MBG Issue #137: Huh? Wow!

Issue # 137

Huh? Wow!

December 18, 2009

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Katri Walker, State of the He/Art (Serenata), 2006, Video still. Courtesy the artist and Women & Their Work.

from the editor

This is new for …might be good: we’ve added a donate button to our site.* For the first time, we’re asking you, our readers, to invest in the work we do. Our long-term partners have been supporting the journal and its sister project, testsite, since their inception in 2003, and we’re asking you to join them.

With each issue, …might be good reaches 5,000 subscribers. These subscribers and our regular visitors hail from over 125 countries around the world. Your partnership will enable …might be good to continue to bring national and international exposure to contemporary art in Austin, throughout Texas and beyond, as well as provide a publication venue and engaged editorial feedback for emerging art writers at a moment when critical writing is gravely under-funded.

In 2009, we published:
• 24 issues
• 32 writers
• 157 features
• 106,447 words (not including announcements)

About 50% of our coverage was devoted to Austin, 30% to Texas outside Austin’s borders, and 20% to national and international exhibitions, usually with a link back to Texas.

Your investment of:

• $10 pays for about 100 words of one review
• $50 supports the writer’s honorarium for one feature
• $120 supports 10 hours of editorial work
• $700 enables us to produce an entire issue of …might be good
• $1500 supports an entire month of …might be good’s coverage

Join us in supporting the work of artists and art writers in Texas and beyond. In the online form, please designate your donation “…might be good.”

Wishing you very happy holidays,

Claire Ruud
Associate Director

P.S. Look out for our "Best of 2009" issue on the 1st of January!

*Fluent~Collaborative is our DBA; the online donation form reads baluartecreek.org.


Elizabeth Dunbar: On Becoming Associate Director at Arthouse

By Claire Ruud

Elizabeth Dunbar. Photo: Celesta Danger.

This week, Arthouse announced the promotion of Elizabeth Dunbar to the position of Associate Director and Curator. Upon hearing the good news, ...might be good caught up with Dunbar to find out what this means for her and for the organization.

...might be good [mbg]: So, you’ve been promoted to the position of Associate Director and Curator. What does this mean in practical terms on the level of day-to-day business?

Elizabeth Dunbar [ED]: As I can already attest, it means that I’ll be in many more meetings! Seriously, though, it really means that I’m much more involved in the daily operations of Arthouse and working even more closely with Executive Director Sue Graze on planning for the future. I’m taking a more active role in budgetary and development matters, working with our Board of Directors, supervising staff, along with a plethora of other activities. By assuming these additional responsibilities, I’m helping to free up some of Sue’s time so she can focus on getting Arthouse’s amazing new space finished and begin implementing our new five year strategic plan.

mbg: Will you be taking a step back from some of your curatorial duties?

ED: I will continue to oversee all of Arthouse’s exhibitions and public programs, and will still organize the majority of our in-house exhibitions. That said, because our exhibitions program will more than triple in our new space, we already have plans in place to increase staff in the curatorial department, invite guest curators to organize exhibitions on occasion and bring in special traveling exhibitions. Not only will these steps help ease the demands on my time and curatorial brainpower, they will also strengthen the diversity of our overall curatorial voice as an institution. It’s good to mix it up!

mbg: When you joined Arthouse two and a half years ago, you were its first full-time curator. Aside from groundbreaking on the major renovations, what have been the biggest changes you’ve been a part of at Arthouse?

ED: I’m really proud of what Arthouse has accomplished in the last few years—we are really growing up as an institution. And with a new building and amped up programming soon to be unveiled, I think we are strategically poised to become a major contender in the international art world. There are a few major institutional changes that I have been involved with which I feel have been really significant for Arthouse: expanding our exhibitions program to include working with international artists (often giving them their first US solo shows), adding a focus on commissioning artists to create new works or site-specific projects and instituting new programs (like our visiting lecturer/studio visits program) that benefit area artists.

mbg: What challenges are you looking forward to as Associate Director?

ED: Obviously I’m looking forward to opening our new space and kicking off our expanded exhibition and public programs. Following that, I think one of the biggest challenges facing me—and one that acknowledges my dual roles as administrator and curator—is how to help Arthouse evolve into a larger organization without losing our creative edge or compromising our commitment to risk-taking.

mbg: On a different note, you just got back from Miami, where you presented Okay Mountain with great success. I know you must have been busy there, but did the fairs put any new (or old) artists on your radar?

ED: Art fairs are always overwhelming for me, especially when there are so many going on at the same time. My head is usually swirling by the time I get back home, and it takes a few months for me to really drill down on anything that caught my eye. That said, I did see a fantastic installation by Graham Hudson at the Design Miami fair. Graham has been on my radar for a long time and we are currently working on something for our new space. Stay tuned!

mbg: The holidays are quickly approaching. I always like to catch up on reading over the break. Have you read anything good lately that I should pick up?

ED: I’m not sure I have too much to offer here, Claire, as my reading lately has revolved around parenting magazines (I have a one year old) and management texts—fun, fun, fun! Actually, I would recommend The King is Dead, a novel by Jim Lewis—I read it a few months ago and thought it was one of the best things I had read in a long time. It’s about family—a perfect topic for the holidays.

Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.

Douglas Britt: On Art Criticism & Social Climbing

By Claire Ruud

Douglas Britt. Photo: Kim Clark Renteria.

This week, the Houston Chronicle announced that Douglas Britt, who has elicited national attention for his coverage of Houston’s art scene, would become one half of the paper’s new society team along with socialite Lindsey Love. (His editor, Britt reports, introduced the idea by telling Britt he would look good in a tux.) What does this mean for the Chronicle’s arts coverage? Here’s what Britt had to say.

