The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) currently has a temporary installation up that belongs to their permanent collection. The Penetrable, 2004-2014, is a large installation by Jesus Rafael Soto, born in Venezuela, that was actually designed about 10 years ago, and finally realized this year. He passed away shortly after designing this installation. This required a collaboration with Atelier Soto, Paris, to create such a massive project without the artist.
Not familiar with the work of Soto, there is much information on him available in the museum and online. He is considered a pioneer of the kinetic art movement and is internationally recognized in Europe and Asia for his work, but not in the US. Creating only 25-30 Penetrables in his lifetime, this is the largest and only site specific installation, created for the museum’s Cullinan Hall, a large open mezzanine. The 1st Penetrable was created in 1967, however, many no longer exist because they were only temporary installations. This specific piece is composed of 24,000 plastic tubes weighing 7.5 tons with the hanging system, it is 28′ high and suspended from a reinforced ceiling. This piece also required that each tube be hand painted to exact measurements to create the perfect ellipse, making it also the 1st Penetrable to have an “image” included, and not be monochromatic.
The most obvious difference from the normal museum experience is that you are encouraged to touch the work. It becomes kinetic and is completed by the participation of the viewer. Soto created his pieces to enjoy by being able to move through and be touched and pulled. Children are encouraged to participate as well. When I arrive, there are plenty of people already immersed in the piece with several children running around. The tubes are soft and flexible, moving with me as I walk through the installation. Even with lots of people there, due to the scale, it was easy to still be alone for a little bit. At 2600 sf, this piece is actually larger than my entire house (1450 sf), so there is plenty of room to explore and feel some solitude. It actually feels endless, that I will never come out and walk through the tubes forever, in a forest of plastic. I have never had an art experience like this, something I was fully immersed in, almost part of it. I suppose I was, by activating the space, I became part of the installation. Artwork that involves the viewer is always an original experience, which is why I think it is important to travel to see art in person. Contemporary art in particular, is a genre that requires the participation of the viewer to complete the piece, whether by thoughts or action.
“For Soto, space was a perceptual field that had to be experienced, not just with the eyes but with the entire body and senses. He designed the Penetrable to make viewers more cognizant of their spatial surroundings, imagining the work as scalable and situated to both indoor and outdoor settings.”
It is the 2nd large scale installation commissioned in Houston that became the final projects of the artists that I am aware of. The other is the Dan Flavin installation at Richmond Hall commissioned by the Menil, According to their website, ” Just two days before his death in November 1996 Flavin completed the design for the space.” Completed by Flavin’s studio, it is a beautiful, large scale installation taking over the entire front hall. I have visited this building many times, writing about my previous experiences.
Designer Carolina Herrera’s line for NYFW (New York Fashion Week) 2014 was inspired by the kinetic art of Jesus Raphael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez. Watch the collection go down the runway in action here. I definitely see the inspiration of both of these artists. Many patterns remind me of the work of Cruz-Diez, but the clothing mostly seems to be inspired by the fact that the work of both artists must be completed by the viewer, from visual participation to actually entering the work, as in Penetrable. The design of the clothing is only complete once it is worn and actively moving. The movement in the clothing is visually beautiful to watch. Coincidentally, the MFAH also showcased the work of Cruz-Diez: Color in Space and Time in 2011, which I was able to experience for myself. His work requires the participation to view the work from different angles, otherwise you will never see the complete work. It was engaging and visually stimulating, being full of movement. This is a great video tour of the exhibition, giving you the experience of how to view a Cruz-Diez, something a static photo cannot do.
On the second floor of the museum Europe 1900-1975 Selections from the Museum’s Collection is being exhibited. I am able to see work from recognized masters that I always appreciate viewing. This included Pablo Picasso, which I had the pleasure of viewing Picasso: Black and White at the MFAH last year, Joan Miro, Anselm Kiefer, Henri Matisse, and Georg Baselitz,
whom I also viewed a solo exhibition in New York a few years ago. This just names just a few of the incredible artists on display here, but they all offer inspiration when it come to pushing boundaries, which is something that refreshes my art sensibilities.
