitudes of place names populate the precisely drawn maps, pulling you into their carefully articulated surfaces. Once you are there, the drawings create an immediate sense of spatial disjunction. Rodriguez’s re-locating and re-shaping of major cities, municipalities, territories and neighborhoods throw into question what you know about geographic location. Hollywood, for example, borders a newly shaped Republic of Texas. From state to state you are met with these unfamiliar juxtapositions of location and landscape, until one place blurs into another in rapid succession and eventually numbing repetition.

This repetition of form and strategy eventually diminishes the rewards of looking at the drawings individually. The exhibition’s monotony may stem from the larger organization and installation of the project. Rodriguez wants us to see States of America as a single piece, yet the drawings are framed individually and hung with little apparent attention to their relationship with one another. The straightforward installation is a missed opportunity to further complicate our notions of the map and place. In addition, a few of the drawings were unavailable for the exhibition. If parts of the map are missing, where does this leave the piece as a whole? There is tremendous reward to be found in peering into the individual drawings and reveling in their disjunctive effect, but the larger project suffers from the missing pieces and an inconsequential installation.

More noticeable variation in his approach to each of the fifty-five states could only compliment Rodriguez’s deft handling of his medium and skill at making an image on paper. A topographic map with its network of frenetic concentric lines, or even a map or two of a specific city’s streets would be a welcomed change in point of view, like the key map, which “zooms out” offering a view of all 55 states and changing our location as a viewer more dramatically.

Memory, travel and the creation and definition of place loom large under the surface of Rodriguez’s drawings. Artistic precedents can be found in the work of visionary artists and architects, whose speculative practices use our knowledge of the world and re-imagine it. As with those visionary artists and architects of the recent past, the question remains whether the work is merely a paper reality or behind the surface there is something concrete patiently waiting to take form. In Rodriguez’s case, the latter is possible. Given his reliance on personal experience to create them, Rodriguez’s maps may be not only a two-dimensional proposition, but also the residue of a corporeal reality.

Eric Zimmerman is an artist living and working in Austin.

Kelli Vance
TXB 09, Big Medium, Austin
Through April 11
by Claire Ruud

Kelli Vance, She Became Frightened and Stopped Listening, 2008, Oil on canvas, 36 x 96 inches. Courtesy Chris Jay Hoofnagle, San Francisco, CA.

Seduction, brimming with violence and danger, pervades Kelli Vance’s large-scale, cinematic paintings of women. In one such work, a well-heeled foot steps down a spiral staircase behind the splayed body of a woman whose neck appears to have broken in a fall. In another, one woman straddles another who lies prone on a bed, the former’s hands tight around the latter’s neck. These paintings beg narratives laden with malevolence and homoeroticism—a vicious paring.

Taken together, the group of paintings chosen for Vance's solo exhibition at the Texas Biennial raises a whole set of questions for me about the intersection of violence, danger and homoerotic desire between women. What’s so sexy about a cat fight? Why are lesbian thrillers and murder mysteries (The Hunger, Bound or this season of the L Word) so sensational?

Vance’s paintings flirt with these questions, and the larger dynamics underlying them—dynamics of power and pleasure, of public and private, of personal and political. By flirt I mean that her paintings engage violence and homoeroticism experimentally, playfully and provocatively. Vance is still in the earliest stages of her career, (she received her MFA last year from the University of Houston,) and like the beginning of any relationship, her paintings are exploratory, agitated and brimming with anticipation.

Vance paints from photographs. Most often, she uses herself as model for these images, setting up the scene so that she can pose for the camera and snap the shutter remotely. Using oil on canvas and a photo-realist style, she blows these images up dramatically (the smallest work in the show is 3 feet wide and 8 feet tall). Vance’s sharp, polished style and impressive scale, coupled with her sadomasochistic subject matter, compound the seductive quality of the work.

Curator Michael Duncan’s prominent positioning of two works—Sometimes I Hate You at the front of the first gallery and I Kissed a Girl, depicting singer Katy Perry of “I Kissed a Girl” fame, at the back of the second—heightens the homoerotic charge of the entire exhibition. A chillingly beautiful painting of Vance pinned to the ground by another woman, She Became Frightened and Stopped Listening (2008), feels sexually predatory, and a portrait of Vance with honey dripping over her face and bare collarbone seems made for a woman’s delectation.

