MBG Issue #99: Unrealistically Optimistic

Issue # 99

Unrealistically Optimistic

May 16, 2008

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Installation view of Ali Fitzgerald Swan School; The Matriculation, 2008; Photograph by Carling Hale. Image courtesy of the artist.

from the editor

This issue opens with an interview with Jessie Otto Hite, who recently retired after 15 years as the Director of the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art. In the interview, she talks with ...might be good about, among other topics, the future of the Blanton and the large number of museum director job openings in institutions across the country at present. In light of our recent conversation with former Blanton Curator Gabriel Perez-Barriero in these pages, I found Hite’s comments on the Blanton’s position vis-a-vis Latin American art particularly interesting.

In addition to a review of University of Texas at Austin Professor Troy Brauntuch’s recent show at his New York gallery, this issue features six brief reviews of select performances from Austin's Fuse Box 2008 festival. Organized by Refraction Arts, a non-profit dedicated to the intersection of different mediums, the festival includes a range of performances from dance and theater to film and video. Rotozaza’s Etiquette, reviewed by Kate Watson in this issue, and Neal Medlyn’s Lionel Ritchie Opera, reviewed by Ivan Lozano, were two of my favorite pieces. Etiquette is a melodramatic and somewhat glamorous “performance” at Café Mundi in which you—the audience—put on headphones, listen to the directions and become the performer; the effect is reminiscent of the 1950s radio drama Dragnet. In fact, I thought Café Mundi’s organic, laid-back atmosphere was to the detriment of the piece; a café with more bustle, where the headphones would have ensconced you and your partner in a mysterious otherworld, would have made the effect of Etiquette even more striking.

Neal Medlyn’s Lionel Ritchie Opera, at the other end of the spectrum, was hilarious. In a clever move, Medlyn conducted the “talk back” at the beginning of the night, opening the room up for questions about his performance before it had actually occurred. Not only funny, this reversal also gestured to the demands of performance on the performer, the constructed nature of performance and the exhaustion of performance as medium, without overburdening these themes (as some performance art I’ve seen recently has been prone to do.)

Our 100th issue is around the corner, and we’re marking the event with a series of features focused on art writing and art criticism: a conversation between art historian Richard Shiff and Fluent~Collaborative Associate Director Caitlin Haskell, coverage of the Donald Judd as Critic symposium that took place in Marfa at the beginning of the month, and an Artist’s Space by Harrell Fletcher.

Claire Ruud is Managing Editor of ...might be good.


Jessie Otto Hite

By Rebecca S. Cohen

European paintings gallery, The Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art. Image credit: © 2006 Dave Emery Photography, Inc.

Jessie Otto Hite readily cops to being as “unrealistically optimistic” as Larry Faulkner, former president of the University of Texas at Austin, once labeled her. And why not? With the exception of a short hiatus after the birth of her daughter, she morphed from UT art history graduate student through a succession of staff positions to eventually become director of The Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art—a job she’s held for the past 15 years. “There was always another opportunity,” she says to explain her good fortune as well as her ability to endure the university’s bureaucracy for 30 years. Hite recently retired from UT, but gracious and positive as ever, agreed to talk with …might be good.

…might be good: Give us a one-word description of how you feel about your departure from the Blanton…

Jessie Otto Hite: “Liberating” maybe. I just feel like my job there is done. I don’t have any second thoughts.

…mbg: What are the greatest challenges ahead for the Blanton?

JOH: Not having a serious amount of ongoing funding in place for acquisitions is a real problem. We’ve been so lucky in that there have been so many donors who have stepped up, but there is no free money for curators. I think that’s a huge one. And I really think the Blanton needs to be out of the College of Fine Arts.

…mbg: How does that hamper its ability to do business?

JOH: There’s a lot of push-back on the academic side for anything that we do.

…mbg: Do they have a say?

JOH: They don’t control us. It’s about resources, and even more it’s about having direct access to the administration. The president and provost need to know what the Blanton’s missions and goals are on a direct basis, not with someone interceding. In fact, our professional organization for university museums mandates that we move out of the college. That’s what they said: you must report directly to the provost. The museum council feels very strongly about it too.

…mbg: Is it up to the president to make that happen?

JOH: Yes. It’s the president. The chancellor and the board of regents don’t get into it.

...mbg: Is there a sense of urgency  for the president to sever the museum from the College? As it now stands, the Dean of the College of Fine Arts will make the selection on the next director, right?

JOH: I have faith in Doug Dempster [Dean of the College of Fine Arts] to find a good replacement. There’s a committee with good staff, good donors, and reasonable faculty. Ken Hale is running the search. William Powers [the President of The University of Texas at Austin] funded the hiring of Phillips Oppenheim (an executive search firm specializing in nonprofits). [But] I think any candidate worth his salt coming in is going to say, I can’t take [the position] if I’m not reporting directly to the president, to the provost.

…mbg: What is the current timetable for selecting the new director?

JOH: We are hoping in the next 6 months. They posted the ads two months ago.

…mbg: So the museum will go six months without leadership.

JOH: Associate director Ann Wilson has been appointed as interim director. Actually the reason I gave them nine months notice was I had hoped it would be filled, but with the acting dean (Dempster moved from interim to dean in December 7)...

…mbg: But that wouldn’t have been an issue if the museum were outside of the College of Fine Arts.

JOH: Exactly.

…mbg: And the new director will have at least two major staff openings to fill.

JOH: Yes. There’s the head of education and the curator of Latin American Art.
Gabriel Perez-Barreiro, curator of Latin American Art left mid-April. I hate to see him go, but he’s young, he’s ambitious, he’s very sought after at this moment in time. He did wonderful things for us, and he was recently hired by Patty Cisneros [to be director of the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros]. I hope this will cement our relationship with her foundation. I think there won’t be a problem hiring someone else because of our outstanding collections. The university is an important place. I’ve already had discussions with Gabriel and the dean and said here are the people who are out there.

