On view through November 13
There's a significant cash prize going to one of four Texas artists - Eileen Maxson, Robyn O'Neil, Robert A. Pruitt, or Ludwig Schwarz. A recent body of work from each is on view at Arthouse, sponsor of the bi-annual award. The "final four" were chosen from a hundred or so artists, nominated by arts professionals and cherry-picked by a team of nationally-recognized artists, critics, and curators from Texas and beyond. This well-worn formula to attract attention ($$+Celebrity+Art), pioneered in far-flung capitals across the globe, has that special "they will come" optimism of which every regional scene must periodically partake.
Sure enough, there was the concomitant bombast and boosterism surrounding this parade of local talent. None was more apparent than Arthouse Executive Director Sue Graze's comparison of the size of the prize ($30,000) to the size of this fair state. The giddiness of the prize-affirming rhetoric was thankfully undercut by high levels of anxiety manifest in the art itself - not about this competition, but about the state of life and art as experienced by these artists today.
Robert Pruitt negotiates the vicissitudes of constructing one's identity within contemporary African American culture. Taking cues from David Hammons, Pruitt selects commodities loaded with racial meaning and repositions them so that their power is dismantled -usually with a laugh. He made a sneaker out of shards of brown glass from an Olde English 40oz. malt liquor bottle, covered an Uzi with chewed bubble gum, and adorned a sleek black pistol with a red Nike swoosh in a piece pointedly called Just Do It. These stereotypes of black identity are shown alongside another set of clichés in Pruitt's altar to slain rap musicians, Do This in Remembrance of Me (see above image). African masks, cowry shells, hair cuttings, a sunflower, and mayonnaise jars filled with scary-looking fetish objects are accessories for the iPod that plays songs by the deceased. In another equally poignant piece, For Whom the Bell Curves, Pruitt drapes gold chains of various lengths and hefts on the wall so that they form a series of interconnected catenaries. This quiet critique of the gaudiness of celebrity bling turns a corner when we are informed that the lines formed by the chains loosely trace slave trade routes from Africa to Europe and the Americas. Sometimes Pruitt's clichés don't quite break out of their stereotype and the work feels lackadaisical, but there is a light-hearted earnestness in his attempts to incorporate racial history into his contemporary African American consciousness.
Eileen Maxson is searching desperately amidst our consumerist culture for some vestige of pure, directly-expressed emotion. In a single-channel video, she plays a softspoken Amy Goodrow and tries to convince MTV executives to pick her to be on The Real World. As she narrates a love affair with her math teacher that went pathetically wrong, the "MTV Guy" (who is supposed to be screening her audition tape) partakes in a cell phone conversation. Corporate apathy toward individual needs is displayed again in Maxson's Michigan, 1971. Here, her father provides the video's voice-over by musing on the personal sacrifices he has made to keep a secure job at a large corporation. Simultaneously, the video shows an endearing home movie of mom and dad tickling each other years ago. Maxson's most ambitious piece is a Grand Opening of what looks like a big-box mega store (perhaps a Walgreen's or Wal-Mart) so familiar in the middle America landscape. Across the homogenized architecture festoons of colorful plastic flags alert us that we are at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the store's opening. A lone woman is interviewed on TV, as if for the local news. Teary-eyed and inarticulate, she seems to have wanted to find a real celebration in this alienated exurban landscape. Maxson's aesthetic is disjointed and sometimes vague, but her depictions of alienation are a slow-burning emotional desolation that creeps into our psyche.
Robyn O'Neil's drawings are populated with small men, some shown singly, others in groups, all clad in dark sweat suits. Her figures perform a variety of activities in a bleak and rugged landscape under troubled skies. O'Neil's stylized drawing technique, dramatic scale, and biblical-sounding titles all contribute to an apocryphal and apocalyptic tone. In a videotaped interview placed beside her work, the artist mentions that she was struck by the mass suicide of the Heaven's Gate cult (who all dressed in sweat suits) during the Halle-Bop comet's appearance in 1997. In keeping with its evangelical title, O'Neil drawing "As ye the sinister creep and feign, those once held become those now slain" appears in three sections, reminiscent of a devotional triptych. The left side is grim: little men drag each other around, vomit, and hood one another a la Abu Ghraib. The right side is more cheery: the men shake hands, plant seeds, and sit together around a fallen tree. In the center panel rests a giant buffalo, placid and ignored by ail the men. Man's primitive violence is overcome and civilization triumphs: the nearly-extinct buffalo is perhaps symbolic of the sacrifice nature made for Manifest Destiny. Or, the monolithic buffalo could signify that nature is everlasting, unflagging in the face of the little men's dance. The awkward shifts in scale are sometimes as confusing as her moral message, which inexplicably excludes a female presence.
