Houston: Joe Brainard at Brazos Projects & Interviews with Three Artists In New
Texas Painting at DiverseWorks
36 Pictures and Some Words - Joe Brainard at Brazos Projects
On view through November 19
Joe Brainard's retrospective exhibition 36 Pictures and Some Words, on display through November 19 at Houston's cool Brazos Projects, invites the viewer (or reader, or listener, for that matter) to consider a claim often associated with art made after Duchamp: art is whatever an artist says it is. 36 Pictures and Some Words is a bag of tricks, displaying collages, oils, sketches, comics, book covers and illustrations, a video clip and excerpts from Brainard's celebrated memoir I Remember (1970). Disparate in form and technique,
the works cover Brainard's career from the early 1960's to his death in 1994 and are variously fun, salacious, spare, charming, simple and beautiful. Ail share an easy-going humanity. But, to ask the aesthete's question: Is there more to them than that?
Classifying artists as great or minor is, at best, a parlor game, but a parlor game universally beloved and widely played. An adroit player himself, Brainard often lamented the lightweight character of his own work. He also recognized, however, that critical distinctions, dependent as they are on theories, styles, techniques and trends, cannot classify all endeavors. Purporting to "just make art," he wrote to a friend in 1971 about a revelation: "I am beginning to admire my lack of focus too, to bring everything together in some way. I think maybe that's the direction I'm headed. Assuming I keep going. And assuming the pieces are accurate enough to somehow fit together some day. (Exciting enough.) (Needed enough.) (Wanted enough.) (Beautiful enough.) (Etc.)" Rather than conceptualizing a world of increasing divisions, split between abstract expressionism and Pop, realism and surrealism, this school or that one, he aspired towards the accessible and inclusive. The works in 36 Pictures and Some Words comport with this idea. The diverse collection assembled at Brazos Projects gives viewers ample opportunity to consider whether Brainard's efforts at "just making art" are indeed exciting, needed, wanted and beautiful enough.
Among the collages, the medium in which Brainard worked most frequently, are several worth seeing. Untitled (Garden) (1967), comprised of a sea of tiny flowers cut from cloth, exemplifies the flower collages that Brainard loved. Richly gorgeous. It draws the eye not only to the precise daisies, irises and pansies, but also to the field's colorful entirety, creating a pleasant dichotomy. In Untitled (Holiday Inn) (1976), Brainard uses collage to treat familiar symbols as cultural artifacts. Untitled (Penguins and Beachballs) (1977), with Its orange sky, green water and eponymous subjects. Is delightfully odd. It is perhaps this collage which is most telling, Its origin and Inspiration entirely Inscrutable, the echo of some loud Idea.
Brainard's great technical genius Is evident In his sketches and drawings. The Illustrations for John Ashbery's The Vermont Notebook (1975) are elegant; "drawings for words," as Brainard succinctly put It. The Ink pieces Cup, Goldfish and Dandelion display a similar prowess; each employs an economical style, yet captures the essence of the thing depicted. Tattoo (1972) takes an opposite tack, showy and colorful, it reveals a human abdomen covered In the symbols that perennially appear in Brainard's works:
flowers, hearts, playing cards and dice. The oils are Impressive as well, though more workman-like than the sketches. In particular, Brainard's oil depletion of poet-novelist-librettist Kenward Emslie's Whippet showcases his talent as a draftsman. His landscapes In this medium, however, are more nondescript. According to the poet Ron Padgett, Brainard's lifelong friend, fellow
Oklahoman and biographer, Brainard labored to Improve his technique In oil but never felt that he understood all of Its facets.
Other works have a more familiar, popular provenance. 7-Up (1962), an accurate enamel depiction of the famous logo, seems Pop. as do the cut-out cigarette boxes in Big Chesterfield (1961-62), though both predate and anticipate the Pop explosion In New
York. A similar familiarity surrounds the Brainard-illustrated editions of C. Comics (1964- 65), which appropriate familiar characters (e.g., Dick Tracy, the Red Rydler, Nancy) with perfect verisimilitude and redirect their narratives towards scandalous ends. As the best-known
Pop artists did, Brainard concerned himself with everyday objects, commercial design and media Imagery. Unlike Warhol, Lichtenstein and Thiebaud, however, he did not develop an Ironic and detached sensibility. Reading his comics or looking at his paintings, a viewer can believe that Brainard painted the 7-Up logo or drew Nancy simply because he loved them—both as symbols and as something more substantial.
Lines from I Remember, Brainard's blunt collection of memories, Influence the feel of the whole exhibition. The book's popularity Is credited to Its recitation of familiar things: "I remember many first days of school. And that empty feeling; I remember the clock from
three to three thirty; I remember when girls wore cardigan sweaters backwards." But It Is also fearlessly honest "I remember wild red poppies In Italy; I remember selling blood every three months on Second Avenue; I remember a boy I once made love with and
after It was all over he asked me if I believed In God." Reading the lines Is almost dangerous, since It invites easy (and constant) mimicry, the beginnings of one's own long list of remembrances. The read or spoken memories, Brainard's and the viewers, act like
aspic to the other pieces, surrounding them, supporting them, giving them context. The pieces on display, formerly delightful, become Intimate.
