MBG Issue #187: Two Helpings Of The Future, Yes Please

Issue # 187

Two Helpings Of The Future, Yes Please

April 6, 2012

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Andy Coolquittchair w/paintings, Lisa Cooley, March 30 - May 6, 2012. Photo: Cary Whittier.

from the editor

When I sat down on Sunday evening to watch Morley Safer’s 60 Minutes exposé on the contemporary art world I went in with low expectations. His first story, circa-1993, hadn’t set a very high bar and as it turned out, this one maintained the same standard. No real surprise there, I don’t look to CBS for a nuanced look at art. Wandering the isles of Art Basel Miami Beach, or, as Safer called it, “an upscale flea market,” he cloaked his aesthetic judgements in the guise of a story about the shocking amount of money a portion of artists and dealers are making. Monetary gain is apparently an artist's new worst crime. Smugly, he plugged just how controversial his 1993 art world story had been, proudly flashed his philistines badge, flippantly questioned whether or not objects qualified for the label of art, schmoozed with market luminaries Jeffrey Deitch, Larry Gagosian, Tim Blum and Eli Broad amongst others and moaned about artspeak. Standard uninspired fodder for attacks from people for whom contemporary art will always represent a travesty and artists a gaggle of tricksters.

The trouble is not Safer’s dislike of contemporary art or his confusion in front of it, but that it manifested itself in a series of sweeping generalizations that assumed much about artists and the art world without acknowledging that he was addressing a singular, über-minute slice of that world—the art market. Semi-informed white knight-journalists storming the art world castle to expose some perceived injustice is nothing new. The lack of regulation, clear ethics, quantifiable truths and definitions of success that align with traditional value systems stymie the reporters of the world for whom truth, clear ethical guidelines and hard facts are a touchstone. Network television's portrayal of one small, stereotypical aspect of the art world at the expense of all others, while disappointing, should come as no surprise. After-all, it's easier, and far more lucrative, to perpetuate popular generalizations—the myth of the art world as a monocultural behemoth full of ‘strange’ people, for example—than it is to contradict them.1

Contemporary arts naysayers rarely offer an alternative in their traditionalist sniping, though it’s understood that everything that came before was better than what's happening now—a situation not unique to art. Impressionism! Back to the 60’s! Viva Realismo! Sadly that brand of nostalgia reflects a shallow understanding and ultimately bleak vision of art and culture wherein all artists work in an approved manner, forever cranking out digestible widgets with unchanging techniques, adhering to a rule book and seeking approval by popular vote. Ironically, the historical idols—Manet, Van Gogh, Monet, etc.—championed by many as an antidote to the contemporary were once popularly decried in the same manner as the Jeff Koons of the world are today. Safer’s story reflects a larger cultural ill. Too often when we’re faced with something that sparks confusion, is difficult to understand or doesn’t align with our personal taste and value system, it is promptly dismissed without thought and labelled illegitimate. When followed to its end this is dangerous logic. If a time comes when everyone agrees on what art is, isn’t ever troubled by it and all of the messiness, difference and incomprehensibility has been hygienically scrubbed from it, that's when we’re in real trouble.2

Our first issue this month reflects, on a modest scale, the diversity of perspectives, media and locales that make up the art world and contemporary art practice. Color Photography, curated by Francis Colpitt, at Fort Worth Contemporary Arts is the topic of University of Dallas Assistant Professor Catherine Caesar’s skillful review. Continuing the thread of interviews with directors and curators, Yale M.B.A candidate Claire Ruud sits down with The Blanton Museum of Arts director Simone Wicha, who’s flying under the radar yet making some key new hires after her appointment last year. From Houston Rice University PhD student Melissa Venator writes thoughtfully on New York-based artist Demetrius Oliver’s exhibition, Azimuth, at the Inman Gallery. The Public Art Fund’s outdoor exhibition space at MetroTech Center in downtown Brooklyn is currently host to the group exhibition A Promise is a Cloud, which writer and curator Sarah Demeuse offers her insight into. Rounding out this issue our Project Space comes from New York-based artist Ryan Lauderdale, whose engaging work should be familiar to the Austinites amongst our readership.

As always we welcome your feedback and participation in the little slice of art world pie that is ...might be good. Email us at: askus@fluentcollab.org.

Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.


1. Roberta Smith’s response concludes with a sentence that rings true: ‘The obsessions of others are opaque to the unobsessed, and thus easy to mock. Nascar, jazz, baseball, roses, poetry, quilts, fishing. If we’re lucky, we all have at least one.’ http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/02/morley-safer-launches-a-halfhearted-salvo-in-his-war-on-the-art-world/#.
2. Jerry Saltz’s Safer rebuttal, which leads with the sentiment: ‘Art is for anyone, it just isn’t for everyone.’ is worth a read and can be found here: http://www.vulture.com/2012/04/jerry-saltz-on-morley-safer-60-minutes-art-world.html.


Simone Wicha

By Claire Ruud

Simone Wicha. Photo: Chris Patunas.

Less than 12 months ago and without much fanfare, Simone Wicha succeeded Ned Rifkin as Director of The Blanton Museum of Art. She didn’t even move into the director’s office—she felt comfortable in her old one already—she just got right to work. The Museum had been in an extended period of limbo ever since Jessie Otto Hite, who had been Director of the Museum for 15 years and had seen it through the planning and building of its $80 million-plus facility, retired in 2008. First, there was a year-long search that yielded Rifkin to fill the director’s post, followed by two years of adjusting to the new leadership, only to see him resign in 2011. With Wicha rounding the corner toward the first anniversary of her directorship, …might be good thought it might be a good time to catch up with her and hear what she’s been up to (plenty, it sounds like) and how she approaches her role as Director. 