Vance’s repeated appearances in her work point to the fabricated quality of her images. These are fantasy—fantasy as a productive opportunity to escape the limitations of culturally constructed identities and socially acceptable situations. The fantasies Vance paints rehearse a common cultural wet dream/nightmare. Yet again, the threat of physical violence stalks in the shadows behind homoeroticism; lesbian attraction threatens moral order.

Beyond her own recurring presence in the images, Vance is still looking for ways to trouble these narratives and imagine new possibilities. There’s potential, for example, in the places where she lets her finish fetish collapse in on itself, as when the glaring light of a bedside lamp offers an opportunity for a looser, more abstract style and the image’s perfection breaks down. In these moments may lie one such opportunity to interrogate pop culture’s glamorization of female homoeroticism and disrupt the culturally sanctioned image of the vampiric lesbian.

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

Mike Osborne

Holly Johnson Gallery, Dallas

Through March 21

by Alison Hearst

Mike Osborne, Television Cultural Center, 2008, Inkjet print, 40 x 50 inches. Courtesy Holly Johnson Gallery.

China is, for better or for worse, a hot topic. Although swiftly stepping into the future as an industrialized superpower, China still attempts to maintain an old-school aestheticism (as exhibited in the 2008 Olympics’ opening ceremonies). Moreover, these traditional displays, juxtaposed with vistas of Beijing’s shiny new skyscrapers, all seem to be part of a massive propaganda machine, generating endless images of a fully historically rooted yet fully modernized (and rich) society.

Beijing, this complex and contradicting present-day metropolis right before the 2008 Olympics, is the subject of Mike Osborne’s exhibition, On Location Beijing, at the Holly Johnson Gallery in Dallas. Osborne’s lusciously colored photographs are bright and theatrical, yet have an off-the-cuff documentary sensibility in their often quotidian subject matter. Like their subjects, the photographs mediate between the grand and staged and the intimate and unplanned. This twofold approach in portraying Beijing cleverly captures its uneasy growing pains and the incongruities that comprise this city.

Although visually stunning, Osborne’s photographs are not of the picturesque. Television Cultural Center (2008) shows the building as we’re not meant to see it: in a stage of vulnerable, unspectacular infancy. The state-of-the-art architecture sits rather uneasily within an apocalyptic-looking construction site and surrounding shanties. Scaffolding and a littered, un-landscaped dirt pile eclipse the intended grandeur of the building. Further diluting the spectacle, the photograph hones in on one lone worker on break. This intimate, everyday scene is an unexpected—and welcome—alternative to the presumed hubbub of the urban development. Exposed here is China’s often hasty and unsafe approach towards modernity, viewed from an angle normally obscured by the Chinese government.

Last month, when the Television Cultural Center accidentally burned down one of its new buildings (which was not finished as planned in time for the Olympics anyway, and was as yet unoccupied) in a fireworks display celebrating the Chinese New Year, the event compounded the impact of Osborne’s photograph of the adjacent building in its early stages. The Chinese government swept photographs and reports of the fire under the rug, allowing only its own official statement—and no images whatsoever—to circulate. Thus CCTV, the very mouthpiece of government propaganda, became the subject of its own censorship.

Qianmen (2008) also illustrates, quite literally, the contradictory worlds found in present-day Beijing. Here, Qianmen—a gate into Beijing’s ancient Inner City—is closed-off and mostly obscured by rickety metal fencing that appears to be constructed from salvaged dumpster parts. A canvas printed with an image of the ancient city is haphazardly draped over the ramshackle fence—an attempt to mask the modern atrocity with a simulated historical vista. Three photo-happy tourists are seen capturing Qianmen through the fence, expunging the actual lackluster environment from their photographic records and reminding us of the many untruths in our carefully edited photographs. Just as Quianmen seems to capture these tourists in an unsuspecting and honest moment, so too all Osborne’s photographs seem to capture the city itself unawares.