And it is perhaps this realization that answers the question of whether there is anything more to Brainard's work than cleverness. Brainard said of himself In 1977: "I have a definite goal which Is totally unrealistic: I'd like to look like James Dean, I'd like to be a genuine painter, be rich—I mean, I really have this Idea—I'd like to be charming and socially love everybody and have everybody love me. I sort of make small steps in an attempt to be that person." There Is something remarkable about a kid who can move from Tulsa to New York In 1960 to live among poets and artists and do exactly what he set out to do: make art without losing himself to the terrible gravity of the place, the
people and the fads. And it is equally remarkable that a successful artist, seventeen years later, holds on to some dreams that resonate with everybody (to be beautiful, to be rich, to love, to be loved), as well as one that captivates himself-—to be a genuine artist.
Brainard's choice of "genuine" rather than "great" or "famous" In describing the kind of artist he desired to be and would become Is fitting. He worked in all media, denying himself a signature style; he avoided the ideological and social squabbles of "the art
world," minimizing his exposure to celebrity; he dealt with the mundane as often as the marvelous, leaving himself a step behind the vainglorious vanguard. Because of all that, he remained authentic and retained the surprising ability to make just about anything
interesting enough to prompt a thought. And what is art, if not that? Walking out, you might find yourself thinking that if Joe Brainard says it's art, it is.
New Texas Painting at DiverseWorks - Interviews with Three Austin-Based
On view November 4 through December 17
New Texas Painting opens at Houston's DiverseWorks next Friday, November 4. The artists in this celebration of our state's "proclivity for painting" include some well-known figures: Seth Alverson, William Betts, Bill Davenport, Joey Fauerso, All Fitzgerald, Heyd Fontenot, Angela Fraleigh, Francesca Fuchs, Ryan Geiger, Nina Rizzo, Brian Wheeler, Jeff Wheeler, Hilary Wilder and Bill Willis. In honor of the exhibition, we interviewed three Austin-based artists to find out more about the work that they will be submitting to the exhibition. We also heard what they have to say about their own work in relation to painting in Texas today.
1. Blanton Grand Opening Re-Scheduled: After much deliberation, the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art has re-scheduled Its grand opening to April 30, 2006. The extra months will allow the Blanton time to calibrate and test the systems that will safeguard the works
of art in their new building. As Director Jesse Otto Hite said, "...it is disappointing to have to delay our opening for another two months... However, when creating a world-class facility which will provide extraordinary art experiences for generations to come, it's our responsibility not to rush, to get everything just right and to ensure the well-being of these exceptional works of art." Though delayed, the Blanton's grand opening is just six months away.
2. Special Event with Harrell Fletcher at Artpace: On Saturday, November 5, 2005 from 1 to 4 PM current Artpace resident and former testsite collaborator (testsite 05.1 ~ What We Talk About) Harrell Fletcher will be organizing a free participatory public event at Artpace. The event will become part of Fletcher's Artpace exhibition The American War.
3. Celebrate the Tang's Fifth Anniversary: If you happen to be around Saratoga Springs, New York this weekend, be sure to check out Skidmore College's Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery. Saturday they wiill be holding a symposium titled "Art as Public Space" (tickets required) in the morning and afternoon. Following the symposium a reception for America Starts Here: Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegier will be held from 7 to 9 PM. America Starts Here will run at the Tang through December 30, 2005. On Sunday there will be a family pumpkin carving event and a "come as your favorite artists or artwork contest".
4. Wax Track Gallery International Helping Katrina-Displaced Artists: Wax Track Gallery International work shop, located in Austin with an affiliate branch in Houston, is looking to help reestablish artists from the Louisiana area in their trade. The gallery's intention is to bring displaced artists together to work at a combined workshop established at one location to produce the art you would have been creating. If you were working in the field of festive art, such as floats, costumes, precast art or other deliverables of this nature, contact Wax Track Gallery's director at 512.928.1606 or email her at email@example.com.
catalog reviews: the texts of 22 to watch and texas prize
New Art in Austin: 22 to Watch
Now in its last week at Austin Museum of Art, New Art in Austin: 22 to Watch is still drawing visitors. Soon, the catalog of this much-relished show will be all that's left to us, barring excursions to the exhibition's next two venues in Galveston and Dallas.
As the catalog recounts, 2002 saw the inauguration of AMoA's 22 to Watch series, a triennial designed to showcase forward-looking local art. In selecting work for this year's show, the curators found Austin's art scene "significantly more lively and engaged" than it was in 2002. By way of evidence for this claim, the introduction to the catalog recites a lot of lists: a good-sized roster of new Austin galleries, the honor roll of larger or more venerable art institutions, the account of diverse media represented in the show and finally, the who's-who of the eponymous 22. Head curator Dana Friis-Hansen posits that the reason why these organizations and individuals have become more prolific in recent years is the increasing concentration of "idea-producing workers" or the "creative class" in our ambitious little city. All this is true. But what the introduction lacks, among its social-science citations and statistical auguries of a bright present and future for art workers in Austin, is a willingness to suggest ways of drawing together some of the ideas that the 22 artists have already put forth in the show. Losing out to soothing words for municipal status anxiety, curatorial synthesis is found wanting in this catalog.
