MBG Issue #51: August 19, 2005

Issue # 51

August 19, 2005

August 19, 2005

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John Pilson at Artpace's Hudson (Show)Room
On view through October 16

John Pilson's work, for better or for worse, relies on inside information. When first seeing his exhibition at Artpace, with its flawed black and white photographs and videos installed all around (not even the foyer or stairwells were spared), there seemed to be more to them than met the eye. Visual art often struggles to express its message without an intervening story or interpretation of some sort, and this was the case with Pilson's work. Though purists might scoff, historical, personal, and cultural contextualization helped make Pilson's visual message more communicable. On opening night, the artist's gallery talk revealed his interest in the stories of people and architecture and presented his belief that personal fantasies are necessary to get through everyday life. Grasping this message, poetry suddenly swam above his work's formal aspects.

Inside the (Show)Room, three side-by-side videos captured the sparkle of a black sidewalk flecked with mica, the kind that looks like a miniature galaxy. When you were a kid, they seemed incredible, shining around your feet in the sunlight. Did grown-ups really make everyday objects like sidewalks that beautiful? It all fits in with what Pilson described on opening night as the "utilitarian function of daydreaming."

The rest of the images in the exhibition take place above street level. Nearby, Dark Empire is a video that moves so slowly that, at first, you may think ifs a photograph. The projection, however, is a real time record of New York's skyline during the blackout of 2003, with day turning to night around the Empire State Building. The fact that the clock can suddenly be turned back on a modern metropolis like New York by a century, (electrically speaking, that is) is both startling and profound. Pilson didn't film New Yorkers scrambling to get home in the dark—instead he preferred to capture architecture, specifically a rare evening skyline with unlit windows.

Pilson's relationship with architecture is a highly personal one. He was employed as on-call support for Merrill Lynch during the dotcom heyday, working the night shift in a New York skyscraper. He got to know his co-workers well and the idea of these personalities, essentially haunting buildings after hours, changed his perception of architecture. He began taking his camera to work and creating what he calls "confusion between work and play," inserting quirky people into odd settings based on both place, and out-of-placeness.

His videos can be equally clunky and charming. He films people, including his family, in the hallways, restrooms, and stairwells of buildings. In St. Denis, named for the featured building which he later found has a very rich history, his sister paces up and down a hallway, holding a microphone, and listing out her quirks and peccadilloes—she likes pasta but only when stuffed, she needs lots of covers at night—which fails to make any impression at all. Much more effective is a short film. Sports, an aerial view of his father and his father's best friend Arnold, talking about sports and holding newspapers, as they do everyday. Here the artist has amplified the intimacy in a way that you would never expect—the two men lay in bed together like yin and yang in their dark suits on a white comforter.

These characters reappear as doo-wop singers in another video, Above the Grid, which has them harmonizing, strolling, and playing in an office building. The artist made this series of works during a residency at the World Trade Center just prior to its destruction, a fact that, in retrospect, comes to bear on their playful, sad, and surreal aspects. Finally, a black and white photograph, Above the Grid (City and Fog), captures a view over the tops of buildings across a waterway. Its foreground buildings are composed in such a way that they appear huddled together in checkered clothing. Nearly animate, they look out at the other buildings through the haze.

Slim Shady: Part 2 of UT-Austin's MFA Summer Shows at Creative Research Laboratory
On view through September 3

The second half of UT-Austin's MFA summer shows opened last Saturday evening at Creative Research Laboratory. Titled "Shade," the exhibition's mood is serene and cerebral. Its works provide a cooling visual salve just in time for August's most unrelenting heat.

As Shade's four person curatorial team (Alex Codlin, Laura A. Lindenberger, Breanne Robertson, and Edwin Stirman) describes the show, the artists' work is united by a common interest in artistic processes and physical materials. "Daily activities and rituals become a source of investigation [for the artists] and [the resulting works] encourage the viewer to examine both the repetition and the variation in their own everyday practice."

Entering the gallery, Katalin Hausel's contorted sculpture of words printed on large, ribbon-like strips of unfinished wood is the first piece viewers will encounter. Just beyond it Marianne McGrath's mixed media sculpture creates a tactilely charged environment out of liquid slip, cheesecloth, and dozens of nearly identical baseball-sized ceramic spheres. To the gallery's rear, Jarred Beck constructs an architecture reminiscent of a back stage set where viewers can create their own drama as they observe the interplay of light and shadow in the narrow, maze-like structure.

