MBG Issue #49: July 22, 2005

Issue # 49

July 22, 2005

July 22, 2005

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ArtPace 05.02
On view through September 11

The International Artist in Residence program at Artpace often feels like theater. The behind-the-scenes work is a rehearsal no one but stagehands are allowed to see and the artist dialogue and reception create an intimate opening night. The latest exhibitions by Jorge Macchi, Anton Vidokle, and Hills Snyder, strike bull's-eyes as both critical and popular successes. Appropriately, the house was packed July 7th for a discussion moderated by Gabriel Perez-Barrelro, curator of Latin American Art at UT Austin's Blanton Museum of Art Perez-Barreiro, who chose the artists, distinguished his role as selector more than curator and modestly called this residency the best exhibition he never curated.

Jorge Macchi has seduced San Antonio with his cerebral, yet beautiful, barely-there artworks that speak a musical and metaphysical language. He had a busy summer
residency, during which he also represented Argentina at the Venice Biennale. For that project he collaborated with musician Edgardo Rudnitzky on La Ascencidn. A trampoline is placed beneath a church vault painting of the Ascension of the Virgin so that, in effect, everyone can ascend. At Artpace the stream of thought continues and Macchi imports his musical scorebook. La Ascensidn, which has empty bars. One by one the bars float to the top of the page. The "score" crescendos into a heavenly feeling without the need for actual music, or even notes. In another flipbook. Ten Drops, punch holes appear one by one, like rain on water. Once they come into view a circle radiates outward, wavelike. In works such as these, simple moments become profound and are expressed quite simply again. Both books rest on a table with television monitors embedded in its surface. The screens continuously repeat the last moments of various 1940s black and white films—no color appears in any of the works. Macchi stitched
together their epic soundtracks into something that continually builds rather than fades— just like the rain and the scoreless music.

Anton Vidokle's Artpace project was attempted elsewhere twice before, but the host organizations were put off by his need for sixty-six television sets and accompanying
gadgetry. The artist credits Artpace with allowing him to complete the final work in a trilogy based on a single building at the Salto del Agua metro station In Mexico City.
Significantly, this building was constructed in 1968, a year with an amazing confluence of international political uprisings, as well as the Mexico City Olympics. Vidokle has already painted the building red, a color that ties it to Russian Constructivism (the artist is Russian by birth) and reinforces the building's Utopian architectural style. This bold color is also a sad reminder that the Utopian dream was never realized. For his latest project, Vidokle infiltrated the building for the first time and filmed a single workday in each of the offices, pointing the camera out the window. Typewriters click, cars zoom past, and colors have an outdated patina. At Artpace, scaffolding frames the televisions into the Salto del Ague's original wall of windows—six high and eleven across. It is not just a simultaneous view; it is a valentine to the building that has driven the artist for three years of successive projects.

Hills Snyder is an erudite artist and his work refuses to talk down to the viewer. If this were another age, he might, for example, be a Rosicrucian, drink absinthe, and talk
about music with Erik Satie. But this is Texas, so he merges a priest-like symbolism with gritty reality. Snyder's installation Book of the Dead was a well-kept secret and on
opening night each visitor was allowed in at spaced intervals in hopes of compartmentalized moments of deep impact. For Egyptians, the Book of the Dead was a series of chapters that guided the deceased through the Undenvorld, provided magical spells, and helped them to find their way to a happy afterlife. Snyder's gallery works in a
similar way, "killing" you, making you wander, and giving you something else to live for. (We won't give it away, but we wouldn't recommend going by yourself because you'll want some good friends in the afterlife.) On opening night, Snyder was there, playing a white tuxedo-clad deity ready to welcome you home with a glowing shot of tequila. Even without the artist, however, the finale is strangely divine. It shares Macchi's continual buildup and Vidokle's nostalgic colors of harvest gold and green. It is probably the most
heavenly spot in San Antonio right now, too.

They'll Give You Fever at CRL
On view through July 30

The sultry lyrics, "you give me fever" have been sung by many an amorous soul. This summer, Alex Codlin, Laura Lindenberger, Breanne Robertson, and Edwin Stirman,
warmed up their curatorial voices to this familiar tune in collaboration with 13 University of Texas at Austin MFA students. The result was their own "lovely way to burn," which the curators and artists share with us in Fever.