A more positive way to read the absence of synthetic comment from the catalog is to observe that, like the show's curators, the catalog writers largely chose to let the Ideas fueling the "art scene" speak for themselves. In AMoA's galleries, the presence of the artworks manages to overcome the short artist bios stenciled in a large font on the wail next to each piece. I remember the exciting work, not the individual artists' selling points. In the gallery, the absence of an overbearing institutional commentary felt just right. As a reader, however, I would have liked something more analytical than experiential. Was this catalog created as a substitute for seeing the exhibition, or as a supplement for the attentive viewer who wanted to consider these works more deeply?
When I look at the very nicely reproduced images in the catalog, I see connections between them; a kind of community of images which reflects a distinctive body of artists and artistic thought. To my mind, imagery of networks and arguments about the effects of an increasingly designed human world predominate in 22 to Watch; this came through in the catalog. An Austin artist lives bounded by highways in a city that is still recovering financially and psychologically from the shock of the web stocks crash in 2001. Austin's high times in the Internet bubble are something we don't talk about so much, but they linger as a noticeable aesthetic influence in Austin's visual profile, from the flashy design of our spiky new city hall to the cover of the exhibition catalog, a slim volume that uses text and a pleasant color scheme rather than images to differentiate itself from any other
sort of illustrated list of material products. I would have liked to see more social analysis in the catalog, not just where we are going as a city or society, but of where we've been. Thoughts about collective experience seem essential to the work of almost every artist in the show, expressed in works as different as Young-Min Kang's explosion of a privately-read comic book into a web of public chaos and Trent Tate's meditation on the cultural weightlessness of an omnipresent
A well-planned and carefully-selected exhibition, 22 to Watch is well represented by the high-quality images and extensive individual profiles in the catalog, which, unlike the exhibition, we'll get to keep and revisit. If s a pity, perhaps, that the catalog doesn't spend as much time inviting us to think about the meaning of the work to our community as it does telling us about the bright future of the 22 artists in the great art world beyond.
Arthouse Texas Prize 2005
As the date for the announcement of Arthouse's Texas Prize draws near, we at ...might be good thought this would be an appropriate time to take one more look at the exhibition, this time at its catalog. A slim book with an unassuming design, the Texas Prize catalog plays no favorites with its organization. Each of the four contenders- Eileen Maxson, Robyn O'Neii, Robert A. Pruitt and Ludwig Schwaiz—are democratically given the same number of pages for a portrait, text by curator Regine Basha and a set of images which represent all the works presented in the exhibition. Basha's texts give insight into what is the beginning of an oeuvre for each of the these emerging artists. Her writing is clear and she should be congratulated for her ability to present such disparate practices evenhandedly. This is, after all, a competition.
From video, installations, drawing, painting and sculptural objects, a gamut of media and approaches are found in these four artists' work. What ties them together, according to the criteria for "emerging visual artist in our region" outlined in Executive Director Sue Graze's introduction, is that they are not currently in school, have not had a museum solo exhibition in the past three years, have produced a significant body of work, and of course, are residents of Texas. "Significance" is not very well defined in the pages of the catalog, nor is an understanding of how the selection committee's process of parsing
down from 117 artists nominated to these four gamered. Notably three of the four artists (with the exception of Ludwig Schwarz) are in their mid-twenties, suggesting the committee's focus on a younger generation and perhaps association of "emergence" with youth. Also notable is that three of the four artists (again, Ludwig from Dallas, is the odd man out) are from Houston. Could this be a result (or perhaps backlash is a better word) of the New York-based Artadia Foundation's focus on H-town as the next potential art
Not only are the artists competing with each other for the cash, Arthouse is also competing to make Texas art and artists a recognizable force in the contemporary art production. In light of this stated goal, Robert Summers brief essay situating the Texas Prize within a history of prize competitions in Texas since the 1910s is a particularly uninteresting read. At best an annotated chronology, Summers makes no attempt to put Arthouse's Texas Prize in the ring with other contemporary awards like The Turner Prize or The Hugo Boss Award, or to bring Texas' prize competitions like Artadia into the discussion. $30,000 for an emerging artist is not chump change and compared to the $50,000 that the Hugo Boss Prize grants already established, widely-shown artists like
Pierre Huyghe, Douglas Gordon and Matthew Barney, Arthouse's is a incredibly generous award. While the Turner Prize, the 25,000 pound (about $50,000 US) award that established a generation of artists living and working in Britain at the fore of contemporary art, has taken a much more controversial approach in the artists they've selected (Damien Hirst and Chris Ofili, to name a few), it shares a similar aim with Arthouse—to stimulate dialogue and focus attention on artists close to home.