Like many of his subjects, Osborne is also a tourist documenting his travels. Yet unlike the tourists in Qianmen, Osborne doesn’t forgo the gritty, under-construction sights for untainted, exotic views of a past or present world. Perhaps it is Osborne’s presentation of the intimate and conflicting moments—within a city striving for the spectacular and the flawless—that make these works much more substantial than any tourist photograph; they reveal the candid and contradictory moments avoided by the tourist in search of the picturesque and, also, by the Chinese government in search of an unblemished self-image.

Alison Hearst received her M.A. in Art History from Texas Christian University and is a freelance writer living in Fort Worth.

Center for Land Use Interpretation
Blaffer Gallery, Houston
On View Through March 29, 2009
by Lee Webster

BP Refinery, Texas City, 2008, Digital print, 22 x 14 ½ inches. Courtesy the CLUI Photographic Archive.

The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) knows the show isn’t in the gallery. It’s driving east out of town on I-10 Houston’s “Energy Corridor,” it’s creeping by boat along the banks of the Buffalo Bayou running around and about Houston’s highways and byways, it’s in the unseen industrial landscapes that hide behind skyscrapers and below underpasses in the nation’s fourth largest city: Houston. CLUI made the city its specimen, laboratory and exhibition space all at once.

CLUI is a group of artists and other interested parties who design projects around the exploration of American spaces. They find the loci of man’s largest and least visible footprints. They search out publicly invisible landscapes: the government restricted nuclear testing sites of Nevada, the urban outskirts of southern California, the underground sewers of LA, the American Atlantises of cities and towns drowned by dam projects. Then, they document. With pictures, video, research and writing, they assemble a portrait of the place. The final and most poignant work is in the sharing: since 1994, CLUI has organized countless tours, bus trips, guides and exhibitions which bring the public into spaces that may only exist in their imaginings or may be just beyond their front door, but until then went unseen or unnoticed.

Through a residency with the University of Houston, CLUI set up shop on the banks of Houston’s industrial waterway, using a portable trailer plopped down in a scrap yard as its field office. From this hub they started exploring the vast network of refineries, plants and corporate complexes that make up the oil industry in Houston.

Every oil-related corporation, if not based in Houston or Texas, at least maintains an outpost here. The first room of the Blaffer’s upstairs gallery chronicles CLUI’s search for the public face of this vast industry. The photographs depict the stark facades of their offices, some occupying shiny, showy skyscrapers downtown, others hiding out on corporate campuses behind guarded gates and wooded drives. Beside each photo of a blank-faced building is a short profile of the company that inhabits it. In an adjacent room the industrial innards behind each corporate brand are revealed, with photographs of vast fields of oil derricks and landscapes dotted with huge storage cisterns and gridded by miles of pipeline.

My last stop in the gallery was to watch the twelve minute video, Houston Petrochemical Corridor: From the East 610 Loop to the Highway 146 Bridge: A CLUI Landscan, which carries the viewer over miles of industrial land that can only be glimpsed from the highways that lead from Houston to the coast. This hyper-real flight over this massive industrialscape is hypnotizing.

It is these unusual perspectives that accomplish CLUI’s goals most effectively, presenting our world to us from new perspectives to reveal the forces just beyond our view that shape the sociology and ecology of our communities. CLUI’s project in Houston is hugely important, mostly in its insistence that we get out and examine our surroundings. The gallery exhibition takes you only halfway there. The group has partnered with organizations across the city to provide public drive-in screenings at the junk-yard that houses their field office and pontoon boat tour tours of Houston’s East End along Buffalo Bayou. The exhibition catalogue provides a suggested driving tour of the vast complexes to the east of the city, the short distance of which I traveled had me vowing to return to drive the rest. If you are lucky enough to be in the city on the weekend of March 21st, don’t miss the last boat tour in cooperation with Buffalo Bayou Partnership, which is sure to show you a view of Houston and its industry you will never see from the highways going through town or lounging on the lawn of the Menil.

Lee Webster is an artist living and working in Austin.

Beili Liu
Three Walls Gallery, San Antonio
Through March 29
by Wendy Atwell

Beili Liu, Miasma, 2009, Wool, thread, acrylic medium, Dimensions variable (each column 4 to 9 feet tall). Photo by Blue Way. Courtesy the artist.