…mbg: As long as we’re talking about Latin American art, let’s talk about your comments to the New York Times Magazine ("After Frida,” March 23, 2008) in a recent article that featured Mari Carmen Ramirez. I was surprised by the intensity of your response. You’re usually so mild mannered…

JOH: It was 2:00 pm on my last day of work… Usually, I don’t say anything, but she had so maligned the institution and Gabriel and so misrepresented what we were doing. She told blatant lies. I thought: all I’m doing is telling the truth.

…mbg: Did you anticipate she might leave when Jonathan got a raise and after the museum acquired the Suida Manning Collection?

JOH: No, I didn’t know she would leave. She did a wonderful job with exhibitions, but building the collections was not one of her things. She had never brought any opportunities for acquiring a collection to me. What happened with Suida Manning was a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you can imagine walking through the Blanton today and having only the American and Latin collections up, it would be a very different kind of museum. We had a donor and a president who wanted to make this happen—it didn’t take arm-twisting on my part. It just came together. Any director in any museum would have made the same decision. We probably paid an eighth of what that collection is worth today. I don’t have any regrets about that. And Mari had been increasingly disengaged. She’d been there a long time. I just think it would have been nicer if she’d gone in a nicer way.

…mbg: It must have been awful receiving letters from outside the museum when she left.

JOH: Oh, it was terrible.

…mbg: In a recent interview with …might be good, Gabriel spoke about improving the cooperation between the Art and Art History Department and the museum, possibly having the new curator be a faulty member.

JOH: I think having Andrea Giunta and Roberto Tejado [on the Art and Art History faculty] will be a very positive thing. In addition to marrying the Blanton’s program to the Art and Art History Department, we also have the opportunity to work with the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) that exists at UT, and the new study center we plan to establish there, which will provide funding on a regular basis to bring in scholars from outside to work both with Andrea and Roberto and with us. We built space in the new building to house those visiting professionals.

…mbg: How will this new study center be different from the Houston Museum of Fine Art’s International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA)?

JOH: They’re about gathering documents. I think that’s all they’re doing.

…mbg: The Times article says they will also hold symposia.

JOH: Latin America is crazy for symposia. We’ve already had 3 Latin American symposia here since the building opened. The main thing that Houston has been doing is paying for the recording of documents, storing them in a single location, and making them available to people.

…mbg: And ultimately publishing an abridged form of those documents.

JOH: Yes.

…mbg: Peter Marzio is quoted as envisioning that the Houston Museum of Fine Art “will one day become the most important collection of Latin American art in the U.S.” Did UT somehow miss its opportunity to trump Houston in the area of Latin American art? And how central is the ego, or perhaps the competitive spirit, of the museum director to the progress of a museum?

JOH: I’m probably not the right person to answer that question. If you look at what’s happened in Austin, with museums, and ask, how come we were able to build a museum more quickly than AMOA? My answer would be that we have a larger pool of donors. We can reach outside of Austin. If you look at the Blanton and look at Houston, how much money did Peter just inherit from Caroline Law? Hundreds of millions of dollars. At the Blanton, we’ve been faced with the issue of building visibility, building an awareness of our program, trying for 30 years to get this building built. So how do you do that and build all the collections all at once?

I think we’ve done an amazing job considering we’ve had very little money for art acquisitions. I think we’ve done a miraculous job of getting this building built. The Blanton is now a household word in Austin. It’s at least recognized in major cities throughout the country. Certainly in the Latin American world, we still hold a high place… I suppose in the best of all worlds, we missed an opportunity. We should have been building the Latin American collection. But how do you divide up the pie? Many times people build buildings and hope the collections will come. We did better than that. We had collections that needed housing. The building had to get done, because without the building, we couldn’t have attracted the kind of donors we’ve had over the last 5 or 6 years. The collections will come. We’ve got a 50 million dollar goal for the capital campaign and a good part of that is for exhibition support or acquisitions.

…mbg: Jack Lane is leaving the Dallas Museum. Tim Potts has left the Kimbell. It seems there are a lot of museum director openings across the entire country right now.

JOH: Yes. There are 26 or 28 openings. Normally there would be about 12 openings.

…mbg: What is it about the job that is wearing people out?

JOH: There are a lot of us baby boomers who aren’t going to do like our colleagues did and work until they’re 70. I think it’s getting to be a much more demanding job, and curators don’t want to take it on. They’re very married to the object. And I don’t think we’ve done a particularly good job of mentoring people in the field to move up. I do think that museums are starting to move people up from development and not just curatorial departments. But it’s an interesting time. Who’s going to replace Philippe de Montebello?

…mbg: How would you advise a young person to prepare to be a museum director?

JOH: I think you still need a strong art background, and more and more, I think people need an understanding of marketing, financial management, [although] university museum positions are very protected. I don’t have to have an incredible understanding of finance. I have the university that manages the hiring, the code of ethics, all that.

…mbg: What is your greatest regret?

JOH: That we weren’t able to raise endowment money when we were doing the building. We’re not in bad shape—we have about a million and a half dollars of income from endowment annually now—but I would have liked to raise about 20 million dollars.

…mbg: And your proudest accomplishment?

JOH: I don’t know if I have a proudest accomplishment, but one of my happiest moments was at the student opening of the new museum. Two thousand students came, they spent hours at the museum, and they were looking at the art. I saw four fraternity boys standing in front of one of the big Renaissance paintings and talking about it for 20 minutes. I loved that. And I loved, after the opening, when the sushi chef at Uchi showed me his cell phone with an artwork from the Blanton as his screen saver. When we started out we did a marketing study and no one knew who we were. And now, anywhere I go in town they know the Blanton.

…mbg: You didn’t mention the new building, when I asked you for your greatest regret or your proudest moment. Should we infer you have regrets?

JOH: No. Truthfully, and looking at what Herzog & de Meuron have done, I’m not sure we would be better off. I regret we had to go through this [the resignation of Herzog & de Meuron and selection of a second architect], but it’s great that we have the building and it’s meeting our needs and the collection looks well.

