MBG Issue #150: Transcendent and Not Merely Heavy Handed

Issue # 150

Transcendent and Not Merely Heavy Handed

June 18, 2010

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Leah DeVun, Early Morning Goodbye, 2010, Chromira Photograph, 30 x 40 inches. Photo courtesy of Leah DeVun and Women & Their Work.

from the editor

I never pick themes for issues beforehand; I prefer to allow continuities to appear among features serendipitously. As an editing methodology, I like this: I collect the thoughts of others, look for threads and then weave them together, or highlight a particular idea, in this column. This editing methodology is about listening carefully to other writers and then drawing their monologues together into dialogue in the journal. Even with the rise of blogs and bloggers, journals and editors will always be irreplaceable for this reason. A good editor creates a conversation out of individual voices, and, in the best cases, helps to write a community into being. Fittingly, perhaps, for …might be good’s sesquicentennial issue, the threads I found running through this issue weave around the relationship between real and imagined art communities.

In her Mexico City round-up, the Blanton’s Curator of Latin American Art, Ursula Davila-Villa, returns to her hometown to reflect upon the changing landscape of the art community there. As Ursula points out, the contemporary art scene has been thriving in Mexico since at least the 1990s, and it continues to grow. Its art fair is gaining international significance; its gallery scene is expanding. The story in Mexico City is familiar. I’ve heard similar stories from Chicago, Portland, Kansas City, and certainly from Austin. This is because most art scenes are constantly in a state of becoming. The institutions in these cities are constantly becoming bigger; the market is constantly becoming better; the city is constantly becoming a more attractive place for young artists to move. These cities are never fully “central” never truly “peripheral,” at least not to themselves. In these communities, where there is a sense of constantly becoming bigger, better and smarter, there is a sense of possibility. The imagined future community propels the present community on; if you want to make something happen, there is the sense that you can, if you work hard.

Interestingly, two of the shows reviewed in this issue, Leah DeVun’s Our Hands on Each Other and Sonny Smith’s 100 Records, both stage communities. DeVun’s portraits of women from a particular young Austin lesbian-academic-art set are based on photos from lesbian separatist journals printed in the 1970s; they stage a group of friends and colleagues as a separatist community. Meanwhile, Smith’s project imagines a hundred undiscovered bands and collaborates with other artists to compile album covers and tracks for each one. For both DeVun and Smith, the fictive communities presented in the gallery are a mechanism for participation within actual communities.

In this sense, imagined communities (the future Mexico City or Austin, DeVun’s separatist lesbian commune, Smith’s undiscovered bands) help to create or strengthen lived communities. Imagining community can actualize community, and actual communities can thrive on their imaginary counterparts. Perhaps the work DeVun and Smith have done through their respective projects is not unlike the work of an editor. Through …might be good, I have attempted to construct an imagined community that bears a mutually reinforcing relationship with the actual art community in Austin and Texas.

This train of thought is partly inspired by my impending departure from Fluent~Collaborative and Austin. This, …might be good’s 150th, is the penultimate issue I will edit. Our next two issues will be guest edited by two regular …might be good writers, Dan Boehl followed by Allison Myers, and Issue 153 at the end of July will be my last. The journal will then take a summer vacation through the end of August and reappear in your inboxes under the guidance of a new editor next fall.

Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.


750 words with Rachel Adams, Arthouse's new Curator of Public Programs

By Claire Ruud

Kenneth Josephson, New York State, 1970.

Arthouse is ramping up for its grand re-opening in the fall with a bigger and better exhibition space and an expanded curatorial staff to match. Their new Curator of Public Programs just arrived from San Francisco, where she was curator at Queen’s Nails Projects. …might be good caught up with her on the day of her arrival to find out a little more about her than you can glean from an institutional bio.

…might be good [mbg]: We had an interesting conversation at Fluent last week about the idea of an "ah-hah" moment with a work of art. Our director, Laurence, recalled a moment in front of Manet's Le Dejeuner sur L'herbe, and an installation by Klara Liden at Artpace recently brought me to tears—a first with an artwork for me. Can you recall any "ah-hah" moments you’ve had with artworks?

Rachel Adams [RA]: Two. One was with a Yayoi Kusama installation called Fireflies on the Water, which I experienced at the Whitney Biennial in 2004. Kusama created a room visitors could enter one at a time. Once you walked in, the guard closed the door behind you and you were confronted with an infinity room lit with multi-colored bulbs that were reflected forever in the mirrored walls and ceiling. Somehow, I felt both completely overwhelmed by the etherealness of the installation while also very frightened. It was amazing and I was able to really experience the art fully. I suppose that was one ah-hah moment for me.

The other was when, a few years before that, I discovered Gordon Matta-Clark.

mbg: Off the top of your head, if tomorrow you could choose one art work to live with for the next 20 years, what would it be?

RA: Possibly one of my favorite photographs ever is a simple and funny piece by Kenneth Josephson called New York State (1970). I fell in love with this photograph my first year of undergrad. (Kenneth is a Chicago photographer that studied under Harry Callahan and taught one of my mentors, Aimee Beubien.) I suppose it was when I was still very involved in making black and white photographs and how simple it seems. I guess I longed to be that quirky in my own work. When I met the artist a few years later, I told him I loved his work and he asked me where I had been all of his life.

Also, anything by Gordon Matta-Clark, who I’ve already mentioned. His work has always spoken to me in a way that only your favorite artist could, I suppose. Matta-Clark's ways of incorporating architecture and installation and photography and social practice into so many of his pieces really allowed for the idea of an interdisciplinary practice to come into existence. The first time I saw one of his wall cut outs at MoMA in New York, I cried.

mbg: Despite the tough economy, a lot of museums are finding money to create new positions like yours at Arthouse right now. What do you think the creation of the “curator of public programming” this signals about the direction in which US art institutions are moving?