Ludwig Schwarz stirs up anxiety about the art market, confusing the commodity status of his own work in order to demystify how value is constructed. First, Schwarz blended abstraction and representation with pop references and decorative patterns in a series of somewhat traditional stretched canvases. Second, he authorized copies of these works in two sizes (one for the museum and another for the home) and outsourced the reproduction job to some women in China. Authorship gets confused and marketing takes over, but Schwarz's art remains resolutely a commodity object, in a painful videotaped scene, Schwarz tries to hock his paintings at a pawnshop to a confused cashier. A companion to this piece presents a conglomeration of wedding rings Schwarz bought from pawnshops. He shows it with an appraisal from a jeweler that assigns a dollar value. The aesthetic value, however, is left up to the viewer. Even within Schwarz's pointed and funny critique, his role as artist/entertainer is held intact.
The judges (Sue Graze, James Elaine, Vernon Fisher, Dave Hickey, Kathryn Kanjo, Shamim M. Momim, and Valerie Cassel Oliver) now have to decide which artist will win the purse. Will they favor constructed identity, pining for true emotion, apocalyptic storytelling, or commodity critique? The lucky one will be able to, as Arthouse curator Regine Basha put it, "quit their day job," but, alas, only for "a year." Though there won't be consolation prizes for the losers, Arthouse does have a "People's Choice Award" where we can cast our votes. Hopefully, someone will take a page from the Brits and figure out a way to place bets on the outcome, as has been tradition with the Turner Prize for years. With the combination of money, celebrity, art, and gambling, the Texas Prize may reach its goal: to garner international attention on the Texas art scene. More importantly, we hope that it will raise the stakes of aesthetic quality and conceptual rigor here as well, encouraging these four finalists, and those to come, to continue to challenge themselves beyond expectation.
El mundo no escuchara/The World Won't Listen
On view through October 8
Two views on Phil Collins at Lore Reynolds Gallery presented In collaboration with Cinematexas
View I ~ To let yourself lose yourself...
When I was fifteen, I made a series of ornaments to decorate a small fake Christmas tree that my mum had bought me. These were no ordinary Christmas ornaments - they were special Morrissey ones. A large tinfoil star with Morrissey's face in its middle topped the tree instead of an angel, and other images of Morrissey were cut into circles and hung with ribbons from each branch. The tree fit perfectly into my room, a shrine to Morrissey with hundreds of posters and photos covering the peach and mint striped Laura Ashley wallpaper. After the holiday season was over, I didn't take down the tree, but kept it in my room for years as a testament to my zealous passion for Morrissey, his music, and everything for which he stood. That is until I went off to college and my mum decided it was time to tum my old room into a spare guest room.
I share this story, not to divulge my embarrassing past, but because I think you really need to be a Morrissey fan in order to fully understand Phil Collins' latest work, el mundo no escuchara/the world wont listen, now showing at the Lora Reynolds Gallery in Austin. Without the knowledge or experience of ever loving a Smiths song, you remain a bemused outsider to the work and the experience of being a bedroom devotee.
On a residency in Colombia, Collins posted fliers around Bogota asking for fans of The Smiths to join him for a one night karaoke remake of the 1987 album. The World Won't Listen. Collins asked for "the shy, the dissatisfied, the narcissistic, the shower super-stars and anyone who wants to be someone else for a night" and he definitely got what he wanted. Standing in front of garish Technicolor backdrops of a tropical sunset or a Tuscan lake, each participant sang their heart out, each channeling their inner Morrissey. Collins' work can be read as a political statement using The Smiths' escapist lyrics to comment on the political upheaval in Colombia, but for me this isn't the most compelling reading. Rather, the work becomes a performance about feeling from the off-key singers on the TV screen to me, the viewer, who also has a secret Morrissey inside, waiting to
Each karaoke singer, regardless of how timid they may be at the start, loses themselves to the feelings of the lyrics by the end of the song; from the maniacal screaming that closes "Panic," the tender rendition of "Asleep" by a man who wistfully closes his eyes and sways to the music, to the super-fan who proudly displays his archive of Morrissey and The Smiths paraphernalia in "Oscillate Wildly." For each of these individuals, the songs are more than just words set to music, but rather a way to stake out their place in the world. Morrissey's lyrics make them feel loved and provide hope in moments of despair. The songs make these singers feel like they aren't alone in the world and Collins' work succeeds in revealing a community of fans, all ultimately changed by The Smiths.