This is the third year the Texas Contemporary Art Fair has been in Houston, but my first time attending. The art displayed here differs greatly from what is exhibited at the Fine Art Fair. It’s less traditional, more experimental, and as I would expect, pushes the boundaries further. Contemporary Art is one of my favorite types of art to experience. Sometimes I want to experience art that makes me think and is relevant to the world today. While there is beauty in more traditional ideas of art, I’m not sure all of those ideals still apply today. To be able to view art from recognized artists such as Damien Hirst, Robert Rauschenberg, Nam June Paik, Ann Hamilton, and Andy Warhol is always a fun experience for me. Immediately walking in, there was a huge pink sculpture looming in the entrance created by Ann Wood. A small structure with animals on the roof, everything was covered in layers of pink rubbery goo oozing down the sides. Also covered in flowers, this piece was very tactile, alternating between tacky and smooth plastic. It was pink, girly, shiny, and attractive, yet grotesque all at the same time. The animals are very skinny, showing ribs, and covered in this goo as well. When something is entirely covered, I always think of suffocation and being restricted. I have previously discussed this particular feeling regarding a sculpture by Cy Twombly and a photograph by David LaChapelle. My thoughts are also about the objects being merged together, bound by this goo like substance. The structure itself may be a shelter for hunting, but I’m not entirely sure. With no other explanation but the title, One More Reason to be Good, I am left to decipher what this piece is about. Walking further into the entrance, was another building, a laundromat covered in graffiti. A familiar place to most people, the inside is lined with brightly colored bottles of detergents that extend to the playful and colorful imagery taking over the walls, spilling out from within. This has a more welcoming environment that’s well lit, inviting the viewer to enter. The ritual of doing laundry is something the average person would experience on a regular basis, going to a laundromat to perform this cleansing. Created by the Clayton Brothers, this piece is titled Wishy Washy. I get the sense that something should be cleansed, all the components are there to do a load of dirty laundry. This idea of a structure, a familiar place, a shelter, domesticity were strong concepts presented in these two very different installations. The 1st is a sticky, layered mess, while the latter is a clean, organized location that serves a specific purpose. The 1st structure is a curious type of place, not existing prior to it’s creation while the other represents a familiar place where you would clean your clothing. The choice to juxtapose these two different structures as you enter is an interesting choice that I hoped was the beginning of an engaging display of art throughout the fair. There were many major art dealers here. The Kristy Stubbs Gallery from Dallas had an impressive roster of artists that included Damien Hirst and Robert Rauschenberg. The Hirst butterfly pieces were priced at $225,000 each. Well known artists with familiar pieces at serious prices. This is only the 2nd time I have seen his butterfly pieces in person, the other time in a small gallery in New York that represented more modest pieces by Hirst and Jeff Koons. In contrast with my 1st experience, these pieces were more intricate. One of my new favorite light artist was presented here, Chul Hyun Ahn. I had included his work when I wrote about last year’s Houston Fine Art Fair. His work appears endless, creating repetition with the use of lighting and mirrors. A new element existed that I don’t recall seeing last year, was the lighting changed through a spectrum of colors. His work is now ever changing, both in color and depth, each view point offering a slighting shifting perspective. Every time I have seen his work, people are always drawn to it, enjoying the illusion created, looking into infinity. Another great neon piece is by Tim Etchells. I have written several times about light pieces, including art I have experienced by James Turrell and Dan Flavin. I am very drawn to them and will take every opportunity to view them. The contemporary use of a message is something I am particularly interested in. Bruce Nauman is one of my favorite pioneers, smartly displaying similar words or shifting text, changing the original context. Neon has traditionally been used to give information, such as open/closed, enter, XXX, etc. Now it is often used to express a sentiment, another type of information that is now documented. With so much intriguing art, it is difficult to just discuss a few pieces. One thing that did stand out was the amount of art that sold. Many limited edition pieces sold out. Red dots seemed to be everywhere. It is always a good sign to see many pieces of art being sold. The fact that it is contemporary art also says the art market is currently playful and open minded. Art fairs are an experience. The opportunity to visit with many galleries from different locations is a rare opportunity. However, it is just a sample, as most are small spaces displaying a quick view of their most sell-able artists. My goal is to get to Art Basel (Basel Switzerland or Miami), Pulse (New York), and Frieze (London) someday. All of these fairs exclusively exhibit contemporary art. This is just one way to experience art. I recommend mixing art fairs in with studio visits, as well as regular visits to the museums of any city you are in or visit. The more art that I experience, I find I am able to have a better understanding of contemporary art, a better idea of topics being discussed, and often am introduced to new ideas I have not come across before.