…might be good [mbg]: First things first, what’s your tuxedo style of choice?

Douglas Britt [DB]: Basic black. Idiot-proof.

mbg: Clear something up for us: this week, tweets mourning your move to the Chronicle’s society pages lit up my twitter feed. But I have it on good authority that you’ll remain the paper’s arts writer, too. What, exactly, is the situation?

DB: Your authority is right on. I'm the society/visual arts writer, wearing two hats like many people at newspapers (and elsewhere) these days. In fact, the day the story came out introducing Lindsey Love and me as the new society team, we also ran an interview I did with Mary McCleary, the collage artist, in Zest.

mbg: Bottom line, does this mean less arts coverage in the Chronicle?

DB: Not if I can help it. Remember, I'm not doing the society coverage alone. Lindsey knows the world we're covering well, and that's going to be a huge help. We're also fortunate to be going through the transition and its inevitable learning curves at a point when I've already done stories on just about all the major museum shows that are up through January or February, so that frees up a little more time for learning the society beat while still keeping tabs on the galleries. I think we'll be in good shape when the new wave of exhibitions kicks off in earnest.

mbg: Michael Barnes, the Austin-American Statesman’s man about town, started out as an arts writer, too. Why do papers tap arts writers for society columns?

DB: Because we're there? Truthfully, I don't know how widespread that hiring pattern is, but there's a fair amount of overlap between the art scene and the society world, so it's a more natural area to branch out into than, say, covering football. I'm glad you brought up Michael Barnes, though—he's absolutely terrific, and seeing how dizzyingly prolific he is gives me greater confidence that, with Lindsey's help on the social side, I can keep the standard of coverage high on both beats.

mbg: Thoughts on the biggest similarities between arts journalism and chronicling the lives of the well-heeled?

DB: Regardless of what you're covering, you want and need to be accurate, ethical, inclusive, timely, etc. Certainly with these two beats, you end up looking at the role philanthropy plays in building a city, and a fair number of Houston's legendary family names are known to me through reporting on art. I expect to have some fun with the overlap. I recently attended my first party at Lynn Wyatt's house and ended up doing a blog entry flashing back to 1980, when she hosted the Urban Cowboy world premiere and Andy Warhol wrote all about it in his diary—or rather, dictated it to Pat Hackett.

mbg: Putting on your critic’s hat, what were the highlights of 2009 in Houston’s art world?

DB: The MFAH continued its push to expand its Asian art presence, opening its new Indian art gallery, hosting that stunning Afghanistan show and co-organizing the equally remarkable ancient Vietnamese art show, which is still on view—as are Your Bright Future and Chaotic Harmony, two contemporary Korean shows it also co-organized. And let's not forget the museum's acquisition of hundreds of Ishimoto Yasuhiro photographs, some of which we saw this year, with more to come next year. I also loved the MFAH's big collection shows, Color Into Light and North Looks South.

It was another great year for Latin American art, between North Looks South, Rice Gallery's Henrique Oliveira installation, the Station Museum's Carlos Runcie-Tanaka show, a terrific slate of Sicardi Gallery shows and, of course, the collaboration between the Menil and the MFAH on the Joaquín Torres-García wood show. And we were lucky to have the Blanton's Francisco Matto survey—as real revelation—nearby in Austin.

The Menil's reinstallation of its modern and contemporary permanent-collection galleries has to count as a huge highlight, and a wonderful parting gift from Franklin Sirmans, whom we're losing to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. We'll miss Sirmans, but CAMH and Blaffer Gallery both made good leadership moves by tapping Bill Arning and Claudia Schmuckli—Schmuckli’s Leonardo Drew survey was tip-top—as their respective new directors.

Dan Havel and Dean Ruck's architectural intervention Give and Take, half of which was seen at CAMH and half of which was the cored-out, and now demolished, bungalow, was terrific. I can't call No Zoning a great exhibition, but I loved the activity it seemed to spark or coincide with at some of the city's scrappy art spaces, which had what often felt like unofficial No Zoning programming.

In the galleries, the biggest highlight hands down was Inman Gallery mounting a special exhibition of Dario Robleto's most ambitious work to date, drawn from two West Coast museum shows that didn't travel to Texas. It's on view through December 31. There are more, but I've got to save something for a year-end list. But just ticking these off has me chomping at the bit to see what 2010 brings.

Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.


David Bates
Austin Museum of Art
Through January 31, 2010

By Rebecca S. Cohen

Installation view of David Bates since 1982: From the Everyday to the Epic at Austin Museum of Art, November 21, 2009 - January 31, 2010.
Courtesy Austin Museum of Art. Photo: Jimmy Jalapeno.

With few exceptions, the 26 paintings and sculptures by David Bates at the Austin Museum of Art represent a fine and familiar overview of the artist’s oeuvre. There are, as usual, great swathes of color—blinding white egret feathers and magnolia blossoms, umbers you swear smell of earth and decaying wood, lofty blues and fecund mid-summer greens—barely contained by black outlines that insure a controlled chaos. Bates’ subject matter remains straightforward: portraits, landscapes (moist warm swampy environs and attendant birds) and still lifes. The viewer intuits veiled references here and there to his art historical heroes such as Max Beckman and Marsden Hartley—a nod to Manet over there, perhaps, or Picasso—but really it is Bates as Bates. He feels no obligation to hurl himself toward distant horizons. This is an artist who gains ground by staying right where he is.