Claire Ruud [CR]: Simone, Ned Rifkin’s resignation and your appointment as Director were announced a little less than a year ago now. After the announcement, all I heard from philanthropists in the community about the work you’d done up to that point at the Blanton was praise. But before that announcement, you were kind of an unknown quantity to many of us in the community. So, can you tell me how that meteoric rise happened?

Simone Wicha [SW]: I don’t know if I can fully tell you how it happened. The museum had gone through a few key transitions since I arrived, the final stages of the capital campaign, Jessie Otto Hite’s retirement, the search for and appointment of a new director. Through this extended period of transition, I was one of the people who was working to help the institution maneuver through this period. Because of this, those closest to the museum: the donor constituency, staff and the university leadership, I think, felt a great deal of trust in me. To these people, I wasn’t an unknown quantity at all. The Museum Council and university leadership believed in what I could do from experience. I’m a strategic thinker, and I love what I do. There’s nothing that thrills me more than supporting the great talent here and building this museum, and I don’t mind doing it behind the scenes or more publicly as the director.

Also, at this stage in our history, the idea of another extended period of transition seemed difficult. I don’t think my appointment as director was really the meteoric rise that it’s probably perceived to be by people who haven’t known me.

[CR]: Even the fact that you kept this office, you didn’t take the director’s office, seems symbolic of the way you approach leading the museum.

[SW]: I love my office. You know, I’ve had opportunities to do other things, and I made the decision to stay here and take this position—even though, at the moment I took it on there were a lot of challenges—because I honestly love and believe in this institution. You can’t do this job and not. It takes a lot out of you: time and commitment and passion and never-ending conviction about what you’re doing. I have those things. The good that’s happening is the reward for me.

[CR]: You mentioned that there were a lot of challenges when you first came. Can you speak to those?

[SW]: Well, there were a few key positions that I needed to fill very quickly. And there were exhibitions that we needed to book. Without key positions filled and key exhibitions booked, it’s also hard to raise money. Also, because the Museum had been in transition for a very long time, I think the community was starting to wonder, “what’s happening there?” We were half a dozen years out from the grand opening of the new Blanton, with new facilities and new programming. It’s not uncommon for institutions at that moment to need to re-center. Six years is a long time. The landscape of Austin has changed, as has the Museum itself. What are we now? We have a tremendous history to build on, and a great, smart team. We are building on that history and that excellence, figuring out how we can make the Museum even stronger.

So, when I took the job I immediately started working on key searches and key exhibition planning. With the exhibition planning, I relied on people in the field who I think are excellent. I’m not a curator, but I have an ability to think through questions thoughtfully and listen. Because some key curatorial positions were empty, I relied on relationships that The Blanton and I had for years to develop the programming schedule, and then simultaneously to start the searches to fill those positions.

[CR]: So you’ve been here almost a year. What do you think your biggest success has been?

[SW]: Well, I feel there’s a renewed excitement about The Blanton, I’m very proud of that. The staff has always been tremendous, and I’ve never felt this team to be more in stride than we are now.

I started searches for four key positions all at once, national searches, and I’ve filled three of those four positions. I did it myself, without a search firm, by calling people I considered great peers in the field and getting a lot of people’s help in thinking through who are the stars, who’s doing great work, in the areas we are interested in. It was a time consuming process, but it ensured that we got great talent for the Museum, and it allowed me to get our peers’ perspectives on The Blanton’s strengths. We have hired three excellent leaders, and I’m really proud of that.

[CR]: So can you tell me who they are?

[SW]: The first is a new Director of Development, Molly Sherman, a really great talent who’s starting April 1st. She’s a UT alum from Austin and is familiar with the philanthropic community here and throughout Texas. The second is the Director of Education and Academic Affairs, Ray Williams, who is coming from Harvard Art Museums where he was the head of education. He’s a leader in the field and has done innovative things at Harvard to connect art with teaching medical students and teamwork development for graduate programs. The Blanton is unique in that it’s a museum that is both committed to a University and also a strong community museum in the region. Ray is an educator who can participate and find opportunities in a place like this that are both academic and community oriented.

[CR]: Before you tell me about the third position you’ve filled, I’d like to take a detour and pursue this question of the Museum’s relevance to the University. Inside university museums, we talk a lot about wanting to be integrated with the university itself. For that to become a reality, a desire for that kind of integration has to come from both sides, the museum and the university. I’ve heard university museum directors say that the desire just isn’t there on the part of the faculty and staff.

[SW]: I’ve heard that from other directors of university art museums. Honestly, that’s not the position we’re in right now. I have talked to deans and faculty across campus, and I think there are a lot of people who are interested in what art can do. I think that we haven’t actually sufficiently communicated to faculty how they can use the collection. Once I feel like we’ve done that really well, then let’s talk again.

[CR]: One more question about the community landscape, and then I want to hear about the other hire. UT Austin now has two art spaces, the VAC and The Blanton, how do you see the relationship between these two spaces and their roles in the community?

[SW]: The VAC is a stunning place, and I think it is somewhat more tailored to the needs and interests of the art and art history students and faculty. We’ve already collaborated on a couple of things with them, and I think there can be a lot of synergy between us, although I don’t have the full answer to what that looks like yet.

[CR]: In particular, I’m wondering whether their focus on contemporary art is going to mean that you move away from that at The Blanton.

[SW]: No, not at all. The one search left that is my key priority is the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. That’s one of the reasons I don’t have all the answers on what the VAC/Blanton synergy looks like yet.

[CR]: Okay. I’d love to hear about your other hire.

