MBG Issue #134: A Breakthrough Moment

Issue # 134

A Breakthrough Moment

November 20, 2009

share with a friend:

Adrian Esparza, Dream Drought, 2009. Originally commissioned and produced by Artpace San Antonio.

from the editor

I just got back from San Antonio and I saw a Thanksgiving-worthy cornucopia of great work. Highlights included Adrian Esparza, Adriana Lara, and Mario Ybarra, Jr. at Artpace, the Mel Bochner show at Lawrence Markey and Diamond Life opening tonight at Unit B. I’ll take more time to write about some of these shows next week. For now, check out Dan Boehl on Teresita Fernández, Alison Hearst on Death of the Propane Salesman and Nicole Caruth on William Cordova.

I know in my last letter, I promised a review of Okay Mountain’s booksmart and the Noriko Ambe exhibition at Lora Reynolds, both will be in the next issue, so keep your eyes peeled. Until then Happy Thanksgiving.

Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.


Teresita Fernández
The Blanton Museum of Art, Austin
Through January 3, 2010

by Dan Boehl

Teresita Fernández, Epic (Wall Meteor), 2009, Natural and machined graphite stones, tools, projection slides, 150 x 686 x 1 inches. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, NYC.

When the Blanton Museum opened its new gallery building in 2003, visitors’ biggest complaint about the place (besides the fiasco about the architectural plans) was that there wasn’t any artwork in the museum’s atrium, the large vaulted room under those jagged shark-tooth windows. Vaulted space is an absolute architectural necessity in museums. These spaces serve a purpose. They simultaneously fill the visitor with awe and trepidation. As Dave Hickey points out in Air Guitar, museums are the temples of the academy and every good temple should intimidate its supplicant. Hence the Blanton Museum atrium.

But nature hates a vacuum, and people don’t visit museums to look at white space. So, I was totally gleeful when the Blanton commissioned Teresita Fernández’s Stacked Waters (2009) to fill that huge room. Made by laying countless sheets of tiled acrylic sheeting on the walls, Stacked Waters works so well because it uses the room’s volume to transport the viewer underwater. The effect is to be standing at the bottom of a clear lake staring up into the sky.

Stacked Waters is included in Fernández’s exhibition Blind Landscape, a collection of new and recent work that showcases her ability to mimic natural elements using stark industrial materials. The piece also sets the precedent of scale and proportion that marks the show.

Teresita FernándezEpic (Wall Meteor), 2009.

When I entered the first large gallery dedicated to the show, I was drawn towards Epic (Wall Meteor) (2009). A constellation of over 14,000 graphite marks topped by graphite stones, it resembles a black yet gossamer cloud. Epic sprawls across the wall above the viewer’s head. The elevation gives it the same aloof but imposing quality that activates Stacked Waters. There was a moment when I consciously realized that the work was above me. It’s like the sensation you get when looking through a airplane window. There is a feeling of the familiar and intangible. Vertigo (sotto in su) (2007) has a similar effect, as it’s made from layers of aluminum sheets, die cut in lacey patterns, suspended overhead in series to resemble another cloud, but from a different viewpoint.

Eruption (2005) sits on the floor, a red and yellow colored membrane covered in puddles of clear beads. It appears to be a volcano opening obscured by wavering heat, or, as I like to think, the God’s Eye nebula. Here scale is reversed so the viewer towers over something otherwise daunting. It’s a view we would only get from a Nova episode on PBS, and it empowers the viewer like a magician’s reveal.

The other works in the show never quite match the shock and awe salvo created by Epic and Eruption. Drawn Waters (Borrowdale) (2009), an eight-foot cascade of graphite slabs and rocks that appears as a waterfall, is neither large enough nor small enough to addequitly create a disruptive power of scale. As a black spout, Drawn Waters comes off as sentimental. It’s quaint next to our idea of a waterfall. Dune (2002) suffers the same disparity of perspective, looking more like too-small bleachers than a miniaturized mountain of sand.

Things get even more disjointed when the works directly confront the viewer. Portrait (Blind Landscape) (2008) and Portrait (Blind Water) (2008) are sheets of aluminum die cut to look like clumps of hanging vines. They unsettle the illusion of the natural image by reflecting the viewer on their surfaces. In this case it seems over-slick and cheesy, like 80’s boom time condo mirrors. The effect is too transparent. The same is the case with Ink Mirror (Landscape) (2007). A black sheet of high polished fiberglass footed in a drift of marble dust snow, the piece nearly looks kitsch, and if it stood alone, I would judge it as such. The mirrored parts are pretty, but they show us too much of our earthly desires.