Self-confidence rather than stasis rules. Texas and the Gulf Coast region in which he has lived and played for most of his life have clearly shaped the wordless narrative of his paintings. The sculptures follow suit. (One imagines the artist as Aztec warrior, reaching his hand into a painting to pull out the beating heart of an image and placing it on a pedestal.) AMOA’s not-so-subtle pairing of magnolia sculpture with magnolia painting, beer and cigarettes sculpture with Mexican beer painting reinforces the obvious.

The exhibition is organized according to subject matter. First the working guys—woodsman, fishermen, firecracker salesman, stone carver—canvases dense with physical activity. Next comes the musician’s corner wherein hangs a very large paean to Clifton Chenier, a painting awkwardly challenging the line between Bates’ sincere affection for outsider artists and his attempt, apparently, to become one. Nearby guitar-shaped constructions similarly disappoint compared to the small, perfect pitch painting of Lightnin’ Hopkins beside them. The rest of the works in the show, all borrowed from public and private Austin and Dallas collections, are similarly melodious.

Like a shimmering oasis, Bates’ paintings and sculptures featuring magnolias, landscapes and birds are hung toward the back of the museum galleries, where they dazzle the eye and sooth the spirit. Several paintings literally burst off the canvas. In some of these, Bates actually builds up the surface using wood and fabric. In others, his facility with paint is such that he simply appears to model feathers, leaves and petals with his brush.

The paintings based on the aftermath of hurricane Katrina are even more compelling. While the rest of us were watching the flood on television, Bates was sketching furiously. Later he visited New Orleans. In the end he produced roughly 60 paintings based on the plight of the people whose lives were lost or turned upside down when the levees broke. From the small screen images that caught his attention come large-scale confrontational portraits, deftly painted and filled with emotion. “I tried them smaller,” says Bates. “They just didn’t seem to get across the magnitude of a million people getting displaced. Like the dustbowl but in a week.” The Kemper Museum in Kansas City is assembling an exhibition of these paintings alone, scheduled to open in May of this coming year.

Finally, three striking works inspired by the loss of his parents, most recently his father to Alzheimer’s disease, depart from the classic Bates style. A pale portrait on canvas, a drawing of two hands on paper and a super-size sculpture of a hand constitute a quiet memorial to the artist’s father. The white and grey painting, far less controlled and more ephemeral than all of the others, speaks volumes. Translucent veils float aimlessly. A lost stare emanates from an unsettling visage. There is no frame around the canvas, just as there are no boundaries on loss.

David BatesThe Deluge II, 2006.

Bates has destroyed other portraits from this series, as well as paintings from other series. He speaks about relentlessly “editing” all his work and destroying the canvases that don’t please him sufficiently. “I was at a dinner with Jim Dine,” said Bates, “and somebody asked him ‘what is your work about, and he went ‘immortality.’ They asked me later what he meant by that, and I said well, you’re going to die and all this stuff is going to be around. It’s like tombstones. It really won’t matter what sells or didn’t sell, it’s like, did you make the best tombstones you could make and leave behind before you die? That’s what I think he meant.”

And that, I think, is what Bates means to do as he carefully edits his work, refines and reconsiders intensely personal subject matter and rarely strays from the region that has shaped his narrative. This is a man who aims to exercise firm control over his own well-deserved memorial corner within the history of art one day.

Rebecca S. Cohen is an Austin-based writer and author of Art Guide Texas, published by UT Press.

Jade Walker
Austin Museum of Art
Through January 31, 2010

By Claire RuudJade Walker, Spectator Sport (detail), 2009, Mixed media, Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.

Jade Walker’s sculptures are sexed—penile and vaginal forms abound. But they are not gendered—no “males” or “females” here. Rather, these are androgynes, hermaphrodites and other indeterminate bodies—indeterminate, at least according to our typical binary gender system. The sculptures sit alone or in pairs or triples on imposing bleachers in AMOA’s small back gallery. Many wear braces and bandages. The space is claustrophobic. The bleachers, ensconced in a Band-aid-colored felt skirt and raised to put the front row at eye-level, fill the room to bursting. Similarly colored walls and orange Astroturf add to the effect. The Astroturf scrunches and crunches with every footfall, awkwardly interrupting the quiet of the museum, like the steps of doctors in scrubs and shoe covers in a deserted corridor. In short, the installation walks a disconcerting line between sports arena and hospital ward.

Walker’s installation is an ode to bodies as contested spaces. If her creature-sculptures could speak, their huzzah would take up the feminist slogan, “Battleground, battleground, your body is a battleground!” Their bodies bear both the wounds of this battle and the marks of tender care. Walker sutures a gaping hole here, braces a sagging body there. In her hands, “your body is a battleground” isn’t an issue-based dictum. It’s a statement of fact about all our bodies. We use them, politicians use them, journalists use them. On our bodies, we work out definitions, struggle over rights and imagine new possibilities. Our bodies become fields of play, and Spectator Sport literally puts us in the game.

Cultural reference points for this work exist in abundance. Recently, “Iron Mike” Webster’s once-athletic, prematurely destroyed body has served as a primary playing field in the NFL-Alzheimer’s debate over the brain injuries incurred by football players. Semenya Caster’s powerfully muscular body has been tossed into the match over gender-normativity. Outside the sports arena, American bodies—especially aging bodies and women’s bodies—have been the subject of much attention within the healthcare debate. These public controversies are on Walker's radar; she names Michael Sokolove’s Warrior Girls (2008), a book arguing that young women athletes should be trained and coached differently than their male counterparts, as one starting point for the installation.

Iconic images of bodies in your newspaper feel distant. By contrast, Walker’s sculptures invest bodily forms with tactility and intimacy. At once reminiscent of cuddly teddy-bears and cold anatomical models, they attract and repulse. Pairs of sculptures lean on one another for support, or seem to embrace lovingly. Sharp nails and taught stitches suggest pain. Rubbery bits feel awkward.

