MBG Issue #124: If the Exhibition Were a Cocktail

Issue # 124

If the Exhibition Were a Cocktail

June 19, 2009

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The Flower Man (Cleveland Turner), Untitled, 2009, Wood, Latex paint, found objects, flowers, plants, front lawn, Structure: 10 x 10 x 17 feet. Courtesy the artist. ©2009 Hester & Hardaway.

from the editor

It's hot out, and time for trashy summer reading. I picked up the Twilight books a couple weeks ago and couldn't put them down. As many have pointed out, they're unbelievably sexist (as my girlfriend put it, "They're vampires; they can do anything, and heterosexual monogamy is their big dream?!") but it turns out they're also a cultural touchstone. Since I started reading them, quite a few artists and curators (all female, mid-twenties to thirties) have admitted to reading the books with relish, too. While it may lack the epic intensity of werewolf versus vampire, I hope you find some tasty treats of your own in this week's ...might be good.

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


The Lining of Forgetting
Austin Museum of Art
Through August 9

By Claire Ruud

Louise Bourgeois, Ode à L’Oubli, 2004 (detail – page 4), Fabric and color lithograph book, thirty-six pages, 10.75 x 13.25 x 2 inches. Collection of the artist; courtesy Cheim & Read, New York. Photo: Christopher Burke.

When Rachel Whiteread first exhibited her white plaster casts of cardboard boxes in New York, Ken Johnson called the show “underwhelming.” Right now, Surface (2005), stacks of Whiteread’s boxes resting under and on top of a white laminate table, are smartly installed in a remote corner of the Austin Museum of Art as part of the exhibition The Lining of Forgetting. Recently, I expressed appreciation for the ghostly white boxes to a curator, and in response, she echoed Johnson’s opinion, “I love Rachel Whiteread, but frankly, this work is insignificant.” Underwhelming, insignificant… in other words, forgettable? Fitting, then, in a show about memory.

In the exhibition catalogue, curator Xandra Eden argues for the contemporary relevance of memory through a discussion of the effects of modern technologies and artificial memory. These technologies remember for us, making it more convenient for us to forget; vast sums of information stored in on our personal electronic devices make it possible to find forgotten details at the speed of our internet connection. By contrast, the most affecting works in The Lining of Forgetting are those that slow this process down and ask us to relocate memory within our minds, hearts and bodies.

Whiteread’s boxes, of a type and scale to which I can relate, do just that. Like the boxes in my grandmother’s attic, or the ones containing all the novels I read years ago but can’t stand to part with. Literal and metaphorical boxes in our lives contain all kinds of memories and the emotions that go with them.

Like Whiteread’s boxes, Louise Bourgeois’s Ode á L’Oubli (Ode to Forgetfulness, 2004), a book based on fragments of old linens and clothing that the artist has collected over time, is about affect—not only thinking backward, but also feeling backward. The book evokes a family album or a patchwork quilt. The pages (which may be buttoned into the cover and spine, but were individually framed for the exhibition) recall motifs from Bourgeois’s oeuvre, while the fabrics typify the colors and patterns of domestic textiles from decades gone by. The book may evoke our collective memories of Bourgeois’s career as an artist, but her own personal memories of a private life seem buried deep within its pages, too.

The family album appears again in the work of Cody Trepte, Photo Album (2006–7), two shelves of black books, each filled with page upon page of zeros and ones. On the front of each book, a small placard bares a concise text describing a family photograph, most often of Cody and his twin sister Cami as children. The numbers inside express the photo in binary code—pages and pages of information impenetrable to the human eye. The books are literally heavy with this information; it’s as if the thicker the book, the more weighty the memory.

Rachel Whiteread, Surface, 2005.