Since I really enjoy art using light, of course I went to see the work of James Turrell as part of a unique retrospective that is consecutively taking place in three different locations. The largest installation is at the Guggenheim in New York. I also read an article about the installations at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Much closer to home, I went to the part taking place at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). As the press was coming out, I kept reading about the installations at the Guggenheim and LACMA, but nothing about Houston. The star piece of the entire exhibition is the light piece that takes over the main rotunda at the Guggenheim. The images of it look amazing, and I know photos never give light installations justice. Since I couldn’t find much on Houston, I really didn’t know what to expect. I greatly admire and draw inspiration from experiencing contemporary art. The concepts and contemplation that it takes to create some of these pieces amazes me. Contemporary art fascinates me because it challenges preconceived notions in an intellectual way. I enjoy thinking about an art piece and seeing an idea in a new way. Large installations, light pieces, and sculptures are some of my favorite medias to experience. Another light artist I have been following is Dan Flavin. I have seen some of his large installations in Marfa and in Houston.
I have always been amazed at the permanent installation there by Turrell, The Light Inside, 1999, which I briefly wrote about when I was at the MFAH last, in March. This piece takes over a long underground hallway connecting two buildings. The tunnel is composed of a walkway maybe just a foot off the ground. On either side of the walkway is a few feet to the wall, in a light wash of color. However, the way the light is presented makes it seem endless, like an abyss. The more you focus on the environment, the more the illusion takes over. I get a little distorted, it feels like I would fall forever. Art21 did a great interview with Turrell that focuses on The Light Inside in Houston and the Roden Crater in Flagstaff, Arizona. The volcano has been his most ambitious project that he has been working on since the 70’s.
Hands down, my favorite installation here is the Ganzfeld, the only piece in this exhibit that you can actually walk into. No photos, of course. It is meant to simulate a white out, something that occurs during blizzard, where there is no perception of the space. Experiencing this condition for an extended amount of time has been known to cause hallucinations. This was created with curved walls, making the room seem endless. There are people inside to keep you from going over the “edge”. As with the other pieces, the lights are completely hidden, just casting a glow of slowly changing colors. LACMA has a Perceptual Cell that costs an additional $45 entry fee and requires a waiver be signed before entering. That specific piece really may cause hallucinations, being in an isolated cell, just the experience of light.
What is amazing about experiencing work by Turrell is the illusion that is created in the space. He creates an environment, many of his pieces require their own room. Some pieces seemed to occupy both negative and positive space at the same time. This was particularly true of the wall cut outs. The light seemed to be cubes floating in the air, or breaking up the floor. The entire time seeming to fluctuate between a physical object in front of you, and a recessed object within the wall.
Going a few blocks away from the MFAH, we walk onto the Rice University Campus. They have an outdoor permanent installation, Twilight Epiphany, 2012, that sits upon a hill. However, it is actually a man made area, the grass is actually camouflaging the interior seating for the piece. There are two levels to sit on. The bottom space is made of marble seating, with tall slanted backs, on the inside of the cube like installation. The upstairs has the same type of seating but made of concrete, also slanted for you to be at an angle looking upwards. The upstairs chairs are on the outside of the open cube, so both levels can view above. The entire structure is covered by a flat roof, with a cut out facing the sky. This is where the art takes place. Even before the sunset show began, you can begin to see how the piece subtly changes, with the use of both natural and artificial light. I have seen the sunset many times, sometimes able to stop and view this beautiful natural occurrence. But this particular piece utilizes color theory to create or isolate colors. A forty minute light “show” unfolds as the sun sets. The staff requests silence and no photos. As in the main exhibit, outside light will affect the piece. It was a very meditative experience. The sky changed through many different colors – light blue, teal, gray, black, a brilliant colbalt blue. While the light is progressively getting darker, Turrell then uses the artificial lights projecting onto the roof, bringing the colors from light to dark, and back to light again. It was a very interesting experience and experiment. This show also takes place at sunrise. I think I will have to experience that as well, at some point.