…mbg: I’ve noticed that when you talk about the Blanton you frequently use the pronoun “we.”

JOH: And I probably always will. Thirty years is a long time.

Rebecca S. Cohen is an Austin-based writer and author of Art Guide Texas, published by UT Press.


Troy Brauntuch
Friedrich Petzel Gallery
On view through May 17, 2008

By Nicole J. Caruth

Troy BrauntuchUntitled (Pool 3), 2008, Conte on cotton, 83 x 110 inches. Courtesy of Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York. Photography by Lamay Photo.

The Pictures exhibition at Artists Space in 1977, according to received art historical wisdom, marked a critical moment in contemporary art. For what it’s worth, art critic Jerry Saltz recently included the exhibition in a forty-year chronicle of artists and art world events that ostensibly comprise “The New York Canon.” He wrote:

"The Pictures exhibition at Artists Space [in New York…], curated by Douglas Crimp, with artists Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo and Philip Smith, signaled a change in artistic atmosphere to a more theoretical, cerebral, critical approach. This cool, collected, theory-based work is antithetical to nascent Neo-Expressionist and Graffiti art of the same moment."*

Nearly three decades later, new works by Austin-resident Troy Brauntuch are, in fact, hard to pinpoint as part of either the rule (read canon) or the exception. While the work continues to be distinctive, it’s also conventional and, for the most part, relevant to just a small intellectual art circle.

Brauntuch’s second solo exhibition at Friedrich Petzel Gallery is comparable in tone to Saltz’s description—cold, investigative and obscure. Six conté on cotton photo-based images bring to mind the artist’s mildly praised work in the 2006 Whitney Biennial (not to mention, a Biennial comparatively more thoughtful than the installation of recent months). A superficial fog and look of premeditated “camera-shake” make it difficult to grasp images with certainty. In the current environment of extreme media transparency, this is visually more engaging than one might imagine. Though distance brings some images into focus—for example, various angles of a solarium-covered pool come into view—I can only discern others—a butterfly pavilion and a dry cleaner’s—by the parenthetical hints in their titles. The backside of a thickly woven suit and scarf, in a direct sight line from the gallery’s front door, highlights Brauntuch’s skillful interrogation of banality. In this instance, it’s as if someone has opened a coffin to find only material remnants of the deceased; body and soul have taken flight.

Four small digital images in the back gallery are injurious to the experience. The crystal clarity of an underwater pool vacuum, which in conté was murkily depicted amongst water, lounge chairs and palm trees, counteracts a major strength of Brauntuch’s work: ambiguity. These photographs point out how deadly boring the stuff of Brauntuch’s straightforward photography can truly be.

For better or worse, much of what I glean from the conté on cotton images (certainly the highlights of the show) has been written repeatedly over the past three decades. A colleague reminds me, however, that “It’s the good stuff that lasts,” and continues to resurface despite the trends of the time, even if it falls into some narrow canon along the way. With luck, Johanna Burton and Douglas Eklund will offer a fresh perspective on Brauntuch's work in the artist's monograph to be published this fall.

*quote from Jerry Saltz, "The New York Canon," Artnet Magazine, April 23, 2008, www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/saltz/saltz4-23-08.asp.

Nicole J. Caruth is a freelance writer and curator based in Brooklyn , New York. She is a frequent blogger for Art21. Her personal blog, Contemporary Confections, merges two of her greatest loves: art and sweet foodstuffs.

Rotozaza: Five in the Morning
Fuse Box
April 24, 25 & 26, 2008

By Jessica Del Vecchio

Performance still from Five in the morning, Created and produced by Rotozaza (London), Presented as part of the Fuse Box Festival 2008. Photograph by Ant Hampton.

Presented by London-based performance troupe Rotozaza, Five in the Morning transforms the Salvage Vanguard Theater into Aquaworld, “an enormous indoor leisure-pool complex.” This, however, is no ordinary water park. Its guests arrive in the blue light of dawn via unmarked planes and once there, it becomes chillingly apparent, they cannot escape Aquaworld or its operations. The three swimsuit-clad guests we observe are compelled to follow instructions dictated by eerie, ethereal voices of “lifeguards” broadcast over the PA system. The characters, charming in their earnest attempts to carry out the creepily calm commands, elicit a combination of sympathy and laughter from audience members. As the tasks become more disturbing, however, the guests’ plight reveals a darker side of power and control, raising questions about limitations of trust. When the trio struggles to please the lifeguards by creating a dangerous and precarious “human tower,” we start to sense our own spectatorial complicity in Aquaworld’s proceedings. Indeed, near the end of the piece, one of the women—referred to only as “the small one”—tells us sadly, “I am here for you. That’s all you need to know about me.” Ultimately, this complex and compelling performance critiques the human compulsion to perform our identities, again and again, for real and imagined audiences.

Jessica Del Vecchio completed her M.A. in Performance as Public Practice at The University of Texas at Austin this spring, and will return to New York City this summer to pursue a Ph.D. in Theatre at the City University of New York. Her research interests include queer and feminist theory, contemporary avant-garde performance and American popular culture.

Rotozaza: Etiquette
Fuse Box
April 24 - May 3, 2008

By Kate Watson

Performance documentation from Etiquette, Created and produced by Rotozaza (London), Presented as part of the Fuse Box Festival 2008. Photograph by Ant Hampton and Bruce Parain.

