MBG Issue #138: Best of 2009

Issue # 138

Best of 2009

December 25, 2009

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This word cloud represents the frequency of the most common words printed in ...might be good in 2009.

from the editor

2009 was a hell of a good year for seeing visual art in Austin. The year opened with a series of shows that brought us back to Austin’s DIY roots. At Arthouse, Matt Stokes delved into the archives of punk to produce these are the days, an exhibition of punk ephemera and a film installation capturing the ecstasy of the live punk performance. Meanwhile, Art Palace showed meticulously drafted and vibrantly painted canvases by seasoned Austinite Heyd Fontenot, whose playful and tenderly rendered nudes (many of them figures who have made up the backbone of Austin’s art world) hinted at the webs of relationships and private moments that hold our lives together. And of course, the Texas Biennial, a prime example of what Austin’s DIY culture can produce, brought us gems such as Lee Baxter Davis’s rich allegorical drawings and Kelly Fearing’s mystical mid-century paintings.

Granted, the fact that 2009 was a good year for seeing art in Austin does not mean it was an easy year for the city’s artists, galleries and museums. As we rang in the new year, The Austin Museum of Art dropped the bomb that it was, yet again, postponing construction on its new downtown building. In May, Fluent~Collaborative put its experimental exhibition space testsite on hiatus, and in December the commercial gallery Art Palace closed its doors to move to Houston.

If it wasn’t an easy year for anyone, a number of institutions weathered the storm with poise. While AMOA was downsizing, The Blanton Museum of Art made two stellar additions to its staff: Director Ned Rifkin and Manager of Public Programs Aimee Chang. So far, Rifkin has kept a low profile while he’s been taking in the lay of the land, but with these two rounding out the Blanton’s capable team, we can expect great things from the museum in the coming years. Likewise, Arthouse moved forward with an ambitious remodel and promoted its curator Elizabeth Dunbar to Associate Director. And if testsite went AWOL, other no-profit ventures such as Co-Lab and Okay Mountain maintained the frontlines with plentiful exhibition schedules. Finally, Lora Reynolds Gallery takes the cake for an outstanding year of programming; Practice Practice Practice, organized by Michael Smith and Jay Sanders and dominated by new video work, was hands down year’s best group exhibition in Austin.

Of course, there were letdowns, too. Despite its other successes, the Texas Biennial still hasn’t figured out how to organize a compelling group exhibition. At AMOA, Lordy Rodriguez’s solo show was disappointingly monotonous—a missed opportunity to create a dynamic relationship among his maps, the viewer and the exhibition space. And call me a puritan, but Tom Molloy’s solo show at Lora Reynolds (“lesbian” porn overlaid with war images) wasn’t clever, it was in bad taste.

However, overall Austin had a great year in art. Significantly, the tenor of critical discourse in Austin has shifted changed for the better, too. National coverage in Art in America, Art Lies and on artforum.com is part of this, as is Glasstire’s growing visibility on a national level. So is the hard work of a few critical writers—Katie Anania (artforum.com), Dan Boehl (…might be good), Salvador Castillo (‘Bout What I Sees), and Eric Zimmerman (Cablegram) heading up this list. Even more importantly, lately the DIY spirit I mentioned earlier has prevailed over a sense of exhaustion. Established projects like the Fusebox performance festival and the East Austin Studio Tour have continued their meteoric rise and new endeavors like the apartment gallery SOFA and the curatorial-team-on-a-bus Circulatory System have found their sea-legs. A few Austin-based artists can boast break-through moments this year, too: Nathan Green’s formal exploration in Polymict at Okay Mountain, Adam Schreiber’s photographic investigation of the archive at The Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, Jade Walker’s visceral installation Spectator Sport at AMOA, and Okay Mountain’s impressive collaboration on Corner Store at Pulse, Miami. Austin is alive and kicking.

Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.


Best New Addition
Aimee Chang
Manager of Public Programs, Blanton Museum

By Dan Boehl

Aimee Chang. Photo: Blanton Museum of Art.

Things have been changing rapidly over there at the Blanton. Another new building, a new director, and now a new Manger of Public Programs: Aimee Chang. Formerly the Director of Academic and Residency Programs at the Hammer Museum in LA, Chang is using her Rolodex to fill the new Blanton auditorium with a whole slue of great lectures. Check it out in the New Year. DB

Saturday, February 6, 2pm: Panel on Desire with Marilyn Minter, Glenn Ligon, and Annette Carlozzi.

