from the editor
Here’s what rocks about Austin: the turnover. You think I’m joking? I’m not. As Art Palace prepares for a move to Houston, heed its director’s warning. In an exit interview with Kate Watson on Glasstire, Arturo Palacios spoke these pearls of wisdom about our city,
For artists, this place is a great incubator, a place to be ambitious and take big risks. For someone like me, Austin is still a place where an Art Palace... can be born, nurtured and can grow without the pressure of a top-heavy gallery system. The potential is great here.
I’m with Palacios. The constant turnover in Austin creates a lot of space for people with ideas and energy to experiment and grow. Art Palace has been good to us, and we’ll miss it. Palacios’s energy and hard work, and the caliber of his exhibitions has been unmatched. Now, Palacios’s move to Houston is right for him and his artists. In addition, it’s opening up the arena for younger, less experienced artists, curators and gallerists to create something new.
By way of eulogy to Art Palace, I offer up some thoughts about its fresh final show in Austin, ONE on ONE on ONE, in this week’s …might be good recommends. As if in testament to Austin’s continuing vibrancy, Palacios gave his closing show primarily to a group of artists we haven’t seen much of yet, but we’re sure to see more of in the future. Definitely make the trip out to see what’s brewing there.
E.A.S.T. is coming up too, this year spanning ten days from Saturday, November 14 through Sunday November 22. Though you may have to wade through a lot before you find what you’re looking for, it’s exciting to see how much this open studio event continues to grow exponentially. In its first iteration in 2002, E.A.S.T. consisted of just 28—yes, 28—open studios. This year, there are over 300 sites on the tour, by my count.
We’re also looking at two hot openings this weekend. Noriko Ambe’s carved artist books grace the halls at Lora Reynolds and booksmart takes a look at the book as a structure of knowledge at Okay Mountain. Also, Teresita Fernández’s exhibition opened at the Blanton last weekend, and all three of the preceding—Ambe, booksmart, Fernandez—will be reviewed in our next issue of …might be good.
In this issue, Katie Geha reviews our very own Michael Smith’s collaboration with Mike Kelly, A Voyage of Growth and Discovery at SculptureCenter in New York, and Michael Bise talks about Hard Edge: Ping-Pong Abstraction at Optical Project, Bill Davenport’s experimental gallery space in Houston. In addition, I explore the possibilities and pitfalls of public art programs at Universities with Mary Beebe, Director of the impressive Stuart Collection at UC San Diego. A year ago, UT Austin’s own public art program, Landmarks, kicked off with the temporary acquisition of some of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s sculpture collection. Upcoming Landmarks projects include James Turrell’s Skyspace in the new student activity center and a to-be-announced project for the new Visual Art Center. As we await the next unveiling in Austin, Beebe’s thoughts on her experience in San Diego offer insight into how public art programs function within universities on both a practical and theoretical level.
Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.
Mary Beebe on Public Art
By Claire Ruud
Hard Edge: Ping-Pong Abstraction from Houston Thrift Stores
Through November 14
By Michael Bise
Hard Edge: Ping-Pong Abstraction from Houston Thrift Stores, Installation view. Optical Project, 2009.
Bill Davenport warned me not to take the current exhibition of thrift store paintings at Optical Project too seriously. Davenport founded Optical Project, a gallery in a building he owns and lives in with his wife, the painter Francesca Fuchs, about a year ago. This show, entitled Hard Edge: Ping-Pong Abstraction from Houston Thrift Stores, consists of geometric abstract paintings from thrift stores. In the center of the gallery sits a well-worn ping-pong table. It’s the ping-pong table that Davenport claims as the raison d’etre for the exhibition; he has wanted to host a ping-pong tournament since he acquired the table a couple of years ago. One of the paintings on the wall is a representation of a ping-pong table, which by virtue of its being painted on canvas and mounted on the wall, also manages to be a geometric abstraction. Davenport, known for transforming Inman Gallery into a faux-wood-Styrofoam lodge, has never been one to shy away from a kind of obviousness so ridiculous it ceases to be quite so obvious.
The real interest in Ping-Pong lies not in the intellectual exercise of legitimating thrift store paintings. Rather, the show, and the gallery itself, makes the most sense in the context of their proximity to Bill’s Junk, Davenport’s neighboring junk shop. In Bill’s Junk you’ll find plenty of interesting crap but you’ll also find a bunch of junk handcrafted by a guy who went to RISD and came to Houston via the MFAH’s Core Program—Davenport himself.