Placing the Texas Prize among these heavy hitters would have done more to further Arthouse's cause than Summer's nostalgic musings on wildflower painting competitions. To credit Summers, the aim in his essay is to establish Texas as a place where the arts have always played an important role. Caught between a need to legitimate Texas as a historically valid producer of contemporary art and the desire to secure our place with an increasingly international arts dialogue in the future, Arthouse is doing its all to propel one of these four artists into recognition beyond our state. However, the arts in Texas will always be bigger than a single prize can recognize.
Interview 1 ~ Ali Fitzgerald
...might be good: Ali, what works are you bringing to Houston? From what you've told me, your submission to New Texas Painting is a very recent piece—some might say with the paint still drying?
Ali Fitzgerald: I'm going to show a painting called Sally Skull and the Soiled Doves that was made specifically for a moveable wall at DiverseWorks (12' x 16'). I just finished it today (October 20) actually... I'm currently trying to unclench my painting hand. I think I'm going to have to change my name to "Carpal Tunnel Fitzgerald."
...mbg: Could you talk a little bit about your choice of subject matter? Obviously, this work is consistent with your interest in Texas legends with a feminist bent How did you select or invent these particular figures?
AF: Some time ago, I became enamored with the incredible monikers and stories of Western hard livin' ladies. In my new painting, there's Sally Skull (a Texan horse-trader and champion cusser), Diamond Tooth Lil (a thieving diamond schemer with a mouthful of 'bling') and Olive Oatman (a Mohave Indian captive who was branded with a blue cactus chin tattoo). I diverge quite a bit from the biographical information, and they usually turn out to be skewed, idiosyncratic manipulations of personalities, rather than straightforward portraits. Right now I'm interested in this group of female impersonators in Topeka, Kansas. They call themselves "The Wild Women of the Frontier" and imitate a lot of female outlaws. I like the idea of impersonating their impersonation...somehow I find that kind of historical dilution appealing.
...mbg: Ifs not often that I think of figures in paintings as "characters," but I would imagine that I'm not the only person who considers the men and women (and beasts) in your paintings that way. Why do you think that is? Do you oppose the term or endorse its use?
AF: You know, I attempt to create compelling protagonists in my paintings and I think we learn something about ourselves by exaggeration and distortion. Although I've tried to find some synonym for "character" that I might use in explaining my art, it is the most honest descriptor. I don't mind its usage because I love painting flamboyantly flawed figures, people with identifiable traits and props. I prefer specific defects to generic perfection, a cigar-smoking Poker Alice to a plain Peggy Sue (who comes complete with plaited come-hither braids).
...mbg: I know that you have an academic interest in women painters from the seventeenth century and I see one Baroque quotation here—from Bernini. You reference his sculpture Apollo and Daphne (1622-25). What draws you to Baroque art? The element of human drama?
AF: I love the melodrama and emotional appeal of Baroque art, and I can't think of a more appropriate language to describe our culture of excess. Bernini's Apollo and Daphne is one of the most dynamic, enchanting works of art I've ever seen. I dig the idea that one can transform oneself or be transfigured by some outside force. However, my Daphne is turning into a cactus, which is slightly less romantic and quite a bit more painful.
...mbg: What would you say if someone labeled you a feminist painter? Are your paintings at all about social change? Revisionist history?
AF: I paint women that are empowered in some way, either through a historical loophole or my hand. I like to toy with gender because I think it's murkier and more fluid than is reflected in a lot of art. I find androgyny fascinating, partly because it alludes to some kind of otherness. There is something disarming about not being able to discern someone's sex. The genderless (or gender-full) figure almost automatically assumes the position of outsider. Plus, I'm a big ole' feminist, so label away. Social change? Yes, please. I don't know that I'm interested in "revising" history as much as adulterating it and illuminating certain contradictions. I'd like to paint the gray areas that inevitably accompany the cleaner hues. Sometimes we just learn the black and white, and I think that's a damn shame.
...mbg: What's the point of a New Texas Painting exhibition? Is art in Texas different than what's being made in the rest of the country—and if art is different here, should that art be valorized? Or is that not what this show is about?
AF: Hmmm... I don't really think that Texas is a total oasis or that it's impervious to the art currents of the rest of the world. There is a certain pomp and bombast that surrounds us. It's a state that seems emblazoned and oversized, a Lone Star. I do think it would be interesting if a larger-than-life attitude intersected somehow with the arts, but I'm not sure that it always does. I think the exhibition is really about finding local artists who are doing adventurous things within the realm of painting. And I think it will be a show that is far from safe or boring. Maybe in that sense, it'll retain some of that wild lawlessness that screams Texas to me.
...mbg: If we let the word out that you're "an East Coast kid" do you think that would somehow spoil your fantastic western images for the folks in Houston?
AF: I think it's probably pretty obvious that I'm an interloper in terms of Texas art. I like to paint visions of the "Wild West as seen through the eyes of a foreigner. I'm truly more interested in the satirical circus-spectacle form of the west than the dewy sunsets and barren terrain. I prefer the west that was mythologized by Buffalo Bill and the like. Plus, I was born in California. My East Coasted-ness is a sham.