RA: Institutions, even smaller ones, are thinking about expanding their audiences and their views on contemporary art. By incorporating more programs, they are able to bank on a larger audience visiting the space. Also, with the large impact of performance art over the past few years as well as more socially-based projects that include more "programming" within the exhibition period, it seems to me that institutions are examining these trends and moving forward with them through the creation of these positions.

mbg: You most recently put together a video program called QNTV at Queen's Nails Projects. Can you tell me a bit about the project?

RA: I started working on this project a few months ago (it was screened at the end of March in SF) with my co-curator Zoe Taleporos. I had been working on the idea of artists using the form of the music video in their work- whether it was a video for their band/art practice, a more performance based work, or a commercial/commissioned project. I ended up compiling a great screening that included Cody Critcheloe/SSION, My Barbarian, Sofia Cordova, Japeth Mennes, and Ely Kim amongst others. QNTV is obviously a riff off of MTV, which for our generation, was the pinnacle of after school television, and I wanted to relive that a little. We also had a performance with a band called Wanda and Wonder, and the screening will travel to Quito, Ecuador in the later summer.

Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.


Leah DeVun
Women & Their Work, Austin
Through July 15, 2010

By Chelsea Weathers

Leah DeVun, Sinister Wisdom, 2010, Chromira Photograph, 40 x 30 inches. Photo courtesy of Leah DeVun and Women & Their Work.

In one respect, Leah DeVun’s current show at Women and Their Work is an exercise in interpreting an archive. Using a collection of lesbian/feminist/separatist publications, most of which were published during the 1970s (some are on display in the show in a vitrine along one wall), DeVun approaches her source material using three discreet media, each to different effects. On one wall is a group of three lightboxes, two depicting candid re-enactments of protest. Both images retain a sort of mimeographed quality, which hearkens back to the low-tech printing that is typical of these vintage publications. Hung above these two boxes is a round lightbox, which contains only the face of a full moon. The motif of the moon returns in one of DeVun’s strongest photographs, Early Morning Goodbye (all works 2010), in which a group of women, their backs to the camera and their silhouettes in dusky shadow, raise their arms in a salute to the moon.

Early Morning Goodbye is part of a series of photographs that line two other walls of the gallery. About half of the photos are portraits that take their titles and inspiration from the vintage publications––Lesbian Land, Up From Below, Sinister Wisdom. Most of photographs that appear in the original publications are candid; the women, often nude, have been photographed spontaneously as they engage with one another or in an activity outside the frame. DeVun, on the other hand, carefully composed each of her portraits in collaboration with her sitters, and as a result the images are much more confrontational. In most of these images, the subjects face the viewer head-on in a rather deadpan manner. Their bodies take up most of the frame, their nudity and steady gaze demanding attention in the starkly hung show. With these photographs, DeVun seeks to explore how recreating scenarios in which contemporary women inhabit the bodies and ethos of the earlier feminists might also recreate feelings of liberation or feminism within her sitters and how these feelings might also transfer to a contemporary audience.

DeVun’s portraits may use the vintage photos as inspiration, but ultimately her work is about the present rather than the past. The artist recently traveled to lesbian separatist intentional communities in northern Mississippi, and other photographs in the show document the landscape there. These are scenes of everyday domestic life, such as a steaming plate of eggs and grits in a breakfast nook, or a small yurt in a wooded clearing. DeVun’s impressions of these societies––their communality but also the isolation that goes hand-in-hand with separatism––were the impetus for the third element of the exhibition. In the middle of the gallery space stands a ramshackle shed, meant to be built up by viewers, the hammers, nails, and wooden planks laid out beside the structure. Here, DeVun forsakes subtlety in order to convey clearly and deliberately that the tactics of confrontation, protest, and community building are still valid techniques for liberation.

When taken together, the portraits and the scenes of separatist domestic life create what appears at first to be the slick documentation of a single community. Given that many of the subjects of these photos are recognizable members of Austin’s young female academic, activist, or lesbian communities, some viewers will recognize the fanciful nature of this imagined community, while others may take the construction at face value. This is where DeVun’s aestheticization of the cheaply produced periodical images becomes transcendent and not merely heavy-handed. The beauty of the photographs gives us as viewers a chance to imagine the people around us escaping the male-dominated capitalist system for a moment and inhabiting an ideal––and this effect is nothing less than liberating.

Chelsea Weathers is a Ph.D. Candidate in Art History at The University of Texas at Austin. Her dissertation is a history of the exhibition and distribution of Andy Warhol's films in the 1960s.

Sonny Smith
Okay Mountain, Austin
Through July 3, 2010

By Bridget Evarts

Sonny Smith, Installation view, 100 Records, 2010, Mixed media. Courtesy of the artist and Okay Mountain.

While other musicians have explored the alter-persona (John Lurie's lost blues legend Marvin Pontiac comes to mind), most have used it as a device to try out a new genre, preserve an identity separate from the music, or just rag a bit on the critics. Sony Smith’s 100 Records, an ambitious undertaking of 100 albums each by a different fictitious band, is different. At Okay Mountain, the albums play on a homemade jukebox, surrounded by renderings of the album covers and snippets of liner notes.

Creating the backstory and liner notes for 100 fictitious bands and singers would be ambitious enough, but Smith also wrote all the music, and in true jukebox format, he and guest musicians recorded both A and B sides for each 7” record. Personas such as Little Antoine and the Sparrows, Pierre Lafitte, the Loud Fast Fools and Merriweather Bradley populate the 200-song jukebox, and the styles range from R&B to Reagan-era punk, 60s British folk rock to country singer-songwriters. Smith later confided that his approach wasn't categorical; he didn't want a careful representation of musical genres, and thus there's the lone reggae artist Walter “The Goat” Riconda mixed in with the rest. Despite Smith's deference to his comfort zone, the songs manage to sound at once fresh and familiar.