The photo albums of my childhood are bulky physical objects, polaroids and snapshots pressed onto thick, sticky cardboard, now browning with age. Today, my photo albums are virtual; I store them on my hard drive, and I flip through the albums of my friends with the click of a mouse on Flickr and Facebook. Trepte’s Album translates the concrete photos of his childhood into the virtual language of our computers, but invests these zeros and ones with physical substance by printing them line by line, page by page, in thick volumes. Whiteread’s Surface and Bourgeois’s Ode work similarly. These works weigh the difference between the surface of a memory—a description, an image, a symbol—and the emotional content it holds. Among others, Emma Kay’s Shakespeare from Memory (1998), Scott Lyall’s the little contemporaries (2007), Dinh Q. Lê’s Untitled (From Vietnam to Hollywood) (2003) and Mungo Thomson’s The American Desert (for Chuck Jones) (2002) stand out for their contemplative rhythm and wistfulness. A few works in the exhibition translate the mechanics and theories of memory too literally, but more often, The Lining of Forgetting effectively ponders the affective substance of memories through physicality, duration and meditative repetition.

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

Torsten Slama
Contemporary Art Museum, Houston
Through August 2

By Lauren Hamer

Torsten Slama, Vision 6: The Herbert Bayer Cigarette Kiosk, 2007, Watercolor, pencil, and Chinese ink on paper, 28 ¾ x 40 1/8 inches. Courtesy Galerie Vera Gliem, Cologne, and Hotel, London.

Berlin-based Torsten Slama's work currently on display in Houston is a dead-pan stab at 21st century allegory, a bit of post-realist psychoanalytic narrative with a smirk. At times Slama's work appears only a few steps removed from that of Carl Grossberg (1894-1940), a painter associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit (The New Objectivity) movement in Germany in the 20s and 30s. Slama shares Grossberg's icy exactitude, his constant return to satirical, gently neo-primitivist industrial subjects. The show itself can be roughly divided into two categories: dry, autumn-hued paintings on board and large, soft, illustration-style pencil drawings.

The drawings feature a series of Oedipal dramas, many starring the same, bearded and bespectacled male figure. I found the drawings too self-consciously awkward and their implied narration too dry to be seriously intriguing, but the ambivalent take on psychoanalysis' standard dramas is humorous. The catalogue accompanying the show wishes us to attribute Slama's mysterious male subject to his lack of a father figure (!), but it is entertaining enough to cast this sometimes-nude, sometimes-pipe smoking figure as Freud himself. In more than one image, he is holding a fat cigar or a short wooden bat, chasing a young man through the woods or skulking outside a boy's dormitory. Why not?

In his painted works, Slama presents quaint, empty post-apocalyptic landscapes that feature industrial buildings rendered in a skewed orthogonal perspective and the occasional non-sequitor: a statue, a gorilla, a single-speed bicycle. The titles of the works often identify an absurd or whimsical manufacturing capacity for the pictured buildings. In Geröllmine (Rubble Mine, 2005) and Walt-Whitman-Gedenk-Raffinerie (Walt Whitman Memorial Refinery, 2005), buildings work as stage sets on lunar landscapes rendered with soft airbrushing. Puffy airplane trails in the sky, distant hills and craters in the foreground are whispy and a bit too smooth. Slama's architecture is hilariously similar to banal Second Life computer renderings: window highlights are too consistent to be "right," edges are too sharp, the buildings themselves evidently drafted before receiving surface treatments of painted faux-brick or faux-wood.

Torsten Slama, Zementwerk (Cement Works), 2008, Oil on canvas, 48 ¾ x 34 ½ inches. Courtesy Galerie Vera Gliem, Cologne.

It is Slama's attention to tiny details in these chalky, board mounted paintings that give them more than a touch of a De Chirico or Magritte-style Unheimlichkeit: TV antennas, wiring, rivets on steel containers or mysterious hovering objects are meticulously rendered. The curve of a sadly isolated lamp-post and bits of unidentified industrial mechanical parts that litter the foreground are weirdly elegant, even as they are illustrated with a childish attention to detail. In writing, Slama finds the need to explicate precisely what is symbolized by the various unusual pictorial elements, but the peculiar rigor and strangeness of his work stands on its own. This post-apocalyptic and computer-generated Sachlichkeit of psycho-sexual tensions might seema bit dry and opaque, but Slama plays to the side of whimsy, never taking any of these fantasies too seriously.

Lauren Hamer is a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin.