[SW]: So the other position that I just filled is the Curator of Prints and Drawings and European Paintings, Jonathan Bober’s former position. We’ve just hired Francesca Consagra, who is coming from a position as the Senior Curator at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis. She is just a dynamo, a delightful person to be around, intelligent, considered one of the leaders in the field and someone who is really a paper person at heart—someone who cares deeply about works on paper. And she’s also someone who has the ability and curiosity to work broadly outside the areas of her training. Her deepest experience is in Italian Old Masters—in fact, during a position at Vassar College, she oversaw the drawings from the Suida-Manning collection before it was acquired by The Blanton in 1998—but she has also just done a phenomenal exhibition called Reflections of the Buddha at the Pulitzer. I couldn’t be happier with all three hires.

[CR]: So you’re rebuilding the curatorial team, and Annette, who used to be the curator of Modern and Contemporary, has been the Deputy Director of Art and Programs for some time now.

[SW]: Annette has been a tremendous partner during this transition. I value her tremendously. She is leading important curatorial projects for 2013 including a special exhibition and a new commission for the Faulkner Plaza.

[CR]: I’m interested in situation of the director, like you, who does not come from a curatorial background. There is a lot of skepticism out there about non-curator directors. How do you respond to it?

[SW]: I find that sometimes that skepticism comes out of a fear that such a director can’t seriously care about the art and the creative process. There’s concern about how passionate you can actually be, a sense that because you’re not the scholar, you’re not going to understand the process or know enough about the material to make the right decision. People trust that former curators, even though they may not have scholarly expertise in all areas of the museum’s work, are understanding and passionate about the process. And honestly, what I love doing is working closely with curators and supporting a creative process. I love providing an environment for good work to happen. I love when somebody comes to me with a big idea that knocks my socks off.

I’m not going to curate shows. That’s why we have great curators. In fact, I can tell you this museum can’t afford to have a director who is going to curate at the moment. In a funny way, the fact that I love to direct projects has the bonus that I’m not sitting here thinking that I would rather be curating. This is what I like doing, and I feel really proud that ultimately the result is an exhibition, say the El Anatsui exhibition, that inspires people, whether they know a lot about art or nothing about art. What better job is there than that?

[CR]: Aren’t we almost at 50 years here at The Blanton? I understand there’s a re-branding process going on right now, perhaps in anticipation of that anniversary?

[SW]: There is a process of planning to celebrate our 50th anniversary in February 2013. Right now, we’re doing audience and program research, and there is a branding process that goes along with that also.

[CR]: What do you think a branding process means for a museum?

[SW]: Thinking about how you talk about yourself and how people see you.

[CR]: I’ve been thinking a lot about museum “brands.” In fact, I was just talking to Aimee Chang about this, and she pointed out that Machine Project in L.A. could be considered one of the best “branded” art institutions today—this small, funky space, but when you see what they’re doing, it feels like a “Machine Project” project every time.

[SW]: And then sometimes you go somewhere else and you say, “that’s so Machine Project,” and people know what you mean. Right. Whether they went through a “branding process” or not, that’s a brand. Not-for-profits and art museums need to think about processes like branding. They are important for getting everyone on board with the meaning and purpose of the institution. But let's forget about the word "brand". Ultimately, we want the museum to always be a place that’s welcoming, innovative, thought-provoking and dedicated to excellence. The conversations we are having right now are about making those qualities intrinsic to everything we do.

[CR]: In closing, tell me about a couple of highlights from the programming you’ve put in place for the next couple years.

[SW]: We’ve planned through the end of 2013, with a few holes left for the new leadership who are coming in. When I took this job, one of the first things I did was to travel around and meet with university art museum directors—Jock Reynolds at Yale and Thomas Lentz at Harvard, went out to RISD and spoke with their interim director Ann Woolsey, I met with Ann Philbin at the Hammer, Tom Seligman at Stanford, I went to Berkeley. At Berkeley Larry Rinder and I talked about the idea of collaborating through our collections, since they have a strength in Asian art, we have a strength in Latin American art. As a first project in this exchange, Julia White, their curator of Asian art is putting together an exhibition for us of Tibetan Thangkas and other works that have never been seen in the US before. I’m thrilled to broaden our programming beyond the scope of our collection in this way.

I could go on and on about shows we have coming up. Regine Basha is curating a show of Paul Pfieffer’s work for us in the fall in response to the fact that the document containing the original rules of basketball is going to be on campus. I was intrigued by the fact that the rules would be here, so I explored the topic with a few people and entertained proposals for projects, but I didn’t quite hear the right ideas, so I kept looking. Then I called Regine—she’s a curator I respect tremendously and she’s a friend. And by the way, I’m thrilled she’s coming to Artpace.

[CR]: We’re all thrilled.

[SW]: She proposed an exhibition of Paul Pfeiffer’s body of work that explores the spectacle of basketball. Paul is excited about doing something here at UT, possibly even a residency. This is the way I see my role as a director: it’s important to me that projects be credible, smart and innovative. We are fortunate to have access to a wealth of resources here at the University and I think it is important for University museums to utilize and explore those opportunities fully.

Finally, further out in September 2013, Gabriel Perez-Barriero and Ursula Davila-Villa are co-curating a 40-year survey of work by Waltercio Caldas, considered by many to be one of Brazil’s most significant contemporary artists. He is certainly their most significant sculptor, yet is under-recognized in the U.S. We’re doing it in collaboration with the Iberê Camargo Foundation in Porto Alegre. When I first started at The Blanton, Gabriel Perez Barriero was here, and we’re friends, and we used to talk about a show of Caldas’ work. He always wanted to do it and it just never got off the ground. I always loved the idea, so when I took this job we had a conversation and I said, let’s do it. The past year has been really rewarding for just this reason. Ever since I got here, I’ve been thinking about how we could do things, how we could strengthen the museum. Now, I’m here, and we’re actually doing them. It’s thrilling.

