MBG Issue #46: June 10, 2005

Issue # 46

June 10, 2005

June 10, 2005

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Terry Allen at Flatbed Press
On view now

The current exhibition at Flatbed Press, Terry Allen: The Flatbed Editions 1996-1998, presents ten of the Lubbock-born artist's etchings, some of which are more successful than others. Perhaps the most consistent feature of Allen's artistic career is his autobiographical bent, which comes through in a number of the Flatbed prints, especially for anyone familiar with his recent multi-media exhibition Dugout. A characteristically dark sense of humor and a strong inclination toward social commentary run through the body of work on display. As is usual with Allen's art, most of these prints seems to present their subjects tongue-in-cheek. Some of the pieces make clear comments while others leave the viewer wondering what there is to get.

The most successful pieces reveal Allen's talent for contrasting visual appearance with conceptual content. In Rage (1996), a square image with the letters R-A-G-E filling the printed surface, a piece of black lace stretched over the print obscures the word. The contrast of literary meaning and visual meaning hits upon the disparities of surface and content that Allen relishes. In another work entitled Holdings (1998) presents the viewer with a quivering figure in a suit beset by writhing snakes. The identity of the figure is unclear—perhaps he is Allen's favored "businessman" or perhaps the snake-handling minister alluded to in Holding (1996)—nonetheless, rendered as a modern-day Laocoon the man has become dangerous to everyone, including himself. Perhaps the most effecting piece, though, is Hitter (1996) in which the silhouettes of a baseball batter and a church keyboardist relate with the unsettlingly violence alluded to in the title.

For the viewer new to Allen's work, these prints may belie his interest in multi-media, experiential art, but they reveal his breadth. For anyone who will take the time to stop by Flatbed Press this small retrospective is worth the trouble. Allen's use of the medium to accentuate the scratchy, quaking interior lives of his subjects is well executed and the time the viewer spends with the images is rewarded in kind.

Dan Flavin and David Smith, A Dialogue Across Fort Worth and Dallas
On view through July 17, 2005

The Nasher Sculpture Center's exhibition, David Smith: Drawing and Sculpting has been on view since April 16 and will continue to show through July 17. Through an event that appears more due to chance than curatorial tactics, the Nasher exhibition now enters into a second phase. Thanks to an unlikely turn of events, the Masher's David Smith exhibition and The Modern Museum of Fort Worth's Dan Flavin retrospective (organized by The Dia Art Foundation) ran concurrently for a number of weeks. As such, the Flavin retrospective's closing last Sunday marked the end of a roughly fifty-day dialogue of twentieth-century sculpture between the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. Moving from one city to the next, an astute viewer could begin to grapple with some fairly significant artistic questions in the history of post-war sculpture. Now that this period of sculptural dialogue across the Metroplex has come to a close, it's worth reflecting on the rich juxtaposition of these two notable sculptors.

Seeing the Smith and Flavin exhibitions in succession last Tuesday refined my estimations of both artists. The Nasher exhibition comprises fifteen sculptures, Cubi and works with more two-dimensional tendencies, as well as a wide sampling of the artist's works on paper. Seeing Smith's drawings with his sculptures showed me a different view of an artist I thought I had known. For one, Smith's works on paper exhibit Surrealist sympathies that I would not have inferred from his completed sculptures. Likewise, Picasso looms large in a number of Smith's drawings despite the fact that the Spaniard tends to stay out of his sculpture. Exhibition curators Steven Nash and Candida Smith placed emphasis on the importance of landscape in Smith's work, though at times these assertions felt forced.

Unfortunately, the Nasher exhibition did little to increase my regard for David Smith as an artist. The extensive compilation of Smith's work left me wondering if this was all one had to do to be considered among the best sculptors of one's generation. It was disappointing
for me to be impressed more by Smith's resolve, specifically his prolific production and his commitment to produce one drawing a day, than by any of his individual works, which seemed flat. (Here both senses of "flat" apply.) Downstairs at the Nasher, there was a photograph of Smith sitting down at his snowy upstate New York property. He sat with his welding helmet and his head was turned down. Smith's demeanor and the snowy landscape gave the photograph a somber tone. Though the photograph was probably included more for its documentary than its metaphorical qualities, image quickly became an insightful pathway for me. This was not David Smith in the pages of a contemporary art textbook, but in his home. He appears as a man compelled to create, not as a gifted creator.

Though the Smith exhibition underscores the relationship between the artist's drawing and sculpture, Flavin's drawings at The Modem were truly impressive when seen in proximity to the achieved works. The drawings showed conceptual simplicity. Simultaneously, they demonstrated why artistic concepts need to be completed in physical reality. The way that I envisioned Flavin's plans on graph paper shifted in surprising ways when colored ink transformed into colored light. Many of the installed works were breathtaking. All of them struck me as thoughtful creations, thoughtfully installed. My only request would have been to know why a few drawings for sculptures that were made on black grounds were hung on white walls. I would imagine that the bright light emanating from off of a black ground would be even more striking. The exhibition, however, does not address this inconsistency.