A statement was made by the Guggenheim stating the large installation piece in the Rotunda is not a Skyspace, as at Rice. The specific difference is a Skyspace has an opening to the outside, while the Guggenheim’s opening is covered in glass.
Leaving Houston, in the paper was a story about a woman in Florida that realized she had a Turrell in her home and had been using it for storage. Disappointing, the new owner is trying to sell the piece. The bottom of the article has a nice slide show of a few Turrell pieces.
Yes, I am currently dreaming of seeing the Guggenheim exhibit. Unfortunately, there is no way I could make that happen by the closing September 25. It would be amazing if I could make a trip for my birthday on September 23….but that will not happen with my current work schedule and financial situation. However, the show in Los Angeles runs through April 6, 2014. There is a possibility I could make it there before the closing. And save an additional $45 for the Perception Cell. Yes, I would. I already would like to visit this exhibit at the MFAH again before it comes down. I will definitely also be revisiting Twilight Epiphany at Rice, as it is a permanent installation. This exhibit really expanded my mind. The possibilities of what a media like light can create is endless and ever changing. Perceptions of color, space, and what is tangible where all pushed and questioned. I find that exhilarating and the entire reason why I continue to seek new experiences with art. Of course, my pictures do not do this exhibit justice. It is something to experience in person.
The stress of Contemporary Art Month has been creeping up on me. It has been a fantastic, crazy, last few weeks. Beginning with a successful Seven Minutes in Heaven 2013 and continuing with a great inaugural opening of PS102, a new gallery space located inside a business, where I am now curating exhibitions monthly. In between all of this, I have been working on some new work for my open studio tour coming up in a few days, as well as slowly thinking of what I want to exhibit for another upcoming show I will be having in July. If I can get my work together. There is always something to work on, always something to think about. Since March is Contemporary Art Month, it has been my busiest time of the year for the last couple of years. But this year, I have never taken on this many projects. It’s enough to drive a girl mad. Despite the fact that I have a huge load of work, I decide to get out of town. There’s a lot on my mind and I feel like I need a change of scenery. I haven’t left town for no reason in quite a while. Well, isn’t my sanity the best reason? Looking up something to do, there is a Picasso exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) that looks amazing. Surprisingly, there is a second major exhibit touring there as well, Portraits of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado, that will be closing soon. These exhibits are normally $20 each to get into, but I find on one particular night this week, they are letting you in for $10 FOR BOTH. I think I have found a place to escape and clear my brain from the now. Luckily, my friend in Houston takes me in, so that is where I head, on the Megabus. The first few hours in town are spent by myself. This is refreshing and fantastic. I ignore my email, facebook, and texts, to just breathe for a while. I decide to just stroll around downtown. I’ve mentioned how I love the city. Yes, there is a lot going on around me, but it feels much different when it’s not me rushing around. I am the one in slow motion as everything is running around me. People watching, architecture, just observing life. As usual, I see art everywhere, as I think of Richard Estes, staring at these huge store windows. While I have always loved and photographed reflections, Estes gave me an appreciation for layered realities.