For viewers of the video who, like me, were or are still fans of The Smiths, there is a raw and somewhat painful identification with the people in Collins' video, I know only too well why they love these songs. The songs bring back memories of my adolescence and what these songs meant to me and how they became the soundtrack to my teenage years. Watching the video brings back a feeling of nostalgia for the days when songs could make a difference in my life, as I don't remember the last time that has happened. The singing from the TV monitor is infectious and I can't help but find myself tapping my toes or mouthing the words to the songs. I feel really young again and wish that I too had the chance to bring out my own inner Morrissey.
After watching el mundo no escuchara, I regret throwing away my little Christmas tree.
View II ~ Playing the "them" to the "us" on stage...
At Lora Reynolds Gallery this month, the nil factor of white space glows into prominence as an atmosphere for British artist Phil Collins' installation of contemporary artifacts el mundo no escuchara/the world won't listen. Tall ceilings make room for immense blank surfaces around a modest TV and three framed posters. The last element of the piece, a wall entirely covered with more or less pristine, overlapping versions of the same three posters, retains the colossal, luminous qualities of the tall blank planes it joins.
The piece began last November when the posters, now in Austin, went up all over Bogota. They announced an upcoming "Karaoke de los Smiths," and entreated "los
timidos, los insatisfechos, los narcisos, las estrellas de la ducha, y todos otros qui quieran ser otro(a) por una noche" (the shy, the dissatisfied, the narcissistic, the shower super-stars and anyone who wants to be someone else for a night) to venture out and take singer Morrissey's part in a recreation of the UK band the Smiths' hits album The World Won't Listen. Now showing in the gallery, the video of these performances animates the poster's promise.
A boxy television like the one your family bought in 1992 perches on a shelf that projects from the gallery's center wall. A tinny synth track stands in for Johnny Marris guitar as a middle-aged man bravely goes for the arpeggio in "Bigmouth Strikes Again." The heft of this particular TV set makes it resemble a puppet theater or tiny diorama; there is a sense that the singer, sweating in his blue button-down, is actually somewhere just behind the proscenium of pixels, while his colleagues wait in the black plastic wings.
There is something slightly uncomfortable about watching "anyone who wants to be someone else for a night bear witness to "the songs that saved their life" for an audience of unknown viewers thousands of miles away. Their abstraction into the white gallery is strange, like the bone displaced from a saint's kneecap into a golden case at Saint-Sulpice. This is, however, a generic problem of performance documentation.
Yet, Collins' work engages these concerns. By asking his subjects to participate voluntarily in an artificial situation, Collins resisted making a claim to an authentic depiction of, say, Bogota's turbulent political life. The work replaces outer documentary concerns with an interest in revealing another kind of authentic experience, the subjects' consuming identification with iconic art Inside the TV, the saints sing karaoke. "Take me out ...tonight ...where there's music and there's people and they're young and alive..." Some participants seem more agreeable to this public test of faith than others. Aware that an impressive collection of Smiths records is something that anyone can have, these singers profess their love with bravado. Others spend the whole song looking as though you've caught them in a private moment, that, really, the audience probably shouldn't be here. As spectators, what do we do with such perceptions? Collins brings us to this question. However much we too love the Smiths, in the gallery we must play the them to the us onstage. The world won't listen, but maybe because its not supposed to.