No Zoning
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
Through October 4

By Kate Watson

Dan Havel and Dean Ruck, Give and Take, 2009, Reclaimed sections from condemned bungalow at 931 Cottage Street, Houston, 20 x 30 x 15 feet. Courtesy the artists and Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery, Houston. ©2009 Hester & Hardaway.

A few Fridays ago, I found myself leaning against a worn out warehouse, drinking dollar Lone Stars in a far-flung neighborhood of Houston. The streets were desolate. Inside, friends from Austin played sleepy, nouveau surf rock on a massive stage at wacko altspace Super Happy Fund Land to a sparse audience of no more than ten people sitting in used movie theater seats. The industrial building felt more likely to have accommodated an early 90’s rave than experimental music and performance.

The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s epic No Zoning is a bit quick to memorialize and romanticize this brand of happy accident: the spaces and projects that crop up like tiny bluebonnets peeking through the cracks in the sprawling Houston pavement. The exhibition examines the last three decades of alternative art practices that have flourished and floundered in the urban landscape of our nation’s fourth largest city. But despite the institution’s overly eager canonization of a flourishing DIY scene, I couldn’t help but fall for the romantic mish mash that spills out from the gallery onto the lawn surrounding the museum.

As a non-native, a long-term Texas tourist, I cannot begin to grasp all of the history and all of the people that the exhibition attempts to deal with. I know that the show has caused quite a hubbub in Houston—who has been included in this exhibition’s narrative? Who is left out? Luckily, I was able to float with the story presented to me and ignorantly swim in the shark-free waters. If this exhibition were a cocktail, the concoction would go something like this: mix two parts history lesson, two parts cabinet of curiosities, one part jam session and one part Texas-style, maverick urban grit. I imbibed this refreshing beverage with the zeal of a curious convert.

The rich history of alternative, often utopian experiments in Bayou City shines through most in this gutsy retrospective. Houston is lucky to have had long-term documentarians Ben Tecumseh DeSoto and George Hixson preserving the ephemera of performances, spontaneous gatherings and openings. This is the stuff of memories in the young life of an art scene that is too often lost in the constant turnover of changing spaces and nomadic characters.

Inevitably, the show can only take us so far into the life of the city it seeks to catalogue; ultimately, it leaves us with a sensation of longing for the history and the spaces that simply cannot be properly reenacted in the exhibition space. Dan Havel and Dean Ruck’s massive architectural cutout Give and Take sits in the middle of the beautiful chaos; the extracted cross section of a condemned home almost begs us to climb upon it and explore this rotten piece of the past. Wallpaper still peels off of its walls and a fetid bathrobe clings precariously to a remaining rusted hook. A single photograph of the dissected house in its original urban environment hangs nearby, suggesting how poorly the transplanted cross section can evoke an encounter with the real thing.

Bill Davenport’s satellite version of his ongoing Heights project, Bill’s Junk Shop, is perhaps the most inviting installation in the show. “Yes, everything really is for sale,” a hand scrawled note on lined paper confirms for us. When the artist isn’t there, the audience is instructed to take their coveted item of choice to the museum shop cashier. I would have loved to see Davenport’s balls of yarn, macramé wall hangings and figurines living amongst the hip designer toys usually up for sale in the CAMH. Inevitably missing during my visit was the most interesting part of the artist’s project: the conversation with the artist himself as he peddles his often meaningless (yarn balls: $1) or at times very personal (RISD degree: $32 grand) wares.

Several pieces feel sorely out of place or just don’t hold up in a museum space. The Flower Man’s front yard installation suffers most from being taken out of context—the piece simply cannot compare to walking into the artist’s home in the Third Ward and exploring the incredible piles of mildewed toys, trophies and seemingly endless urban detritus, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. You just have to experience the real thing.