A pit in the stomach, a sense of unease or dread physically registered by the body: can this sensation be rendered visually? Beili Liu conveys this helpless anxiety in Miasma (2009), one of two installations at Three Walls Gallery. The other, Lapse (2009), provides a counterpoint. In the process of making her art, Liu maintains a careful balance between destruction and creation. Lapse is bright and expansive, which counteracts out the cipher-like quality of Miasma.

Miasma, a mobile-like installation made from a cluster of long, snarled strands of black wool, darkens the bright white gallery walls like a storm cloud. Liu hung each snarled strand from the ceiling by monofilament, each at a distinct distance from both ceiling and floor, so that the entire group appears invisibly suspended in the air. Longer strands loom in the back of the cloud, giving the form a sense of rising or expanding upwards. Part of Liu’s Three Thousand Troubled Threads series, the installation references hair, which the artist explained is considered a burden in China. Liu alters the rope-like wool threads, which bear an uncanny resemblance to hair, by hand, and then uses acrylic medium to sculpt and preserve the shapes of her twists, pulls and snarls. Like a maddened mother, instead of smoothing and plaiting a child’s hair, she rends it into difficult kinks and tangles.

Lapse, a twelve foot long piece mounted on the right wall consists of three panels but appears to be seamless. Liu used a torch to burn multiple layers of vellum. She then cut the burned edges into strips and layered them onto the panels with acrylic medium. The unburned white paper stripes contrast with the brownish charred edges so that the smooth surface gives an allusion of three dimensionality. The effect of the torch on the visible edges of the vellum strips is subtle; the eye follows the small delicate tracings of burned edges in the same way it follows the strands of wool in Miasma, riding the slight curves, indentations and bumps along the way. Overall, the many strips meld into a flawless visual rhythm, despite the variations of each strip’s edge. The result looks like tree bark compressed and flattened into an elegant pattern.

Liu goes through a process of destructing her materials, thread and vellum paper, so that she may reorder and design the installations. Part of the process is happenstance—how the threads pull apart and how the flames burn—but the artist’s hand is controlling the depth of the media’s alterations, leaving behind traces of anxiety, capturing and holding these elusive feelings like specimens on a glass slide.

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

to the editor

Jade Walker

To the editor in response to TXB 09,

Thank goodness for growth, both in the arts community in Austin and in our newly renovated 2009 Texas Biennial. I am thankful for the expansion of art venues, influx of artists and curators, as well as the flow of collectors who are asserting themselves as permanent fixtures in Austin. Galleries like Art Palace that exhibit emerging Austin artists help to keep people like Eric Zimmerman fed and working locally. The new single guest curator format used for the 2009 Texas Biennial offers an expansive vision of work produced in Texas, while acknowledging Austin as an innovative place to experience, make, and exhibit art. Combining guest curator Michael Duncan’s vision with that of local curator Risa Puleo, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Blanton Museum of Art and Art in Public Places panel member, the 2009 Texas Biennial celebrates the interests of a curator working right here in our back yard.

Reinventing this year’s Biennial is no surprise considering the scope of what Shea Little, Joseph Phillips and Jana Swec have been able to do with their own artist endeavors as a collective, Big Medium as a venue and the East Austin Studio Tour as an annual attraction in Austin. They manage to stay neutral in opinion while simultaneously aggressive about getting art into the public realm, all with little to no budget.

Logistically, a welcomed improvement to the Biennial is the growth of the website, including more in-depth content and video. More is still needed to put Austin on the artistic map and to place Austin artists in more established art spaces and larger collections. It seems crucial to focus the next edition of the Biennial on traveling the exhibitions and creating partnerships throughout the state of Texas. I admire the ambition of the Biennial team to visit artists throughout our state; now they just need to secure the support of larger institutions.

Jade Walker
Director, Creative Research Laboratory

Dana Friis-Hansen

To the editor in response to TXB 09,

This time, I’m most excited about the chosen format for the Texas Biennial. Inviting one curator rather than a committee to make a selection brings a fresh (and single) vision to the project, and Michael Duncan was an inspired choice. As a curator and critic, he’s always taken a path that celebrates originality, insights and risk-taking, making this Biennial feel energized, playful and gutsy. His idea to interlace a retrospective for Kelly Fearing (was it really six years ago that CRL and Flatbed presented their big show?) into the group shows was wonderful, and the resurrection of his rarely-seen slide and music works was a great accomplishment. Having small solo shows from each region allows Austinites and others who visit from afar to get a strong dose of accomplished artists we should know better, and the collaboration with AIPP allows Austin to expand its dialogue and experience of temporary public art. All this, plus a catalogue in a box—congratulations to all involved!