When the catalog of shower-stars bows out with a bashful girl in long red gloves, the video loop takes a breather. It's a good time to inspect Ed Ruscha's photographs on the gallery's back wall. Emblematic of Ruscha's best-known work, the thirty aerial photographs show empty LA parking lots, bound by buildings or ringed by an overpass. Bare of any trees, the lots show just one sign of life: dark pools of oil mark out parking spots, the imprint of a workforce yet to clock in for the photograph's today. In the background, the video loop starts again and you hear a fledgling Morrissey insist "Hang the blessed DJ...Because the music that they constantly play... IT SAYS NOTHING TO ME ABOUT MY LIFE..." The man on the screen is stern. Hang the DJ! No, really! Redressing, bemoaning, or trying to leave some petty trace in an otherwise oblivious world, the devotees march on.
The Blue Star and The Golden Sword: Responding to Last Great Places at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center
On view through October 9
These days, art concerned with the natural landscape is, by definition, political art. The exploitation of the earth's resources and the degradation of the natural environment add a dark nuance to even the most idyllic landscapes.
In Response to Place: Photographs from The Nature Conservancy's Last Great Places is coupled seamlessly within the main gallery alongside The Last Great Places of Texas. The dual shows (one treating "great places" across the fifty states, the other confined to Texas) explore the beauty, mystery, and diversity of the shrinking category that we call 'first nature' - the wild and raw landscape untouched by the human hand.
At one level, I experienced the exhibition as a captivating and beautifully wrought collection of works by both regional and international photographers. But when the phrase "last great places" ricocheted uncannily within the empty gallery, I couldn't relish the show's gorgeous images without also imagining the sword of Damocles hanging by a thread above each stunning landscape.
Water and its lack was a recurring subject, with Nell Maurer's Barton Creek Habitat Preserve visually underscoring the with/without dichotomy. Captured in black and white, his photograph depicts a drinking glass of dry, white gravel. The glass is situated within a shallow riverbed of water and glistening, dark river rocks. The aquatic theme is carried on by Michael Nye's dreamy Marsh Preserve and Trish Simonite's haiku-like Lagoon, Marshland in delicate colors. The micro-bio-diversity entanglement in Larry Leissner's photograph of seaweed in the Francine Cohn Preserve contrasts starkly with the sandy monochromatism of Lynn Davis' Utah desert formations, Wilson's Arch.
Bob Maxham's provocative Davis Mountains Preserve deals with the "machine in the garden" and a landscape that is framed by not one, but two viewing devices. The rearview mirror at the top of the frame alerts us that we are doubly removed from the Davis Mountains. The vehicle's cracked and dirty windshield further disturbs our idyll. Maxham's inclusion of the automobile invokes that machine's impact upon the environment and also points out the ways that it both accommodates and obstructs our experience of parks and preserves. Author Edward Abbey's renowned nature narrative, Desert Solitaire, would be a good literary supplement to Maxham's photo-commentary. "Get out of the car," Abbey once said. "You can't see anything from a car; you've got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and. knees... When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you'll see something, maybe."
A final theme to consider is the inclusion of human and non-human animals in the exhibitions. While most of the photos are free of cell-phone towers and highways, Mary Ellen Mark's puzzling Man and His Beloved Toy Monkey and Fazal Sheikh's nostalgic Dona Antonia explore the ways in which place, home, and the land shape our individual and cultural identities.
In The Nature Conservancy's brief documentary (narrated by Joanne Woodward), William Wegman says that his dogs facilitate a sort of familiar defamiliarization— rendering the strange familiar and the familiar strange. He says, "When they check out a place, I absorb it through them." I am reminded of the techniques of Casper David Friedrich and other Romantic painters who inserted contemplative human forms into their landscapes as a means of nudging the viewer's self-awareness. But, while Friedrich used the human figure to emphasize the landscape, Wegman focuses the lens on the dog and leaves the landscape as a blurry backdrop. Of course the Weimaraner with green seaweed on his goofy canine head makes a great advertisement for the exhibit, but those dogs are to the art world as Paris Hilton is to the tabloid ... enough already!
In the end, what are we to make of these two collections of eco-art? Of course you'll have to see the show and decide for yourself... that's the way political art achieves its purpose. As I walked away from the show and reflected on the disappearance of such natural landscapes, I again recalled Edward Abbey chiding those who would fetishize the beauty of nature. He said, "You're holding a tombstone in your hands. A bloody rock. Don't drop it on your foot - throw it at something big and glassy." The question I asked upon leaving Blue Star last week was, "Where do I point?"