Photographers Mike Osbome and Adam Schrelber each exhibited three works in Shade. Their six pieces were among our favorites, as was Roberto Bellini's video Interval, a fifteen-minute piece about the social activity of drinking coffee in Bellini's native Brazil. Of the paintings, we were particularly impressed by Thuy-Van Vu's work. Other artists who contributed to Shade included; Michelle Bayer (intaglio prints), Meme McNalry (abstract paintings), Natacha Poggio (mixed media), Scott Proctor (sculpture), and Nathan Spondike (painting and mixed media).

Part of design student Natacha Poggio's contribution to the exhibition was to make Shade accessible to visitors with disabilities. Spoken descriptions of the works in Shade recorded by artists and curators will soon be available as audio downloads from www.vkdg.com/crl. Volunteer-guided tours of Shade for visitors with disabilities will be available on Saturday, August 27 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend. For more information, please email: accesshade@gmail.com.

50th Anniversary Gifts and Acquisitions for the McNay
On view through September 4

The McNay Art Museum got a summer makeover with both a new contemporary art curator, Rene Paul Barilleux, and important acquisitions. Their summer exhibition, 50th- Anniversary Gifts and Recent Acquisitions, runs through September 4, so there is still a chance to catch it. Although the title sounds dull, the quality and number of works makes up for it. These fine pieces by major artists should flesh out weaker areas in the McNay's holdings—namely, the new curator's inherited contemporary collection. 50th-Anniversary Gifts is like a survey course in modern art and, at its best, gives the same thrill as flipping through your college course books where each page illustrates an object that seems lifechanging.

The collecting begins in the smoke-infused 19th century, including one coup in particular—a lithographic portrait of Albert Belleroche by John Singer Sargent. The two were friends and studio mates, and it was Belleroche who actually introduced Sargent to the lithographic process. Nearby, a rare terra-cotta portrait bust by Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse bookends the twentieth century with a contemporary bust in the exhibition, Patience (1999), by Nicolas Africano, a contemporary artist who works in cast glass and carries on a romantic figurative tradition.

Art historical giants, including Jean Dubuffet, George Rouault, John Marin, Arthur Dove, Hans Hoffman, Willem de Kooning, and David Smith, represent modernism and avant-garde practice. Viewers can compare Milton Avery's painting to his work on paper, or admire how Barbara Hepworth's sculpture—such softly rounded wood—is positioned by the window to complement the hardier bronze in the courtyard. The next generation of artists, including Jackson Pollock and Richard Diebenkorn, are represented by satisfying, though not spine-tingling, works. However, John Baldessari's Nine Feet (of Victim and Crowd) from Violent Space Series (1976) and Ed Ruscha's Fly (1968) are stunners. Sometimes these mid-century artists reveal the relationships between teachers and students, as in the case of Hoffman and Diebenkorn, and paintings seem to flow into each other like a developing stream of consciousness.

The best spokespeople for the McNay's theater collection are the big-name artists who moonlighted as stage designers. Examples are on view by notables such as Edouard Vuillard, Alexandra Exter, Juan Miro, and David Hockney. Their theater designs seem to shirk practical restraints and demonstrate changing trends in the theater, with its tenuous relationship to naturalism. Hockney's costume designs for Parade, a 1980 recreation of the 1917 original, are delightfully loose and unpredictable compared to a couple of his tight portrait drawings in the exhibition. Spend a little extra time, too, imagining the workings of three-dimensional maquettes, or scale models, such as Adrienne Lobel's design for Nixon in China (1987) that has a Pop edge to its red, white, and blue airplane and red banners.

The McNay is charged to collect, not just globally, but locally, as the saying goes. New acquisitions from Texas artists include works by Joe Mancuso, Luis Jimenez, Marge Sawyer, and Reggie Rowe. Following Vincent Valdez's successful Stations exhibition of drawings, the museum acquired a set of lithographs based on the artist's prize fighting Jesus figure. A work by honorary local artist, Leonardo Drew, pulls you into rich squares, like sepia-turned-syrup, of graphite and asphaltum on paper. The drawing relates to a massive, gridded wall sculpture already in the collection.

All in all, the McNay's collecting practice has achieved intricate relationships between the works. In fact, if all the connecting "threads" between works were tangible, the show would look like Marcel Duchamp's string installation at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century.

Photography in Austin: a Look Through Lens & A Legacy at d berman gallery and the HRC

Ansel Adams: A Legacy
On view through January 1, 2006 at the Harry Ransom Center

One photographer. 126 photographs, two colors, and a few consistent themes. These are the ingredients that constitute the Harry Ransom Center's five-month-long exhibition of Ansel Adams' work, Ansel Adams: A Legacy. The result is an exhibition that presents some wonderful examples of this popular photographer and early environmentalist's work. However, the legacy of this exhibition will be that it presents Adams' oeuvre in a way that is difficult to get passionate about. It is the sort of show where art is on the walls, but technical mastery is on display. In light of this, it's hard to find the fuel for either frustration or elation. Nod and step, nod and step - do this across the Ransom Center's placid exhibition hall and you'll have completed a most pleasant circuit.