The clean white space of Optical Project stands in stark contrast to the folksy clutter of Bill’s Junk, but what is not quite so clear-cut is the question of where the real art is. There are a lot of objects in the junk shop that you might just as likely find in a vitrine at the San Antonio Museum of Art, which owns a variation of a Davenport sculpture that can currently be found next to a rubber band ball at Bill’s Junk. Indeed, a smaller version of Bill’s Junk itself, complete with three walls and a door, has lived the last several months of its life in the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston as a part of the exhibition No Zoning. While some of the art-junk in Bill’s Junk seems to genuinely blur the line not only between junk and art but also between junk and good art, one would be hard-pressed to confuse any of the paintings in Ping-Pong with good abstract painting. In this seeming paradox lies the most interesting thing about the numerous dialectical hairpin turns that lead from Bill’s Junk to Optical Project and back again: the objects that most clearly resemble art (the paintings in Ping-Pong) are the most boring things to be seen at 1125 E. 11th St.
P Amdur, (Untitled), 1980.
Davenport tells me that he has spent much of his life pursuing the idealistic goal of finding a place where the “wall” between high art and art-like stuff made by regular people crumbles and one can become the other. Yet he admits that he has failed in this task over and over again. Ping-Pong, he says, will be the last exhibition for a while that would bring junk into Optical Project. While Davenport seems to be swearing off junk in the gallery, I have no doubt though that we’ll continue to see art on the shelves of Bill’s Junk. It seems to me that Davenport has decided, at least for now, that the traffic of objects between the real world and the art world takes place on a one-way street. You can put art in a junk store with a lot less complication than you can put junk in a gallery. But I also have no doubt that Davenport will keep working on a way around this problem. As I left Bill’s Junk he was making a paper-mache pretzel, the Styrofoam eyeballs glued to his stocking cap bobbing up and down.
Michael Bise is an artist living and working in Houston.
Mike Kelley and Michael Smith
Sculpture Center, New York
Through November 30
By Katie Geha
Mike Kelley and Michael Smith, A Voyage of Growth and Discovery, 2009, Installation view. Image c. 2009. SculptureCenter and the artists. Photo: Jason Mandella.
My first encounter with Baby Ikki, Michael Smith’s ongoing baby man performance piece, was in the atrium of the Blanton Museum of Art. Dressed in a large man-sized cloth diaper and a crocheted bonnet, Baby Ikki toddled through the open space, pointed at objects in delight, and crushed a banana with his hands. Such baby play felt awkward and uncomfortable in the museum setting. People around me laughed nervously as we watched this hairy-legged man inhabit the mannerisms of a young child. I distinctly remember thinking, “Who is dating this man?”
Baby Ikki may have found a more receptive, or at least complicit, audience at Burning Man, the yearly festival of all things psychedelic and, perhaps, all things infantile. In his new collaboration with Mike Kelley at SculptureCenter, Smith presents a six-screen video installation chronicling Baby Ikki’s odyssey in the Nevada desert. The videos are flanked by Kelley’s metal sculptures made to look like quasi-playground equipment that are decorated with his familiar tattered stuffed animals. Kelley’s structures act as formal armatures of play to Smith and Kelley’s more compelling video.
Good natured and curious, Baby Ikki toddles through the desert, plays in a sandbox, watches TV in his RV, takes a nap and dreams of lactating breasts. There’s no bedtime for Baby Ikki and at night he wanders into various tents, does a toddler half-stomp to the house music, and is even dragged on stage for a special dance with three women who gyrate up against his diaper and mug salaciously for the camera. Some of the most telling moments, both about the character Baby Ikki and the nature of Burning Man, are the encounters Smith has with other festival goers. At once intrigued and slightly put-off, these participants dressed as their own personae, ranging from bunny rabbits to costumed men in stilts, engage with Baby Ikki with a bemused look. Let your freak flag fly.
At times the images on the six screens act as competing narratives, and at other times, four of the screens synch up to create a rest in the chaos. There is a quietness and sweetness when Baby Ikki walks alone in the desert, four screens portraying the baby-man as a lone wanderer looking for his own particular trip. Placed in this context of a tribal community, Baby Ikki seems even more like a cast out character. He is not a participant in the various drum circles; rather, he is an interloper as he self-consciously reflects the carefree festival goer—a reminder of the base nature of their chosen realities.
Katie Geha is pursuing her Ph.D. in art history at The University of Texas at Austin.