Common themes weave together the backstories of the musicians in Smith's jukebox, the most prevalent being relative obscurity. There are some subtle references in the names and music as well. Damaged veteran Hazel Shepp is reminiscent of primitive musician Hasil Adkins. And is Carol Darger, Jackie Feather's fractious partner in music and love, perhaps a kissing cousin of outsider artist Henry Darger? The artwork also references the aesthetic of outsider art; the dominant style is a pastiche of handmade, lowbrow and contemporary folk art. Almost a hundred artists provided pieces for the project, including Chris Johanson, Ed Ruscha and William T. Wiley: while many artists were content to render two-dimensional jackets, some experimented in sculptural and digital design. The art definitely adds to the narrative, but none of it seems able to stand alone without the backstory and music.

If there is a critique in 100 Records, it may be a good-natured poke at the obsessive record collector's zeal for esoteric discoveries. Still, there is a romance in Smith's characters and their unrealized aspirations, and a sense of nostalgia for a time before MP3s and iTunes. Today, the adolescents in Wayward Youth would have a Myspace page, and the bigamist religious collective of Transients might easily reach internet fame via YouTube.

During a visit to Okay Mountain, I had the gallery to myself initially. I punched in my selections on the jukebox and wandered awhile through the art and anecdotes, at least until two other visitors showed up. They quickly dominated the jukebox, tapping through the songs rapidly, never allowing one to play through before interrupting it for the next selection. Just like a true jukebox, I suppose. You never get to hear all your songs all the way through.

Bridget Evarts is a writer based in Austin and member of the band Over the Hill.

Sterling Allen
Inman Gallery Annex, Houston
Through June 26, 2010

By Katie Geha

Sterling Allen, Installation view, Full Court Press, 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Art Palace.

Throughout Sterling Allen’s recent work exists a sense of absurdity that is inherent to the act of misrecognition; the feeling of waving to a friend only to find that the person is a stranger. This sensation first strikes when encountering a flimsy wooden pallet that sits upright in the center of the installation. White painted letters on the uppermost slat spell out “Lorem Ipsum Dolor.” What at first seems like a Latin phrase, a cue to hidden meaning fraught with visual and historical references, is actually a different kind of jargon: the gobbledygook used as placeholder text in the publishing industry. The nonsensical phrases bring attention to the style of lettering, not the meaning of the words. Here and throughout the installation, Allen taps into the meaningless not as a serious commentary on our current state of affairs, but rather as an exercise in apprehending or mis-apprehending the visual cues of our daily lives.

This mini-exhibition, part of a larger group show entitled Full Court Press at the Inman Annex in Houston, was created directly after Allen returned from a residency in Buenos Aires, and the syntax of the city is visible in the work. Throughout his stay, he wandered the streets of the city taking pictures of structures he encountered. The photographs of the bizarre objects, striped and often adorned in blue and yellow, the colors of the popular Boca Junior football team, were then translated into pristinely realized non-functional sculptures.

The works certainly recall Saussure’s logic of semiotics but to go into a deeper discussion of the language of signs might be academic and boring. And Allen’s work is anything but academic and boring. Even while referencing art world motifs such as minimalism and abstract patterning, this installation maintain a levity and playfulness. The stunning Untitled, for instance, a found sculpture made up of fourteen bottles of windshield wiper fluid placed on the floor flush against a mirror, certainly recalls Robert Smithson’s Mirror Displacements and Donald Judd in its rigid arrangement, yet it retains a style that feels more like Allen’s than anyone else’s. The forms of the curved bottles, the bright-blue fluid, the black round caps all neatly lined up and doubled in the mirror creates a pleasing aesthetic just as it might reference clarity and cleanliness.

When approaching Allen’s works it might be impossible for us to understand whatever meaning these signs represent, yet the syntax of their arrangement taps into universal codes of sign-reading. We live in the world and are taught how to comprehend its shorthand. “Lorem Ipsum” uses nonsense as placeholder, yet in this exhibition nonsense takes on a slightly greater meaning. Through it, Allen causes us to question our ability to so quickly trust the everyday abstract signs we regularly encounter.

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

Mexico City Now
A thriving art scene in Mexico City

By Ursula Davila-Villa

An International Art Fair

Pedro Reyes, Installation view of puppets, babymarx, 2010. Courtesy of the artist and LABOR.

Every year, ZONA MACO, Mexico City’s contemporary art fair, gets bigger, and the list of exhibitions and events organized by the city’s museums, private collections and alternative spaces to coincide with the fair gets longer. ZONA MACO, a moderately sized international fair, has grown significantly over the past seven years. This is no small feat given that, when ZONA MACO was founded, Art Basel Miami had already established itself as the single most significant platform where North and South meet. In addition, ZONA MACO had a particular challenge in defining both the participating galleries and the attending audience, specially given Mexico City’s small collecting community. This task is still in process, and hopefully in the years to come we will see a more clearly defined personality for this still young art fair.

Despite these challenges, this year’s fair was particularly strong. One of the highlights was Gabriel Kuri’s large-scale embroidered rugs depicting sales receipts that hung on the walls of the Kurimanzutto (Mexico) booth. Part of his series that documented his purchases by collecting and replicating the receipts from his purchases, Kuri used the traditional craft of rug making to comment on capitalism and consumer culture.

Meanwhile, in the section ZONA MACO SUR, spaces devoted to individual artists, standouts included Adrian Villar Rojas and Johanna Calle. Ruth Benzacar Gallery (Argentina) featured Villar Rojas’ piece titled Quiero un mundo abstracto (2010), a display of color pencil and ink drawings rendered on the pages of several books (from novels to poetry manuscripts). His detailed drawings became windows into the artist’s imagination, depicting fantasy worlds as if illustrating scenes from a wicked children’s book. Casas Riegner Gallery (Colombia) featured a suit of fine and abstract drawings by Calle titled Contables 19 (2005). Her pencil drawings on yellow accounting paper use the line as to create webs with minimalist associations that transform paper normally used for dry office routines into an interwoven configuration of geometric and organic forms.