Radical Performance: Laurie Caries on Improvisation
Thoughts on the September 16 lecture, "Walking the Edge with Instructions from Conversations with Robbie" at the UT-Austin College of Fine Arts
The appropriate response to Obie Award-winning performance artist Laurie Carlos' lecture on improvisation last Friday afternoon (part of a year-long series on public performance sponsored by the University of Texas at Austin Department of Theatre and Dance) would be to produce radical art. To listen was to crave radical art, personal art, art that announces: "This is for me. Think any damn thing you want, because you will."
Though not invited as a motivational speaker, Carlos' discussion about the role of improvisation in creating ritual became an appeal to action. Drifting between the roles of teacher and performer, story teller and sage, Carlos pushed aside the lectern and sat before her audience as a distinguished guest with a thing or two to share about creating avant-garde ritual. Her assessment of improvisation was one not based on skat and saxophone riffs—"a jazz aesthetic means a horn and a specific part of the country for a lot of people, but really it means the point where improvisation becomes ritual"—rather, Carlos' talk transformed into a nuts and bolts workshop on a very heady topic: how to make meaning through radical performance.
Time and again, Carlos acknowledged the strides our country has made politically and socially in the past century. But she urged her audience to pick up the pieces of revolution and move on. How do we go about making new rituals that are appropriate for life today? Her answer, put simply, is to learn the classic forms and mess them up.
"Mess it up!" provokes Carlos, with the swirling arm movements of a child forcefully rearranging puzzle pieces. Artists have been "messing things up" for a long time. Skew the perspective, shift the colors, play percussion with your bass, play percussion with your decks, or don't play anything at all. Where Carlos weighs in on the spectrum of messing things up, however, might surprise you. Though her advice was at times tempered—"if it goes exactly as you thought it would it's probably a\vful" and "collaborators need to be together in the same room, and you're going to disagree, and you won't even like each other some of the time"—other metaphors spoke to a type of radical gesture not often voiced in the halls of academia. "As an artist, you drive your car into the crowd and bomb it. (Carlos scans the auditorium across and back.) Then someone will bother to find out who you are. They'll want to know who set off the bomb."
Though disconcerting, Carlos' bomb metaphor (which she underscored should not be taken literally) led to some of her most constructive advice. Her overriding message, that art should be made for oneself, would seem to present an impasse. What organization would want to fund art that was made strictly for the artist? Carlos' resolution of this impasse was uplifting despite its inherent risks. Make your art, she urged, before you start worrying about who is going to pay for it. The answer to the funding problem, in her eyes, is to make work, to act. If the arts are not flourishing it's on the artists' shoulders, not the backers', because when the ideas are strong the money will follow. Operating under this logic, the way to survive as an artist would be to forget your obligation to an audience. Or, you could try to follow Carlos' words, "I'm not growing up to be a white man, so I've had to find a way to say what I'm going to say. I only have to serve my own purpose. This is what I do."
Rick Hunter: Mexico | Imagenes at Galeria Siqueiros
On view through October 2
Rick Hunter sure takes a lot of photos, and San Antonio's FotoSeptiembre gives us all another chance to peruse his overflowing bounty. I see Hunter as an untroubled voyeur and a comfortable outsider—not only with the subjects he photographs, but in the art community. He reliably introduces us again and again to familiar territory—cool neighborhoods I didn't grow up in, Texas landscapes, and strikingly old or broken people who typically aren't invited to fashion shoots. These are the cliches of art photography and sophisticated folks may overlook these photos.
Then someone told me recently that Rick was a subject of some controversy and I thought—"What could lead someone to berate Rick?" A hatred of arching compositions, timeless interactions of rough-and-tumble children, or harmonious visual arrangements reawakening the awe of our familiar surroundings? How could this be? Controversial to whom?
So, I went to the Institute de Mexico in Hemisfair Park to see Hunter's work. His exhibition coincides with a temporary showing of old treasures from Mexico on the ground floor—things like archbishop's robes, paintings of colonial aristocrats, and handiwork from the convents—the sort of goodies I like to look at when I'm visiting a city I don't live in.
Upstairs are a million (ok, more like 60) photos by Rick. Tightly packed, they are lined up on eye-level and circle the 1500 square foot gallery. They are brightly printed digital images on fine art paper (not glossy). Instead of being framed, they are hung the way a lot of work is lately—like laundry—with those little black clips on tacks in the wall. It's pretty because you can really see all that thick ink from the prints sitting on top of the paper.