Claire Ruud has an M.A. in art history from The University of Texas at Austin and is pursuing an M.B.A. at The Yale University School of Management. She thinks a lot about feminism, queer theory and financing contemporary art production.


Demetrius Oliver
Inman Gallery, Houston
Through April 7

By Melissa Venator

Demetrius Oliver, Oort, 2012, Enamel and graphite pencil on paper, 70 x 51 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Inman Gallery, Houston.

Even if the title of Demetrius Oliver’s exhibition Azimuth is obscure, its astronomical reference is unmistakable. The four large paintings that dominate the Inman Gallery space resemble antiquated star charts, with their familiar blue ground broken up by the white dots of stars and the connecting lines of constellations. In fact, they aren’t constellations at all, but the silhouettes of broken umbrella frames, identifiable by their characteristic curved handles and radiating spoke-like ribs. In these works, Oliver uses sprayed paint to create atmospheric compositions that combine dispersed fields of color with linear elements and the flatness of the paper surface.

Astronomy has been a major source of inspiration for Oliver in recent years. The works in Azimuth are an extension of his 2011 installation Orrery at D’Amelio Terras in New York City, in which he made a room-sized model of the solar system from discarded materials, substituting umbrella frames for planets. In one sense, then, the paintings represent a two-dimensional diagram of the original three-dimensional installation, comparable to the way a star chart reduces the overwhelmingly complex arrangements of distant stars into a deceptively simple map. Like the orrery, Oliver’s titles (Uranic III, Oort) recall a nostalgic moment at the dawn of modern astronomy when a hand-crafted device made of precious metals represented the latest innovation in scientific modeling. The abject materials Oliver uses contradict not only the refinement of these luxury objects, but also the ethereal quality of the stars themselves. Despite the differences between their low and high status, the broken umbrella and the orrery both represent the loss of a usable past; a loss that is more poignant in today’s post-space shuttle age, when the stars seem as distant for the average American as for the nineteenth-century viewer of the orrery.

Oliver’s work has art historical as well as astronomical precedents, especially in the photograms of artists like Man Ray and Christian Schad. The indistinct umbrella frames have the same ghostlike silhouettes as the objects that appear in negative on the light-sensitive paper of rayographs and schadographs. Through their silhouettes, Oliver’s paintings retain the indexical quality that gives the photogram its power. His use of spray paint fixes the auras of the original objects indelibly to the paper, bringing to life the carefully arranged network of ribs responsible for the silhouettes. Oliver’s choice of a distinctive Prussian blue color evokes the blue of cyanotypes, another early process of camera-less photography. The cyanotype reinforces the works’ diagrammatic quality through its most common use in architectural blueprints. Here, Oliver erodes the technological associations of blueprints with the insistently expressionistic quality of his paint application, in which the flow of the spray traces the movement of his hand.

American sculptor David Smith’s Sprays series is another reference for Azimuth. Dating from the 1950s, the Sprays were among the first works to exploit the new technology of aerosol spray paint. In these pioneering paintings, the geometric shapes that make up the image appear as voids in the field of paint, reversing the conventional relationship between figure and ground, positive and negative space. Smith described his Sprays as experiments in dissolving the boundaries between drawing, painting and sculpture. Oliver’s recent work demonstrates a similar testing of borders, between painting and photography, art and science, with equally insightful results.

Melissa Venator is a PhD student in the Department of Art History at Rice University.

Color Pictures
Fort Worth Contemporary Arts
Through April 14

By Catherine Caesar

Allison V. Smith, Nonesuch. August 2009. Rockport, Maine, 2010, Chromogenic color photograph, edition 1/3, 40 x 40 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Barry Whistler Gallery, Dallas, TX.

The current exhibition at the Fort Worth Contemporary, Color Pictures, is organized around a seemingly simple premise: unite images that document the rise of color photography since the 1940s, and that bring a fresh eye to a technology that a contemporary viewer might perceive as ubiquitous and commonplace. The show, curated by TCU art history professor Frances Colpitt, was spawned from a seminar on the subject (the wall texts were composed by the seminar’s students). Consequently, the show reads as a sort of art history lesson on key moments in color photography, commencing with Russell Lee’s 1940 Farm Security Administration-commissioned documentation of New Mexico farming and ending with Allison V. Smith’s 2010-2011 series of majestic Maine landscapes centered within the square format of her Hasselblad camera.

Yet upon closer reflection, the show seems to form a different type of art history lesson, one that transcends a chronology of artists employing color photography and invokes major art movements, primarily in modern painting. Even the title of the show, Color Pictures, suggests the relationship between photography and nineteenth and twentieth-century picture-making. Interestingly, though, the era of painting referenced does not necessarily correspond to the photographer’s own time period. For example, the first work one encounters, Ann Stautberg’s 7.11.07 PM, #11, recalls the nineteenth-century practice of hand coloring photographs: the artist creates an abstracted floral image by painting atop a black and white photo with a vivid red oil. Though the work was produced in 2007, it presumably initiates the show to symbolize not only the process of tinting photos prior to the advent of color film, but also the early modern proliferation of flower paintings in Western art.

Following cohesively from the red pigment of Strautberg’s work is William Eggleston’s image of a lightbulb affixed to a ceiling in a red-painted interior, found in his 1973 dye transfer print, Greenwood, Mississippi. Much of Eggleston’s imagery is derived from his travels in his native Southeastern U.S., and he is renowned for his pioneering role in advancing the technology and the reputation of color photography—his 1976 show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, “Color Photographs,” being key in this enterprise. Yet the predominance of the red gloss paint in the stark interior also recalls color-field painting, most notably Barnett Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimus (1950-1), while the humble light fixture calls to mind the Neo-dada use of the mundane object in works like Robert Rauschenberg’s Odalisk or Jasper Johns’s cast bronze lightbulbs from the mid-1950s.