...mbg: Who are you going to Houston with for the opening? What will you be listening to in the car?
AF: I'm going to Houston with Hana Hlllerova; Czech artist extraordinaire and a bunch of my grad school cohorts. In keeping with my "feminist bent," I am going to be listening to my new favorite angry girl band "La Tigre." I might actually slip a little ABBA in there if my car mates don't kill me first.
Interview 2 ~ Heyd Fontenot
...might be good: Tell me a little about the work you have in New Texas Painting.
Heyd Fontenot: It is comprised of four canvases, but it was conceived as a single piece. It's called Titty Baby Folly, and ifs installed on a painted wall with taxidermy and other props that relate to the canvases. Its a mixture of what I call my "decorative" work and my figurative work. Ifs something of an extension of the show I had at Lawndale three years ago, a venture into the idea of the "Gesamtkunstwerk" or total artwork.
...mbg: I would like you to perhaps talk a little bit about the inclusion of multiple figures or groups of figures in a single painting ^the relations between these figures or the lack there of. This seems to be a development from your earlier single-figure pieces.
HF: Yes, I'm suggesting relationships. These aren't necessarily interpersonal relationships, they're more referential. I see the humans and animals in this work as characters and sometimes as archetypes. They may or may not be aware of the other beings inhabiting the same pictorial space. I've left it all open, so the relationships and the narratives are implied and not implicit Even when the work has a single figure in it, its about relationships. Of course, this is an extremely broad subject, "relationships," which can encompass anything political, spiritual or intellectual...
...mbg: The New York Times has run articles in the past year talking about the revival of the nude figure study. In their eyes, working from a live model has become a popular "classical" alternative to the persistent pressures to be avant-garde. How would you respond if someone considered your nude figures a classicizing turn?
HF: Sure, I'd go along with that But it doesn't sound very "sexy." It sounds like a retreat and possibly a return to working in an academic manner. Which I would hate. I don't feel that I'm shying away from the "pressures of the avant-garde." I'll acknowledge that there is a lot of strategy involved in making art, but I think I've got to go where my instincts tell me to go. It's about working in a style to which I feel a connection and an excitement. Figurative art hasn't been completely exhausted, there's still lots of potential without back-tracking.
...mbg: What role does nostalgia play in your painting?
HF: In the process of making this work, I feel that I engage in my share of fantasy. I'll wish for a new system or an altered culture. Even though that might not be practical, I do think hopefulness propels the possibility. We just traveled from "nostalgia" to "magical thinking."
...mbg: What's the sense in having a New Texas Painting exhibition? Is art in Texas different than what's being made in the rest of the country? And if there is art that's different here in Texas, should that art be valorized?
HF: As Texans, we're not all living in something as specific and colorful as the old West, but our lives and communities are unique. So I imagine that the paintings that come out of these communities will have their own flavor. I'm very curious to see if there are commonalities among even Texas painters. I think that makes this show worth bringing together, just getting to see the work in the same room. And then maybe we can answer some of these questions with the paintings right there in front of us.
...mbg: Who are you going to Houston with for the opening? What will you be listening to in the car?
HF: I'll go to Houston early, to install the work, but hopefully be joined by my boyfriend Johnny for the November 4th opening. Music for the trip...Radiohead, The Black Crows, Ana Egge, Bic Runga, Bonnie Prince Billy, Amy Cook, AC/DC, Gorillaz...Wait it's just a three-hour trip!
Interview 3 ~ Nina Rizzo
...might be good: Tell us a little bit about the work you've submitted to New Texas Painting.
Nina Rizzo: The work that will be in this show is something of a selection from 2004 and 2005. Within this body of work I have also done quite a bit of work on paper. The structures depicted in the larger panels have come mainly from the months I stayed in France (January - April 2005) where I got the chance to spend a good deal of time in old city ramparts and manicured gardens. The source of the imagery aside, I feel the primary impetus for all my work in the show is just using these various forms as an examination of space. They all deal with flat versus deep space achieved through paint and the depiction of structure. They also employ paint as structure itself.
...mbg: Could you talk a little bit about the use of architectural forms in your work? In some passages the forms (arches, stairways and facades) seem structural, in other areas they seem to function purely as symbols.
NR: I rarely think of them as symbols, aside from allowing a viewer to understand or hinder their understanding of the space in the work. I think of the architecture in my work as a system of tools that creates a spatial environment Through color, light and a navigation of these places I hope the architecture pushes and pulls in ways that creates an emotional tension.
...mbg: Can you make any generalizations about the instances where you employ linear perspective and when you break from it? How do you feel about illusionism?