I started at the door and walked around the room as if I were reading a scroll. The pieces are hung so closely together they resemble film celluloid, except the photos aren't sequential like a storyboard. Instead, they were all taken over the course of five days in August and are related to each other through shared weather and light conditions. I have to say, they are both beautiful and somewhat corny—mariachis getting their shoes shined, flower stalls, windows with vignettes of cats and vases, advertisements, religious icons, and old men—all shot in Mexico. They are the apex of the sort of strictly observed and unstaged photography I usually doze at. Yet somehow. Rick Hunter is so unabashedly celebratory, and the photos are so perfectly composed, that they come out astoundingly.
The best photographs have a quadripartite composition and would show really well together in a smaller group. I would like to separate a couple of the still-lifes just so that I would have to work a bit harder to decipher the imagery. The least fabulous works were the diptychs hung along the climbing stairwell. The images didn't seem to have the formal consideration of the other prints and the juxtapositions didn't justify the snapshot style of the images. They seemed like the beginning of another show rather than part of this one. But these are small desires and complaints. It is a yummy show.
Rick Hunter has again overachieved in FotoSeptiembre with the sheer volume of his work. Jealous types may feel that he shows everything that comes out of his camera. I think that he is a joyful, unhesitant observer of the much-observed. He doesn't make me rethink my conceptions of beauty or enrage me with a white person's view of Mexico. But he does make me think—"Wow, all those bad photos of romantic urban life other photographers take don't hold a candle to Rick's." and "Man, am I glad digital photography is around to make all those cool, square, saturated images." Hunter's photographs would make a great starting point for a new collector. His work will always be beautiful, classically-composed, and intelligent On top of that, they are free of manipulation or artificial artiness. They're just the products of a good-natured love of looking and an unrelenting ability to produce. And he makes enough work that we can each own a different one.
Texas Prize Programming
Between now and the end of October, each of the four Texas Prize finalists will talk about their work at Arthouse. The artists will speak on Thursday evenings starting at 6 PM and will discuss their work before introducing a favorite movie. The idea for the movie showings began when Arthouse curator Regine Basha noticed that the artists all tended to reference movies when discussing their work.
The art talks are free to the public and are scheduled as follows:
Thursday, September 29, 6 PM - Robert A. Pruitt: Space is the Place
Thursday, October 6, 6 PM - Robyn O'Neil: McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Thursday, October 20, 6 PM - Eileen Maxson: Oklahoma
Thursday, October 27, 6 PM - Ludwig Schwarz: Tommy
Two Artpace Announcements
First, Artpace has announced that Chalk It Up has been postponed due to the approaching winds and rains of Hurricane Rita. They will announce the new date shortly. Second, the Potluck Dinner for New Works: 05.3 will take place Thursday, September 29, 2005 from 6:30 - 8 PM. Come meet and eat with new resident artists Melik Ohanian (Paris, France), Harrell Fletcher (Portland, OR), and Katrina Moorhead (Houston, TX). Please bring any dish that serves twelve and RSVP by September 28 to 210.212.4900.
Eve of Destruction Benefit
An evening of destruction will take place on October 7 from 6 PM to midnight at Flight Gallery (301 Blue Star Road, Silo #18, Blue Star Art Silos, San Antonio). Fourteen area artists have made work especially for Eve of Destruction. Each masterpiece not purchased before 11 PM will be destroyed In a manner predetermined by its maker. Extortion? Maybe. The organizers say, "Think of this as the Jerry Lewis Telethon of art shows. If you like a piece, buy it, or pledge a partial amount to bring a piece that much closer to 'salvation.' If not, it's art history. Destroyed pieces will be on display throughout the month by appointment."
Gallery Talk at d berman gallery
Bale Creek Allen will speak at d berman gallery (1701 Guadalupe St., Austin) on Saturday, September 24 at 1 PM. The talk coincides with the exhibition of Allen's work Tumbleweeds and Tire Treads, which runs through October 22.
Stay On Top of International Art Events
If you've never been to www.re-title.com this is a great site for staying up to date on the international contemporary art scene. Give it a try, they cover the world.