Dana Friis-Hansen
Director, Austin Museum of Art

project space

Project Space: Sterling Allen
by Dan Boehl

During his residency at Artpace San Antonio, Sterling Allen has been making sculpture on a scale he hasn’t attempted before, constructing 3 full-sized playhouses from materials he finds on the street, in thrift stores or purchases from dollar stores. Replete with accoutrements like satellite dishes, chicken-bodied weathervanes, shutters and outdoor faucets, Allen uses an assembly line process to make each house “identical.”

Allen came upon the assembly line idea while on a studio visit in Kansas City. The artist he visited was busy making an edition of “identical” sculptures, but Allen could actually see with his own eyes the flaws and discrepancies that made each sculpture unique.

These nuances intrigued him, so he decided to create his own edition, knowing full well that the materials he chose would doom the perfect edition to failure. Each videocassette he uses as a roofing tile, each plate as a satellite dish, each ankle height boot on a mailbox has a different degree of wear. In effect, the mass produced editions of these consumable products bear the nuanced signature of the people that used them. The houses are just like any assembly line production, an edition made of editions, each unique in its own way, each scarred by the idiosyncrasies of the maker.

Somewhere in all of this is rooted the spirit of DIY editioning that Allen employs in his drawings of photographs, drawings of drawings of drawings and his sculptures of drawings of drawings.

Once the houses are complete, they will sit in the gallery space together. Allen will send an image of the little neighborhood to an art copying sweatshop in China and have an “identical” edition of 3 paintings made by 3 separate artists, “Artist of Light” style. The paintings will thus complete an edition of an edition of an edition. Depending on what the paintings look like, they will either lift the neighborhood into the realm of fine art, or deflate the spirit of DIY creativity, rendering the houses into soulless aspirations, like the now identical and defunct exurb housing projects ringing California and Florida cul-de-sacs: more used merchandise that no one knows what to do with.

...mbg recommends

Don't Step on the Grass!
by Kate Watson

Bill Davenport, Mushroom Grove, 2009.

Still have an art hangover from last weekend, you say? We’re not sure if it was all the Tito’s flowing or the gossip flying, but we’re tired too. It’s no excuse not to get some fresh air, we say. Heck, this might be the last chilly weekend in Austin until next winter! Love it before we’re all drowning our sweaty sorrows in buckets of Lone Star as the temperature starts climbing.

Pounding the pavement

Public art that doesn’t…well…horrify us? You’re blowing our minds. Former Fluent~Collaborative gang member Risa Puleo impressively ups the stakes of the Biennial with her deft curation of seven commissioned Temporary Outdoor Projects. Dig your umbrella out of storage and hunt down these pieces around town.

Get Outta Town

Okay Mountain’s very own Tim Brown has a show opening at Houston’s wonderful Lawndale Center this weekend. Will we ever see the OkM crew back together again in Austin? These sk8er bois-turned-jetsetters seem to be everywhere these days.

Get…Really Outta Town

Marfa+New Orleans+eco-consciousness? That is one jam packed trio. Check out Paul Villinski’s Emergency Response Studio at the Ballroom, opening this weekend.

Curling up at Home…Someone else’s, that is

If you haven’t been to SOFA gallery, you are seriously missing out. We think everyone should have a gallery in their living room! Make an appointment here.

announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

Andrew Jeffrey Wright: Do You Believe in Art?
Domy Books
March 21, 2009, 6-9pm

In this exhibit, Philadelphia artist Andrew Wright presents paintings, drawings, videos, collage, photography, and screen prints. The opening also includes the artist's special presentation of art jokes and performances by Sweatheart and narwhalz (of sound).

Austin on View

Tom Molloy
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Through April 25

Intense. For each of the six graphite drawings in Lucid, from which the show takes its title, Tom Molloy has interwoven recognized war imagery with pornography. Sex, death, torture, exploitation. Talk about the ethics of representation.