It is Sarah Charlesworth’s photographs that seem to most directly resonate with modern painting. First, the subject of the work is paint in that Charlesworth mixes pigments and arranges them in little pots or containers that reference color charts or color theory. The wall text likens the brilliant color of the photographs to the opticality of the modernist painting of Morris Louis or Jules Olitski. To me, the literal nature of the pigment seems more related to the deadpan, anti-expressionist use of color charts by painters including Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Gerhard Richter.

Charlesworth was influenced greatly by pop and conceptualism, and her work is hung in close proximity to John Baldessari’s conceptual project Color Car Series: 1968 Volvo, Dirty and Polished (1976/2011). From afar, the diptych evokes visions of a seascape drenched in fog, but we are denied our romantic vista once we approach and read the title, which promptly returns us to the banal comparison of two close-up images of a smoky blue car door, once dirty, now cleaned. Here, Baldessari pokes fun at the solemnity and sublimity associated with Newmanesque monochromes.

Our art-historical survey is concluded by a selection of photographs from Thomas Ruff’s 1999 L.M.V.D.R. (architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s initials). Ruff juxtaposes four images of the interior of Mies’s German Pavilion (constructed for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona), identical save for the color of the central curtain, which Ruff has tinted, alternately, in the three primary colors and black. Whether we associate Ruff’s work with stark modernist architecture or the seriality of minimalist sculpture (i.e. Donald Judd’s “one thing after another”), we are left to consider the perennial question of photography’s relationship to the holy trinity of traditional artistic media: painting, sculpture and architecture. Alfred Stieglitz’s famous statement is called to mind: “The arts equally have distinct departments, and unless photography has its own possibilities of expression, separate from those of the other arts, it is merely a process, not an art.” Is the study of photography beholden to the art-historical canon, we ask, or can it eek out its own ‘possibilities of expression’?

Catherine Caesar is an art historian specializing in American art of the 1960s and 70s, and Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Dallas.

A Promise is a Cloud
Public Art Fund, New York
Through October 7

By Sarah Demeuse

YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES, The Struggle Continues, 2007/2011, Flash animation, 8:42 loop. Courtesy the artists. Photo: James Ewing, Courtesy Public Art Fund.

The arrival of Spring has brought on a desire to stroll and, I confess, to discover the world outside.... So I ended up at Brooklyn's MetroTech Center, one of the three sites in New York where the the Public Art Fund (PAF) commissions the production of public artworks. MetroTech, a place I'd never visited before, has a this-could-be-anywhere-in-the-US feel to it even though it's located only minutes away from the Brooklyn Bridge and other postcard-worthy views. The basics: corporate architecture, the upper levels of which are solely dedicated to administrative 9-5 labor whereas the ground floor is home to 10-4 lunch places offering take-away meals, a gift shop and/or pharmacy that line the all-pedestrian atrium. There are benches to take the mind off of work or to have that lunch al fresco, and paths diagonally cross the court-cum-trees area. A no-pet policy, the stiffly straight trees and, quite possibly, a no-smoking policy make sure the generic nature of this space is matched with an equal insistence on hygiene. Moreover, this pocket of work-as-uniform-routine lies hidden behind the cordoned-off streets of the nearby courts.

This is the setting for or, rather, this is PAF's 'open air gallery' in which they present year-long group shows. It's between the walkways, the routine and administrative reality that an exhibit is meant to congeal. If in a hermetic museum gallery, a group narrative is rarely achieved successfully, exhibitions at MetroTech can at most aspire to momentary derailing, to tweaking the everyday instead of a temporary albeit full-blown immersion into curatorial frameworks. And this is precisely because in this gallery, viewers return on a daily basis. They're bound to develop a relation, even if it's a passive or frustrated one, with the art objects that surround them.

A Promise is a Cloud, this year's exhibit, opened last Fall, brings together work by three New York-based artists, Ohad Meromi, Adam Pendleton and Erin Shirreff, as well as by the Seoul-based duo YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES. For some of them, this was their first public project. A risk worth taking, especially in the case of Meromi, who had yet to go public in the US and who, at MetroTech, has produced work (Stepanova) that continues his interest in task-based participation and rehearsal. And similarly for Pendleton, whose work which is a continuation of his Black Dada project, parses symbolic meaning and closed signifiers associated with black identity. His 16 over-sized vinyl flags equally distributed throughout the center's promenade, intervene on the symbolic level. While Pendleton's distinct flags, mixing grey, white and black planes feel as if they were designed for a windless day that forces them to fold, Meromi's sculptural piece resembles the skeleton of those conic tubular forms used for chutes in construction sites and offer variations in scale. In a place where routine is the name of the game, structures like these that verge on identical repetition provoke an unexpected jolt to the eyes of the passersby.

Completely opposite this logic is YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES' Flash animation, The Struggle Continues, bringing jazzy rhythms and black on white text echoing the intertitles of a love-themed silent movie, and Erin Shirreff's Sculpture for Snow. The flatscreen animation entertainingly injects the slur of routine with hopes of love, sex and utopian politics and depends on that contemporary A.D.D. mode of partial though intense perception. Shirreff's sculpture, borne from a three-step process (starting with a maquette of a photographic reproduction of a Tony Smith sculpture, using it as prop for a digital animation, to then bring it back to public space in the shape of a full-size 3-dimensional object) stands solitary in the atrium's rare patch of grass. In order to get an understanding of the optical illusion (volume turns out to be flatness) that underpins it, this sculpture begs to be appreciated in a concentrated manner and from all sides. Everything around the lawn (trees, benches, curb and a "do not touch" sign) unfortunately prevents such engagement.