Ultimately, No Zoning prospers when it most closely approximates the actual experience of the Do-It-Yourself ethos that it seeks to catalogue. I was fortunate enough to come upon Aurora Picture Show founder Andrea Grover inflating temporary Jacuzzis in the hot Texas sun for a special night screening; my friend and I mused with her as she considered what might occur if the precarious pools overflowed in the back yard. I look forward to the moment at which Workshop Houston’s Benjy Mason and Zach Moser burn the sailboat that is being built by workshop participants throughout the duration of the show. The fact that these acts are occurring in conjunction with a museum exhibition? Pretty damn radical if you ask me. These kinds of subversive acts are what make tough times like these hilarious and memorable. When the exhibition flounders, it’s because it’s just too tidy. Bring on the mess, CAMH. Houston, and fans of Houston’s wacky and wild past and present, are ready for it.

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

project space

Leah DeVun

By Dan Boehl

Leah DeVun didn’t know what she was in for when she visited the Houston rodeo parking lot before a Hannah Montana concert. There, crowds of young girls were dressed in makeup and wigs waiting in line to see the star they had come to emulate. DeVun was struck by how young the girls were, as young as four, and how homogenous in appearance. Through Hannah Montana, Disney’s machine penetrates a young audience, marketing the TV show, concert tickets, clothing, accessories and makeup to girls. Just consider that four and five-year-olds are ripe consumers at that tender age.

Those of you who don’t have school-aged daughters may not realize the potency of the Hannah Montana story. Hannah lives a double life as ordinary teenager by day and (wholesome) pop starlet by night. The series theme song (which doubled as the name of her first sold-out tour) “the Best of Both Worlds” voices the fantasy with the lines “In some ways you’re just like all your friends/but on stage you’re a star” and “You get to be a small town girl/But big time when you play your guitar.” The Montana myth is so infectious that one of my friends won’t let her four-year-old watch the show because her daughter mimics the coy pop star. As the mother put it, her daughter is too young to be batting her eyes and flipping her hair.

DeVun assumed the concert girls had been dressed by their mothers in a kind of child beauty pageant relationship. But once she arranged portrait sessions with the families, it was clear the Montana fantasy belonged solely to the girls. The “photo shoot” prospect excited them so much that some called DeVun to set up appointments hours after meeting her in the concert parking lot. The photography sessions reinforced the secret pop star fantasy, giving shape to it like a bedroom poster. DeVun scheduled girls for individual sessions over a dozen weekends, and the girls brought their own Montana props, often leaving things behind in the studio like tokens to their adoring fans. In front of the lens, the girls stood in glamour poses and copped for the camera like models on a runway.

The final portraits are as complex as they are startling. The youngest model is only four, yet she appears to be eleven. A blond seven-year-old looks fifteen. The girls exude a sense of confidence that, while canned, is unmistakable and compelling. The portraits may indict corporate marketing trying to turn a profit by socializing girls to their products but they are also litmus tests of early childhood identity, revealing how young girls perceive themselves and want to be perceived by others at such an early age.

Leah DeVun may be found on the web at www.leahdevun.com. Selections from the artist's Hannah Montana series Beauty Knows No Pain will appear in the upcoming New American Talent at Arthouse, June 20 to August 23, 2009.

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

...mbg recommends

a new old art blog (and more)

By Claire Ruud

Esther Pearl Watson, Comanche Rodeo, 2009, 8 x 10 inches, Framed with recycled barn wood frame. Courtesy the artist and Domy Books.

Here's a few things to do and read this week.

A New Old Art Blog
About a year ago, much to our chagrin, Eric Zimmerman, an Austin-based artist and frequent contributor to …might be good, shut down his much-loved art blog. Fortunately for us, he’s at it again, so put him back in your feed reader.