I hop on a bus to the Menil. Instead of heading straight inside, I turn to go to the little park there. This new route took me on a side of the Menil that I had never noticed before. Enjoying the outdoor sculptures is something I don’t always take advantage of when I am here. There are three negative sculptures by Michael Heizer on the lawn of the museum, created from 1968-1972. Known for creating land art, these sculptures are small scale replicas of three pieces from his “Nine Nevada Depressions” series of work, made in 1967. These pieces laid the groundwork for one of his major works, Double Negative, created in 1969-70. Studying DN in school, the scale of land art fascinates me. The design of Rift reminded me of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, designed by Daniel Libeskind. It is such a beautiful day, just relaxing under a tree is exactly what I needed. I sketched a little and worked on some of my titles for my current pieces, but nothing pressing, nothing that had to be done now. Just thinking and brainstorming. The stress was beginning to melt away. When I finally got up (probably after about an hour), I decided to head to the Cy Twombly Gallery. The Menil is fantastic, the way it has several additional buildings in the immediate area, dedicated to a particular artist or specific type of art. I will openly admit I used to never appreciate Twombly. While not being exposed to many images of his work in school, I had still seen several of his pieces in different museums, but only one or two together. They never really said anything to me, there was not enough of a discussion. Then I went to the Cy Twombly Gallery in Houston for the first time. Getting to see so many different bodies of his work let me appreciate the gestures and lines, an important element of many of his works. One of my favorite series here is Untitled (A Painting in Nine Parts), 1988. The deep, gestural greens seem to lead into the abyss. These pieces are full of emotion and gesture. Using a limited color pallet, the work is expressive of something much deeper. Staring into them, I feel a sadness, as if I were Ophelia, letting the weight of everything pull me down. The heaviness keeps me exploring further. Even in this series, Twombly adds lines in the form of text, a poem to Rilke, enforcing the mood he has created in this room, with this painting, in nine parts.
(Ponds) to Rilke
and in the ponds
broken off from the sky
my feeling sinks
as if standing on
For the first time, I fall in love with a new series of Twombly’s work, Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair, a set of five paintings, 1985. Viewing them before, I apparently never appreciated the depth these paintings offer. While these large pieces are composed on white backgrounds, the feelings of despair, continue to hang in the air in this room also. This is an interesting combination using this color. White normally represent things such as youth, purity, and innocence, yet here is in juxtaposition with mature perceptions. The emotional gestures in a seemingly chaotic mess exude complicated passions. The “rose” seems to display a bleeding heart – messy, dripping, and coming out of the canvas. Amid the abstract imagery, the pieces also incorporate text, forming characteristic scribbles. It’s interesting when Twombly uses “legible” text, he creates a distinction from the imagery. Where as in many of his most recognizable works, the scribbles are the work, presented as indecipherable and repetitive gestures. In this instant, quotes from Rilke, Rumi, and Giacomo Leopardi are crammed into a compartmental space above the imagery, shaping the panel. Each series I encounter offers more to the conversation with Twombly. As each room houses a different body of work, more of his thoughts and gestures are revealed. Extending past the canvas, his work also includes sculptural pieces. While not a huge fan of his sculptural work, there has always been one piece in particular that has always drawn me in, Thicket (Jupiter Island), 1992. Made of wood, plastic leaves, plaster, and paint, the media differs greatly from his more characteristic work. I always return to this piece. Something about the way the plant looks like it’s suffocating, drowning in the paint, fascinates me. It is completely covered, yet the plant doesn’t seem weighed down, it is still springing up. Any life is blocked by the plaster, coming or going, yet it has this tenacity, aiding it’s survival. Previously, I discussed an exhibit of huge still life photography by David LaChapelle, referring to a particular piece as “the Suffocating Bouquet”. In both pieces, the “life” is restrained by an outside force. But I never get the sense of something being dead, the life has not been removed, somehow these piece are still breathing. They are both the color white, the color of life. It is captivating to look at. Twombly’s work culminates in Untitled (Say Goodbye Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor), 1994. This enormous triptych takes up an entire room, at 53′ wide and 13′ high, showcasing the range of mark making he utilized throughout his many bodies of work. This particular piece is both minimal and yet very expressive at the same time. Completed over a span of twenty years, this is the full discussion Twombly wanted to exhibit. While the most complete, this may be the piece I discuss the least. It is something to be viewed and contemplated in person. See this piece after you have viewed the rest of the gallery and don’t underestimate it. There is a bench. Just sit down for a while. Untitled (Say Goodbye Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor), 1994, Detail In an entirely separate building a few block away is Dan Flavin. Richmond Hall is yet another building exclusive to one artist, by the Menil. Flavin is one of my favorite artists that works with light and this is one of my favorite pieces. I have been fortunate enough to see quite a few of his works, such as in New York, Berlin, and Munich. But my other favorite Flavin installation I have written about is in Marfa, Texas, at Chinati. His individual pieces don’t compare to the way the light works together when combined to create these massive works. Using a characteristic limited color pallet, this piece incorporates pink, yellow, green, and blue, and uses one additional color I have never seen utilized in another work of his, purple, in the form of a fluorescent light splitting down the middle of the entire length of the piece, anchoring them together. The lights reflect on the floor, extending the work from the walls into the