The danger is that the attraction and repulsion these sculptures elicit morph into pity rather than empathy. Pity contains contempt; it allows us to disassociate our bodies from the bodies of Walker’s sculptures. Empathy creates room for identification. It allows for the possibility that our fascination with Webster and Semenya is a defense against our own fears of not being “man” or “woman” enough. It enables us to recognize that Warrior Girls reincarnates an age-old impulse to contain the vulnerability of all our bodies within women’s bodies.Jade WalkerSpectator Sport, 2009.

In Spectator Sport, one sculpture sitting in the front row of the bleachers successfully fends off our pity with her gawking stare. Mouth agape, her single eye (the rubber end of a crutch, perhaps) periscopes out at us, reminding that she is the spectator and we are the ones to be looked at. The bodies of Walker’s sculptures merely reflect the ambiguity, messiness and fragility of our own.

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

By Kate Watson

Katri Walker, State of the He/Art (Macho), 2006, Video Still. Courtesy the artist and Women & Their Work.

Love, that uniquely human quagmire, is riddled with fantasy, illusion and humor. My Wicked Twisted Sense of Love, the current show at Women and Their Work, is filled with all sorts of odd gesticulations and gimmicks that strive towards the belly of the beast. The pieces fail to offer up any sort of unified commentary on this most difficult topic, but I assume that’s the point. There’s a lot of humorously awkward vulnerability in the work, an approach that certainly cuts to the crux of how most of us feel as we dance this crazy, lifelong two-step.

A clumsy sense of desperation radiates throughout the show. Of all the work, Katri Walker’s State of the He/Art (Serenata) (2006) rings most vibrantly. Walker, an artist living and working in both Glasgow and Mexico City, dons a giant sombrero and sings a half-hearted lament in front of video footage of her ex’s mariachi band. She swigs tequila and quietly channels the machismo-laden energy of her former lover’s music. I yearn for the video to culminate in an all-out rage fest, but no catharsis comes. Walker stays coolly on the edge of the breakdown, for better or for worse.

Anthony Romero’s Personal Journeys: Shaman Video Dating Service (2009) also toys with fantasy and character as a means of exploring our desperation for intimacy. Romero explores a wild variety of personas via an artist-fabricated Internet dating service he designed exclusively for other worldly creatures (all played by Romero). The website, on display via computer in the exhibition space, sits adjacent to individual single-channel videos of some of the characters. Romero’s investigation of this cultural phenomenon—the matchmaking site—is intriguing. JDate. Pagan Partners. Philanderers International. As these virtual hunting grounds become more and more sophisticated, the odds that even the hyper bizarre can find their soul mate are increasing exponentially. The work also highlights the tension between the solo act of surfing and that of performing a public persona for potential matches, a conundrum magnified tenfold by the absurdity of Romero’s video profiles.

Laura Ann MeyersCrush, 2009.

It’s impossible to avoid the gaudy spectacle of Laura Ann Meyer’s hyper pink installation, Crush (2009). This giant crepe paper heart looks like the spirit of Saint Valentine got wasted on Flirtinis and vomited onto the wall; needless to say, the imagery is a bit heavy handed. But after recovering from my pink vertigo, I couldn’t help but fall for the symbolic crux of the piece; as we learn from the curatorial statement, it’s actually a visually deconstructed parody of a prom corsage. What stranger act is there as a young teen than getting “pinned” by your acne-covered neighbor who is just dying to touch your boob? The desperation of that bizarre and antiquated tradition oozes from Meyer’s piece. Crush is equal parts tragic and nauseating. I would drink some Pepto Bismo if it weren’t that same infernal shade of pink.

My Wicked Twisted Sense of Love is an ambiguous gesture towards intimacy. Castro herself expresses a very transparent desire to reach out: for the opening, she mailed invitations, half of them in “love letter” format, half in “break-up letter” format. Like the artists in the show, the curator seems to be tiptoeing towards the personal yet stays planted in the fictional. I say let it all hang out.

Kate Watson is an Austin-based writer, curator and artist. She is the cofounder of Circulatory System and a founding member of Austin Video Bee.

A Room of Her Own
McClain Gallery, Houston
Through December 31, 2009

By Wendy Vogel

Allison Schulnik, Big Bear Head, 2008, Oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches. Courtesy McClain Gallery.

A Room of Her Own at McClain Gallery takes its title from Virginia Woolf’s maxim: “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. Woolf’s essay, which details the problems that women artists have faced in terms of representation and education, is addressed literally in this exhibition: McClain gives over most of the commercial gallery (three out of four rooms) to work by a transgenerational group of fifteen female artists. Yet the pressing question is the extent to which this exhibition, along with other recent all-female shows, reflects a larger set of concerns about the positioning of female artists.

Two years ago, WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution and the Brooklyn Museum’s new Sackler Center for Feminist Art brought the “F-word” back into fresh circulation among art audiences. This renewed interest has worked its way into the gallery world, where all-female group shows have become a framing device for situating new artists in familiar territory. The cynic could call this is a marketing strategy for a conservative market and, in the case of A Room of Her Own, the cynic would be right.

A Room of Her Own is organized primarily by medium: sculpture in the first room, painting and photography in the second and collage and richly layered paintings in the third. Loosely, the work addresses themes of figuration and abstraction and a poetic relationship to landscape, though these motifs do not add up to a definitive curatorial statement. Rather, the exhibition attempts to skirt notions of essentialism by including a token text-based work: Jenny Holzer’s LED sculpture Purple Red Curve from 2005. But Holzer’s sculpture reads awkwardly in a show that otherwise aims to create visual connections between older and younger artists working in a less conceptual vein.