Fernández’s work mimics the natural world while using the space it inhabits to its advantage. Removed from the cluttered landscape like specimens under a microscope, she offers us a focused glimpse at things we already think we know. So it isn’t any wonder that the best works in the show are bafflingly huge. The big pieces inhabit their environments like natural features floating seamlessly in the gallery. Whether their forms are plucked from the ground, the water, or the sky, they work by shifting the viewer’s entire perspective upward in scale. Like walking into a cathedral, they literally inspire awe, which is exactly what people want from a museum.

Dan Boehl is a poet. His chapbook Les MISERES ET LES MAL-HEURS DE LA GUERRE will be available from Greying Ghost soon.

Death of the Propane Salesman
Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, Fort Worth
Through December 13

By Alison Hearst

Amy Revier, Wooly Headed, 2008, Video Still. Courtesy the artist.

Curiously enough, the title of the latest exhibition at Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, Death of the Propane Salesman: Anxiety and the Texas Artist, curated by Christina Rees, references an episode from Mike Judge’s popular television series “King of the Hill.” In the episode, an explosion at the Mega Lo Mart kills Luanne Platter’s boyfriend and imbues Hank Hill with the fear of propane and anxiety over his imminent death. While “King of the Hill” was widely venerated during its twelve-year run, it imparts all-Texans-are-rednecks stereotypes and, thus, marginalizes Texas and Texans—something that most of us Texans simultaneously enjoy and dislike.

It’s easy to buy into Rees’s implication that artists in Texas endure many anxieties akin to Hank’s anxiety over his livelihood, propane—anxieties related to these artists’ work and context, including a general lack of attention paid due to regional constraints. In Death of the Propane Salesman, Rees brings together work by fourteen Texas-based artists to pick apart the many symptoms of such anxiety. The exhibition is mainly comprised of paintings and drawings, although there is a sculpture by Kevin Todora and three videos, two by Edward Setina and one by Amy Revier. Here, anxiety is primarily defined by anger, obsessive-ness, utopian dreams and discomfort. But what’s also important is that the carefully chosen works deflect the regional pigeonholing akin to that of “King of the Hill” (or found in the overriding folksy vibe of this year’s Texas Biennial, for example.)

In Amy Revier’s video Wooly Headed (2007), the artist is seen wrapping and obsessively knit-picking a Rapunzel-esque braid around her head to mask her face and shroud herself from her environment. Audio transmitted from Revier’s piece—which is a fast-paced, high-pitched looping track punctuated by moments of a slowed-down version—can be heard throughout the gallery and inflicts a feeling of restlessness on the viewer. This type of agitation appears again in the process behind Terri Thornton’s three nearby diptychs of nearly erased magazine pages. However, formally, Thornton’s works are calm and ethereal, and the pages’ enduring traces take on the form of abstract drawings; hence, Thorton’s process leads to markedly different results; the works withdraw from anxiety into a non-verbal state.

Ludwig SchwarzUntitled (Cocksucker), 2005.

A blatant rage—rage spurred by the unavoidable pitfalls of being a Texas driver—can be found in Ludwig Schwarz’s paintings Untitled (Cocksucker) and Untitled (Fucking Mother Fucker) (both 2005 and from the Road Rage series). Untitled (Cocksucker) shows the word in a Pettibon-esque cursive scrawl over a plane of feisty, messy underpainting. The tension mounts in Untitled (Fucking Mother Fucker), as these words are emblazoned bigger, bolder and in all caps. The hostility prompted by anxiety—here, in relation to driving—is all too familiar. Kevin Todora’s work best fits with Schwarz’s breed of anger; the hinged, triangular MDF sculpture f.u. (2009), like his other work in the exhibition, renders vintage magazine photographs almost indiscernible underneath incensed marks of spray paint. The back of the sculpture is marked “f.u.” in spray paint in a conspicuous gesture of nose-thumbing. Got it.