ONE on ONE on ONE
Art Palace Gallery
Closing December 5
By Claire Ruud
Sonya Berg, Playground, 2009, Gouache, graphite, toner on paper, 5 1/4 x 9 1/2 inches. Courtesy the artist.
ONE on ONE on ONE, now on Art Palace’s walls, is a fitting swan-song for Art Palace because it is a return to the gallery’s scrappy roots. Arturo Palacios, the gallery's founder and director, gave each of nine artists one week and one wall to present new work or re-contextualize old. Only three of the chosen artists, Sterling Allen, Nathan Green and Jules Buck Jones, hail from his tried-and-true set. As far as I know, among the rest only one, the photographer Barry Stone, is represented by a commercial gallery. ONE on ONE seems to be a dry run for a few candidates as Palacios thinks about replenishing his stable on the eve of his move to Houston.
Fresh standouts include Sonya Berg and Carlos Rosales-Silva. Berg’s small studies of empty, abandoned pools feel melancholy, the stuff of lonely, eerie dreams. Her one large-scale oil, graphite and charcoal drawing of the same subject feels unfinished in places. She’s honing in on expressive subject matter that feels more relevant than her earlier waterfalls and generic bodies of water. Once she figures out how to translate the energy of her smaller studies onto the larger canvases, I’ll be eager to take another look.
Meanwhile, Rosales-Silva shows the best work I’ve ever seen by the artist. As a rogue student might carve dirty words into his desktop, Rosales-Silva has etched the sentence, “IT’S ONLY CALLED A MASSACRE BECAUSE YOU FUCKIN LOST, BABY.” He’s also removed one of the table’s legs, and upon desktop he’s placed a crumpled tin model of the Alamo chapel. With this piece, and with the diptych on the wall behind it, Rosales-Silva attains a balance between the visual simplicity of earlier two-dimensional works—statements from Hollywood films embossed in gold on paper—and the evocative materiality earlier sculptural installations—a hatchet stuck into a tree stump covered and surrounded by a neon sand mandala, for example.
Both Berg and Rosales-Silva are young artists still in the thick of mastering their media and figuring out what they want to say. In ONE on ONE, they rose to the challenge Palacios put before them, building my anticipation to see where they go next. I look forward to seeing their work again a year from now, perhaps at 3913 Main Street in Houston, where Palacios will be setting up shop.
In the back room, some of Art Palace’s inventory hangs salon-style. While the hang may simply be a smart business decision—an attempt to move some old inventory and make room for new—in the context of Palacios’s impending departure, it was also something more. The walls of the back room serve as a scrapbook that reminds me of all the shows I’ve seen in this space and how much Palacios has done for Austin artists, collectors and even young critics like me.
Palacios was upbeat when I visited the gallery this week. During its five years in Austin, his gallery has supported a number of emerging artists through the critical early years of their careers; it’s largely due to the gallery’s presence here that talents like Sterling Allen, Nathan Green, Jonathan Marshall, Erick Michaud and Eric Zimmerman didn’t have to skip town in search of greener pastures after graduate school. Now, works by these artists deserve higher price tags than Austin’s market can currently bear, and Houston’s more robust art scene beckons.
Claire Ruud is Associate Director of ...might be good.
Opening Reception: Saturday, November 7, 6 - 8 PM
Utilizing twenty art monographs from artists such as Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol and Tom Friedman, Ambe has meticulously cut hundreds of varying shapes and lines into each page of each book, creating intricately controlled biomorphic and sculptural fissures. Immersing herself in the body of work encompassed by each monograph, Ambe evaluated the nature of her connection with each artist and specific works – this aided in her decision of what to subtract and what to reveal.
Opening Reception: Saturday, November 7, 7-10pm
booksmart, a group exhibition featuring works by Joshua Callaghan, Gareth Long, Neva Elliott, Heman Chong, Anthony Romero, William Hundley and Erick Michaud, deals with artistic outputs that re-order, deconstruct, or alter the book as a cultural system, either for critique, humor, formal investigation, or all three.
My Wicked Twisted Sense of Love
Women & Their Work
Opening Reception: November 19, 2009 6-8pm
In My Wicked Twisted Sense of Love, artists explore the nuances of personal relationships, from communication to solitude, the fear of dying alone and emotional indifference. The work in the show is an exaggeration of normal human desires projected into the quest for love and companionship. The artists are living and working in countries across the globe, including Mexico, the United States and Scotland.