space. While there are the physical components of a light piece, it is about what is radiating and how it works with the environment it’s in, that is the most interesting part of experiencing light pieces. It is about the space, a much different viewing experience than looking at a two dimensional piece of art. When I first walk in, there is actually a contemporary dance troupe performing amid the installation. Their body movements were mesmerizing, I kept thinking how exceptional it is to be able to perform in the midst of such an amazing environment. The piece highlighted motion and gestures using only their bodies, in a space where the art was exuding from the walls. This was indeed a unique experience. The performance was by the MFAH Core Residency Program at the Glassell School of Art and I talk to the choreographer. I tell her about Luminaria, a huge city art event in San Antonio that is about light, but encompasses all arts, including literature, performance, and dance. I have worked with Luminaria, on a couple of occasions, most recently this year as Site Manager for a fringe location. They give out grants to perform. I write down the info for her and she gives me her card. It really was a special piece, I would love to see it travel. Isn’t that what I do as a curator? Make sure art is seen? While not curating now, I have to share info with this spectacular program. This signified the end of my introspective time alone, this is where my friend met me. After dinner, we head to the MFAH. The special entrance doesn’t start for another hour, so we decide to enjoy the permanent collection, it is free today. The Abstract Impulse: Selections from the Modern and Contemporary Collections is one of the exhibits they have out. A large imposing Soundsuit, 2011, by Nick Cave towers over you at the entrance. Cave makes these suits out of different materials, this one composed of various rugs. The feet are the only reference to a person, yet there is a major presence as you walk around the piece. The suits are meant to be worn and performed in. He will be performing in Grand Central Terminal in a few days. I was very disappointed that I missed his exhibit of these suits at the Austin Museum of Art (AMoA) last year, I heard that was an amazing show. Another exceptional piece is Calavera 4, created by Grupo Mondongo, an Argentinian Collective of three artists. This huge piece is approximately 6′ x 6′, demanding my attention. Made of plasticine and wood, this piece is entirely carved, revealing a rich history, mythology, as well as leading to up to current pop culture. The detail is pristine, as the imagery comes alive from panel on the wall. The depiction of evolution expresses the continuing changes, crammed among each other, as if occurring in a short period of time. Maybe it has, we just assume our lifetime is an eternity. The piece is exhibited along with a touch screen tv, describing in detail all of the intricately carved imagery. There were plenty of other pieces to discuss in this exhibit, but this was not my primary reason for being here today. However, this show is an excellent example of the modern and contemporary artwork in the permanent collection. As a former registrar, I would love to be able to get my hands on these pieces. I promise I’ll wear gloves. MFAH also has an amazing light installation. The James Turrell piece, The Light Inside, takes up an entire underground hallway, connecting one part of the museum to another, the dimensions are 11′ x 20.5′ x 118′. The media is neon and ambient light. The entrance is blocked by a large wall of light, which you have to walk around to enter or exit. There is a solid walkway, while the entire room is filled with light. It is a little disorienting to walk through at first. Even though the walkway is only a few feet above the ground, the color makes it seem endless, as if walking over water. This light piece definitely utilizes the space, creating it’s own environment. And then onto the main attraction: Picasso Black and White. While Picasso is known for experimenting with color in phases throughout his life, this show focuses on his monochromatic work, stripping the color to focus on the subject, something he continued to do throughout his career. Unfortunately, since I didn’t purchase a catalog and the security was extremely tight (as to be expected), I have no photos. It was quite an amazing, as well as ambitious exhibit. With over one hundred works, his subjects varied from everyday life to the horrors of war. While Picasso is of course a master and ground breaking artist, his most powerful work is where he is working with a theme, such as Guernica. The broken fragments of cubism can be used to express emotions of chaos and violation. Of course, that piece is not included in the exhibition, however, many of the studies and precursor imagery were. An artwork so monumental, in both scale and concept, may be worked on for quite a while before realizing the potential of what it is to become. But there are plenty of beautiful pieces every direction you turn. One of my favorites is Woman Ironing, depicting working class daily life. Another is a still life, Cock and a Jar, where the broken imagery brings an incredible energy to an otherwise static display. Yes, Picasso’s work is amazing. On another floor is the other stunning exhibit, Portraits of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado. The polar opposite of Picasso, this exhibit displays the opulence of the ruling class in Spain. Jewels, ornate clothing, and lavish households of the ruling class are the main subject of these paintings. In fact, included were several pieces showcasing their amusement, little people. The wealthy class did not think too much of the commoners they ruled over. Showcasing several major artists, including Titian, Rubens, and Velasquez, the show would not be complete without Goya. Goya’s body of work ranges from the elaborate portraits commissioned by the Spanish ruling class, to his raw and expressive still lifes, reminiscent of Dutch still life paintings, and his emotional work portraying war. The highlight of the entire Prado exhibit was his prints. The subject matter, the details, the emotion. None of Goya’s other works compare to the profound imagery he depicts in his printmaking. The amount of art therapy I had was just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes life is crazy and seems to throw unending curve balls at you. But the art today did exactly what it is meant to do – allow me to contemplate, offer inspiration, and add an incredible amount of beauty and skill to my day.