From Adams' well known 1958 self-portrait (where the artist projected his shadow against the rocks of Monument Valley, Utah) to his lesser known cityscapes of San Francisco before the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Ransom Center's selection of photographs will take viewers on a trip across the twentieth-century American landscape. Along the way, viewers will be introduced to personages and vistas both famous and anonymous: the Sierra Nevada mountains, an elderly Spanish woman's profile, the dunes of coastal California, and the muralist Orozco. The exhibition gets high marks for showing some of the finest technical masterpieces of photography from the past century, and the compositions' constructions, when considered as formal arrangements of nature on a two-dimensional surface, are really something to marvel at. Anyone in search of a textbook photograph will find at least a few examples.

Our advice: see the show. It's not everyday that you can mingle in the mountainside or admire the tones of light and dark on snow-covered birch trees. At times you'll feel transported into the purity of unspoiled nature. At others you'll feel as though you're living
in the pages of a coffee table book. Neither is a bad place to be.

Lens: George Krause + Sean Perry
On view through September 10 at d berman gallery

The success of "Lens; George Krause + Sean Perry," currently on exhibition at the d berman gallery, emerges from the thematic juxtaposition of two flawlessly executed series. Both artists have been recognized for their mastery of their medium: the Austin Chronicle named Perry one of the "10 Best Artists of 2004" and the elder Krause has a number of accolades ranging from the Prix de Rome in Photography in 1976 to "Texas
Artist of the Year" in 1993. Both series of photographs, with their pristine clarity and strong emphasis on light-dark contrast, testify to the local veterans' skill with the camera.

Despite the patent ability of both series to stand on their own, the vibrant impact of the show is manifest in their contrasts. By combining Krause's evanescent and poignant series of life-sized sfumato nudes with Perry's haunting and vacant industrial images, the viewer inevitably contextualizes one in the face of the other. The textured vulnerability and quiet defiance of Krause's subjects, who appear like full-frontal angels in the photographs, lends insight into the magnificently poetic and stalwart structures dominating Perry's work. The result is a striking sense of humanism as the actor and the product reside quietly in the same space. As opposed to the desperate dynamic usually associated with industrial progress, the works speak to a beautiful, patient-almost ordained—accomplishment.

Art on the East Side: "Where Were They Then?"
On view through September 10

While the title for the Eastside Art Palace's new exhibit "Where Were They Then," invokes images of a rotund Leif Garrett or a drug-addled "New Edition" member, it is not
to be confused with its VH1 namesake. Rather, Arturo Palacios (curatorial buccaneer) offers up some of the quirkiest art around: dated but not irrelevant.

Early works by Andy Coolquitt, Mike Sieben, and Susan Whyne all seem to share a childlike delight in artistic irreverence. Sieben's ornate "Italian Military Uniforms" (painted
on old plaques), reveal his love for the boldly graphic form while referencing, perhaps with disdain, older "high art."

From Whyne's neurotic floating mindscapes to Coolquitt's scantily clad sculpture. Come On In, it's Wet, the artists exude the type of aesthetic inquiry that only accompanies youth. And that is a welcome reprieve from the stable and staid world of mid-career artists.

And the opening, replete with shots of mezcal and good conversation, (these might not be mutually exclusive...) cemented the "Eastside Art Palace" as the new destination for Austin scenesters on Saturday nights.


Preview Showing of Art In the Twenty First Century: Play
Thursday, August 25 from 6 to 8:30 PM at Artpace

Don't miss this special viewing of Play before it airs globally on public television this fall. Featuring former Artpace residents Arturo Herrera and Oliver Herring, Play is part of season three in PBS's award-winning Art:21 series, which explores art and creativity through the eyes of contemporary artists. Assistant Curator Kate Green will introduce the screening at Artpace with a brief lecture on contemporary art in today's society.

Gallery Talk: "Rene Magritte: A Surrealist's Eye "
Wednesday, August 23 at 7 PM at San Antonio Museum of Art

Lloyd Walsh, artist and professor at Palo Alto College, will give a talk about the work of Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte (1898-1967) on Wednesday, August 23. Join Walsh at 7 PM and be sure to see the exhibition Rene Magritte: A Surrealist's Eye before it comes
down on November 13.

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