NR: I learned a lot about linear perspective and how (not) to use it by looking at early Italian pre-Renaissance frescoes. I'm talking about by people like Lorenzetti, Cimabue or even Giotto. The crazy space in those works can go up, down, back and lay flat all at the same time. I also look at a lot of Japanese work where there is a battle between flatness and depth as well, often within the same forms. The excitement and challenge of navigating through these images is something I hope to give a viewer of my work. I use linear perspective in certain areas to make my breaks from it more apparent. It allows different perceptions of space to coexist on the same panel in the same way that buildings from different eras in architecture can coexist in a city or as some people describe different dimensions existing simultaneously—like the Twilight Zone. I think of my images as more of a depiction of a psychological space than an actual one and therefore use these varied perspectives to convey the idea of memory or thought processes where there are gaps and jumps between the relationship of things.
...mbg: What's the point of a New Texas Painting exhibition? Is art in Texas different than what*s being made in the rest of the country - and if there is art that's different what's being made in the rest of the country - and if there is art that's different here should that art be valorized? Or is that not what this show is about?
NR: I think there are both similarities and differences in the art of all parts of the US, and other counties and their regions, for that matter. I am originally from Chicago, so I am sure that as a "Texas" artist my "Texas-ness" may be different from another's. I'm sure I could find strains in my work that relate to my original home as well. I feel there is a sense in Texas of being open to all different possibilities. There seems to be a value here for independence, not only with regards to art. I feel that what is considered "Texas" art has not as of yet been as rigidly defined as perhaps the art of other areas or cities in the US.... I think displaying the diversity we have here, even just in painting alone, will demonstrate the sense of vast options we have working in Texas.
...mbg: Who are you going to Houston with for the opening? What will you be listening to in the car?
NR: I haven't made those kinds of plans yet. I know a lot of people from Austin will be going. I always appreciate when different cities in Texas have a trade off with their artists, art shows and spaces. It's nice to see San Antonio and Houston people sometimes in Austin and to be able to go to those cities and to see and be a part of shows there. Hopefully, I'll be listening to other people in the car. I like it when people tell stories on long rides.
Austin: Suspended Narratives at Lora Reynolds Gallery
I. Suspended Narratives
On view at Lora Reynolds Gallery through November 19
Maureen Mahony, curator of Suspended Narratives, the exhibition currently on view at Lora Reynolds Gallery, claims that the works she has brought together participate in a "balancing act between literal imagery and obscurity of meaning." A balancing act it is indeed. However, to state it differently, we might say that Mahony has collected works that function as implements of imagination. Encountering each of the works in Lora Reynolds Gallery's tightly-installed space, viewers begin in one place and slip into another, transported by a narrative of their own (likely subconscious) fashioning.
Though Sherrie Levine's Loulou (2004), a bronze parrot of life-size scale, was the first object that caught my eye, Tony Matelli's Constant Consciousness (2004) was the first to provoke me to complete its narrative. Matelli's nine cigarette butts, cast in brass and painted to resemble real butts, lay scattered ever-so-convincingly across the gallery's south-east comer. The constellation formed by these brass butts took me to the place I last saw a chain smoker rattle off half a pack. It was in a bus station (in Durban, of all places) and the smoker and I were preparing for a seventeen-hour drive to Cape Town. The material traces of Matelli's cigarettes (and I suppose their absent smoker, too) installed themselves into my already-formed memories. My memories absorbed Matelli's butts because they needed a home.
Passing the grand color photograph Untitled (House Fire) (2004) by Gregory Crewdson (an image that presents life in a key so high it felt both computer-enhanced and drug induced), I came to Christian Marciay's video Telephones (1995). A seven-and-a-half minute repetition of actors and actresses lifting up telephone receivers to address their absent conversation partners. Telephones seemed to be the most literal definition of a "suspended narrative." Each actor's conversation cut off abruptly as soon as they had uttered "Hello" or "Hello?" Like Telephones, many of the works in Suspended Narratives
seemed to end too soon by design. Works that begin clearly... end in ellipses.
Narrative 3: Robert Therrien's five-inch-tail, wall-mounted bronze No Title (Keyhole) (2005). Situated in the rear of the gallery, Theirrien's contribution to the exhibition lends itself to a formal reading (a simple intersection of a circle and a narrow isosceles triangle). But, with equal ease, this form accrues psychological associations. Never before had a keyhole seemed so anthropomorphic, never before so foreboding. Because Therrien refused to hem his sculpture into a single intentional role, my own history and associations with keyholes became the figurative key to the work. In an exhibition about suspended passage, a solid keyhole proved to be an appropriate metaphor.
To the right of Therrien's keyhole, Jim Hodges' Two-Way Mirror (2005) designates a place for narratives to be told and retold. Hodges even supplied the tools to create and record them. Consisting of two twelve-packs of chalk (one colored, the other, white), a "magic eraser" and a small chalkboard bearing the silkscreened words "me" and "you" on its opposite vertical edges, Two-Way Mirror encourages its beholder to construct a system of conjoining pathways between its extreme terms. By asking his viewer to connect "me" and "you", Hodges displaces the typical relationship between artist and
viewer dictated by the artist. Like many of the works in Suspended Narratives, the expression we create on the two-way mirror might be strictly visual—a symbolic relation that connects the terms on the chalkboard's extremes. Or, the connection might take a literal course—the path from my house to yours along the streets of Austin, or the path a friendship or courtship has taken through the years. Though we do not actually break open the packs of chalk, the pathways we project onto the chalkboard reveal a part of ourselves to the metaphorical mirror. In tum, the mirror reflects back a bit of ourselves.