A Room of Her Own forges these cross-generational correspondences to either pretty or subversive effect. The younger artists, most of whom are figurative painters, pick up where their fore-mothers left off. Chantal Joffe’s small, restrained canvases depicting women and children are clearly indebted to Alice Neel, whose painting David (1968) was initially included in the exhibition but was recently returned to its owners. Joffe’s work hangs salon-style with more aggressive works by Kelli Vance and Katherine Bernhardt. Vance’s She Seemed Very… (2009), in which a model seems to scrub herself raw on the canvas, takes Marilyn Minter’s work as an obvious reference. Meanwhile, Katherine Bernhardt’s angular, drippy renderings of hip-hop icons (Lauren Hill and Redhead, both 2005) provide a sassy, welcome contrast to Inez van Lamsweerde’s C-print of Kate Moss installed on the opposite wall. An art-historical one-liner, the photograph depicts the fashion victim as a bride stripped bare, literally, with white roses covering her stubbly pubic area. However, the young standout of the show diverges from female portraiture altogether. Allison Schulnik’s Big Bear Head (2008), a densely sculptural impasto that extends into the viewer’s space, embodies the corporeal tendencies of the older artists’ key works.

Louise FishmanAll Night and All Day, 2008.

What ultimately lacks among the works by older artists in the show is the viscera and vitriol for which they are best known. Louise Nevelson’s black-painted wooden relief, Untitled (1976-8), is reminiscent of work by her Abstract Expressionist cohorts like David Smith. However, Kiki Smith’s River Tree (2007) a delicately expressive wall-mounted bronze, gives little indication of the interest in abject, crouching figures that defined her earlier production. YBA star Tracey Emin, known for dissecting her messy personal life in diaristic neons and large-scale installations, is included with a discreet monoprint of a naked woman bearing the title of her favorite F-word (Fuck Me Blind, 1997). Emin’s print is hung below and visually rhymed with an inoffensive Cecily Brown watercolor landscape. Two recent works by Louise Fishman span the gulf of her current production. All Night and All Day (2008), a more aggressively composed oil painting consisting of long gestural slashes, recalls her important "Angry Women" series of the 1970s, while Copal (2000), a brushy oil on linen, is out of place aside from its visual connection to Cecily Brown’s works. Overall, the representation of works by the older artists in the show is disappointingly uneven—an unevenness that renders it difficult to make sense of cross-generational relationships implied by the exhibition. The curatorial intention behind these groupings begs for clarification within the context of feminist production. As it is, the exhibition simply promotes the younger generation as inheritors of a legacy taken for granted.

The question of feminism-as-such does not enter the equation here. By contrast, in a recent historically-oriented show at Cheim & Read Gallery in New York entitled The Female Gaze, the theoretical implications were made clear from the title to the press release: this was a show that picked up where Laura Mulvey’s excoriating text, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” left off. The larger theme of female looking, and the pleasure and transgression contained therein, formed a workable construct for a gallery show looking to situate younger artists in a further-reaching critical dialogue. For the young artists at McClain Gallery, however, an artistic matrilineage may or may not be a foregone conclusion. The continuity (or disjuncture) of feminist practice needs articulation–and not at the expense of the older artists. By distancing the show from “the F word,” this show paradoxically serves to underscore the essentialist notion that all work by female artists needs a (ghettoized) room of its own.

Wendy Vogel is a Critical Fellow in the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Tony Feher
D'Amelio Terras, New York
Through December 23, 2009

By Katie Geha

Installation view: Tony Feher: Blossom, D'Amelio Terras, New York, NY. November 7 - December 23, 2009.

Ed Ruscha, an artist familiar with the theme of banality, once remarked, “Good art should elicit a response of ‘Huh? Wow!’ as opposed to ‘Wow! Huh?” These parameters can be instructive in judging a work of art. Does it elicit an initial punch? Does it linger or is it easily dismissed? Or does the work provoke a slight confusion or disorientation followed by a deeper understanding, a continued engagement? These questions are really about aftertaste—what kind of resonance, if any, does the work create?

Former Texas artist Tony Feher, a master of making the banal beautiful, has a new installation at D’Amelio Terras in Chelsea. The exhibition features five large-scale sculptures made from 38-inch Owens-Corning polystyrene and placed directly on the gallery floor. The material is evident, manipulated only in the creation of the identical fan forms. Feher translates this everyday insulation foam into carefully crafted, almost origami-like blossoms of pink.

Feher’s installation should be considered in relation to two other exhibitions currently on view in the New York area—Urs Fischer at the New Museum and Rachel Harrison at the Hessell at Bard College. Fischer and Harrison also use basic everyday items to create totems of sculpture. They display plastic toys glued together, rotting vegetables hung from the ceiling, or disassembled cardboard boxes piled high up the gallery wall. We could call this post-Duchampian, scatter art, a trash aesthetic. Whatever it is, it has been running rampant in the art world ever since the New Museum articulated the movement in 2008 with its building’s inaugural exhibition Unmonumental.

That exhibition (which featured works by both Fischer and Harrison) heralded a trend so forceful that now galleries are filled with cultural detritus: the playthings that distract us from banality, while simultaneously entrenching us in that very same condition. The objects and images we used yesterday (cardboard, trash bags, tweety bird) are placed in a vitrine and treated as relics of our contemporary moment. Call it forced entropy. Yet, do these trashy sculptures make us more aware of our shared cultural malaise? Or is it, rather, a celebration of waste, the implied obsolescence of the object? Finally, and most pressing, what is the aftertaste? I feel unmoved––bored even, but perhaps that is the point.