A Screening
In conjunction with the exhibition The Lining of Forgetting, The Austin Museum of Art presents Federico Fellini’s 8 ½. Watch the original trailer of 8 ½ on YouTube.
Alamo Draft House Downtown, $6.50
Saturday, June 20, 1:30pm & Sunday, June 21, 3pm

An Exhibition Esther Pearl Watson's latest paintings, framed in reclaimed barn wood by her grandfather's favorite framer, are full of magic, it's easy to overlook the darker side of these narrative paintings (boys running for their lives from a bull at the rodeo, a flying saucer catching on fire). But Watson's new book, Unloveable, a compilation of her serialized comic in Bust magazine, makes the angst almost inescapable.
Domy Books, through July 23

An Opening
Ice Cold
, a solo show by Cruz Ortiz, and I am not so different, a photography show curated by Rachel Cook, take over Art Palace next Saturday. Two very different shows, but both extremely promising.
Art Palace, Saturday, June 27, 8-10pm.

announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

Francisco Matto: The Modern and the Mythic
The Blanton Museum
Opens June 21, 2009

The Blanton continues to lead the charge on Latin American art with the first comprehensive exhibition in the United States of the work of Francisco Matto, a student of the legendary Joaquín Torres-Garcia. And they've got a cool little interactive feature about the artist and the exhibition on the web. (The soundtrack is only slightly annoying.)

New American Talent: 24
Opening June 20, 2009

The New York Times has listed this year's juror, Hamza Walker, as one of the most "discerning and influential" curators of our time. As always with juried shows, the exhibition should be a mishmash of the outstanding and the okay. But definitely don't miss what Walker has to say about it; in conjunction with the exhibition, he'll give a public lecture on Saturday, June 20, at 3pm.

Cruz Ortiz: Ice Cold
Art Palace Gallery
Opening Reception June 27, 8-10pm

“I could have been a honky-tonk singer,” says Cruz Oritz. At Art Palace, Oritz continues to work through his alien alter-ego, Spaztek, who will give a performance at 8:15pm on opening night. Hope for some foot-stamping honky-tonk.

I am not so different
Art Palace Gallery
Opening Reception June 27, 8-10pm

Right now in Austin, a serious group of young photographers is gaining steam. If you haven't felt the heat yet, this is your chance to get in on it. Curator Rachel Cook draws together photographs by five artists from close to home and far afield—Duncan Ganley, Anna Krachey, Jessica Mallios, Adam Schreiber, Erin Shirreff and Augusta Wood.

Jen Frost Smith
Opening Reception June 20, 6-10pm

Before we loose this young artist to Maryland Institute College of Art (where she'll be working on her MFA in Photographic and Electronic Media), check out her post-apocalyptic landscape (echoing the rave-and-ritual aesthetic of other Austin artists like Lizzy Wetzel and Totally Wreck) at Co-Lab.

Jim Drain
The Blanton Museum, WorkSpace
Opening July 3

Two weeks ago, Okay Mountain hosted Jim Drain's crazy Pig Pen Party (everyone dressed as pigs and drank a lot), where the artist filmed footage for his upcoming installation in the Blanton's WorkSpace Gallery. Oink oink.

Colby Bird: Cold End
Okay Mountain
Opening Reception July 11, 7-10pm

From the press release: Colby Bird's Cold End will focus on the theme of “honest work” through the use of photography, sculpture, and painting. Bird had created works that directly reference the artist’s studio practice and the “artist’s gesture” as a method of situating oneself on the continuum of global commerce and class. Modes of commerce and their role in the defining of social strata are prominent themes in Bird’s work, from street level drug trafficking to middle class manual labor to fine-art dealing.

Mark-Making: Dots, Lines, and Curves
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Opening July 11, 2009

This group show includes works by Noriko Ambe, Benjamin Butler, Graham Dolphin, Tara Donovan, Teresita Fernández, Dan Fischer, Ceal Floyer, Ewan Gibbs, Joseph Grigley, Mitzi Pederson, Ed Ruscha, Cordy Ryman, Fred Sandback, Kate Shepherd, Tony Smith, Jim Torok, Terry Winters and Daniel Zeller.

Austin on View

Esther Pearl Watson
Domy Books
Through July 23, 2009

Watson's intimate paintings, framed by her grandfather's framer in reclaimed barn wood, are the stuff of fairytales. The Chronicle published a lovely preview of the exhibition, and you can look forward to a review of it in the next issue of ...might be good, too.

Austin Closings

Practice, Practice, Practice
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Closing June 27, 2009

You'll cry if you miss this show, so don't. Reviewed by Dan Boehl in Issue #123.