Strap on your headphones and prepare for quite a ride. Duo Ant Hampton and Silvia Mercuriali (a.k.a. Rotozaza)’s Etiquette beautifully crushes the line between various media, yet manages to remain masterfully simple. In this piece meant only for two, partners sit at a table in the courtyard of Café Mundi and are given the barest of instructions: put on the headphones and follow the directions you hear. When the recording begins, participants suddenly find themselves in a private world, acting as both performers and audience. Murmured directions and binaural environmental recordings create the sensation of actually being onstage, where partners reenact a wonderful mashup of scenarios referencing everything from Ibsen to Godard. The soundtrack, however, ultimately melts away, becoming far less important than the person you are facing. Focusing entirely on one other, partners manipulate miniature props across a glorious chalkboard stage on the table between them. Following instructions to recreate a dreamlike tale of love, loss and loneliness, both people become pawns in an intimate, rambling adventure for two. Simple action becomes miraculously moving in Etiquette: at its climax, one partner is instructed to apply droplets to her eyes using an eyedropper. Suddenly, at the right moment, the droplets seem to take on the emotional weight of actual tears. The combination of these tiny, elegant scenarios becomes an experience similar to a splendid inside joke, a painful memory and perhaps a story you overheard long ago... all rolled into one.

Kate Watson lives and works in Austin, Texas. She is a founding member of the Austin Video Bee.

Yoon Cho: Nothing Lasts Forever
Fuse Box & Women and Their Work
April 3 - May 10, 2008

By Angela Ahlgren

Detail from Yoon ChoHysterosalpingogram, 2007, Archival Ink-jet print, 32 x 70 inches.

Yoon Cho’s Nothing Lasts Forever, a video and photography exhibition at Women and Their Work Gallery, ruminates on the layers and structures of identity. Season’s Greetings (2004), one photograph from her Nuclear Family series, is a send-up of a holiday postcard in which Cho and her husband pose behind a chair, empty except for a bright yellow baby-shaped cutout. The other photos in the series show the couple engaged in bourgeois domestic activities—washing the car, painting the walls and jogging—all with the cartoonish baby cut-out toddling alongside them. The series lampoons the bourgeois expectation of fertility and procreation, the baby’s garish presence interrupting the couple’s serene domesticity.

Cho’s Self-Portrait series suggests a more wistful view of women’s fertility. In one self-portrait, Hysterosalpingogram (2007), an X-ray photo highlighting an ovary covers Cho’s abdominal area, as her face tilts longingly skyward. In the companion self-portrait, Map (2007), Cho stands in profile beside her home, an aerial sketch of a suburban landscape superimposed over her body. The self-portraits juxtapose the subject’s vulnerable body and the stark medical and cartographic grids, critiquing the violence with which medical and societal notions of fertility land on women’s bodies.

The Nuclear Family and Self-Portrait series are the stand-outs in this exhibition, their placement on opposing walls in the center of the gallery highlighting both personal longing for and cultural critique of the ever-elusive nuclear family. Other pieces are less successful. The Blurred series, several pairs of portraits in which one of each pair blurs out the faces of its subjects, and the Persona series, a trio of videos in which Cho performs pedestrian tasks in neutral mask, comment on identity in much more general terms and lack the complexity of Nuclear Family and Self-Portrait.

Angela Ahlgren is a Ph.D student in Performance as Public Practice at The University of Texas at Austin, where she studies Asian American and queer performance. She is also a taiko performer, and has begun working on her dissertation on women and taiko drumming in the U.S.

endless ocean, endless sky - Installation by Andrew Kudless; Choreography by Tahni Holt
Fuse Box
April 25, 26 & 27, 2008

By Elizabeth Chiles

Performance still from Endless Ocean, Endless Sky, Installation by Andrew Kudless; choreography by Tahni Holt, Presented as part of the Fuse Box Festival 2008.

endless ocean, endless sky, an installation and dance performance at the Music Lab, attempts to transport viewers into the realm of the infinite through dance, light, sound and architecture. The performance takes place inside an installation by San Francisco based architect Andrew Kudless. The installation, an inflatable structure made of diaphanous polyurethane fabric, simultaneously evokes a blimp, a cloud and a cavernous tent. Crawling into the vessel to await the performance is an exhilarating moment: the magic of the lighter-than-air architecture creates feelings of buoyancy and expectation.

During the performance three dancers—Eugenie Frerichs, Daniel Addy and choreographer Tahni Holt—enter and exit the tent-like structure with gyrating regularity. Each time the dancers appear, they seem to be performing another fragment of an elusive story about living, dying, fighting and loving. At one point the dancers rock out to iPods, at another they crawl around viewers wearing hats that resemble icebergs, and at a third, they move around illuminating one another with flash lights. Unfortunately, the saga remains frustratingly inaccessible to viewers (at least to this viewer), for whom it is difficult to interpret many of the encounters and motifs.

Holt is an ambitious young choreographer, but endless ocean, endless sky falls short of eliciting the visceral response that Kudless achieves with his airy architecture. Unlike the architecture, the performance leaves viewers in their heads and fails to transport them into the vast spaces promised by the performance's title.

Elizabeth Chiles is a photographer and lives in Austin, Texas.

Katie Pearl and Lisa D'Amour with Emily Johnson: Terrible Things
Fuse Box
April 26 & 27, 2008

By Angela Ahlgren

Performance still from Terrible Things, Created and produced by Katie Peal and Lisa D’Amour with Emily Johnson, Presented as part of the Fuse Box Festival 2008.

Katie Pearl and Lisa D’Amour’s Terrible Things, a performance at the Blue Theater, invests in the language of make-believe to draw the audience into an evening of storytelling. In the opening moments, Pearl, with childlike conviction, informs the audience that they will be scientifically transformed by the show. She weaves together disparate strands of autobiography while five actor-dancers create scenery around her with marshmallows. The marshmallow-movers cover the floor in geometric patterns, leaving room enough for Pearl to stand center stage. Occasionally, the movers perform simple choreography or crawl on their hands and knees across the floor, plowing pathways through the marshmallows with their forearms and allowing Pearl to move more freely through the space.