Opening since July 9, Fever offers some steamy pieces. All Fitzgerald's monumental canvas. Poker Alice and the Maverick Madonnas, (detail shown above) is a first-rate painting. Spanning 18-feet across the far wall of the CRL gallery, this painting sets a tone of story telling and summer debauchery, Lone Star style. Closer to the gallery entrance, Eric Benson exhibits a clever social commentary on the bottled water craze by displaying anti-water postcards and a few dozen bottles of his own beverage, "thirst." The
piece resounds with the over the top sarcasm of an Adbusters spoof. Raising the gallery's temperature with bodily connotations of fever, Erin Cunningham's cast bronze removable love handles dangle tantalizingly from the ceiling, inviting viewers to try them on ... and then coyly take them off. And Dave Woody's 30 x 40 inch photograph of a car ablaze in a Pflugerville parking lot practically warms its half of the gallery. Other artists took the fever theme less literally, but most of the works share a light-hearted spirit that makes them sufficiently "summery." Need we remind you, school's out.

2005 marks the fourth consecutive year of collaborative summer exhibitions within the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin, and the tradition
appears to be gaining steam. A case in point Is this year's unprecedented participation rate. Of the 27 returning studio and design graduate students eligible to participate in the exhibition, 25 chose to contribute. 13 artists show in Fever, and 12 artists, whose work is a bit cooler and more ponderous than the title Fever implies, will show one month from now in Shade. On the art history side, the curatorial tetrarchy was joined by eight student writers who composed catalog essays for each exhibiting artist. This impressive commitment to department-sponsored exhibitions speaks to the high reputation and professionalism of past CRL summer shows. However, the need to integrate 13 different artists' work in the CRL brings that space to its saturation point. If this trend continues, it seems likely that 2006 will have to be the first summer of juried shows. Alternatively, a third exhibition could help relieve the inevitable disjuncture that comes with showing so many artists' works. Which ever solution is chosen, publishing a small catalog for each exhibition is a tradition that should continue. Not only did the booklet help Fever's theme coalesce, a number of the essays offered fine insights on the work.

Though some readers may be leery of the quality of a student-curated and student created show, Fever won't leave you cold. See Fever now and save the date for Shade, which opens August 13 at CRL.

...might be good Celebrates CAM in San Antonio
Contemporary Arts Month (CAM) runs through the month of July

The Wiggle Room
Review of the July 13th performance

In San Antonio, locals experience the close connection between art and music. Seth Johnson's recent show Dead Void Heretic at Cactus Bra featured work that connected
Tantric Buddhism with Death Metal and punk music. The local band, Buttercup, stages Happenings, such as lead singer Erik Sanden's Dial-A-Song/PET-ABLE where he played the same song on request over the phone for 24 hours. And artists like Hills Snyder and Cruz Ortiz weave encyclopedic knowledge of music into their themes. This July, Contemporary Art Month gave us a little wider exposure to art rock with a night of performances by Le Flange du Mai, Ezee Tiger, and Bunnyphonic, all formerly or currently San Francisco-based acts.

Bunnyphonic (a.k.a. Michelle Gonzales-Valdez) began the evening, alone on stage with a huge pink bunny head and pink bunny feet, a plaid housedress, and an accordion. Her props were a mixture of nostalgia—a wooden electric keyboard on a 1940's bamboo end table, a suitcase strung with Christmas ornaments and vintage bunny book designs, and the word "Bunnyphonic" pinned to the curtain in birthday party banner letters. But this rosy pinkness was La Vie en Rose with a dark side. The Amelie-esque accordion music and lighting was melancholic and the tone carried throughout the Wiggle Room where a large painting of the late Ram Ayala, the Tacoland owner and San Antonio icon who was recently killed while closing his bar, hangs in the center of the stage. Above Ayala's head floated a plastic baby Jesus illuminated by string lights. The mood on stage was of the lost art of cabaret, where sadness takes on universality and begins to mock us. We admit to being swept away by the voodoo of a performance that, in other hands, might have gone terribly wrong.

Ezee Tiger (a.k.a. Anthony Petrovic) followed with his own one-man storm of sound that progressively increased the evening's decibel level. Anthony, who sipped fluorescent blue Mad Dog from the bottle all evening, is like an urban Sasquatch. When we asked him how he does his tricks with looped sounds, he simply answered, "I'm perfect." Point well taken. We admire his nihilist streak. Throughout the clash of guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, there was still a melody that made him easy on the ears.

Le Flange du Mal is a group of artists that express wild discontent but are so talented, you can't help feeling hopeful. Jason Stamberger (electric keyboard), Liz Allbee (electrified trumpet and vocals), Chris Rolls, (vocals, keyboard) and Chris Cones (drums) performed in front of the stage rather than on top of it. The music world has so many new terms it can make a person feel perfectly Amish for not keeping up, but it seems like the most comprehensible words for what Le Flange du Mai does are "noisejazz" and "dance-metal." The drums drove it all and Allbee's trumpet varied from haunting to ragged. She and Stamberger both wore orange plastic masks over their heads with ghostly holes for seeing and breathing. Ifs a look that has gone from Halloween to Abu Graib. When everything supposedly clean and good is revealed as a sham, it's okay to scream about it.