A Growing Community of Galleries

Every time I visit Mexico City it seems harder to keep up with the mushrooming art gallery scene. During this visit, I particularly liked a new space called LABOR, directed by Pamela Echeverria and located in the traditional gallery area Colonia Roma. LABOR featured an installation by Pedro Reyes entitled babymarx. The installation integrated, a display of historical figures such as Karl Marx, Joesph Stalin, Mao and Che Guevara sculped as Bunraku puppets, a series of monitors showing a puppet soap opera, and a scaled model of a library that served as the stage set to record the puppet show. Reyes’ script for the puppets is a satirical debate about socialism and capitalism. Although there are several art spaces in the same neighborhood, LABOR is definitely a great new addition to the already thriving gallery scene for two reasons: its library that is open to the public, and its voice that represents a new generation of gallery owners and young artists from Mexico and abroad.

Museums and Private Collections

Museums in Mexico City (which are supported by the state) have increasingly embraced contemporary art over the past two decades. Among the highlights was the contemporary art museum, Museo Tamayo. Even though the galleries of Museo Tamayo were closed for a remodeling project, the institution organized their annual gala, which included a performance by Los Super Elegantes. With new director Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy at its helm and an ambitious program, Museo Tamayo promises to become an important institution within both Latin America and the US.

Without a doubt the most significant private collections in Mexico City is that of Eugenio López Alonso, also known as Colección Jumex after his family company. Set in a compound next to a food-processing factory that produces Jumex juice, the collection includes work by U.S. artists such as Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois and Jasper Johns, alongside established and emerging Mexican artists such as Miguel Calderón, Pablo Vargas Lugo, Gabriel Kuri, and Diego Pérez. In conjuction with ZONA MACO, Jumex opened The Traveling Show and El Gabinete Blanco, two interesting and refreshing group exhibitions organized by Brazilian curator Adriana Pedrosa. The Traveling Show, as its name suggests, brought together work by artists from many different regions around the theme of traveling. Some works, such as Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla’s video Under Discussion (2005), took a political perspective on the idea, while others, such as Thiago Rocha-Pitta’s video of the sky between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in RJ x SP – aerial bridge in highway time or address-less love letter (2005), embodied the more romantic side of travel.

Additionally, El Gabinete Blanco was a delightful small and intimate exhibition that featured white art works by artists such as Julieta Aranda, Juan Araujo, Iran do Espíritu Santo, Dan Flavin, Clair Fontaine, among others. The installation, organized in a ninetieth century salon style, was delicate and precise. Contrary to the visual noise present throughout the bigger The Traveling Show, the mood of El Gabinete Blanco was soft and appealing. Mr. Pedrosa’s exhibitions were well-worth the two and a half hours of traffic we endured in order to arrive to the compound.

Experimental Project Space

I close this piece with one of the most exciting projects taking place in Mexico: SOMA, an artist run school and residency program founded and directed by artists Yoshua Okón and Eduardo Abaroa. Historically, artists in Mexico have played a decisive role in crafting the face of national culture and its relationship to society. SOMA is certainly carrying on this tradition. Okón and Abaroa founded the program in 2009 as an experimental project conceived to create an alternative platform to discuss the key issues pertaining to contemporary art production and culture. Their goal is to engage both young and establish artists in a new kind of art school based on a mentorship program, and to attract a general audience to interact with and question artists face-to-face, without mediation. SOMA offers short-term residencies for international artists, and hopes to enroll emerging artists from other parts of Mexico and abroad in their trimester program in the near future. In addition, they organize free public programs every Tuesday and host a variety of events in collaboration with other curators, scholars, and universities in Mexico. Back in the 1990s both Okón, who co-founded and directed La Panadería, and Abaroa, who founded and organized Temistocles 44 (T44), were key players in the growth of Mexico’s contemporary art world. Now, SOMA embodies the ideals of La Panadería and T44 by promoting critical discourse and educational projects for a new generation of artists.

Even though the press has not shed Mexico in the best light recently, the country’s artists and art institutions continue to engage in the public arena in an effort to build a stronger sense of community though shared artistic experiences. Many native artists and curators who were living abroad are returning to Mexico in an effort to strengthen the discourse and its relationship to the past in order to craft a better future. It is clear that the country is full of refreshing new voices that will continue to foster a thriving art scene that is both informed by national culture and politics and extremely relevant to the international art world.

Ursula Davila-Villa is Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Latin American Art at the Blanton Museum of Art.

Psychedelic, Optical & Visionary Art since the 1960s
San Antonio Museum of Art
Through August 1, 2010

By Hills Snyder

As You Like It

Jose Alvarez, Star Garden, 2007, acrylic, watercolor, porcupine quills, crystals on watercolor paper, 59 x 40 inches. Collection of Sheila and Milton Fine, Pittsburgh, Pa. Courtesy San Antonio Museum of Art.

I go to restaurants and the groups always play Yesterday. I even signed a guy's violin in Spain after he played us Yesterday. He couldn't understand that I didn't write the song. But I guess he couldn't have gone from table to table playing I Am The Walrus.
– John Lennon

All tricksters like to hang around the doorway, that being one of the places where deep-change accidents occur.
– Lewis Hyde

The truest poetry is the most feigning.
– Shakespeare

Jose Alvarez has made the most of hanging around doorways and it doesn’t really matter if you catch him coming or going. His use of porcupine quills and crystals intentionally references Carlos Castaneda, about whom validity vs. authenticity has been argued, but in the end this doesn’t matter—you make your own authenticity out of whatever raw materials are available. I know for sure this is true—I think it’s why they call it art—because it’s made up. There is art, theatre if you will, involved in even the most genuine rituals and eventually you’ll understand why the jaguar skull on the Mesa faces you at first and then faces the opposite direction later. You’ll understand this, if, that is, you are willing.

The time has come to talk of many things.