A Promise is a Cloud proposes a potential for developing (and especially for a type of change related to environmental change) as a common denominator between the works. It's an appealing proposal, especially when it comes to public sculpture, a genre overshadowed by either spectacle or static gravity. And it's even more worthwhile in this anywhere space that seems to want to halt flux. Yet, in this exhibition, it is certainly not the kind of linear change that requires time and continued attention. Perhaps development in this case can be better understood as jolts—irregular shifts brought about by fragmented attention and the agency of the works themselves. It could, in fact, be a basic premise to continue considering at MetroTech—it could risk taking the 'show' out of the group show, but that may just be a positive thing.

Sarah Demeuse reads, translates, edits, writes and makes exhibitions. Together with Manuela Moscoso, she founded rivet, a curatorial office that currently focuses on object-oriented approaches in philosophy and contemporary art.

project space

Ryan Lauderdale is from Cushing, OK and lives in Brooklyn, NY. Ryan has attended Cushing High School, the Univerisity of Texas at Austin and is currently an MFA candidate at Hunter College in Manhattan. He has exhibited throughout the US including a recent solo exhibition at Nudashank in Baltimore, MD. Ryan is currently enjoying the music of Harold Budd, John Hassel, John Maus, Mike Paradinas, Richard D. James as well as the early 4AD Records catalogue (circa 1981-1989).

...mbg recommends

Liliana Porter, Man with Axe, 2011, Digital Duraflex, 23 1/4 x 55 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Sicardi Gallery, Houston.

Andy Coolquitt: chair w/ paintings
Lisa Cooley, New York
March 30 - May 6, 2012

Freshly relocated to new digs, Lisa Cooley has started things off on the right foot with a solo-exhibition from Austin-based artist Andy Coolquitt. The scavenged materials (plastic lighters, metal pipes, beer cans) typically present within Coolquitt’s work continue to hold center stage and make up the bones of the thirty-five works that make up the exhibition. Discarded objects unified under the guise of an artwork (and exhibition) can be understood as a metaphor for Coolquitt’s larger concerns which center on ‘togetherness’ and the space between environment and object. Densely installed, the work encourages us to linger, to literally lean (A nice soft place, 2010), and to engage in conversation with one another within the context of the exhibition. We gravitate towards one another and in a sense begin to function as a whole, as an element within the exhibition, and as an extension of the combinations Coolquitt’s work so deftly suggests. Minimal forms belie the haphazard and human qualities in much of the work—humble materials, the undeniable presence of the hand and a concern for human relationships. The skillful addressing of social space within the gallery, references to socio-economic issues and the blunting of distinctions between artwork, designed product and persona, are just a few of the reasons to make a trip to 107 Norfolk Street as soon as you can.

Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.

Liliana Porter: Fragment of the Cast
Sicardi Gallery, Houston
March 15 - April 28, 2012

Argentinean artist Liliana Porter works with figurines, and she has been doing it for a very, very long time. Plastic soldiers, wind-up toys and kitschy ceramic gewgaws; trinkets, curios, knickknacks and doodads—whatever you want to call them, Porter has filmed, photographed and assembled them in the most deft and whimsical ways. She brings a selection of these works to the Sicardi Gallery for her fifth solo show there, Fragment of the Cast. The immediate appeal is quite obvious: there has always been an innate attraction for the model-sized, whether it be Barbies, Lego Mini-figures or doll houses with their teeny tiny furniture. Perhaps it is the feeling of control over the inanimate or the projected relationships developed through anthropomorphism, and those complex feelings of empathy are what make Porter’s work so enduring. There is a courageousness to her characters as they set out to do the impossible. A figure no larger than an inch tall attempts to untangle a bundle of rope a hundred times his size in Forced Labor (Rope) (2011). In a similar piece entitled Man with Axe (2011), another small figure holds an axe high above his head, chopping at a dauntingly large pile of broken ceramics. These figures are humorously brought to life while simultaneously playing the tragic hero, one that is trapped in a still frame of an eternal task that they themselves are not aware of. Particularly delightful is OH! (2011), a lithograph of a small female figurine holding her head in despair as a pair of headphones accompanying the print plays the soundtrack of a roaring audience when Germany defeated Argentina in the 2010 World Cup. Porter’s ability to cultivate genuine emotions from these visual one-liners and subtle gestures is absolute alchemy—and I hope she never stops doing it.

Emily Ng is an artist and Production Associate at Fluent~Collaborative.

Announcements: Exhibitions

Austin Openings

Medium Small at Big Medium
Big Medium
Opening Reception: Saturday, April 14, 7 – 10 pm

A group show including work in all media. Also check out Tim Harding in the Project Space.

1100 E 5th Street (former TOPS warehouse)
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 19, 7pm

FILES, DESKS, CHAIRS takes TOPS, a former office supply warehouse, as its organizing principle. WORK RELATED is an evolving series that promotes experimental sound and language. In an intimate and open environment, we suggest possibilities of correspondence through the grouping of disparate approaches to performance. A music demonstration takes place Saturday, April 21, 8-11pm. Brought to you by SOFA Gallery in conjunction with the Fusebox Festival and the Austin Art Alliance.

Max Warsh & Vanesa Zendejas
SOFA Gallery
Opening Reception: Friday, April 27, 7-10pm

This exhibition pairs the photographs and collages of New York artist Max Warsh with the sculptures of LA artist Vanesa Zendejas to investigate abstraction and built spaces. Creating compositions from pictures of bricks, tiles or cast ornamentation found on building facades, Warsh’s works utilize the repetitive visual language of mechanized processes to create optically charged images.