Feher was not included in Unmonumental and it is curious that he was not, given his propensity for collecting and organizing throwaway objects such as shards of broken glass or plastic bottles filled with colored water. But there is a quality to Feher’s work that is not shared by the work of many of the Unmonumental artists. Feher creates a sense of restraint and formal stability while still retaining a keen sense of play. There is an unabashed intelligence to his installations. He leaves nothing unconsidered; one senses that the folds of the pink polystyrene that make up the large fans are exactly where they should be. Feher’s everyday art is a careful art. Perhaps two years after the New Museum show, we can start to sift through this trend in sculpture and begin to discern the cast-off gems amidst the trash, the “Huh? Wows” from the “Wow! Huhs?”

Katie Geha is pursuing her Ph.D. in art history at The University of Texas at Austin.

project space

Jonathan Marshall

By Dan Boehl

In May 2009 Jonathan Marshall asked me to accompany him on a trip to Big Bend National Park in west Texas. Marshall was headed out there to film for his upcoming Art Palace show using the desert landscape as his set. So it was that on an early morning we waited outside Travis Austin’s house for Austin to return from his Whole Foods shift while rain sprinkled the windshield of Marshall’s mom’s CRV. Austin would star as Johan Pilgrim, one of only three characters that populate Marshall’s Quest of Sight (Part One) (2009), a post-apocalyptic cowboy tragicomedy premiering as Art Palace Houston’s inaugural exhibition. I would be the grip.

We spent the first night by the Rio Grande. Thunderstorms threatened in the distance and six-inch millipedes left their trails in the silt where we lay. In the morning we dressed in long sleeves and cowboy hats. We tied scarves around our necks and squinted into the sun. We drove through the washout that passes for a road leading to the abandoned cinnabar mine. The mine, replete with warnings of mercury poisoning, sits on the side of a hill like an ancient temple, gazing over the low desert plain. I followed Marshall, hands loaded with water bottles heating up in the morning sun, as he filmed Austin acting out Johan Pilgrim’s trek to the mine. There, Pilgrim finds the Cave of Wonders and inside it, a vial of psychedelic whiskey. He drinks it, and an animated bird totem assigns him his quest.

Texas landscape is front and center in Quest of Sight (Part One). In addition to the desert plain of Big Bend, Padre Island National Seashore served as one of Marshall’s film sets, so the film is partly an exploration of the Texas spirit forged by the land and sea. The post-apocalyptic timeline is a throwback to the frontier days when newcomers arrived thinking the land was rife with possibilities. If you consider Marshall’s liberal references to outer space to be an allusion to NASA’s strong Texas presence, then Quest of Sight (Part One) becomes a total exploration of Texas Earth, Water and Sky.

Throw in a little mysticism, give nature a strange, mischievous sense of humor, and you’ll start to understand how the film unfolds. There is very little speaking and no dialogue. A few subtitles set the scene in the opening sequence of the film. Johan and Lenny’s otherworldly visions punctuate an otherwise linear storyline. In one scene, Lenny finds a pulsating purple and pink machine on a sea-bound mountain of trash. In another, animated birds flock through the desert. A colorful mass blooms like a lily in the cold depths of outer space. A bone flips through the air.

Except for getting some help with music from Travis Austin, who is involved in a couple Austin area bands, Marshall did all the video production and editing himself. During a scene when Austin enters a tent/sweatlodge in the desert, Marshall had to blank out all the sounds of the camera shutter snapping as I took production stills. He told me it took him hours to find the right buzzing sound for a gate crashing desert fly. Add in the time it took to produce the multiple animations that give the film its painterly psychedelic effect, and Marshall has racked up hundreds of hours of production time.

But all the work Marshall put into making Quest of Sight (Part One) is totally worth it. Two weeks ago, Marshall installed a preview show at the old Austin Art Palace location. I went over there to look at the paintings, drawings, and sculptures that, with the film, form what Marshall considers to be the “complete thought” that encompasses the environment of Quest of Sight (Part One). Marshall screened the film for me and members of the Okay Mountain collective, who were taking a break from property management duties. What struck me was how serious yet goofy the film was. Sad and wondrous. Painterly and narrative. Quest of Sight (Part One) uses everything in Marshall’s toolkit to create a sparsely inhabited and imaginatively engaging world that expresses offhand and obliquely the struggles involved with exploratory art making. In creating its own artistic realm, the film pleases the senses and amazes the mind.

Jonathan Marshall: Doubled Vision opens at Art Palace, Houston tonight (Friday, January 15) from 6 - 8pm. An excerpt of Quest of Sight (Part One) may be found on Marshall's website.

Dan Boehl is a workshop fellow in the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program. His chapbook Les MISERES ET LES MAL-HEURS DE LA GUERRE will be available from Greying Ghost soon.

Announcements: news

Texas News

Dario Robleto and Rick Lowe receive United States Artists Fellowships

Artist Dario Robleto and art entrepreneur Rick Lowe have been named as two of the fifty 2009 USA Fellows. Each fellow receives $50,000 with which to do whatever they want. Beautiful.

Announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

Christine Gray
Okay Mountain
Opening January 16

Christine Gray explains, "In my work I look at the cultural mythologies that misrepresent nature and our relationship to it. I remake landscapes according to these fictions through both objects and painting, thereby adding to and revealing the fallacy of these representations. The sculptural tableaux I make as models for my paintings are theatrical, temporary situations where the real and imagined collapse into a space outlined by contradictory boundaries. Extraordinary outcomes are made feasible by the distortion of the everyday."