I’d like to say that Alvarez’ 2007 painting, Star Garden, is “on view now” at the San Antonio Museum of Art, but it isn’t. That would be, perhaps, too much of a good thing, as the show already has lots to offer. The piece is among those works included in curator David Rubin’s original conception of Psychedelic, Optical and Visionary Art Since The 1960s, but it could not be brought to the museum due to financial limitations. Given those constraints, a decision was made to focus the contemporary branch of the show mainly on San Antonio artists, leaving the shipping budget for what Mr. Rubin calls the “pioneers”—artists like Alex Grey, who has become well known since the early seventies for leaving academia driven paradigms and engaging something more transcendental. Star Garden is in a Pittsburgh private collection, but maybe some intrepid Central Texas collector will step up and give the museum a new Alvarez piece. If they do, I promise to visit it often, as I have done with Frank Stella’s Double Scramble—a real touchstone, and the main reason I’ve visited SAMA for the last three decades.

By the way, you can stand on Michael Fried and argue that theatre vs. objecthood debate if you wish, but when I visit Double Scramble, I’m not looking at a picture, I’m going in.

Not that it isn’t flat or anything.

Anyway, for now, the full-page reproduction of Star Garden in the lavishly illustrated catalog will have to do. The painting has the look of what I can only call fairy dust wall paper—saccharine, seductive, hi-def—a soft-edged, split-fountain of turquoise, yellow, pink and purple, across which concentric orbs, cellular flowers, starbursts, morphing tubes of color and weird gargoyle-like finials hover, seeming to float and drift. The mottled tubes are rigid, hypnotized, simultaneously serpent and shehnai, while the gargoyles call to mind a lot of things—the creatures that at times bedevil Jim Woodring’s cartoon character Frank, Ernst Haeckel’s illustrations of radiolarians and other life-forms, Wedgwood urns (SAMA has a gallery full of them), the 3D renderings of the Mandelbrot set known as Mandelbulbs, all things steampunk and of course Terence McKenna’s self-transforming machine elves which McKenna himself has compared to Fabergé eggs.

I’ve encountered these entities before—they seem to smirk a lot and have strangely modulated voices, not unlike the garbled transmissions from the future heard by James Cole in the Terry Gilliam film, Twelve Monkeys. Yet they speak without sound. I don’t know if they are significant. I think they function as red herrings mainly, just to see what you’ll fall for. On the other hand, I can’t say conclusively, and I’d like to know more. Once they whispered to me “if you want to get to pleasinoinktament you gotta go nootinoinkstowards.” I shit you not and I knew exactly what they meant. It was actually helpful information. I feel that perhaps they populate a border where travelers are likely to find that maps are of no use; that the whole notion of that kind of superimposed logic is extremely funny.

It’s interesting that when Alvarez uses these particular images they are often bilaterally symmetrical. This is a characteristic of sentience. On another level, twinning is the feature that most vividly characterizes the ladder-like structure of DNA (though one of the “uprights” is inverted). In Haeckel’s ornamental morphology, this doubling, one side mirroring the other, is called “organic stereometry” though he takes it further, to radial symmetry.

Check out the 1998 reprint of Haeckel’s Art Forms in Nature, first published over a century ago. A gorgeous book, you can put it on the shelf next to the catalog for the Psychedelic show. While you’re at it, open it to page 17 where you can see that the photograph of Constant Roux’s 1907 glass chandelier, based on Haeckel’s drawing of the Discomedusae (apparently created in a fever on a Saturday night), prefigures the Mandelbulb, which was not seen until at least eighty years later.

In addition to being a potter and an abolitionist, Josiah Wedgwood was Charles Darwin’s grandfather. He lived in a time when fossil collecting was a big deal, though many didn’t have a clue as to their actual origin. The notion of extinction of species was not widely accepted or even dreamt of. Many believed the earth was less than 6000 years old based on Bishop Usher’s calculations (foolish fundamentalists still believe this). Some collectors thought that fossils were gems buried in the earth by an external god just so people could dig them up and be delighted.

Thomas Jefferson came along a little later, in between Wedgwood and Darwin. He was an avid fossil collector and an early player in American paleontology. He was no literal interpreter of scripture, which he has referred to as including ignorance, absurdity, untruth, charlatanism and imposture.

Anyway, the point is, nature speaks louder than words. Or rather, it is The Word. Olaf Breidbach, in his introductory essay to the Haeckel reprint, refers to Haeckel’s project as a “phylogeny of the spirit.”

Redressing the concept of symmetry: it’s important to note that without asymmetry, life would not be possible. The cosmic mistake that allows the imbalance between matter and anti-matter certainly qualifies as a deep-change doorway.

Maybe that’s what they think is so fucking funny.

The elves I mean.

It’s only 625 miles from Novelty, Missouri to Hazard, Kentucky. You could easily drive it straight through, but no matter how close you get, the distance that’s left can always be halved, so you may never get there. Not only that, it can seem sometimes that you’re going in circles—didn’t we already go through Grayville? But you gotta do what you gotta do, doubt and determinism not withstanding, even if your car’s a clunker. It’s necessary for something, even if you don’t not know what.

And you can always take a cab, if you really have to.

Stochasm: a strange arroyo into which one may slip without notice. There’s one in Illinois, right outside Grayville. If you are drawn into one, you won’t know what’s in store, but adaptability helps to insure a favorable outcome.

Star Garden bears a remarkable resemblance to The Robe of Chemchuties, a subatomic raiment discovered by Voyager 2 on the eighth moon of Uranus in 1986, just a year before mandelbiulbs began to appear. Chemchuties is known to be connected with Matter Sophia, Pachamama, Isis, Gaia, Shakti, Shekinah and is a frequent cohort of Bill the lizard. It is said that she is the dragon referred to by Merlin in the John Boorman film, Excalibur.