In the front of the gallery, Matthew Bourbon’s paintings illustrate uneasy situations through a voyeuristic lens. For Your Own Good (2009) loosely depicts a brawl between two men in a neutral palette. Crisp splices of vivid color perk up the otherwise grim scene; the colorful interjections make light of the tense situation we are witnessing, but at the same time suggest that recollections of such events can be glossed over with time and optimism. Vernon Fisher’s nearby painting The Spectrum of Human Emotions (2006), features vignettes of Mickey Mouse in various emotional states. The work seems to relay the motions of an identity crisis, but perhaps this mainly ensues from its context within the exhibition’s overarching theme.

Yes, being a Texan means a lot of things, so prodding the psychological state of the Texas artist is a novel approach that’s played well here. Overall, the works are strong, varied and do not fit neatly into a specific niche or genre. Moreover, unlike the characters in “King of the Hill,” the artworks here rightfully eschew the provincial typecasting—minus the context-driven anxiousness—sometimes given to art in the lone star state by outsiders and insiders alike.

Alison Hearst is the Curatorial Research Assistant at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and a co-founder of Subtext Projects.

William Cordova
Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York
Through December 5, 2009

By Nicole J. Caruth

William Cordova, Installation view, On wall: prophets (p.l.o. d.c.), 2009, gold leaf, graphite, watercolor on paper, 50.5 x 102 inches. On floor:
laberintos (after octavio paz), 2003-09, Appropriated vinyl records from undisclosed ivy league institution in response to that institution’s refusal to return 200 Inca artifacts from Peru after it originally borrowed them in 1914, Dimensions variable. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

William Cordova’s latest exhibition takes me back to the early days of Kanye West—not the egotistical, cheeky personality who steals the spotlight from little girls, but the gentle genius who recorded The College Dropout. West was highly regarded for his talented sampling and mixing, through which he bridged earlier generations of sound and cultural history with today’s music. Cordova’s first solo show at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. calls attention to his best West-like tendencies. Even so, with laberintos Cordova only sporadically finds his way out of a maze of mediocrity.

laberintos is, appropriately, a sprawling puzzle of interconnected pieces. Individual works and installations, each of their own complexity, frequently point back to the central floor piece laberintos (after Octavio Paz). A diorama composed of upright vinyl record covers, the piece stands for the “existential labyrinth” of Paz’s influential book of essays El laberinto de la soledad. The author theorizes that Mexicans, who have inherited two distinct cultures, pre-Columbian and Spanish, deny one part of their identity to become “stuck in a world of solitude.” Pluralism is Cordova’s mainstay: multiple identities flow rather than clash into one another in his oeuvre.

The caption for laberintos (after Octavio Paz) reads informatively like a didactic text, a footnote on the artist’s use of appropriation as well as his Peruvian ancestry: “Appropriated vinyl records from undisclosed ivy league institution in response to that institutions refusal to return 200 Inca artifacts from Peru after it originally borrowed them in 1914.” Cordova’s account begs the question of the object’s fragility: If the walls of this vinyl labryinth were broken, what adequate compensation could there be to replace these records now rendered rare and precious by his hand? As with his earlier works, a lot rests on Cordova’s titles and captions. This trick is occasionally clever, as with laberintos (after Octavio Paz), but more often wearisome. The clues Cordova’s captions provide aren’t always useful in the moment, leaving the artworks to stand on their own. Some hold up better than others.

Cordova occasionally tries too hard to drive home points of reverence and lineage, sliding from elusive to superfluous. Untitled (sacsayhuaman, mukden, bayon, de libertat), a series of overlapping cardboard bridges (the wobbly suspension variety at the climax of any Indian Jones-grave-robber-type film) with railing fashioned out of imitation-gold chains, hangs from the ceiling; bits of broken chain scatter the floor beneath. From a nearby room echoes the voice of hip-hop pioneer KRS-One: “Get what I’m sayin’ forevah.” A little research reveals the title of this video projection, 18° 6’ 11.87” N, 94° 2’ 24.69” W (decero a la infinidad), to match the coordinates of the La Venta Olmec Archaeological Ruins. You get the idea.