Loli Kantor
L. Nowlin Gallery
Opening January 5, 2010

Loli Kantor's documentary work portrays the disappearing population of Holocaust survivors and their lives within the vanishing shtetls of Eastern Europe. The exhibition's title, There Was a Forest, alludes to both the forest of the natural world and the metaphorical human forest of Jewish life, both of which have been placed at risk of destruction by the force of technology, industrialization and war. Kantor presents the work in two parts; one portion printed using the palladium process, and the other printed as vivid, highly saturated color pigment prints. (From the press release)

Austin on View

Lisa Marie Godfrey
Domy Books
Through January 21, 2010

Godfrey describes her new work thus, "I have been reflecting upon how I am a collection of experiences, memories and belongings. Through the telling of stories, I can create myself into a hero or villain, ultimately creating my own myths. Using my imagination, I am not seeking to distort truth but rather explore my ability to change the way I perceive an object or moment in time. Through these works I hope to engage with the everyday magic around me, as I once did in childhood."

dberman Gallery
Through February 6, 2010

Chill features luminous watercolors of melting icebergs by Cynthia Camlin, delicate drawings by Sara Frantz linking the grandiose landscapes of Iceland and West Texas, Jennifer Maestre’s undulating pencil sculptures inspired by sea urchins, Leslie Mutchler’s sculptural works merging utopian aspirations with the wild inclinations of nature, Raychael Stine’s buoyant and realistic dogs romping through realms of abstraction, Steve Wiman’s gracefully edited installations using the world’s flotsam, and Sydney Yeager’s tumultuous paintings which capture moments of instability and a dissolution of order. (From the press release)

David Bates
Through January 31, 2010

See Rebecca S. Cohen's review in this issue.

Jade Walker

See Claire Ruud's review in this issue.

Austin Closings

Teresita Fernandez
Blanton Museum
Through January 3, 2010

See Dan Boehl's review in Issue #134.

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

See Kate Watson's review in this issue.

Noriko Ambe
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Through December 31, 2009

See Kate Anania's review in Issue #135.

San Antonio Openings

Katie Pell
Sala Diaz
Opening January 15, 2010

Katie Pell's installation describes some of her most keenly felt separations: those between herself and you, and those between herself only. Using her baroque drawing sensibility, love of audience intersection and interest in other people’s truly mysterious nature, Katie has used Sala Diaz to make a diagram of what has confounded her for some time. (From the press release)

Alejandro Cesarco
Opening January 14, 2010

Alejandro Cesarco's diverse projects, consisting of photographs, videos, books and sculpture, address his recurrent interests in repetition, narrative and the practices of reading and translating. His exhibition at Artpace will unite the different components of a body of work entitled Index (2000-2008). Consisting of an alphabetized list of terms and ideas arranged as if indexing a specific publication, the works are both biographical and theoretical. The exhibition will also present a new film commissioned for the occasion. Entitled The Two Stories, it consists of the reading and telling of a story, with the two narratives overlapping one another. This will be the artist's first solo museum exhibition. (From the press release)

San Antonio Closings

New Works 09.3
Closing January 10, 2010

These are the strongest end-of-residency exhibitions I've seen at Artpace in quite a while. Adriana Lara's video of San Antonio-based artists at work, which begins with an installation of bathroom appliances spelling out the word "ARTIFICIAL," may sound saccharine in description, but is quite poignant in person. Mario Ybarra, Jr., an artist known for his community-based projects, used the residency to literally "try his hand" at something different, drawing, with great results. In my book, Adrian Esparza takes the cake. His immense quilt draws on the strategies of Conceptualism and Minimalism to depict landscape outside El Paso. I'd like to see it installed at Chinati, where its conversation with the natural and social landscapes, as well as sculptures of Donald Judd, would be powerful.

Jillian Conrad & Moo Kwon Han
Unit B
Closing January 2, 2010

The sweetest moments in Jillian Conrad’s installation at Unit B are in the spatial relationships she establishes between objects. Three works in the series Wishing You Are Here each consist of a vintage postcard lacquered to the wall and a small modified concrete brick sculpture on the floor. Meanwhile, Moo Kwon Han's two videos are visual poetry with a healthy dose of humor, reflecting on life's constants, such as gravity.

Houston Openings

Jonathan Marshall: Double Vision
Art Palace
January 15 - March 6, 2010

Art Palace users in a new year in its new Houston home with new works by Jonathan Marshall.

Announcements: opportunities


Chief Curator
Amon Carter Museum

The Chief Curator will oversee research, interpretation, and preservation activities including acquisitions, exhibitions, library and archives, collection management and conservation. Supervise staff in curatorial, conservation, library, and collections and exhibitions departments. Serve on Management Committee to establish goals that set standards for the museum. Organize special exhibitions and author scholarly publications. Click here for more info.

Exhibitions Coordinator
Amon Carter Museum

The Exhibition Coordinator will coordinate the implementation of all exhibitions presented at the museum. This position reports to the Chief Curator. Click here for more info.

Executive Director
Ellen Noel Art Museum

AAM accredited Art Museum in West Texas seeks energetic experienced museum administrator to work with Board of Trustees, a dedicated staff, and enthusiastic volunteers. The successful candidate should have at least 5 years of Museum experience and preferably have an MFA degree or Master’s Degree in art history or museum studies. The Director has oversight responsibility for the Museum’s programming and resources which include: sophisticated facility, an expanding collection of American Art, an active exhibit schedule, and strong educational programs for all ages. The Search Committee is looking for a person with excellent administrative skills and knowledge in finance, development and fund raising.

To apply: send cover letter, resume and contact information for three professional references to Barbara Davis - Search Committee Chairman, 35 Muirfield, Odessa, TX 79762. Applications may also be e-mailed to lwarner@netwest.com as long as hard copy is also mailed to Barbara Davis. Please no phone inquiries.