Merlin: Shall I tell you what's out there?
Arthur: Yes, please.
Merlin: The dragon. A beast of such power that if you were to see it whole and complete in a single glance, it would burn you to cinders.
Arthur: Where is it?
Merlin: It is everywhere. It is everything. Its scales glisten in the bark of trees. Its roar is heard in the wind. And its forked tongue strikes like... [lightning strikes] Merlin: Like lightning—yes that's it.

And clanking through this panoply of forms comes the human—still in this century bound up with breastplate and helmet, sword and shield—all the apparatus necessary to protect itself.

From what, exactly?

As we’ve seen before, doubt and necessity are the parents of invention, but history is the cab driver of evolution. Beyond the opposed views of history, linear and cyclical, there must be a third option.

What exactly?


Don’t you think the joker laughs at you?


A companion piece to this article is forthcoming in Artlies online. Hills Snyder lives in San Antonio. More of his writing can be found at www.hillssnyder.com.

...mbg recommends

Houston, New York, San Antonio

By Claire Ruud, Erin Riley-Lopez, Wendy Atwell

Andy Coolquitt, we care about you, 2008, metal, wire, epoxy, lightbulb, plastic, yarn, 63 x 20 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Lisa Cooley.

Hand + Made
Contemporary Arts Museum

Refreshingly, Hand+Made: The Performative Impulse Art and Craft breaks craft-based art practices free from the medium-based exhibition. Curator Valerie Cassel Oliver uses a shared predilection for performance to bring together artists working in all sorts of mediums associated with craft to great effect. Seeing works like Anne Wilson’s woven choreography/sculpture and videos of B Team’s glass blowing performances together makes so much sense it’s hard to imagine why more people haven’t already thought of it. In retrospect, craft—with its inescapable association with utility—and performance are an impossibly obvious pairing. These objects beg to be touched, worn, and played with. Performances and activities in conjunction with the exhibition may be found in CAMH’s calendar. –CR

New York
Andy Coolquitt
Lisa Cooley

Andy Coolquitt’s We Care About You (2008) beckons, if you will, from one of the Lower East Side gallery’s two storefront windows. The hanging, multi-colored sculpture pops from the surrounding white space and its single, glowing light bulb signals the viewer to step inside. There, the raw, open space of the gallery lends itself to this work made of industrial and found materials. Coolquitt refers to this works as “somebody mades” because “another human designed and constructed them,” a playful take on an art historical term of weighty proportions. Long, straight poles, assembled from lighters, plastic and metal in cotton-candy pinks, sunshine yellows and electric blues, criss-cross the space in a careful balancing act. Activated by the viewer who must dance around them, the sculptures gain an animated quality that objects of this sort might otherwise belie. –ERL

San Antonio
Sala Diaz

Hills Snyder, the director of Sala Diaz, met David and Daniel Frank, the collaborative team Cosmocto, at an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru, and Sinchi Medicina, the title of the duo’s current show at the gallery, refers to the medicinal qualities of the hallucinogenic plant. Cosmocto’s interest in mystical sciences—cymatics, color healing, symbolic resonance and sacred geometry—is tricky within a cynicism-laced art world that runs on the potent fumes of irony. The artists’ challenges are legion, among them: how to express the radically transformative experiences of an hallucinogenic trip inside an art gallery without evoking the aesthetic of a New Age bookstore. Mostly, Cosmocto manages this challenge by sidestepping the critical discourse entirely. The installation, saturated by a rainbow palette of geometric forms, creates a ritualistic, ceremonial environment that provides a welcome relief from contemporary art’s ironic distance and commoditization. Here, color, form and composition are both a product of and testament to the artists' ongoing spiritual journeys. –WA

Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.

Erin Riley-Lopez is an independent curator based in New York City.

Wendy Atwell received her M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

Jules Buck Jones
Monofonus Press
Opening Receptions: Sunday, July 11, 6-10pm

Conceived of as a continuous drawing spanning 98 pages, artist Jules Buck Jones' Everglades chronicles his residency in Everglades National Park in the summer of 2009. During this residency, Jones spent the park's off-season living alone in a bunker where scorpions and frogs covered the walls and hawks circled the front yard. He passed his days canoeing among alligators, crocodiles, sharks, and 15-foot Burmese pythons and his nights searching for the rare Florida Panther. The work this wildlife inspired combines the illustrative precision of field guides with the expressive nuance of nonrepresentational art.

Drea Mastromatteo and Jacob Green
Opening Reception: Saturday, June 19, 7-11PM

Sum of The Parts is an interactive performance/sound installation exploring the gaps between the consumer identity and the personal self via ritual. Sound will be mixed live from various microphone feeds around the space and performers. The concept should elicit contemplations about personhood and its attachment to the things we own and do, as well as how they own us. The performance itself is a personal endurance and question for all participants, active and passive, to work through the masking concepts of identity that take us away from our humanity and the visceral aspects of our personal being.

15th Annual Young Latino Artists: Consensus of Taste
Opening Reception: Friday, July 16, 7-9pm

Mexic-Arte Museum, the Official Mexican and Mexican American Fine Art Museum of Texas, presents the 15th Annual Young Latino Artists (YLA) Exhibition: Consensus of Taste. Curated by Claudia Zapata, M.A. in Art History from the University of Texas at Austin, this exhibition features the current visual artwork of artists from the past fourteen YLA exhibitions. American art critic Clement Greenberg's paper “Can Taste Be Objective” suggests there is a “consensus of taste” in which disputed taste eventually is agreed upon by all parties. The curator utilizes this concept to showcase past YLA artists' current work and their development into professional visual artists.

Michael Merck
Big Medium
Opening Reception: Friday, July 2, 7-10pm

Please join Big Medium for Michael Mercks, Too Many Unique Users of the Sun. This exhibition is comprised of new and recent large-format works on canvas which focus on the cerebral and experiential aspects of painting while ignoring or drawing comparison to the medium's formal concerns.