The Hot Slump
Okay Mountain
Closing July 1

Personally I (Claire) found the dick jokes a little dumb. But everyone else seemed to think they were funny. See for yourself.

announcements: opportunities


Assistant Curator, Latin American and Latino Art
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Position open until filled

The successful candidate will possess an in-depth knowledge of Latin American art history from 1900 to the present, as well as a broad knowledge of twentieth century and contemporary art. In addition, the candidate will demonstrate excellent research and writing skills, an attention to detail, good organization skills, and computer/word processing experience. He or she will be capable of setting priorities and working with minimal supervision, will have strong interpersonal skills and the ability to work with various departments of the museum. Proficiency in both Spanish and English is a requirement; proficiency in Portuguese is desirable. The candidate will hold at minimum an M.A. in Art History or Curatorial Studies, with strong emphasis on Modern and Contemporary Latin American art and will have at least 3 years of museum or curatorial experience. For more information and to apply visit the job posting on the MFAH website.

Art Galleries at Texas Christian University
Position open until filled

TCU’s Department of Art and Art History seeks a Curator to administer all aspects of the Art Galleries at TCU. The Curator will implement gallery programs and activities, including organizing exhibitions, lectures and symposia, installation, administration, and supervision of gallery staff.

The successful candidate will possess a knowledge of contemporary art, gallery design, methods and practices and fundraising techniques and will have excellent organizational and administrative skills. The candidate will also possess experience in organizing exhibitions, including identifying and working with artists, and in both publicity and fundraising.

Applications must submitted to Human Resources at TCU.

Kemper Art Museum

The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, a young and dynamic organization with a recently completed expansion, is accepting applications for the position of Curator. Reporting to the Director, the curator helps conceptualize and realize the Museum’s exhibition program and its accompanying publications, and works closely with staff to create a current and informed dialogue about contemporary art.

The successful candidate will have a strong relationship with the contemporary art community, both nationally and internationally, and will be interested in building a strong rapport with Kansas City’s artists, galleries, collectors, and the general public. Full job description and application procedures may be found here.

Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College
Position open until filled

The Director will provide strategic leadership, curatorial oversight, effective management, and academic inspiration to the Davis Museum and Cultural Center. Reporting to the Dean of the College, the College's chief academic officer, the Director will oversee the museum's curatorial, educational, financial, and administrative activities and the staff working in those areas, as well as collections care and management. He or she will also oversee the museum's fundraising and public relations efforts. The Director will build productive relationships with Wellesley's faculty, administration, students, and alumnae, as well as the broader arts community in Boston and further afield, representing the Museum's interests to the public and to professional audiences.

The successful candidate will be an inspiring, energetic, and collaborative leader who will fully embrace the museum's contribution to the educational mission of Wellesley College. He/she must exemplify dedication to learning, intellectual curiosity and leadership, and a passion for the arts. Management experience in a museum or arts-related organization, including exhibition organization, publications, public relations, education, and budgeting, is necessary. Experience in undergraduate teaching and in developing offerings that engage students in museum operations is desirable. An advanced degree in Art History or a related discipline is required. It is also crucial that the Director has access to national and international networks of artists and arts professionals who can be called upon on the Museum's behalf.

To apply, submit a CV and cover letter to:
Laurie Nash or Paul H.L. Chou
Russell Reynolds Associates
200 Park Avenue, Suite 2300
New York, NY 10166

Sales Position
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Position open until filled

Lora Reynolds Gallery in Austin, Texas seeks to fill a Sales Position. Duties are varied, with a primary focus on sales, client communications and client relationships. Additional responsibilities include writing press releases, interacting with the public, giving gallery tours/talks, community and press outreach, and traveling for art fairs. Total required hours averages 27-30 weekly, but will require more during exhibition openings and special events. Flexibility of schedule is a requirement.

The successful candidate will have at least one year of experience in an equivalent capacity at a contemporary art gallery, a broad base of knowledge of contemporary art world, artists and collectors and knowledge of Mac-based computer systems.

Please send cover letter, resume, and sample of writing via email to info@lorareynolds.com.

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