Thursday, February 18, 7pm: Screening of LA artist Erin Cosgrove’s animated video “What Kind of Person Art Thou?”

Sunday, March 7, 2pm: Panel related to Anna Craycroft’s Workspace exhibition with her collaborators in New York and the Texas Advanced Computer Center.

Wednesday, March 10 7:30pm: Rosalyn Deutsche.

Saturday, March 13, 2pm: Bookclub led by Anna Craycroft on Paul Chan’s The Shadow and Her Wanda, Buckminster Fuller’s Tetrascroll, a selection from Bruno Munari’s Workshop series, and Texts from Gregory Bateson.

Thursday, March 18, 7pm: Talk and Screening with Walead Beshty: Walead will talk about “Dawn of the Dead” in relation to his work with a screening of the film.

Thursday, March 25, 5pm: R.H. Quaytman.

Sunday, March 28, 2pm: Leonard Folgarait from Vanderbilt University in conversation with UT professor Roberto Tejada on Manuel Alvarez Bravo.

Saturday, April 10, 2pm: Conversation between Mexican curator Cuauhtémoc Medina and LA based artist Ruben Ortiz Torres.

Thursday, April 15, 7pm: Patty Chang.

Thursday, May 20, 7pm: Screening of Dan Graham’s “Rock My Religion.”

Best Place to Buy Texas Oil
Okay Mountain's Corner Store
Presented by Arthouse at Pulse, Miami

By Mike Chesser

Okay Mountain, Corner Store, 2009, Presented by Arthouse at Pulse Miami. Courtesy Okay Mountain and Arthouse.

When I asked Sterling, one of Okay Mountain’s members, what he thought of the success of their installation he replied something like, “Man, it’s the shit.” I took that to mean he thought it was pretty great. Most of the publicity went OK's way, but keep in mind that it was Sue Graze and Elizabeth Dunbar and the folks at Arthouse that brought them there in the first place. Great too to see the number of Austinites in attendance and support of the installation.

It was easy to spend a long time in the “store”—a swell of entertaining tongue-in-cheek humor. The volume of items was impressive and the realization of the place down to small detail was absolutely terrific. With the commentary on art fair commerce in mind, I felt compelled to buy something, so I came away with 2 quarts of oil—will the circle be unbroken? MC

Best Exhibition Catalogue
Matt Stokes
these are the days

By Mike Chesser

Matt Stokes, these are the days, 2008-09, Detail, right hand screen, Two projection installation, 16mm film and audio transferred to hard drive, 6:26 minutes. Courtesy the artist.

This catalogue is as much a piece of the exhibition as it is a record of it. Both the text and the reproduced ephemera nicely capture the fast and loose spirit of the Punk Rock era, but what registers most strongly is the evidence of DIY social/collective work where chance becomes a catalyst. MC

Best Artist's Notebook
Peat Duggins
A Survey of Open Space

By Mike Chesser

Peat Duggins, A Survey of Open SpaceDay 86, 2009, Ink and watercolor on paper, 8 x 10 inches. Courtesy the artist.

The production notebook of Peat’s bicycling journey to Alaska to produce his project A Survey of Open Space, this journal contains wonderful, beautiful, descriptive renderings of what he encountered on his way. The fact that he produced these drawings at the end of each day's grueling ride is simply amazing to me. The writing is, in Peat's fashion, droll and entertaining. Peat gave me a copy so I don't know where you can get this publication. (Another disclaimer here as to financial support and, perhaps, biased opinion.) MC

Best Use of String
Cat's Cradle
Co-Lab Space

By Katie Geha

Lauren Cardenas, Carling Hale and, Alison Kuo, Cat's Cradle, 2009
Photo: Carling Hale.

This summer at Co-Lab, Carling Hale, Lauren Cardenas and Alison Kuo took the basic concept of the string game Cat’s Cradle and extended it to a full-scale installation. Red string was pulled taught throughout the gallery and wove in and out of large format photographs of disembodied hands delicately going through the motions of the game. Soft loopy sculptures were plopped on wooden pedestals and carried along by the string. The delicacy and play of collaboration never looked so sweet. KG

Best New Book of Essays
The Importance of Being Iceland
Eileen Myles

By Katie Geha

Eileen Myles, The Importance of Being Iceland, Semiotext(e), 2009.