Introduced as a work-in-progress, Terrible Things is charming and funny, but still lacks overall cohesion. Pearl’s stories about her mother, her past relationships, and her life as an aspiring ballerina in Oklahoma seemingly have little to do with one another, other than that they are housed, as Pearl comments early in the show, in her "wheelbarrow of memory, each story so heavy it seems to be full of Crisco." The dance sequences, though refreshingly spare and simple, also seem only loosely related to Pearl’s stories. With more focused selection and more purposeful interweaving, the stories and movement will be every bit as compelling as the marshmallow scenery, and the audience may indeed be transformed.

Angela Ahlgren is a Ph.D. student in Performance as Public Practice at The University of Texas at Austin, where she studies Asian American and queer performance. She is also a taiko performer, and has begun working on her dissertation on women and taiko drumming in the U.S.

Neal Medlyn's Lionel Ritchie Opera
Fuse Box
April 25 & 26, 2008

By Ivan Lozano

Lionel Ritchie Opera, 2008, Courtesy NealMedlyn.com.

Neal Medlyn, in Neal Medlyn's Lionel Ritchie Opera, sings along to the 80s megastar's Back To Front greatest hits collection, onto which he superimposes a story of torrid love affairs, unicorn fellatio and a double suicide. The plot very loosely resembles that of Richard Strauss's Arabella, re-tooled, perhaps, by the imagination of a young teenager with a Lisa Frank fetish. The performance is not only hilarious in premise; Medlyn is also a gifted performer with an absolutely flawless sense of timing. He manages to imbue his outrageous project with a deep pathosnot necessarily the pathos of the characters in his convoluted, melodramatic fantasy, but rather the pathos of "Neal Medlyn," an odd but completely unselfconscious "personality." It's only show business, but isn't everything?

Ivan Lozano is a video artist, writer and blogger currently living in Austin, TX. He is the former programming director of the Cinematexas International Short Film Festival and a current member of the Austin Video Bee.

Reggie Watts
Fuse Box
May 1, 2 & 3, 2008

By Katie Geha

Performance still from Reggie Watts, Presented as part of the Fuse Box Festival 2008.

Reggie Watts is something like a one-man band with a microphone and a couple of 4-tracks. He creates beats and thumps with his mouth, records them, and then layers on soul ballads, nonsense raps and comedy routines to generate a sparklingly immediate song. With his all-encompassing afro, sly Kaufman-esque humor, and dada-play, Watts has honed an improvisational style that is unmatched in its originality.

Since Watts is one of six Americans in possession of his full vocal range, he might remind you a little of Bobby McFerrin from his Don’t Worry Be Happy days or maybe Michael Winslow from the famous restaurant scene in Police Academy. But unlike those guys, Watts’ act is more than just a gimmick. The thrill of Watts’ performance lies in his process-oriented style; a nonsense beat eventually morphs into a veiled critique of the excesses of American society replete with an apt refrain—“a fuck shit stack.” Watts raps in a stream-of-conscious style: “I like to do whatever it takes to do something that creates an illusion of something that is just not quite responsible but on the edge enough so that someone can say ‘look at that mortherfucker on the screen.’” And with the twist of a 4-track knob, the song spirals in on itself; Watts deconstructs the once catchy tune down to an exhilarating abstraction of play and sound.

Katie Geha is pursuing a Ph.D. in art history at The University of Texas at Austin.

project space

Wura-Natasha Ogunji

By Wura-Natasha Ogunji

If you can be in your body, then you can be this line, this mark on the page, this thread. Even knotted, it is connected, to fibers, filaments, a white charcoal line. It is replicated in our bodies, as well. It is the sinew that holds muscle to bone. And one day, drawing to dust, this line will float into space, another spider hovering just above the atmosphere.

I have always believed in the intention of a mark. What it can recall and remember. What can be invoked and defined by the pushing of charcoal across the page and the running of needle through paper. This is deep knowledge. And the reason we carry a beautiful, beautiful responsibility in imagination. And the imagined.

The implications for how the artifact occupies the space of the paper become enormous. Can its power be invoked by the drawing itself, so that we may understand it more fully through the act of drawing, by embedding the image in paper with thread, by tracing our own forms into the page as well, as a way to dialogue with the mask that is now hundreds of years old? What does that invocation look like? How does it sound? (Is the sound present in the performances I make with my own body? Is this how the sound of a drawing emerges, in the space of breath and movement?)

How does the drawing allow us to visit the historical record itself, to return to Nok civilization (in the Jos Plateau region of Nigeria) and actually try on a terracotta sculpture as if it were a mask, as if it were a familiar face, as if an ancestor during ceremony, as if I were the ancestor, as if it were my own face that I was able to try on hundreds of years into this future, as if I were the sculptor, as if I were the one who pulled clay from earth sometime between 500 B.C. and 200 A.D., as if dates and time didn’t matter, as if the inevitability of beauty and connection could change everything and all that was asked of us was the deep vulnerability that pencil to paper requires.

Portions of this writing originally appeared on my blog (February, 2008). The work entitled Unexplained Presence was created for Tisa Bryant’s book of the same name (Leon Works Press, 2007).

Wura-Natasha Ogunji is a visual and performance artist. She is a materialist in the purest sense of the word, and thus finds herself, in this lifetime, in love with thread.

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Fun with Dates

By the editor

On Kawara, Nov. 13, 1978 “Monday.”, 1978, Acrylic on canvas, 61 x 89 inches. Reiner Speck, Cologne.

On May 18, 1969, the U.S. launched Apollo 10. This Sunday, May 18, 2008, the Dallas Museum of Art is launching the first U.S. exhibition of On Kawara’s work in fifteen years, 10 Tableaux and 16,952 Pages. Designed by the artist himself, the exhibition centers around Kawara’s largest-scale paintings. The artist’s work has been a reference point for conceptual artists for decades. Check out MTAA’s onKawaraUpdate (v2), or Alfredo Jaar’s The Rwanda Project (1994-2000), which included a series of postcards reminiscent of Kawara’s I Am Still Alive telegrams: Jaar sent cards to friends on which he wrote the names of people he met in Rwanda followed by the phrase “is still alive.”