Seis Who? at the Alameda Theater
On view through July 29

San Antonio's beautiful Alameda Theater was built in 1947 as a venue for Spanish language entertainment—vaudeville, dance, music, and film. Known for its rare, fluorescent murals that come alive as the stage lights go down, the Alameda is home to an Emerging Artists Series and occasionally hosts solo and group shows in its hauntingly vacant spaces. For CAM, artist Chuck Ramirez was given the run of the theater, where he curated a group show with five other (notably all male) artists of Latino descent.

Ramirez himself has two text installations in Seis Who?, as well a silk-screened poster that he designed as the show's announcement. The first text is applied directly in vinyl
lettering to the storefront window of the Alameda's comer gallery. In this work Ramirez excerpted quotations from speeches by President Bush. Ramirez "exposes" the already
known fact that the President has difficulties speaking grammatically. The text sounds religious, self-righteous and politically misguided. Even though this is not new information, it's welcoming to see an artist take on political issues so directly. In Ramirez's Innovations for the Good Life we find the same vinyl lettering stuck to the surface of a mirror that reflects the viewer. The text includes phrases like "expect more pay less," "the right insurance," "designed with you in mind," and "good taste is easy to recognize." Sound bites and company slogans that are meant to give comfort to the consumer continue down the full length of the mirror. The manner in which Ramirez constructed this text piece fits with the concept promises and comforting words are projected (and reflected) upon you the consumer, but in the end only the myth remains.

In the Alameda's foyer viewers will find an installation by Beto Gonzalez. Gonzalez stacked fourteen televisions of various brands and eras into a tall circle. Nine of the screens contain images derived from Atari classics like Space Invaders. Here, pixilated aliens merge with design patterns reminiscent of the Aztec and Olmec cultures of Mexico. Other screens show only static "snow" and one screen is tuned to the station Aztec America, but with the volume muted. Surrounding the television installation are large prints on wooden easels. Each print relates to the video image by way of color or design. Titles such as Aztec invaders, No Breakout, and Textile Command connect the works both to video game imagery and to complicated cultural issues such as border control, immigration, and labor. Socio-political readings are tempting to extract, but the artist's intentions remain unclear. If political commentary is Gonzalez's intention, it would be more powerfully achieved with less ambiguous content.

In the central theater space surrounded by the Alameda's famous black light paintings, three works by Jesse Amado lay on the floor where rows of theater seating once were. Composed largely of found objects and titled, Make Love not Art, they are refreshing examples of an established artist willing to take risks. The third in the series has two life-sized, stuffed toy dogs facing off on a wooden platform. One of the two is covered in political buttons that read, "make love not art" while the other has no such adornment. Both face each other as if reflecting on this emphatic proposition that seems to call into question art and art viewing. In Make love not Art, another dog balances a wooden cross on its back while the four ends have wooden letters compressed face to face signature Jesse Amado of the recent past—that make up the words of the title. While the four poles feel like points of a compass, there may be a Christian reference to the cross. Overall, the work lacks the conceptual focus and aesthetic rigor we have come to expect from Amado's work. Yet, we remain hopeful that these new and unexpected installations point to new materials and methods in Amado's future.

On another part of the theater's floor, several pink balloons wobble about. A white, cartoon bunny is printed on them with the word "Suerios" (dreams). These images are smaller versions of Andy Benavides' huge, inflatable pink bunny that holds another large, helium-filled balloon on a string. Despite the marked contrast of the ominous forty foot inflatable vinyl bunny and the cute accessibility of the drifting little balloons, it is unclear what Benavides wanted to say to his audience. The work took great spatial advantage of the large, high-ceilinged auditorium, but one can only "dream" of a more interesting conceptual solution. Aside from being somewhat visually interesting, it just seemed full of hot air.

On the second floor, John Mata Installed two videos and a sculptural work. In Without Notice, the viewer is bombarded with an incessant video loop of cartoon explosions and accelerated entropy. Text fades in and out every few seconds while a droning voice reiterates the thoughts. In an Old English font the words "I believe..." appear, followed by phrases like "in others," "in illusion," "in a world of good," "in plagues," and "in trade." A bland, monotone voice juxtaposed with colored explosions produces a heightened sense of anxiety. Together, the dark mood of the audio track, explosions, and unsystematic text make a strange, internal belief system public. Mata successfully makes viewers question their own socially and culturally constructed values and beliefs.