Austin on View

Leah Haney
Through April 22

Leah Haney will debut fresh, new paintings that toy with our perceptions of spatial relationships and depth.

Lee Lozano
Visual Arts Center
Through April 22

Curated by Katie Geha and presented in partnership with The Blanton Museum of Art, Pun Value: 4 Works by Lee Lozano is a case study of works by Lee Lozano from The Blanton collection, which will examine the artist’s process and influence on the art world of the 1960s.

Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani
Through April 22

In Toute la mémoire du monde – The world’s knowledge, Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani reinterpret French director Alain Resnais’ similarly titled 1956 film. Resnais’ twenty three-minute documentary sweeps through the historic French Bibliothèque Nationale on Rue de Richelieu in Paris, exposing how the library functions as a storehouse of all the world’s knowledge.

Christie Blizard
Women & Their Work
Through April 26

In When I was 16 I saw the White Buffalo, Blizard uses collage, sculpture, video animations and installation. Half of the exhibit represents her studio as a metaphor for: the daytime, the physical, the present tense, the here and now, but also the space where artists can go away and create.

Conrad Bakker
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Through May 5

Lora Reynolds Gallery is pleased to present Untitled Project: RECORD SHOP [45s], Conrad Bakker’s newest body of work. Bakker will turn our project room into an ersatz record store by displaying more than 30 LP covers—all shaped from wood and painted with oils.

Art on the Green
Through May 20

Art on the Green encourages visitors to explore the unique setting of Laguna Gloria with its 12 acres of grounds on Lake Austin, and outdoor sculptures which are part of AMOA-Arthouse’s permanent collection. For the exhibition, nine Texas artists and designers will create minature golf holes that respond to the site and encourage a diverse audience to go outside and play. A bonus tenth hole will be located on the rooftop of the Jones Center, linking this exhibition to both museum locations.

Austin Closings

Nick Brown & PJ Raval
Tiny Park
Through April 14
In Nick Brown's recent work, mortality is sought out, feared, dreamt about, lamented, and memorialized. Tiny Park will present three of PJ's animated short films.
Tom Molloy
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Through April 14
Tom Molloy's New World is a group of nine different LP sleeves-all from the same recording, Dvořák's New World Symphony-whose text has been painted to blend in with the cover image.
Michael Menchaca
Red Space Gallery
Through April 15
For Of Migratus, Menchaca presents a narrative framing the contemporary Mexican diaspora to the United States as a dysfunctional cartoon. Using a familiar Saturday-morning-cartoon format, the video portrays the story of a coyote hired by downtrodden felines to be illegally smuggled into the US.

San Antonio Openings

Megan Harrison
cactus bra SPACE
Opening Reception, Thursday, April 5, 6- 8pm and Friday, April 6, 6-9pm

From the artist: "I imagine myself as an explorer entering into strange and unforgiving surroundings. In my drawings I reference images of arctic exploration where the horizon line lays open and there is little to obstruct the view over large expanses of space."

San Antonio on View

James Smolleck
Sala Diaz
Through April 22

"In the bag were many knives and hoods, diverse rites and images, ointments and herbs."

Tony Feher
Through April 29

Tony Feher’s installations take inspiration from existing architectural elements, revealing the environment anew for viewers. His artworks’ relationship to the space in which they are presented is inseparably fundamental, and in effect, the architecture becomes a part of the exhibition. In this way, the Hudson (Show)Room and the Artpace facility play leading roles in Thomas Hoving.

Issac Julien
Linda Pace Foundation
Through June 30

TEN THOUSAND WAVES was filmed on location in China and poetically weaves together stories linking China’s ancient past and present. The work explores the movement of people across countries and continents and meditates on unfinished journeys. Conceived and created over four years, Julien collaborated with some of China’s leading artistic voices.

Houston Openings

Lawndale Art Center
Opening Reception May 11, 6:30 - 8:30pm

The Lawndale Artist Studio Program Exhibition featuring Seth Mittag, David Politzer & Anne J. Regan.

Jack Ericksson
Lawndale Art Center
Opening Reception May 11, 6:30 - 8:30pm

Isometric Solutions to Contemporary Economic Dilemmas will be a full scale installation populated with 2D and 3D representations of economic data. It will show how vulnerable graphics are to unwelcome interpretation based on misguided geometry, Masonic lore and common sense.

Travis McCarra & Michael Gonzales
Lawndale Art Center
Opening Reception May 11, 6:30 - 8:30pm

#everyoneisanartist uses Twitter to create an installation allowing the audience to simultaneously act as generator and spectator to this constantly changing piece. Online and physical visitors will be encouraged to "tweet" works in various media formats via hyperlink containing the Twitter hash-tag #everyoneisanartist within Twitter's 140 character limit. The received message will be processed, stored, and linked via a custom coded application.

Leslie Mutchler
Lawndale Art Center
Opening Reception May 11, 6:30 - 8:30pm

TrendFACTORY is a community-driven, multi-participatory installation. Artist, Leslie Mutchler, will be exploring issues related to hand(craft), the physicality of labor, and the repetition of memes in the virtual world through hand-manufactured objects.

Houston on View

Marina Zurkow
Diverseworks Art Space
Through April 21

Commissioned by DiverseWorks to be part of Fotofest 2012 Necrocracy is an immersive art exhibition exploring nature and petrochemical production that combines video animation, drawings and sculpture by Brooklyn-based artist Marina Zurkow. In the space, the public is invited to explore a labyrinth-like landscape, populated with an array of petroleum-based artworks and a series of new animated video works.

Houston Closings

Emily Peacock
Lawndale Art Center
Through April 14

Solo exhibit in the Grace R. Cavnar Gallery: You, Me, & Diane. Emily Peacock presents a series of photographs based on work from the seminal book Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph for the exhibition.