On the evening of May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for the last time. Instead of sitting in front of the tube, this Thursday, May 22, 2008, at 6:30 p.m., you should recreate your grandma’s tuna casserole and take it down to Artpace San Antonio for a potluck dinner with current artists in residence William Cordova, Mark Bradford and Marcos Ramirez ERRE. R.S.V.P. by May 21, and bring a dish that serves 12.

On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse transmitted the message “What hath God wroght!” in Morse code from Washington to Baltimore as he opened the first U.S. telegraph line. Conceptual artist Dario Robleto doesn’t use Morse code, but acts of translation—from action to English text, from English to Portuguese—are certainly involved in his body of work currently on view at Inman Gallery in Houston. This Saturday, May 24, 2008, at noon, you can join Robleto and Gabriel Perez-Barriero, Director of the Colleccion Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, at Inman for a discussion about the artist’s work.

announcements: exhibitions

Austin On View

It's Like a Machine, and It's Meant To Be Repeated
okay mountain
On view through May 31, 2008

It's Like a Machine, and It's Meant To Be Repeated centers around the experimental collaboration of an unlikely creative pair; a furniture/environmental designer with sculptural ambitions and a performance artist with social ambitions. Michael Mellon currently resides in Oakland, CA where he blends the boundaries of furniture and sculpture; his work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian, D.C., The Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland, CA, Transmissions Gallery, Oakland, CA, and at OpenHouse, Manhattan, NY. Jacques Louis Vidal currently resides in New Haven, CT, where he is a M.F.A. Candidate at Yale University; he has shown and performed extensively throughout the U.S and abroad.

Ali Fitzgerald: Swan School: The Matriculation
Art Palace
On view through May 21, 2008

Swan School: The Matriculation is Ali Fitzgerald's second solo exhibition at Art Palace. Fitzgerald's current body of work explores victimization and violence within a forged adolescent caste-system. Through drawing based sculptures, dioramas and site-specific installations Fitzgerald surveys a dystopian boarding school complex, within whose misleading facades, we see residue of girlhood gone awry.

Jim Torok: Life is Good
lora reynolds gallery
On view through June 7, 2008

Lora Reynolds Gallery is pleased to announce their second solo exhibition by Brooklyn based artist Jim Torok. The exhibition includes a series of realist portraits of artists including Mike Smith, Ed Ruscha and Jim Hodges as well as cartoon vignettes.

Atelier 2008: Selections from the Department of Art and Art History Faculty, The University of Texas at Austin
Blanton Museum of Art
On view through June 8, 2008

Atelier 2008 is the first faculty exhibition being organized by a guest curator, and begins the newly formatted triennial basis in which future faculty shows will now occur. This year, curator James Elaine from the Hammer Museum of Art in Los Angeles has selected works by faculty members, among them some of the country's most respected artists and artistic scholars highlighting trends in contemporary art.

Benito Huerta: Intermezzo
The Mexican American Cultural Center
On view August 31, 2008

In this exhibition, the artist Benito Huerta uses the intermezzo—a short movement separating the major section of a symphonic work—to confront contemporary issues such as the economy, immigration, and natural disasters, either directly or in a more poetic form. A recipient of the Dallas Center for Contemporary Art’s 2002 Legend of the Year Award, Huerta's work is in several museum and corporate collections through the United Stated and Huerta's work was recently presented in Soundings: Benito Huerta 1992 – 2005 at the Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi and the El Paso Museum.

San Antonio On View

And the fork ran away with the spoon
Unit B
Opening Reception : Friday, May 16 from 6:30-10:30 pm

Unit B presents a group show dedicated to the theme of eating. During the opening reception Hambone Industries will serve pancakes at the backyard screening of the International Pancake Film Festival (IPFF). The IPFF features 20+ video shorts that are all about delicious pancakes. Other artists included in the exhibition are: Alice Fermin, Franco Mondini-Ruiz and Cruz Ortiz.

Joseph Phillips: Pardon our Progress
Cactus Bra Space
On view through May 25, 2008

In Pardon our Progress Austin artist Joseph Phillips examines the landscape, and specifically our impact on nature through recent drawings, sculpture and installation. Delicate gouache, ink and graphite drawings bring to mind internet product shots, or cartoonish scientific renderings where all but the central sliver of subject has been removed, to be studied or dissected further.

David Jurist: I’ll Be There
Sala Diaz
On view through June 8, 2008

I’ll Be There speaks to the conversion of memory into artifact and the forecasting of artifact as memorials. As it turns out, the relevant question is the journey and the moment of its conclusion is when one is on the other side of the question mark, removing the first person from the sentence and leaving the collected objects to create an essay of their own. Responding to the notion of the cabinet of curiosities, this exhibition presents a grouping of sculptural objects to mark and classify a past, present and future, creating its own “theatre of memory.”

Oliver Lutz
On view through July 20, 2008

The video installations, wall paintings and performances by New York-based artist Oliver Lutz deal with transcending desires of power, control and disintegration through a complex deconstruction of the artist’s mental model. His works are an unraveling of personal mythologies, explored and revealed through various conflations of artistic mediums.

Houston Openings

Perspectives 161: Tim Lee
May 16 - July 13, 2008

Vancouver-based artist Tim Lee uses video, photography, and performance to put himself in the place of icons of popular culture - figures from sports, art, music, or film. He re-stages well-known moments in these histories to explore our cultural history.

Sarah Greene Reed: a lotta bit
Moody Gallery
June 7-July 5, 2008

The title of this exhibition references artist Sarah Greene Reed's "more is more with philosophy." To create her digital collages, Reed works extensively with layers, loading her image with scanned objects, patterns and photographic source material and then edits, rearranges and shapes the collage into its final state.

Houston On View

Stephen Vitiello: Four Color Sound
On view through June 21, 2008

Sound pioneer Stephen Vitiello is known for creating powerful, beautiful and immersive installations that transform incidental atmospheric noises into mesmerizing soundscapes. Vitiello’s latest project, Four Color Sound, combines modulated light and audio tracks that morph and shift in subtle ways, transforming the gallery space into a virtual meditation chamber.