The connective tissue for this twenty-artist show does not reveal itself in shared themes, media, or even in artists who share a regional background or are in comparable states of their careers. The participants range from internationally-celebrated artists to local favorites. The "literalness" that Mahoney described in the works took diverse forms; sometimes tromp l'oiel illusionism, sometimes the realism of a low-grade video surveillance tape. The diversity of approaches was merely a side appeal of this exhibition that yielded at least four or five legitimately thought-provoking works. Like the last four shows at Lora Reynolds Gallery, Suspended Narratives rewards.
III. Three San Antonio Reviews
Chromospheres by Julie Shipp at the UTSA Satellite Space
On view through October 29
Julie Shipp's MFA thesis show Chromospheres at UTSA's Satellite Space features eleven abstract color field paintings that demonstrate her virtuosity as a colorist. By applying saturated color tones in nebulous regions, these large paintings absorb viewers into atmospheric conditions that range from the tranquil to the sublime. In Chromos 1.5, Shipp applies paint in flowing bands of dark crimson that encroach upon a yellow-orange nucleus and evoke a fiery and dramatic atmosphere. Likewise, in Tropos 1.2, the artist conjures a cooler atmosphere, using blues and greens to evoke a placid feeling. In part, Shipp suggests this type of blurred atmosphere in her titles; the prefix "chromos" denotes color and the term "chromosphere" pertains to the red gaseous region that envelopes a star. These are fitting works for a Satellite Space.
The gallery hanging of Shipp's work creates a unified—indeed, atmospheric—effect. The overall unity is only interrupted by two smaller paintings that hang in alcoves off the main gallery. Unfortunately, while these smaller works are appropriate to the intimate scale of these side rooms and create an isolated experience, they lack the all-encompassing effect of Shipp's larger paintings. Taking in the exhibition reminds me of a statement made by Mark Rothko: "To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience...However you paint a larger picture, you are in it. It isn't something you command."
We may assume that Rothko said "in it" because he considered making and viewing art to be personal and interactive experiences. Similarly, when viewing Shipp's larger works, we are apt to become absorbed in colorful visual experiences. The smaller works fail to achieve this effect. Since the paintings in Chromospheres hang in a sequence oscillating between warm and cool works, the spectator becomes sensitive to the shifting chromatic dynamics of each
painting. Subtle tones standout more when their complement —an antithesis of sorts— precedes or follows. As a result, the spectator becomes attuned to the subtleties Shipp has forged into her visual atmospheres. The range begins in the realm of calm and tranquil spaces and extends to sensations that approach the sublime.
Flight Gallery's Eve of Destruction
Memories of the October 7, 2005 affair
I will attempt to retell the story of our Eve of Destruction show at Flight Gallery in as few words as possible. Curious? You should be. San Antonio has quite a strong community of people who will come out to any free arts event, especially if they hear they can bring their own alcohol, mill about for hours and throw their trash on the ground. Now the real question is: Do these people care about the art itself or just the party? Our show would find out Just that.
We (co-curators Ed Saavedra and Justin Parr) invited fourteen artists from all around San Antonio to be part of the show at Flight's silo space in the Blue Star Complex. The roster included gallery owners, frequent contributors to art publications and a former Artspace resident. Each contributor was asked to create a masterpiece and price it accordingly. If that piece did not sell by 11 PM on the Eve of Destruction (October 7), the artist was to implement a pre-planned method of destruction and have an appointed executioner ready.
Where to go from there? We had quite the turnout, thanks to our blitz of e-mails and a few very positively-written articles highlighting the show prior to its eve. A few told us it was art terrorism or art extortion. I couldn't help but agree with them wholeheartedly. We couldn't wait to see what would happen. Would people rally behind the artworks in favor of saving them? Or would they prefer to see flying shards of glass, paper, wood or chalk dust go out into the hordes?
We gave visitors an ample chance to buy the art with a preview four days before and sold five out of fourteen pieces on destruction night! We couldn't believe it It looked like it might actually work out for art We were still worried about pieces like Cruz Ortiz's, a pencil drawing priced at $2,000 that was almost begging to get destroyed. It was worth every penny, but our crowd doesn't typically have that kind of money in their pockets on a First Friday night. We imagined Cruz standing on a table, cutting his piece with scissors and letting very expensive scraps rain down on the crowd.
We couldn't have been more wrong. One of his collectors heard about the show from as far away as Mexico City and we received word that the piece was to be purchased early Thursday morning. Our legion of doomed artworks was getting smaller and smaller by the day and the show hadn't even happened yet.