Next door to Mata's piece is a video by Juan Ramos. Unlike his previous video works, this one avoids his signature drawing style. Ramos disrupts a filmed performance by the band Gut with a support pillar from the now-closed Tacoland superimposed directly into the middle of the video. Tacoland was, until recently, a Mecca of underground music in San Antonio. Both these images—the band and the pillar—were filmed at the music venue, but at different times. This sense of temporal and spatial displacement, architecture as icon, and somber memorial all came together In a mix of hard driving punk and sobering reflection. One shortcoming of the piece may be that only a particular group of people are going to understand Ramos' reference. Regardless, it kicked us in the gut.

On view through August 6

Last Saturday night, at about 10 PM, Camp Fig's opening for BIGASSLIFE was as packed as any club in downtown Austin. This appeared to be a great sign for an exhibition space that we are eager to embrace. It would be fantastic to have a contemporary art space with a young and utterly un-academic, "anti-gallery" feel on Fifth Street. And in some ways. Camp Fig has already achieved aspects of this goal. Their current show, however, is a real disappointment.

Camp Fig's last exhibition, which ran through June 25th and featured some interesting works on paper, was called "A Clever Name for a Drawing Show." This time, they had a name, but came up short on the art. In place of clever works, Camp Fig exhibited a bizarre amalgam of de-skilled sketchbook schlock and magic marker mark-making. Hung
in a haphazard bulletin-board style, the works appeared to strive for a shocking effect, but merely sputtered bad taste. To give a rough idea of what viewers will find, one corner of the small exhibition space included a pen and ink contour drawing of a woman giving head. To its left a Polaroid photograph presented a reclining nude male torso (presumably one of the artists) with his genitals displayed prominently. Above them, a fuzzy stuffed animal had been transformed from cartoon androgyny into a sexualized child's toy with the appendage of two makeshift testicles and a penis.

Give a quick three-sixty around the gallery and it's clear that these artists are waiting for someone to chastise, "This is inappropriate!" We'll save our breath. The exhibition says nothing that deserves amplification. More precisely, BIGASSLIFE says that Austin is still a long way from having an artistic underground.

Year 10 of Mexic-Arte's Young Latino Artists
On view through September 4

Now in Its tenth year, Mexic-Arte Museum's Young Latino Artists exhibition presents an annual opportunity to recognize recent work by Latino artists under the age of 35. YLA 10, which opened last week and will run throughout the summer, features a cross section of media and styles by artists hailing from as far away as El Paso and Juarez, and as close to home as San Antonio and San Marcos. Curated by Ben Fyffe, this year's exhibition gives viewers a well-rounded introduction to a few young artists' work, while sidestepping the urge to provide a comprehensive view of Latino art in Texas.

Playing off the motif of trite southwestern sunset vistas and souvenir postcards, Ricky Armendariz's (San Antonio) landscape paintings were among our favorite works in the exhibition. Armendariz's paintings are a pleasure to look at and his ability to blend regional kitsch with a firm grasp of cultural heritage was particularly skillful. In terms of scale, Armendariz's work strikes a middle ground between Claudia Rojas' (Juarez) intimate etchings and Jason Villegas' (Houston) monstrous, but playful, installation that engulfs three walls and a few feet of floor space. While Armendariz, Rojas, Villegas, and Brandon Gonzalez all employ either figural iconography or text (and sometimes use both), Nick Munoz stands apart for his quiet geometric abstraction. Though he works with spray paint and commercial roofing disks, Mufioz's finished works defy their blue collar media with delicate chromatic play.

After viewers have had their fill of the works in YLA 10 they should be sure to take a look at Mexic-Arte's Serie XII exhibition. Located in the small gallery toward the museums' east side, Serie XII shows serigraphs (silkscreens) by both established and emerging artists. The works on display take the popular political medium in some surprising directions and will become part of the museum's permanent collection when the exhibition closes.


Gallery Talk with Glenn Fuhrman and Jim Torok

From 6 to 8 P.M. Saturday, July 23, Lora Reynolds Gallery will hold a reception for their summer exhibition Jim Torok: Artists are Great. Torok, an artist who works out of Brooklyn, will be joined by the show's curator, Glenn Fuhrman. Doors open at 6 with Furhman and Torok to start speaking at 6:30.

The Texas Monkey Project

Progress Coffee (500 San Marcos St., Austin) will host a benefit art show for Primarily Primates, a sanctuary that provides rehabilitation, retirement, and lifetime care to over 600 primates that were once used in the entertainment industry, in laboratory research, or were part of the exotic pet trade. The benefit opens July 23 with a reception from 5 to 9 P.M. and will run through August 20. The project will feature work by Helen Altman, Sharon Bright, D'Ette Cole, Steve Dubov, Heyd Fontenot, Trad Goudle, Melissa Grimes, Rachel Koper, Chrlstia Madacsl, Edmund Martinez, Michael Sieben, Karen Sorensen, Andrew Yates, and testsite 03.1 artist Faith Gay.

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