Austin on View

Leah DeVun
Women and Their Work
Through July 15

Leah DeVun's photographic series draws its title from Lesbian Land, a published collection of writings by lesbians who founded or lived in women's intentional communities, sometimes called "womyn's lands," in the 1970s-80s. With this show DeVun takes the history of Women & Their Work as a jumping off point to ask viewers to consider the nature of queer and feminist space in the past and present.

Francesca Gabbiani
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Through July 10

Viewed from a distance Francesca Gabbiani’s intricate assemblages are easily mistaken for paintings. Their flattened realism is upon closer inspection composed of thousands of densely layered abstract shapes of cut paper. The often decadent imagery present in Gabbiani’s work complements and echoes her craft. Influenced by cinema, the interior space - both physical and metaphysical - as well as melancholia, Francesca Gabbiani illustrates surreal fleeting moments.

The Lion Sleeps with the Lamb
MASS @ Big Medium
Through June 26

The Totally Wreck Production Institute presents the results of a series of experiments regarding "the qualities and curiosities of technological foreplay" conducted between 2009-2015. The lab sounds like part Kinsey Institute, part Apple Software Engineering Department. Perhaps they've developed a dildo app for your iPad? The press release is opaque, so you'll have to visit the show to see what Totally Wreck has wrought.

Austin Closings

In Science, The Lion Sleeps with the Lamb
Big Medium
Through June 26

In the years 2009-2015, the Totally Wreck Production Institute conducted a series of experiments investigating the qualities and curiosities of technological foreplay. Visions of progress and product were set aside, and instead, the identity of failure was sought out as a milestone containing shrouded and inherent success. Inconclusive dilemmas became holy events with hidden meaning and techno-spiritual meditations. The romance of technology within the members of the institution shed the layers of traditional clinical procedure, and instead, anarchic and unorthodox practices became felicitous excursions. Investors quickly ceased their funding of these experiments, based on an overwhelming fear that the institute's pursuit of scientific conquest appeared to be slipping deeply into the palms of the psychotic/avant-garde.

Dallas Openings

Susan Barnett, Ellen Berman, and Kia Neill
Conduit Gallery
Opening Reception: Saturday, June 19, 5:30-8:30pm

Conduit Gallery opens three new exhibitions featuring Susan Barnett, Games and Icons, Ellen Berman, Every Day, and Kia Neill in the space's Project Room.

Dallas on View

Marty Walker Gallery
Through July 17

Marty Walker Gallery presents 'Post-Now' with works from Anna Krachey, Buster Graybill, and Jesse Morgan Barnett. With a lot of recent attention on global warming and religious fanatical end-of-world warnings, these artists confront the roles of agriculture, technology, and industrialism in a society left without humans. Each artist removes a sense of reality through abstraction, contrasting absurd materiality with the fluidity of life. The photographs, sculptures, and video reveal spontaneity of movement against static material constructions, poetically staging events that articulate the pervasive presence of life by showing its absence.

The Non-Profit Margin
Through July 24

In an effort to challenge the traditional avenues of the exhibition and consumption of art and the art experience, The Non-Profit Margin presents work that confronts the current global economic crisis. Drawing from current residents at CentralTrak and the local community of artists, The Non-Profit Margin includes Richie Budd, Shelby Cunningham, Gary Farrelly, give up, Professor Riccio and Doctor Dufour, Marjorie Schwarz, and Ludwig Schwarz.

Dallas Contemporary
Through August 8

Curated by Regine Basha, Seedings is a multi-media show about environmental issues. Artists include: Hilary Berseth, David Brooks, Jedediah Ceasar, Jessica Halonen, Hilary Harnischfeger, Christopher Ho, Virginia Poundstone, Gilad Ratman, and Lucy Raven.

Houston on View

Maurizio Cattelan
The Menil Collection
Through August 15

Contemporary Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan is known for his witty embrace of semantic shifts that result from imaginative plays with materials, objects, and actions. In his work, contradictions in the space between what the artist describes as softness and perversity wage a sarcastic critique on political power structures, from notions of nationalism or the authorities of organized religion to the conceit of the museum and art history. (From the press release)

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
Through July 25

Hand+Made explores the performative impulse in art and craft. There's so much great work in the show, it's hard to single out just a few highlights. Among them is Sheila Pepe's Common Sense II, the second iteration of a project the artist first conceived in Austin at testsite last summer.

Houston Closings

The Space Between Sound
Through July 3

Markus Cone and Ian Travis of the band Chin Xaou Ti Won have invited a group of local noise musicians to perform on opening night, while Adela Andea will collaborate with Chin Xaou Ti Won to create an installation in conjunction with the performance. In addition to Skydive’s normal hours 1-5 on Saturday, Chin Xaou Ti Won will be using the studio for recording music through out the show. To stop by or to participate in a recording email markuscone@hotmail.com.

San Antonio Openings

Alejandro Diaz
David Shelton Gallery
Opening Reception: Saturday, June 19, 6-9pm

Alejandro Diaz, currently based in New York City, is originally from San Antonio where he developed provocative and pertinent bodies of work influenced by the complex and visually rich cultural milieu particular to South Texas and Mexico. For Just in Queso, Diaz introduces new works utilizing a conceptual, recurrent use of everyday materials; an irreverent and humor infused critique of cultural stereotypes, politics, and the contemporary art world; and an ongoing involvement with art as a form of entertainment, activism, public intervention, and free enterprise. His work represents a range of mediums, including paint, neon, watercolor, sculpture, and installation.

San Antonio on View

Keep it Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men
Diverse Works
Through June 5

Political, culture-jamming artists The Yes Men create spoof websites and newspapers, stage productive interventions and appear in conferences and TV shows to highlight how corporations and government organizations often act in dehumanizing ways toward the public. Keep it Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men exhibits The Yes Men's practice through five fantastical scenes of elaborate costumes fabricated for their bold interventions, slapstick videos and PowerPoint presentations at business conferences, outrageous posters and props, scripts, sketches, research materials and selected ephemera from their personal collections.