Poet Eileen Myles’ new book The Importance of Being Iceland uses the country as a metaphor for the necessary in-betweeness, the queerness of our contemporary condition. In essays that run the gamut from popular artists to flossing to the gay scene in Russia, Myles inhabits a confident personal swagger that is both humorous and gentle. She explains her life philosophy: “There’s huge fear in the middle of my life that I must button something up and I can’t. I won’t. It stays open as much as I can. “ There wasn’t a day this fall, slowly making my way through these essays, that I didn’t feel charged and choked up. It sounds emotional and it was. I kept imagining Myles was talking directly to me. Or, more accurately, I imagined her whispering in my ear the truth of the world over and over, again and again. KG

Most Riotous Opening
Libres y Lokas
Domy Books

By Katie Geha

Christeene (aka Paul Soileau), Opening night performance at Otis Ike & Ivete Lucas, Libres y Lokas, Domy Books. Photo: Ben Powell.

On a hot Saturday night in July young and old alike came out to Domy Books on the East side to check out the terrific photographs, installation, and video by artistic collaborators Otis Ike and Ivete Lucas. If an opening is an index to an exhibition, then this exhibition was full of spectacle, fabulous trans women, and enough glitter to go around. Oh, and let’s not forget performance artist Christeene Vale’s inventive and acrobatic movements employed for her song and dance. I couldn’t see past the crowd during this performance, but the astonished look on the face of Domy’s Russell Etchen made it all very clear. It was a jaw dropping night. KG

Best Re-Emergence of an Austin Art World Curmudgeon
Blog by Eric Zimmerman

By Katie Geha

Cablegram, blog by Eric Zimmerman.

Area artist and ...might be good contributor Eric Zimmerman restarted his blog Cablegram this year and the Austin art scene is far better for it. If anything, Zimmerman has added an eye of criticality to the rah! rah! stance of a lot of Austin art writing. And when he’s not questioning the art world of Austin, he’s pushing us all to improve upon it. Just recently he posted a call-to-arms: “make, write, bitch, organize, participate, stay home, whatever, just do something.” Yes, sir! KG

Best Bike Tour
Austin Cave and Mountain Tour
Keith Wilson

By Katie Geha

Keith Wilson's Austin Cave and Mountain Tour.

If you were one of the lucky few to take part in Keith Wilson’s wildly creative Austin Cave and Mountain Tour than you probably have a new appreciation of the Austin landscape. Each month on the full moon, Wilson (or one of his various tour guide characters), led a small group on bikes around specific Austin neighborhoods. During one tour everyday sites were turned into totems of significance as we discussed the changing Austin skyline, learned about the building of Ladybird Lake, and recalled that famous day at Chuy’s when a Bush twin was arrested. The tour concluded with a dip in Barton Springs and a mysterious trip into a cave (hard hats were generously provided). Wilson is biking off to San Francisco for good, but I for one will never see Austin the same way again. KG

Best Use of Art Monographs
Noriko Ambe
Lora Reynolds Gallery

By Allison Myers

Noriko Ambe, Sailing to: ...: Cy Twombly, 2009, Cut book, 12-3/16 x 31-5/16 x 2-11/16 inches, frame. Courtesy Lora Reynolds Gallery.

Noriko Ambe took 20 of those big, glossy artists’ monographs (Damien Hirst, John Currin, Tom Friedman just to name a few) and literally cut into them as if they were blocks of wood, letting the forms emerge in tune with the monographs themselves. Ambe’s work is not only mind-blowingly intricate and beautiful, it also has a lot to say about the indirect relationships we have with artists. At the very least, it made me consider coffee table art books in a new light. AM

Best New Building Project
Visual Art Center
University of Texas at Austin

By Allison Myers

Visual Art Center, The University of Texas at Austin, Architect's rendering Lake | Flato.

The Art Department’s building at The University of Texas at Austin is, to put it mildly, a little bit hideous and not at all visitor friendly. The new renovations begun this year, however, will not only give it's Visual Art Center a cleaner face, it will also make it easier for the Austin community to take part in the Art Department’s great programs and exhibitions. AM

Other Best New Building Project
Arthouse at the Jones Center
7th and Congress

By Claire Ruud

Construction in progress at Arthouse (roof view).