The Old, Weird America
Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston
On view through July 20, 2008

The Old, Weird America will be the first museum exhibition to explore the widespread resurgence of folk imagery and history in American contemporary art. Curated by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston senior curator Toby Kamps, the exhibition illustrates the relevance and appeal of folklore to contemporary artists, as well as the genre’s power to illuminate ingrained cultural forces and overlooked histories. The exhibition borrows its inspiration and title—with the author’s blessing—from music and cultural critic Greil Marcus’ 1997 book examining the influence of folk music on Bob Dylan and his seminal album, The Basement Tapes.

2008 Houston Area Exhibition
Blaffer Gallery
On view through August 2, 2008

The 2008 Houston Area Exhibition, selected by Blaffer Gallery curator Claudia Schmuckli, introduces artists who are young or new to the Houston community and offers more seasoned artists the opportunity to develop new work and to be seen in a fresh light.

Houston on View

Max Neuhaus: Circumscription Drawings and a New Sound Installation
Menil Collection
On view through August 4

A pioneer in the use of sound in contemporary art, Neuhaus coined the term “sound installation” to describe his practice based on the creation of unique sounds for specific locations. In addition to his work with sound, Neuhaus has long been engaged in drawing, producing visual counterparts to the sound pieces both as proposals for ideas to be executed later and as responses to existing sound works. Neuhaus calls this latter type “circumscription drawings.” The exhibition will bring together a selection of these drawings executed between 1992 and 2007, responses to sound works from as early as 1968, many of which have never been displayed in the U.S. The exhibition will coincide with the inauguration of the new sound work, Sound Line commissioned from Neuhaus for a location just outside the building’s north entrance.

Dallas Openings

On Kawara: 10 Tableaux and 16,952 Pages
Dallas Museum of Art
May 18 - August 24, 2008

Since the 1950's, On Kawara has created paintings, drawings, and books that mark time in various ways, from paintings of individual dates to mailed postcards to diagrams and charts of weeks and month. This exhibition, designed by the artist, features Kawara's largest-scale paintings from the last five decades. Together, these paintings, which reference his daily activities, the places he has been, whom he has met and what he has read, create a self-portrait of the artist.

Dallas on View

Dario Robleto: Oh, Those Mirrors With Memory (Actions 1996-1997)
Inman Gallery
On view through May 24

Oh Those Mirrors with Memory (Actions 1996-1997) presents a series of text pieces originally conceived during the years 1996 and 1997, which preceded Robleto’s rich and varied sculptural output of the subsequent ten years. Reading first as object labels for (mostly) non-existent sculptures, the text works also function as short poems. They were first presented as entries in a handmade leather bound book with the idea they could be reproduced in any manner the reader found suitable. Gabriel Perez Barriero and Robleto will talk about the artist's work at noon on Saturday, May 24.

Dallas On View

Tim Noble and Sue Webster
Goss Michael Foundation
On view through September 30, 2008

Using a variety of mediums, including neon lighting, scrap metal and household rubbish through which to convey their meaning, Tim Noble and Sue Webster's art is arresting, profound and revolutionary. This exhibition presents works by the artists held in the Goss-Michael Collection as well as The Joy of Sex, a set of prints in which the artists reinterpret the influential sex manual of the same name.

Announcements: events

San Antonio Events

Potluck Dinner: William Cordova, Mark Bradford, ERRE
Thursday, May 22 at 6:30

Show off your best recipe, or visit a favorite to-go spot on your way to this Texas-style meet and greet. Please bring any dish that serves twelve and RSVP by May 21.

Houston Events

The Cost of Living
Discovery Green
Friday May 16 at 8:00 pm

Presented by Aurora Picture Show, The Cost of Living is a dance film created by choreographer and director Lloyd Newson of London's DV8 Physical Theater. This 34-minute comic narrative takes us to a faded seaside town where street performers David and Eddie struggle to find work and romance.

Best of Dallas Video Festival
Aurora Picture Show
May 17 at 8pm & May 18 at 3pm

Aurora Picture Show will present a compilation of shorts from the Dallas Video Festival, with curator Bart Weiss in attendance.

Sterne and Steinberg: Critics Within
Menil Collection
Friday, May 23 at 8pm

Sarah Ekhardt, curator of the exhibition Sterne and Steinberg: Critics Within, opening at the Menil on May 23, will discuss Hedda Sterne, famously the only woman in Life magazine’s 1951 group portrait of New York School artists, and Sterne’s husband, Saul Steinberg (1914–1999), known for his New Yorker magazine covers and drawings. Sarah Eckhardt, a member of The Menil Collection staff in 2004–2005, is currently writing her dissertation on Sterne, and was curator of the 2006 exhibition Uninterrupted Flux: Hedda Sterne, A Retrospective.

Artist Talk: Dario Robleto and Gabriel Perez-Barriero
Inman Gallery
Saturday, May 24 at noon

Conceptual artist Dario Robleto and Director of the Collecion Cisneros Gabriel Perez Barriero will discuss Robleto's work. Robleto's current exhibition at Inman, Oh, Those Mirrors With Memory (Actions 1996-1997), focuses on a series of text pieces originally conceived during the years 1996 and 1997, which preceded Robleto’s rich and varied sculptural output of the subsequent ten years.

Slant 8: Bold Asian American Images
Aurora Picture Show
Friday, May 30, 8pm

What do missed connections, using bananas as weapons, and a little girl's persistence in selling cookies have in common? Nothing, until Curator Melissa Hung brought them together for Slant 2008. This program of experimental and narrative films weaves together the humorous and the poetic. Some films tackle stereotypes, while others travel through memory and longing.