The Wittliff Collections

Texas State University-San Marcos invites applications for the position of Director for The Wittliff Collections, Albert B. Alkek Library. Reporting to the Assistant Vice President, University Library, the Director will provide overall leadership and management for the Collections primary components: the Southwestern Writers Collection, the Southwestern and Mexican Photography Collection, and other special collections. Here's the PDF inviting applications.

Collection Tours and Education Specialist
Chinati Foundation

The Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas is accepting resumes for a full-time Collection Tours and Education Specialist. Responsibilities include visitor service and education programs, online projects promoting the museum, assisting artists-in-residence, supervising the internship program and leading VIP tours. Requires Master's degree in Fine Arts, Art History or Art Education plus 1 year of related experience. For more information click here.

Grants Program Director
Houston Arts Alliance
Deadline: January 10, 2010

Through this program, the Houston Arts Alliance provides financial support to the nonprofit arts sector in the Houston area. As a member of the senior staff team, the Grants Program Director is responsible for grant management, research, field assessment, capacity building initiatives and works closely with the CEO, COO and senior staff members on matters pertaining to the advancement of the mission and goals of the organization. Click here for more info.


H + F Curatorial Grant
3rd edition 2010/2011
H+F Collection
Deadline: February 10, 2010

The H+F Curatorial Grant allows the FRAC Nord–Pas de Calais (Dunkirk/France) in close partnership with the private collector Han Nefkens (H+F Collection) and the de Appel arts centre (Amsterdam/NL) to give young international curators the opportunity to participate in the development of exhibition projects based on the collection of FRAC Nord-Pas-de- Calais. This grant offers emerging art curators a unique infrastructure and environment with free access to a research and documentation centre as well as to one of the best French collections of contemporary art. The FRAC acts as the first intermediary for these future professionals of contemporary art by helping them to develop and implement their projects. The selected person will become part of the FRAC's team as an assistant curator, coordinating local, national and international exhibition-projects. She / he will receive in exchange a grant for 12 months (May 2010 - May 2011) that will help finance her/his living and travel expenses.

Please send your application containing a recent CV (including a photograph) and a motivation letter before February 28th 2010 to:

FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais
930 avenue de Rosendaël
59240 Dunkerque (France)
Tel. 03 28 65 84 20

Calls for Entries

TCA Opens Up Touring Roster to Include Visual & Media/Film Artists
Texas Commission on the Arts
Deadline: January 31, 2010

Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) maintains an approved roster of Texas-based touring companies and artists. Non-profit organizations (schools, libraries, community centers, cities, festivals, and museums) can apply to TCA for a grant to help with the costs of bringing these talented individuals into their community for performances, master classes, lecture-demonstrations and residencies. Traditionally, the roster has been made up of performing artists (dance, music, theatre, literature, storytelling). For the first time, TCA is opening up the roster to include visual arts and film/media artists; however, those artists must be able to offer a program that is performative or interactive/collaborative and able to fit within a pre-specified time-frame. Placement on the roster is competitive. Inclusion in the roster does not guarantee that anyone will contract with you for a project; the roster is a marketing tool. For more information, contact TCA staff at 512/463-5535 or webapp@arts.state.tx.us.

Future Generation Art Prize
Future Generation Art Prize
January 18 - April 18, 2010

The Future Generation Art Prize established by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation is a worldwide contemporary art prize to discover, recognize and provide long-term support to a future generation of artists. Artists around the world, without restriction of gender, nationality, race or artistic medium may enter the competition through online application. 20 shortlisted artists will be selected to show their work in an exhibition at the PinchukArtCentre (Kiev). These artists will be judged by an international Jury who will award one main prize and up to five special prizes. The first prize will receive $100,000.

Exit Art
Deadline: January 29, 2010

Happiness/Sadness is an exhibition exploring dynamic of opposites. For Exit Art, the study of paradoxes is a vital purpose of culture. We are looking for works in any media that express, metaphorically or concretely, the notions of happiness and sadness. Artworks can explore one or both issues. Identifying happiness helps to understand sadness; one cannot exist without the other. To apply, visit the call for entries on Exit Art's website.


Elsewhere Collaborative Residencies
Elsewhere Collaborative
Deadline: January 31, 2010

Elsewhere Collaborative, a living museum and experimental production environment in downtown Greensboro, NC, is now accepting applications from artists, curators, writers, musicians, designers, gardeners, makers, builders, scholars, producers, and creatives across media for residencies in 2010. Elsewhere residencies invites experimental creators to join our collaborating community in utilizing this immense collection of objects, no longer for sale and instead circulating internally, as material or inspiration for site-specific projects that become part of an endlessly transforming environment of objects and works. Artists live and work within interactive installations that provide evolving frameworks for investigating collaborations, community structures, and creative processes. Residency fellowship funding for travel, room and board, are now available in exchange for hosting an educational workshop during the residency.  Read more HERE.

Rijksakademie Studios
Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten
Deadline: February 1, 2010

The Rijksakademie residency in Amsterdam is a space for the development of ideas for emerging professional artists. Resident artists work in an individual studio for one to two years on research, experiment, projects and production. The Rijksakademie has fifty-five studios. Annually, approximately half of these become available for new residents.

Zero Art Space Residency in Myanmar
New Zero Art Space, Yangon, Myanmar
Deadline: December 30

New Zero Art Space, Yangon, Myanmar invites visual (and performance) artists from Asia, Europe and North America to the first Artist-in-Residency Program in Myanmar. Residents spend one month in the heart of Yangon. New Zero Art Space will provide one round trip air ticket, accommodation and living expenses during the residency. The residency will also include a studio and exhibition space. For more information click here.

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