This was the best news for Austin I heard all year: despite the economic crisis, Arthouse would (and did) break ground on the major renovations that are tripling the size of their exhibition space from 7,000 square feet to over 20,000. To me, this means two things. One, Executive Director Sue Graze has been working her ass off. Two, there is money for art in Austin. If you really rock it with your programming, as Arthouse is doing, you can find generous people to support you. Over the past couple of months, I've really enjoyed following the progress on the renovations through the photos posted on Arthouse's blog, too. CR

Best Installation
Lisi Raskin's Armada
The Blanton Museum of Art

By Claire Ruud

Lisi Raskin, Armada (installation view), 2009, Wood, paint. Courtesy The Blanton Museum of Art.

Lisi Raskin’s Armada was formally sexy (oh, the soft peaks of those mountains) and amusingly site-specific. In Texas, the figure of the artist questing through the landscape of the American west appears often (Peat Duggins, Jonathan Marshall and Barry Stone come to mind), but rarely the questing woman. Armada did not picture the artist's body, but evoked it through scale; the space of Raskin’s installation stood at the intersection of great American landscape and modernist stage set—consummate spaces of performance. CR

Best Homecoming for a Strayed Local
Colby Bird
Okay Mountain and Lora Reynolds

By Kate Watson

Colby Bird at Okay Mountain.

Colby Bird may have left Austin at the ripe old age of eighteen, but this Brooklyn-based multimedia wunderkind has the heart of a Texan and it shows. Bird’s solo exhibition at the Mountain captured the exploratory spirit and humor that our burgeoning artist community has been cultivating for years, and his piece in Reynolds’ Contemporary Culture exhibition was a standout success. This import/export business may be just the remedy for these crazy times. KW

Best (Secret) Local Art Guru
William Heath
Independent Curator

By Kate Watson

William Heath. hiroshimaMASHUP is a radioactive cosplay dance party coming soon.

Formerly based in both LA and New York, Curator Heath is now in Austin fulltime and cooking up all sorts of rad projects. Heath’s first local exhibition, Mercury Retrograde: Animated Realities, was a slick and thoughtful animated meditation installed with a masterful hand. The man has a stunning number of juicy projects in the works and we can’t wait to see what’s next. Our favorite? A “Talent Agency” of artists and curators (both local and international) where Heath will be in residence daily, scheming and dreaming in vibrant Technicolor. KW

Best Recession-Era Antidote
SOFA Gallery
Project of Katie Geha

By Kate Watson

Installation view of Adam Sipe at SOFA.

In the face of a stagnant and often grim local art economy, …might be good contributor Katie Geha opened SOFA Gallery a year ago in her cute-as-a-button North Campus apartment, focusing on temporary installations by emerging artists. Geha has hosted five exhibitions, including that wild boy gang from Houston, Sketch Klubb, and the now infamous Austin art duo, Otis Lucas. Geha’s been hiding away in good old NYC for the last semester doing academic research, but we’re chomping at the bit for her triumphant return at the beginning of this year. KW

Standout Group Exhibition at an Austin Staple
Okay Mountain

By Eric Zimmerman


Curated by Nathan Green at Austin’s venerable Okay Mountain, Polymict brought together a group of solid abstract painters and feisty young collaborative sculptors in this refreshingly enjoyable and smart exhibition. EZ

Pleasant Reminder of Capitalism’s Dark Side
Josephine Meckseper
Blaffer Gallery

By Eric Zimmerman

Josephine Meckseper.

Josephine Meckseper’s poignant binding of consumerism, activism, politics, and violence in her exhibition at The Blaffer Gallery in Houston made challenging demands on the viewer, but was worth every second. An appropriated advertisement of a Saab family sedan morphing into a fighter jet accompanied by ear-shattering techno was the icing on the cake. Nobody said art had to be easy. EZ

Greatest Metal Album For When It’s Over 100 Degrees In Austin for 3 Months
Crack the Skye

By Eric Zimmerman

Crack the Skye by Mastodon.

Mastadon’s Crack The Skye is a cascading metal masterpiece. Bone crushing, melodic and beautifully complex it’s a perfect album to assist you in stomaching the pleasant feelings that arise when the temperature in Austin is brutally oppressive for an entire summer. It’s been solid for cool weather too, on The Best Antidote for The Nutcracker list perhaps? EZ

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