In the sculpture Untitled (lineage), two small book covers encase mounds of Peruvian chocolate; their spines read “Inca” and “Tupac Shakur” in gold lettering. Shakur makes a second appearance in This One’s 4U (p’a nosotros), a sharp (albeit heavy-handed) video installation in which a film about the rapper’s life plays on a TV monitor. The 1984 film about revolutionary Peruvian Indian Tupac Amaru II plays through the speakers. I learn from Cordova’s assessment of the film online that “Black Panther Afeni Shakur named her son, Tupac Amaru Shakur, after the Inca revolutionary as an acknowledgment for common struggle for all oppressed people.” The piece is installed in such a way that viewers must approach it from the back, where raw wood and cables—the innards—are in plain sight. The arrangement seems a metaphor for exposure: uncovering the ever-present link between today and the past, or two sides of the same story. Like watching a foreign film without subtitles, viewers might fail to fully grasp the narrative in these two works. But ambiguity functions remarkably well here by drawing attention to the importance of language (both spoken and visual) in our understanding of peoples, histories and objects.

Untitled (the Echo in Nicolás Guillén Landrián’s Bolex)—one hundred individual works arranged in a side gallery—is a breakthrough moment. The space reads like an artist’s studio, teeming with inspirations and offhand studies; the air is fluid but also bumpy. From this fragmented display of meandering microphone cords, sunbursts and other motifs, I sense that something big is on the artist’s horizon.

In recent group exhibitions and his own curatorial endeavors, Cordova has shown signs of getting too comfortable, working within the boundaries of early recognition rather than pushing them further. If I was troubled about his future (much in the way I am about Kanye West’s) the show at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. is a flashing light (pun intended) that Cordova is headed in the right direction.

Nicole J. Caruth is a freelance writer and curator based in Brooklyn. A regular blogger for Art21, her writing has been published by the Studio Museum in Harlem, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, NYFA Current, CUE Art Foundation, and Gastronomica. Her personal blog, Contemporary Confections, merges two of her greatest loves: art and sweet foodstuffs.

Announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

My Wicked Twisted Sense of Love
Women and Their Work
Through January 7, 2010

The invitations for My Wicked Twisted Sense of Love were love letters and break-up letters, drawing the recipient into the exhibition's exploration of intimacy and relationship before he or she has even set foot in the gallery. As curator Leslie Moody Castro said recently, imagine a person getting a break-up letter from Women & Their Work in the mail and then showing up at the opening anyway. Ouch!

David Bates
Austin Museum of Art
Opens November 21

David Bates since 1982: From the Everyday to the Epic opens with the wit and honesty of Bates' early narrative paintings. His stunning landscapes and still lives are an inventive synthesis of approaches from sources as diverse as folk art and modern masters. The bold recent work confronts personal loss and the human toll of Hurricane Katrina. (from the press release)

Jade Walker
Austin Museum of Art
November 21, 2009 - January 31, 2010

The first in AMOA’s New Works exhibition series, Jade Walker transforms a gallery into a strange kind of sports stadium.

Austin on View

Noriko Ambe
Lora Reynolds Gallery
November 7 – December 31, 2009

Look forward to a review in our next issue.

Okay Mountain
Through December 12

Look forward to a review in our next issue.

No Lone Zone
Creative Research Lab
Through December 19

By definition a no-lone-zone is a military term often used in nuclear sites describing an area where individuals must be in visual contact with each other and with the object requiring a no-lone-zone area designation. During the exhibition's run, the CRL is in a state of constant flux as participating artists manipulate, perform and transform the gallery into their own concept of a charged territory. (from the press release)

Sam Sanford
MASS Gallery
Through December 12

In order to work directly with the red, green, and blue information encoded in digital source images, Sanford paints with only cyan, magenta, and yellow paint, applied in successive transparent layers. By interfering with the normal functioning of the three-color system - selectively displacing, distorting, and deleting information - the artist brings the color system itself to the foreground, exposing its limitations and undermining its claim to represent reality while revealing new formal possibilities and layers of meaning. (from the press release)

Art Palace
Through December 5

ONE on ONE on ONE 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. Read more about the exhibition from the last issue of ...might be good.

Anne Ashley & Nate Ronniger
Wally Workman
November 7 - November 28, 2009

Keenly playing on both minimalist and mass consumerist sentiments, the neon work of Anne Ashley and the hyper-realist oils of Nate Ronniger come together in this dual show to provide a vibrant and playful visual feast.

San Antonio Openings

Diamond Life
Unit B
Opening Reception: November 20, 6:30 - 10pm

Jillian Conrad and Moo Kwon Han create idealized spaces, fictive structures of time and place through which we are invited to reconsider on our relationship to the real. Drawings are sculpted, calligraphic poems are performed, and the world is revealed as a multi-faceted prospect: still-forming. (from the press release)

New Works: 09.3
November 19, 2009–January 10, 2010

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.