Pablo Vargas Lugo
Blanton Museum of Art: Workspace
Opening November 14, 2009
Pablo Vargas Lugo's WorkSpace project, Eclipses for Austin, explores solar eclipses as important collective rituals. Total eclipses of the sun provoke astonishment, anxiety, hope, joy, and fear and compel those who witness them to question their place in the world. For Vargas Lugo's WorkSpace project, 350 people gathered in the stands of UT 's Darrel K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium to stage ten solar eclipses that will occur in Texas over the course of the next 340 years.
Opening November 14
Tony Fitzpatrick's prints and drawing collages, accompanied by his own witty commentary.
Austin on View
Blanton Museum of Art
Through January 3, 2010
Contemporary American artist Teresita Fernández is widely known for her immersive installations and evocative large-scale sculptures that explore the cultural fabrication of nature. Characterized by her deft ability to transform common materials like steel, graphite and glass into forms and images reminiscent of the natural world, Fernández' works bring idea and experience into poetic tension. Meticulous, subtle, and always surprising, her sculptural scenarios offer viewers unique opportunities for contemplation and discovery.
Drawn Toward Light
Blanton Museum of Art
Through January 3, 2010
Light is an essential element of visual experience and the means by which we see and begin to perceive the world around us. A special complement to Teresita Fernández: Blind Landscape, Drawn Toward Light is an exhibition of works from the Blanton's holdings and local collections that use light as a medium. Having no materiality in itself, light is used is used in sculptural ways and given physical presence by artists Stephen Antonakos, Paul Chan, James Turrell and Leo Villarreal.
San Antonio Opening
Opening November 6, 2009
Gary Sweeney is a conceptual artist with a taste for pop imagery. Known for his humorous installation pieces created and inspired by re used signs, poke fun at everything from politics to local idiosyncrasies.
International Artists in Residency: New Works: 09.3
Opening November 19, 2009
Native Los Angelino Mario Ybarra, Jr. creates artworks that can be considered historical and anthropological in nature. Adriana Lara is a Mexico City-based artist and co-founder of the curatorial collective Perros Negros. Her practice de-emphasizes object making in favor of a conceptual reimagining of artistic production and the exhibition space. El Paso artist Adrian Esparza produces artworks from low-cost and recycled materials such as t-shirts, serapes, posters and ceramic figurines.
San Antonio on View
Artpace: Hudson ShowRoom
Through January 3, 2010
Jeffrey Wisniweski's work has posed something of a challenge to critics and audiences since he first began showing publicly at the beginning of the 1990s. Indeed, how are we to account for someone whose work has ranged in scope from a suburban tract house run through a wood chipper and re-deployed as a pile of rubble to large-scale objects concocted from high-tech camping gear and electronic devices? In an effort to reconcile these seemingly disparate projects, Wisniewski's art has been rationalized as an extension of the conceptual strategies of 1970s artists like Robert Smithson, Walter DeMaria, and Gordon Matta-Clark, while also being read as dystopic visions of socio-cultural evolution. history, memory, and the transience of existence.
Church of the Friendly Ghost Presents: The Weird Weeds
Church of the Friendly Ghost
Sunday November 8, 2009
The Church of the Friendly Ghosts presents The Weird Weeds with Many Arms, Geoff Reacher, SchnAAK. Ties-on-heads, shirts off, toilet paper on fire. Fair warning, this town is getting boring, we're here to help.
for E.A.S.T. Handmade Music Austin
Church of the Friendly Ghost
Sunday November 15, 2009 8pm
A social event, DIY music swap meet, music project/performance showcase, and an opportunity to learn about crafting your own music making devices! This monthly series of events at Salvage Vanguard Theater is open
to all kinds of participation, from serious instrument building to casual hanging out and people watching. Performances by Red X Red M, Douglas/Ferguson/Steve Marsh, Telepathik Friend.
Austin New Music Co-op
New Music Co-op
November 7, 2009 8pm
The Austin New Music Co-op is proud to announce the fourth annual Electrons and Phonons concert showcasing compositions of electronic and electro-acoustic music. This year's program features instrumentation ranging from ukuleles to iPhones and a sonic costume made of paper.
Call for Artists
Border Art Biennial 2010
El Paso Museum of Art
Deadline: January 31, 2010
The El Paso Museum of Art and El Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez announces the first juried exhibition to examine and highlight the often under-represented, but vital art and artists from the states on the US/Mexican border.
This call is open to residents of states along the border, both in the U.S. and Mexico. All artwork selected by the jurors will be reproduced in an exhibition catalog.