The only non-local invited to participate was Berlin artist Pacer Staktrane, formerly Peter Stackhaus. (He took the name Staktrane, after seeing it printed on the side of a rail car while in Texas in 1984.) A veteran of the Berlin art scene and quite the eccentric, he sent us a vinyl monstrosity that had us slightly confused at first We realized that the work had been painted by using various parts of a naked woman's body as a brush—a la Yves Klein—on what appeared to be a football practice dummy. Staktrane had sent a snapshot taken during the work's process of creation to be displayed—and destroyed— alongside the piece. Throughout the night, we enjoyed watching peoples' confused faces light up at the photo that served as a clue to the object next to it
The hour quickly approached and the crowd continued to swell. In the last half hour, three more pieces sold. The few artists who were left with unsold pieces started getting panicked looks on their faces. It was nail-biting time for Chris Tracy (whose piece Thou Art Fucked was one of the most appropriate to the theme of the show) and Ryan Walker, but both sold their works in the last ten minutes of potential salvation.
I stood on a table outside to announce the destruction of the last three pieces. I had never spoken to a crowd of this size before and I panicked for a second, seeing nearly 1,000 people packed into our Silo parking lot I could see the glint in Hills Snyder's eyes as he watched, and it calmed me. Speaking directly to Hills and forgetting the crowd, I shouted, "Is everybody ready for some destruction?"
The first to go was Michele Monseau's piece, a floor installation created with chalk dust spelling out the words "I want to believe" on Plexiglass. She positioning a high powered fan over the work and dust went everywhere. The DJ's scrambled to cover their equipment and people screamed, not knowing what was flying through the air. The chalk dust's removal revealed something underneath. Inscribed in the uncovered plex were the words "in you," completing the artist's statement. The act of destruction became an act of creation.
The second piece to go was graffiti artist Supher's aerosol on wood piece. I could see it pained him to destroy it. However, graffiti as an art form is something that someone can spend hours and hours on, only to have it painted or "buffed" (in graffiti lingo) the next day. So, not knowing what to do with himself, Supher stood on the table in front of the crowd and, with a mighty yell, broke his wooden piece into about 5 pieces, throwing them out into the crowd. People clamored for the leftover pieces, asking him if they could purchase them for a fraction of the cost. (I saw him sell several for ten dollars a piece and then watched as the others disappeared under the crowd's heavy hands.)
The last piece to go was Pacer's vinyl dummy, which came without instructions for destruction. He seemed to not care too much about getting the piece back or being compensated, but was more excited to be showing in the Alamo City. We decided to burn the piece and asked for help from the crowd. After all, we couldn't have an Eve of Destruction without a little bit of fire and brimstone, or in this case, fire and charred vinyl. (Yuck!) The crowd surged forward with lighters while I held the work up on our temporary stage. It took a couple of minutes to get it really burning and for my fingers to feel the heat licking its way up from the inside of the piece. I told the crowd to stand back and threw it down on the ground, thinking it would bum itself out. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an older man came forward, jerk-started an engine-powered leaf blower and blew the fire out. The crowd let up an "AWWWW... OOOOHHH" and the night was over. I turned my back to get off the podium and sometime in that moment the smelly remnants of Pacer's piece were gone. Someone in the crowd had taken it—much to nobody's chagrin.
Jennifer Davy's Airspace at Tortilleria La Popular
On view through November 4
"I've never visited [insert city here], but I've been to the airport." Many have uttered this paradoxical statement without considering the ramifications of its illogic. How can an airport exist as a space but not exist within a city? This spatial and existential dilemma, a product of flight layovers and airline logistics, supplies the fodder for Jennifer Davy's installation. Airspace, at Tortilleria La Popular. The exhibition questions how airports function spatially, materially and conceptually as specific sites. In so doing, Airspace underscores the nervous tension of occupying a contemporary liminal space—a location that is on the map, but does not constitute a "place."
Davy's installation presents airport banalities. She displays the objects, scenes and sounds of air travel. Upon entering, viewers hear the white noise of a busy terminal piped into the gallery. Inaudible announcements and the low, dull hum of conversations fill the air. Viewers move between wooden structures that serve as temporary walls with photo-sculptures attached. Here, Airspace's innocuous views come into focus. Gate-side waiting areas, monitors displaying departure and arrival listings, and slews of travel-drones bend behind Davy's Plexiglas structures. Other elements in Airspace include a film and several rows of airport seating. In a window in the back of the gallery Davy cinematically captures the reflection of actual airport travelers, recording their views from a terminal window.
While Davy's photo-sculptures take individual airports as their subjects—O'Hare, Dallas- Fort Worth, Dulles-^e airports seem indistinguishable. Their interchangeability provokes questions about what constitutes "place." If the structures, phenomena and experiences of one airport mirror another such that they become indecipherable, what is it that constitutes them as discrete locations? Beyond the airport codes printed across boarding passes, travelers have few navigational tools to tell them where they are or where they have been. Lacking any semblance of location-specificity, the airport becomes a generic and conceptually-amorphous site. Davy's installation provides a provocative and critical look at a social space burdened by the paradox of functional specificity and geographic ambiguity.