Lisi Raskin
Blanton Museum of Art
Through June 21

Lisi Raskin explores our culture of anxiety, which is rooted in the Cold War and resonates with our current cultural and political climate, in Armada. This exhibit includes sculptures based on the forms she found at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), a storage facility for military airplanes and aerospace crafts located at Davis–Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona.

Otis Lucas
SOFA Gallery
Through April 5, 2009

The collaborative artist duo, Otis Lucas (Patrick Xavier Bresnan and Ivete Lucas), documents in a multitude of media the recuperative efforts to rebuild a community after the devastation of catastrophe. The artists spent a month in Cameron, Louisiana working with the Mennonite Disaster Service to rebuild homes for victims of Hurricane Ike. The photographs, sound pieces, and videos detail with startling frankness the post-disaster landscape, and provide an intimate view into a Mennonite community of rebuilding volunteers.

Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury
The Blanton Museum of Art
Through May 17

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.

Lordy Rodriguez: States of America
Austin Museum of Art
Through 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. States of America is curated by Eva Buttacavoli, Director of Exhibitions and Education at the Austin Museum of Art.

Texas Biennial Solo Shows: William Cannings, Lee Baxter Davis, Jayne Lawrence, Kelli Vance
Okay Mountain, Big Medium, Pump Project & MASS Gallery
Through April 11

William Cannings explores the effects of compressed air on permanent materials, such as aluminum and steel in his sensuous sculptures at Okay Mountain. Lee Baxter Davis's prints and drawings are intricate explorations of, to use his words, "the conflict between observed biological facts and certain metaphysical models of paradise, or the reality of death and concept of immortality." Jayne Lawrence's creatures at MASS are somehow magical in quality. And Kelli Vance's oils on canvas are erotically forboding. PLUS go see the temporary outdoor projects installed around town.

Texas Biennial: Wide Open Group Show
Women and Their Work
Through April 11

Thirty-one artists present an array of artworks, from installations to paintings, for the Texas Biennial. Exciting and Eclectic.

Texas Biennial: Big Tall Group Show
Mexican American Cultural Center
Through April 11

Also eclectic.

Leslie Mutchler & Naomi Schlinke
d berman gallery
Through April 11

Leslie Mutchler's collages, digital drawings, recycled paper and coroplast installations investigate consumer desire for an organized lifestyle. Using catalogue glossies from Crate & Barrel, Ikea, Pottery Barn, and others, she creates a hybrid-form of organization.

Naomi Schlinke describes her ink clayboard work, “My work celebrates the flux of living form and the patterns that underpin reality … Momentary and unique in the way that process-based art can be, these are images of ‘formation in progress’, equally legible at the micro or macro levels … Some aspects of an image can be found in a flash; others reveal themselves slowly and methodically.”

Houston on View

Claire Fontaine: Call + 972 2 5 839 749
galería perdida
On view until March 22, 2009

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.

Dallas on View

Mike Osborne: On Location Beijing
Holly Johnson Gallery
On view until March 21, 2009

Mike Osborne’s new photographs present Beijing’s transformation in almost theatrical terms focusing on the city in the final months before the Olympic Games.

Todd Eberle: America
Light & Sie
On view until April 4, 2009

The exhibition begins with the American flag and presents an image of Eberle’s grandparents next to a full scale mock-up of the Oval Office created for the Clinton Library in Little Rock, AR and a picture of a lunch plate from inside Air Force One. The exhibition ends with three images: a pastoral landscape from Connecticut, a bronze statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse and Wynton Marsalis playing his horn with a surreal New York City Landscape as a backdrop. How does Eberle get from here to there? You'll have to go find out.

Olin Travis: People, Places and Vision
The McKinney Avenue Contemporary
On view until March 28, 2009

People, Places and Visions explores four decades of Olin Travis' paintings beginning in 1916. Olin Travis, who was Dallas’ first artist to complete his degree at a major art institute and founded two art schools, made artworks that investigate nature and the self through a variety of mediums and genres.