Now that this cross-city dialogue has ended, the Nasher exhibition enters its second phase at an apparent disadvantage. Without the external counterpart of Flavin's work as a ready point of comparison. Smith's drawings and sculptures will likely take on a new tone. Whether the Flavin retrospective's closing will be to the detriment of the Nasher show or whether Smith's works will appear more favorably when they don't have to "compete" with works by an artist the likes of Flavin remains to be seen. My feeling is that the show will suffer, though Smith could come out looking like a better artist. In either scenario, the viewer loses when there's only one show in town. Most resounding for me was the clarity with which this pair of exhibitions demonstrated two independent strains within successive generations of postwar sculpture. It's easy to read criticism that derides the anthropomorphic path in mid-twentieth-century sculpture. It's another to see the divide shown as a clear bifurcation, one half in Dallas, the other In Fort Worth.

testsite - YUPPIES
On view through June 26

Rae Culbert and Catherine Walworth's testsite, YUPPIE (Young Urban Proles), currently installed at testsite, is nothing if not apt. Summer, on any city-but especially ours, harkens vacations, daquiris, sunny Sundays, and general blissful listlessness. We are swept away with leisure, typically evinced In the desire to "do nothing."

But, as Culbert and Walworth's Interpretation of Alexander Rodchenko's 'Worker's Club" pointedly asks, what is leisure without product? Perhaps more important in our current situation, what is leisure in a world replete with it? Overwhelmed by video games, summer blockbusters, and the like, the novelty of "doing nothing" disintegrates and Rodchenko's Worker's Club, conceptualized as an austere and uncomfortable space which forces visitors to be "alert" and intellectually active, presents an appealing alternative.

Walworth and Culbert's interpretation illustrates Rodchenko's original idealistic intent, namely, to create a space that spurred creative productivity, while keeping a sense of humor about the impossibility of such a project, then and now. The starkly crafted and disproportionate chairs resonate with an ideological certainty; the cartoonish flame detailing and collage of collegial detritus (anti-American bumper stickers, crumpled cigarette packets, etc.) illustrate its more human dilution.

Katy Graham at Bolm Studios Gallery
On view through June 14

Katy Graham's exhibition at Bolm Studios Gallery includes diverse media and styles. In fact, Graham's works are so diverse in places that before writing this piece I confirmed with the gallery that this was indeed a one-woman show.

Graham exhibits two large-scale works of graphite on paper. The first, titled A- OK, shows a woman posed with her index finger touching her thumb so as to shoot the viewer the familiar a-ok sign. The second, a triptych called O Pioneers, depicts a toddler just getting steady on his own two feet, a curly haired woman standing uneasily, and a younger woman with her hair in thick braids whose shirt reads, "art is a He that makes us see the truth." Graham then shifts to a smaller 36 x 24 inch format where she continues her focus on images of women. These five works, some painted on canvas others drawn in charcoal on paper, show female models in settings reminiscent of an art school figure study, as well as women clothed in Birkenstock sandals and long flowing dresses. In this same section of the gallery Graham exhibits four black and white photographs and four portraits of faces shown larger-than-life and rendered in a heavy impasto with vibrant

Graham's mixed-media works include an endearing set of secular devotional images. Her funky altarpiece places black and white photographs of women like Saint Dagmar, Patron Saint of all Surrogate Mothers, and Saint Sarah, Patron Saint of Compassionate
Practicality, on gold grounds in diminutive gothic arches. Faux pearl nimbi surround their heads and black lightning bolts radiate from their tabernacles. A similar construction in another room shows three "secret drawings" locked inside small black boxes. Though the drawings are kept from sight, red and black butterflies appear to emanate from the spaces where the drawings reside. Opposite the "secret drawings" hang four large montage-like works. Three of them combine text with their images, though in one case that text is in Chinese. While celebrity figures past and present appear within some of these works, the viewer gets the sense that most of Graham's subjects are the people most dear to her. The exhibition continues through June 14.


Rene Paul Barilleaux will replace MaLin Wilson-Powell as Curator of Art after 1945 at the McNay Art Museum.

Formerly the Deputy Director for programs at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, Barilleaux will be a welcome addition to the McNay staff. Annette Carlozzi, Curator of American Art at the Blanton speaks most highly of Barilleaux - "Rene is such a great
guy, really smart and hard-working, and also friendly and accessible, he'll be a terrific addition to the San Antonio art scene!"

It's that time again! CAM 2005

The gang at CAM (Contemporary Art Month) has just posted the calendar and list of events. Here are the links so you can check out what's happening in San Antonio:
Calendar: http://camsanantonio.org/2005/calendar.htm
Event list: http://camsanantonio.org/2005/events.htm

Gallery Lombardi has a new space!

From Rachel Koper: Please come and visit the newly renovated Gallery Lombardi. We are now located 20 feet to the right of the old Gallery Lombardi, in what used to be John Christensen's space. Check out our website, the shows coming up are mighty fine.

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