Announcements: events

Austin Events

Cantanker Issue #9 Catalog Release Event: Future Tense
Creative Research Lab
Thursday November 19, 7 - 10 pm

Change is inevitable, often necessary and not always welcome - but it comes nonetheless. After mistakes, excesses and self-revelations what does the future hold? Zealots predict our ultimate apocalyptic demise; environmentalists warn us of climate change and pollution but innovators are creating technology to increase convenience and the world is becoming more and more connected. Despite the fever-pitch of every prediction, the phrase "history repeats itself" still rings true. In the words of Gauguin, "Where do we come from, what are we, where are we going?" What is our future - and what does it mean to live in the future tense?

Announcements: opportunities

Call for Artists

Arthouse Visiting Lecturer Series and Studio Visit Program
Deadline: December 15, 2009

The Arthouse Visiting Lecturer Series has been conceived as an annual program that brings internationally-renowned contemporary art curators, directors, and arts professionals from around the country to Austin to conduct studio visits with selected area-based artists and present a free public lecture. This series provides an important opportunity for Austin artists to have their work reviewed by a variety of distinguished arts professionals. It also helps raise the visibility of our thriving cultural scene.

Arthouse has selected five outstanding speakers to participate in the inaugural series and is soliciting applications from artists in the area to participate. These submissions are forwarded to the Visiting Lecturer, who then selects the artists with whom studio visits are conducted over a two-day period. This is a competitive process, and only a handful of artists will be selected by each lecturer.

Call for Entries

apexart: Franchise Two
Deadline: December 15, 2009

This competition is an opportunity for anyone from anywhere to create their own temporary apexart in your city, town or village. For a four-week exhibition from March 13 - April 17, 2010, you will be the director, curator and/or staff of your own apexart franchise with a budget, a modest salary, and almost complete control. We will provide the funding (up to 10,000 USD), along with the necessary guidance to make your curated exhibition happen. This includes an apexart brochure in an edition of 10,000 and its distribution around the world to more than 108 countries and a visit or two from us.

For more information click HERE.

The 2010 Hunting Art Prize
Hunting Art Prize
Deadline: November 30, 2009

The Hunting Art Prize, which is sponsored by the international oil services company Hunting PLC, is celebrating 30 years! It is a Texas-wide competition open to established artists, talented newcomers and promising amateurs. The $50,000 award is the most generous art prize given annually in the United States.

The competition is open to Texas-based artists who are 18 years of age (as of August 1, 2009) or older. Artwork submitted for consideration must be a single two-dimensional painting or drawing no larger than 72" on any one side (including frame, if any).

The Cartier Award 2010
Frieze Projects
Deadline: January 4, 2010

The Cartier Award for emerging artists living outside the UK is a major initiative by Frieze Projects in collaboration with Gasworks and sponsored by Cartier.

Artists are invited to propose a new work to be realised at Frieze Art Fair 2010, which will be produced under the auspices of Frieze Projects. Proposed works may take the form of site-specific installation; performance; film; video or print work.

The Cartier Award is open to non-UK-based artists within five years of graduating from an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, or under 30 years of age.

Job Opportunity

Collection Tours and Education Specialist
The Chinati Foundation

The Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas is accepting resumes for a full-time Collection Tours and Education Specialist.

Responsibilities include the following:
* Develop and manage the visitor service and education programs for museum tours and other programs and events, public and private.
* Develop and implement new ideas for public and special tours to enhance visitor experience.
* Assist artists-in-residence in installing their exhibitions at the museum and designing the invitations for their exhibitions.
* Coordinate and lead public and VIP/Private tours.

Requires Master's degree in Fine Arts, Art History or Art Education plus 1 year of related experience.

Art Restoration Specialist
Austin Galleries

Austin Galleries is a Fine Art Establishment that offers a large selection of traditional and contemporary artwork. One of the many services we offer our clients is restoration work. We are currently seeking experienced art restoration specialist. Duties include consultation and quotes on specific paintings, re-varnishing older paintings, touch ups to both old and new works, and minor repairs to canvases.

Only qualified applicants will be considered. This is a contract position. Please email cover letter and resume to: info@austingalleries.com.

More from the Archive