Richard Patterson
Goss-Michael Foundation
On view until April 30, 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

Dennis Harper, David Waddel & Kelly Ulcak, and Tim Brown
Lawndale Art Center
March 13, 2009, 6:30-8:30pm

This multi-exhibition opening includes artist Dennis Harper's sculptural and video installations, David Waddell's and Kelly Ulcak's collaborative artworks inspired by escaped prisoner encounters in "Allegory of the Cave" from Plato’s Republic and Austin's own Tim Brown's installation investigating the relationship developed in call centers.

Houston on View

Diverse Works
On view until April 18, 2009

In this group show, artists present artworks that interpret the warning signs that signaled the demise of previous cilizations, addressing our relationships with process and change.

Marfa Opening

Paul Villinski: Emergency Response Studio
Ballroom Marfa
March 14, 2009, 3-6pm

Finding inspiration from the post-Katrina New Orleans environment, Villinski transformed a FEMA-style trailer into a sustainable solar-powered and green work space. First traveling througout New Orleans, this trailer, the Emergency Response Studio, makes its way to Marfa and demonstrates the artists attempt to assist the ravaged New Orleans region through creative means.

San Antonio on View

Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: Africa, Lagos ~ Dakar
On view until May 3, 2009

In The World Stage: Africa, Lagos ~ Dakar, Artpace showcases nine paintings by Kehinde Wiley that place everyday people into pictorial conventions found in Western art history. Wiley represents persons in poses based on public sculptures that celebrate Nigerian and Senegalese independence from colonial rule and uses patterns based on traditional clothing worn by West African women.

UTSA Satellite Space @ Blue Star
On view until March 22, 2009

Apparatus brings together the work of three artists, Dylan Collins, Andries Fourie and Donald Henson, who explore the correspondences between mechanical systems and the human body's operations.

San Marcos on View

Alyson Fox, Misako Inaoka, and Mimi Kato: WHAT ISN'T IS
Texas State University Gallery
On view until April 7, 2009

Alyson Fox, Mimi Kato and Misako Inaoka, three artists whose work addresses issues of identity and culture, come together to exhibit sculpture, drawings, paintings and photographs that artfully blur the lines between their artistic studio practices. The gallery doesn't have a website, but you can find it on campus in the Joann Cole Mitte building.

announcements: events

Austin Events

Living Cool, A Panel Discussion
Blanton Museum
March 28, 2009, 1-3pm
Admission: Free

Blanton Museum curator Annette Carlozzi and Kevin Alter, Associate Dean of UT's School of Architecture, moderate a panel discussion with Austin design experts on how mid-century modernism informs Austin lifestyle today.

Amy M. Mooney: The Social Utility of Portraiture: Practice, Performance & Propriety
Art Building and Museum (ART) 1.120, UT Austin
March 26, 2009, 4pm

Examining literary and visual texts in tandem, Dr. Mooney of Columbia College in Chicago, presents a chapter of her forthcoming book which examines the central role played by portraiture in fostering social mobility in the United States during an era of class, ethnic, and racial tension.

Digital Showcase
The Mohawk
March 13, 2009, 9pm
Admission: $5-9; Free for SXSW Interactive badge holders

The Austin Museum of Digital Art presents its 45th Digital Showcase featuring the 4th Laptop Battle at the Mohawk. Local electronic musicians compete in the 2009 Laptop Battle Championship, which includes interactive installations, live visuals, and innovative art projections.

Birth of the Cool: AVANT CINEMA
Alamo Drafthouse, Downtown
March 25, 2009, 7pm
Admission: $8.50; $6.25 for students

A program of shorts by designer/filmmakers Charles and Ray Eames and a brief retrospective of the modernist title design of Saul Bass.

New Brow, The Film
Various locations
March 17, 18 & 21

New Brow considers the rise of Pop Surrealism or Outsider Art through interviews with the artists, galleries and collectors who started and continue this American art movement. Screenings March 17, 6pm at The Independent at 501 Studios, March 18, 7pm at Cafe Mundi and March 21, 1pm at The Independent.

Dallas/ Fort Worth

Tuesday Evenings at the Modern: Fahamu Pecou
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
March 17, 2009, 7pm

Fahamu Pecou is the Shit began as the artist's own campaign for his work as a painter in 2002 with paintings of Pecou on the cover of art and culture magazines, t-shirts, posters, as the subject of a mockumentary, and guerilla street art. This Tuesday Evenings presentation, Behind the Canvas, takes an intimate look at the personal life of the artist.