Announcements: opportunities


Donor Circle Coordinator
Dallas Museum of Art
Application Deadline: Sunday, June 22

The primary responsibility of the Donor Circle Coordinator is to contribute in a professional and meaningful way to the execution of clearly defined Donor Circle objectives which are tied directly to the stated financial revenue objectives of the Museum’s Donor Circle Program. This includes, but is not limited specifically to, solicitation/acquisition, stewardship/retention, cultivation, billing/acknowledgment and programming for all patrons, falling within the Donor Circle parameters. Reporting to the Program Manager, Donor Circle Membership (PM/DCM), the Donor Circle Coordinator works collaboratively with the PM/DCM and other Development staff members. For complete job description and application details, please click here.

Special Events Manager
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

The Special Events Manager is full-time member of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s development staff and is responsible for planning, coordinating and producing major special events that generate a substantial portion of annual operating revenue. The position requirements include a B.A. degree in appropriate field; strong interest in contemporary art and a minimum of three years professional development and/or event production experience, preferably with an arts-related institution. For further information, please click here.

Program Coordinator-3 Month Maternity Leave Cover
Houston Center for Photography
Start date: June 9, 2008

The Program Coordinator will assist with the planning and execution of several exhibitions featuring celebrated work by well-known artists and cutting edge photographic projects. The person in this position serves as a liaison between artists and the organization and acts as an ambassador for HCP.  For further details and to apply, please click here.

Executive Director
Art League Houston
Application Deadline: June 30, 2008

Art League Houston is currently seeking applicants for the Executive Director position. Art League Houston cultivates awareness, appreciation and accessibility of contemporary visual art within the community for its cultural enrichment. The Executive Director implements the strategic goals of the organization and is responsible for organization, direction, and administration of the agency, including its policies, programs and services. To view position announcement and job description, click here.

Artist Residencies

Lawndale Artist Studio Program 2008-2009
Lawndale Art Center
Application Deadline: May 30 at 4:00 pm

The Lawndale Artist Studio Program is part of Lawndale’s ongoing commitment to support the creation of contemporary art by Gulf Coast area artists. With an emphasis on emerging practices, the program will provide three artists with studio space on the third floor of the Lawndale Art Center at 4912 Main Street in the heart of Houston’s Museum District. Artists have full access to their studios 24 hours a day, seven days a week; access to visiting artists, writers and curators; and will receive a $500 monthly stipend for the duration of the program together with an initial $1500 materials budget. If accepted, artists are expected to present a workshop or presentation to the general public and the local arts community to share their practice or explore a related topic. Works produced during the program will be exhibited at Lawndale Art Center during May 2009. For application details, please click here.

Call for Entries

Chicago Underground Film Festival Accepting Entries
Regular Deadline: June 16, 2008

Entries are now being accepted for the Chicago Underground Film Festival. For further information and entry details, please click here.

2009 Texas Biennial
Group Exhibition Deadline: Monday, June 30; Temporary Outdoor Project Deadline: Saturday, May 31

 The 2009 Texas Biennial is accepting submissions from artists living and working in Texas via our new website, www.texasbiennial.com. All submissions will be digitally submitted online and artists of all medias are encouraged to submit. The 2009 Biennial website will provide all information on the Call for Entry process. The Temporary Outdoor Project will be funded by the City of Austin and will award budgets for complete projects ranging from $3,000 to $10,000.

Graffiti Style Call for Art!
Gallery Lombardi

On June 7th, Gallery Lombardi will have an all Texas show called "Pieced Together" featuring aerosol artists from around the state. If you upload your masterpieces online, you can enter this contest and be a part of this huge show sponsored by Spanish Montana Colors, Redbull & Imeem.com. There is no fee to enter, please help spread the word on this open call for art. For more information, please click here.

Harvestworks Video Art Festival #003
Harvestworks Digital Media Center
Deadline: June 16, 2008

The Harvest Digital Media Center invites artists to submit videos of all types of video (experimental, animation, music video, documentary, silent, short, etc) for a guest curated video art festival. Works selected from this call, as well as by private invitation, will be featured in a series of themed screenings in September 2008. The festival’s main objective is to highlight inventive and visually rich video created in the twenty-first century. Though this solicitation is truly broad, they are especially interested in work exploring the notion of façade (i.e. architecturally or in the sense of superficial appearance or illusion), work exploring food, agriculture and/or the environment, audiovisual collaborations, silent videos and videos created especially for web-viewing. For more information and submission guidelines, click here.

Call for Artists

Texas Open Call Applications Available
Deadline: Friday, September 5

Calling all Texas artists! Visit www.artpace.org to begin filling out your Open Call application for the 2010 International Artist-in-Residence program. Every year Texas artists are invited to submit material to be considered for a shortlist that will be reviewed by Artpace’s guest curators. Shortlisted artists’ materials will be examined by three curators, who may also conduct studio visits. From this process each curator identifies an innovative Texas artist to become an International Artist-in-Residence.

Call for Applications

DW2! DiverseWorks Development Workshops
Application Deadline: Friday, May 6 before 5:00 pm

The DiverseWorks Development Workshop will be held June 7-8, 2008 and will include a Creative Capital Professional Development Workshop covering marketing and public relations, fundraising and strategic planning for artists. The first day of the workshop, June 7th will be led by Creative Capital Consultants, Colleen Keegan* and Aaron Landsman*. DiverseWorks will accept applications from all artists who wish to attend workshops held on Saturday, June 7th. The Sunday workshops will only be open to past participants. For further information and to apply, please click here.


2008 Texas Filmakers' Production Grant
Deadline: June 2, 2008

Applicants must be residents of Texas and be the creative author of the final work. This year, Alpha Cine Labs has joined the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund as an in-kind sponsor. Now, in addition to requesting cash and Kodak film stock, you can also request up to $5,000 in services from Alpha Cine, a full service digital motion picture lab offering services ranging from 35mm, S16mm, 16mm, S8mm color, B&W, reversal processing, telecine, printing, color timing, digital to 35mm transfers, HD color correct and mastering. For more information and applications, please click here.

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