San Antonio Closings

This is All Real
Unit B Gallery
Through July 2

Joey Fauerso, Leslee Fraser and Gyan Shrosbree, inspired by the subjectivities and proclivities of the others, bring together their work in a maximalist installation that obfuscates authorship, and decentralizes the art object. This construction is a collection of collections! Art objects are interspersed with other items that any of the artists may covet, collect, or consume. Art is artifice, but this is all real.

Announcements: opportunities

Call for Artists

Jason Middlebrook: More Art About Buildings And Food
Deadline: July 31, 2010

For the inaugural exhibition in Arthouse's new second floor gallery, New-York based artist Jason Middlebrook will transform detritus from the building renovation into sculpture and functional dining furniture that will evoke both the history of the Jones Center and its longstanding importance as a gathering place for Austin's community. Elaborating upon ideas of community, history, and creativity, Middlebrook will also make a massive drawing that will incorporate family recipes submitted by you! Some of the recipes will also be featured in a communal potluck dinner held at Arthouse on Saturday, November 20, 2010. Click here to find out how to submit.

Call for Entries

Frieze Writer's Prize 2010
Frieze Magazine
Deadline: June 25, 2010

 Frieze Writer's Prize was established in 2006 by frieze magazine to promote and encourage new critics from across the world.This year, the prize will be judged by philosopher and critic Boris Groys; writer and novelist A.M. Homes and co-editor of frieze magazine Jörg Heiser.
• Entrants must submit one previously unpublished review of a recent contemporary art exhibition, approximately 700 words in length.
• Entries must be submitted in English, but may be a translation (this must be acknowledged).
• Entrants must be over 18 years old.
• To qualify, entrants may only previously have had a maximum of three pieces of writing on art published in any national or regional newspaper or magazine. Previous online publication is permitted.
• The winning entrant will be commissioned to write a review for the October issue of frieze and be awarded 2,000 GBP.
• Closing date is 25 June 2010.
• Entries should be emailed as a word attachment to writersprize@frieze.com. Please do not send images. For more info click here.

New Art in Austin
Austin Museum of Art
Deadline: July 29, 2010

 The Austin Museum of Art (AMOA) is accepting artists’ submissions for the exhibition "New Art in Austin," which will be on view at AMOA-Downtown from February 26 -May 22, 2011. The fourth in a triennial showcase, "New Art in Austin" introduces emerging and lesser-known artists from Central Texas whose work stretches the boundaries of contemporary art. A statewide curatorial review team will evaluate the work of local artists made over the past three years. Through this exhibition of cutting-edge work in a variety of media, and its accompanying catalogue, the museum seeks to create a dialogue about contemporary art in Austin and attract attention to artists within our community. Click here for Call Details and Application.

2011 Texas Biennial
Texas Biennial
Deadline: July 21, 2010

Big Medium is happy to announce the 2011 Texas Biennial open Call for Art. As an independent survey of contemporary art in Texas, the 2011 Biennial is an opportunity to investigate current art-making in Texas and promote the incredible innovation happening within our great state. We are also please to announce New York based art historian Virginia Rutledge as this year's curator. In the same independent spirit as years past, the 2011 Biennial will encourage a dialogue amongst artists, curators, writers and art lovers alike that will echo throughout the run of the 4th Biennial exhibition and beyond. Starting May 21, 2010 and running until July 21, 2010, the Texas Biennial will be accepting submissions from artists living and working in Texas via www.texasbiennial.com. All entries will be digitally submitted online and artists of all medias are encouraged to apply. (From the press release)

Call for Exhibition Proposals

Art League Houston 2011-2012 Call for Exhibition Proposals
Art League Houston
Deadline: June 26, 2010

Local, national, and international curators and professional artists are encouraged to submit proposals for exhibitions consistent with Art League Houston's mission and vision. From these submissions, Art League Houston annually selects four to six major exhibitions for the main gallery, adjacent project space, and outdoor spaces. Exhibits selected for Art League Houston's main gallery will receive an unrestricted honorarium in the amount of $1,500. For more info contact Sarah Schellenberg, 713.523.9530 or sarah@artleaguehouston.org.

Employment Opportunities

Curatorial Assistant, Contemporary Art and Special Projects
Museum of Fine Arts Houston
Deadline: June 25, 2010

The MFAH seeks a curatorial assistant to assist Curator of Contemporary Art and Special Projects and acts as the department´s chief liaison across the museum campus. The scope of the position reflects all departmental activities, including collections, exhibitions, and long-range planning for a new building dedicated to Modern & Contemporary Art. For more info, visit the listing on the museum's website.

Exhibitions and Public Programs Coordinator
Americas Society
Effective June 4

Americas Society’s Visual Arts Department seeks an energetic and highly motivated Exhibitions and Programs Coordinator. The Exhibitions and Programs Coordinator will work closely with the Assistant Curator and the Visual Arts Director in all areas of departmental management. Qualified candidates should have a B.A in Art History, Film Studies, Architecture or Art. Offers a comprehensive benefits package, which includes paid individual health and dental, 401 (K), and vacation. To apply, send resume and writing samples to ivillanueva@as-coa.org and grangel@as-coa.org , or fax to 212-249-5868 to the attention of the Visual Arts Department. No phone calls will be accepted.

Call for Proposals

In Practice
Deadline: July 1, 2010

The In Practice project series supports artists in creating new work for exhibition at SculptureCenter. We invite artists to submit proposals for projects and installations to be presented beginning in January of 2011. SculptureCenter seeks proposals that offer new ways of considering sculpture or further the understanding of the discipline and how it can intersect with installation, architecture, performance, and other media. All applications will be submitted electronically via SculptureCenter's website this year. The application, guidelines, FAQ, and downloadable building floorplans and images may be found here. Applying artists are encouraged to visit SculptureCenter during open hours. Any questions can be sent to inpractice@sculpture-center.org.

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