Houston Events

Michelle Ellsworth: The Objectification of Things
March 20 & 21, 8pm

In The Objectification of Things, objects experiences sex (in a stop-action animation), torture and death. Sex, astro-turf, carbon biochemistry, a mini green screen sound stage and synchronized back-up dancers are all bedfellows in this multimedia, collaborative event.

announcements: opportunities

Calls for Entries

Film Competition
Austin Film Festival
Deadline: June 3

Submit a film in any of the following categories: Narrative Feature, Narrative Short, Animated Short, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short. There's a $45 entry fee. Winners will be announced at the Austin Film Festival October 22 - 29, 2009.


Post-Academic Institute for Research and Production Fine Art, Design, Theory
Jan van Eyck Academie
Deadline: April 15, 2009

Artists, designers and theoreticians are invited to submit research and production proposals to become a researcher at the Jan van Eyck Academie. Every year, 48 international researchers realise their individual or collective projects in the artistic and critical environment that is the Jan van Eyck. Artists, designers and theoreticians at the Jan van Eyck Academie work alongside each other and establish a cross-disciplinary exchange. Submit independently formulated proposals for research and/or production in the departments of Fine Art, Design and Theory or participate in one of the following research projects: After 1968: What is the political?; Circle for Lacanian ideology Critique; Design Negation; ExtraStateCraft; Imaginary Property; The Cross-Cultural and the Counter-Modern. Visit the Jan van Eyck website for more information.


Sharadin Art Gallery Residency
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
Deadline: June 12, 2009

Accepting proposals from artists, craftspersons and designers for the production of a temporary, site-specific installation for The Sharadin Gallery exhibition space. The residency will occur January 11-29, 2010, and the artwork will remain on view from January 29 – March 5. The selected artist (or artist team) will be awarded $10,000. The award must cover all material and labor costs associated with the production of the work, all travel expense to and from our site, all incidental costs, meals, and all artist fees and honoraria. The university will provide housing along with a group of Kutztown University students to assist with the physical production of the selected proposal. For more information and to apply visit the Sharadin Gallery website.

Visual Artist Residencies
CORE Program, MFAH
Deadline: April 1, 2009

The Core Program awards one- and two-year residencies to highly motivated, exceptional visual artists who have completed their undergraduate or graduate training but have not yet fully developed a professional career. Visual artists must submit an online application. There is a $10 application fee, which is paid online by credit card. For more information see the online application instructions.

Critical Studies Residency
CORE Program, MFAH
Deadline: April 1, 2009

The Core Program awards one- and two-year residencies to highly motivated, exceptional art scholars who have completed their undergraduate or graduate training but have not yet fully developed a professional career. For more information see the online application instructions.


Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art
Bass Museum of Art, Miami
Open until filled

The Bass Museum seeks an enthusiastic, motivated and experienced Assistant Curator of contemporary art. Working closely with the Executive Director/Chief Curator, the Assistant Curator manages all administrative responsibilities of the department including organizing special exhibitions, installing permanent collection galleries, securing acquisitions, initiating and participating in public programs, writing and coordinating texts and publications; and touring original exhibitions. Requirements: MA in arts-related field; 3-plus years of related curatorial experience including organizing exhibitions of national and international contemporary artists (solo and group exhibitions); traveling exhibitions; a track record of permanent collection acquisitions; strong research, writing, and public speaking skills; and significant contacts in the field. Please submit cover letter and resume to: Elisa Alonso, Executive Assistance, Bass Museum of Art, 2121 Park Avenue, Miami Beach, Fl 33139. No emails or phone calls please. Only those chosen for interviews will be contacted.

Call for Entries

Exhibition Proposals
Dougherty Art Center
Deadline: March 31, 2009

The Dougherty Arts Center in Austin is currently accepting exhibition proposals the Julia C. Butridge Gallery space. You can find more information and an application here.


Project and Curatorial Research Grants
Etant donnés: The French-American Fund for Contemporary Art
Deadline: April 15

Project grants are allocated to American nonprofit institutions organizing exhibitions, installations, artist residencies, publications, or other projects involving living French artists and French nonprofit institutions presenting the same types of projects with living American artists. Complete guidelines and application forms.

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