Jim Nolan & Linda Post
Lawndale Art Center
Through April 14

Jim Nolan and Linda Post present their first major collaborative project, a site-specific installation that looks toward Lawndale Art Center itself for inspiration for the exhibition: LOW IMPACT (RESISTANCE TO FLOW/THIS IS BOB DYLAN TO ME) SUBJECT TO CHANGE.

Randall McCabe
Lawndale Art Center
Through April 14

In the Project Space, a portion of Randall McCabe's 100' long drawing consisting of repetitive marks made since the drawing began in 2005 will be on view in the exhibition Scroll.

The Deconstructive Impulse: Women Artists Reconfigure the Signs of Power, 1973-1991
Contempoary Arts Museum Houston
Through April 15

The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is pleased to present The Deconstructive Impulse: Women Artists Reconfigure the Signs of Power, 1973-1991, a survey of leading women artists that examines the crucial feminist contribution to the development of deconstructivism in the 1970s and ’80s. This exhibition is organized by Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York.

Dallas on View

Elliott Hundley
Nasher Sculpture Center
Through April 22

Elliott Hundley's The Bacchae featuring 11 recent medium- to large-scale wall-mounted and free-standing constructions highlights his investigations of the ancient Greek tragedy "The Bacchae" (ca. 406 BC) by Euripides. Encompassing a variety of media including assemblage, theatrical staging, and photography, this exhibition continues the Nasher’s exploration of sculpture’s rich and myriad possibilities.

Kerry Pacillio
Cohn Drennan Contemporary
Through April 28

Kerry Pacillio presents MOTHER, a new series exploring women’s roles in human development, as well as the expectations and limitations of motherhood.

Wayne White
Marty Walker Gallery
Through May 5

Marty Walker Gallery presents a site specific gallery installation of murals and paintings by award-winning artist Wayne White, known for his signature punchy word combos injected into the “sofa-art” scenery of found thrift store lithographs.

Dallas Closings

Cassandra Emswiler and Kevin Todora
Oliver Francis Gallery
Through April 7

Cassandra Emswiler’s first immersive flooring installation, Gilding the silk lily, compiles vernacular surface materials from the sprawling Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex and examines their relationship to photography, memory, and wilderness. Kevin Todora will display photographs of inanimate subject matter, mostly fruit.

Linda Ridgway
Talley Dunn Gallery
Through April 14

Talley Dunn Gallery is pleased to present Alice, the poet and the grasslands, an exhibition of recent drawings and bronze sculptures by renowned artist Linda Ridgway.

Mark Manders
Dallas Contemporary
Through April 15

The first major North American exhibition of work by acclaimed Dutch artist Mark Manders, Mark Manders: Parallel Occurrences/Documented Assignments features a body of new sculptures and works on paper created specifically for it. This nationally touring exhibition includes roughly fifteen new sculptural works and three loaned works, one of which is from The Pinnell Collection of Dallas.

Marfa on View

Data Deluge
Ballroom Marfa
Through July 8

The ongoing dialogue between the digital and physical worlds provides the backdrop for Data Deluge, an exhibition that presents a selection of sculpture, furniture, painting, photography, video, sound and works on paper by artists who shape Web-based and software-generated data into art.

Announcements: Events

Austin Events

2012 Five x Seven SOCIAL
Thursday, April 5, 7-10pm
Admission: $30

Attending the Five x Seven SPLURGE on April 4 ensures you will have first pick of over 1,000 original 5×7-inch works of art by emerging and established contemporary artists.

Houston Events

The Asia Society Texas Center Opening
Asia Society Texas
April 12 - April 15

The Asia Society Texas Center opens its new headquarters in the heart of Houston’s Museum District with a four-day celebration April 12-15, 2012.

Announcements: opportunities

Call for Applicants

Land Arts of the American West Program
The College of Architecture at Texas Tech University
Deadline: April 9, 5pm

Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech University seeks to cultivate collective energy within an expanded disciplinary range of examinations from architecture, the built environment, public culture, literature, science, and geography to explorations of contemporary art practices.

Call for Entries

2012 Austin Screen Play Festival
Austin Film Festival
Regular Deadline: May 15 ($40)
Late Deadline: June 1 ($50)

The Writers Guild of America, East is now the underwriting sponsor of the Drama Screenplay Award category (open to Historical, Western, Drama, Family, Romance, Horror, Thriller, etc.). Drama Finalist scripts will be judged by a select panel of WGAe screenwriters and the winner will be presented by a WGAe representative at the Awards Luncheon during the 2012 Conference.

Residency Opportunities

Deadline: May 11

The Ox-Bow hosts artists from around the world, working in a wide variety of media. Given the small nature of the program, residents have a remarkable opportunity to create a close community. Most nights feature slide lectures, studio visits, or informal conversations.

Lawndale Art Center
Deadline: May 25

The program is part of Lawndale's ongoing commitment to support the creation of contemporary art by Gulf Coast area artists. With an emphasis on emerging practices, the program will provides three artists with non-residential studio space on the third floor of the Lawndale Art Center at 4912 Main Street in the heart of Houston's Museum District.

Internship Opportunities


Fluent~Collaborative seeks interns! The Editorial Intern will be primarily assisting with the online publication, …might be good. The Production Intern will assist with the preparation and gallery hours of exhibitions at testsite. If interested, please send a letter of interest stating which internship you are interested in, a list of three references and a current resumé to eng@fluentcollab.org with the subject line: “Fluent Internship”. Please note that both internships are unpaid.

Call for Entries

2012 Austin Art Boards
Austin Art Boards
Deadline: Friday, June 29

Once again, a juried arts competition will select 10 Central TX artists' work to be displayed on billboards in the greater Austin area. For the application, click here.

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