Time for another opening at the Southwest School of Art (SSA), which means time for another double duty day at the school. Working at two different positions in the school is a little odd but quintessential of my self employment, working about 9 hours divided up through out the day. I begin my day by opening the Gallery Shop on the Ursuline Campus from 10-2. The Gallery Shop will be closing very soon, by then end of the year. This will be my last time working half day due to an Exhibition Opening, and only about four more weeks till the closing date of December 29th. Having a couple of hours off in the day, I run errands, eat, and get ready to return. As Bartender for the openings, I am responsible for setting up the reception area and making sure I have everything I need, and then, of course, the break down of everything after the reception closes. The best part is getting to talk to everyone as they make their way around the exhibit. I discuss a possible curatorial opportunity with Meredith Dean that she recommended me for, as well as talk to several other people I haven’t seen in a while. As I answer the standard questions about what I am currently doing/working on, I realize I really do have a lot going on. My studio being the biggest and most immediate project, Seven Minutes in Heaven 2013 a close second.
Sun She Rise, Sun She Set, and You Ain’t Seen Texas Yet, work by Anita Valencia, is an incredible installation taking up the first, larger gallery space. Using common, discarded materials, she produced an entire environment re-purposing everyday items such as tin cans, bottle caps and wire hangers. Valencia brings these items to life as she turns them into objects in motion – including butterflies, tumbleweed, and a twister – and displays them in a way to welcome the viewer to meander through the new environment. Such an engaging exhibit is taking a serious issue and calling attention in a whimsical and playful manner. Upon further inspection, I notice butterflies bearing logos such as Pepsi or Tecate, discussing consumerism and consumption. The sheer number of butterflies alone represent a frightening number of discarded cans. As an artist myself reusing materials, I am interested in how an artist presents existing objects and whether it references it’s original use. I remember seeing Valencia’s exhibit at Cactus Bra a few years ago, which was much different. Still re-using common objects, those pieces were comprised of bottle caps on canvases. I much prefer this new environment as the language of her materials. Valencia just keeps getting better and better, I think understanding her materials more as she continues to create.
In the adjoining, much darker room is the work of Justin Boyd. Days and Days relates to Valencia by also discussing his surrounding environment, but in a much different way. Exhibiting his work in small, wall mounted boxes, each one contains a collage of found objects, expanding this definition to including sound recorded above and below the water, as well as video. The combined elements were all collected from the San Antonio River, making this piece about a specific environment. These polished boxes present an individual view of a more personal experience, records of his time spent on the river, by where Boyd lives. Having also previously exhibited a sound installation at Cactus Bra, Boyd’s sound piece there was of another environment. Presented much differently, as a large, rough, plywood painting of a broken tree, having to do with mining, I believe, it was quite a while ago. But he did create another sound piece dealing with the San Antonio River for the San Antonio Museum of Art, when they had an exhibit about water a few years ago. That was a large piece to partially walk around. Not presented as intimate collections, as in this current series. Since I work at SSA, I know the pieces are more complicated than the display allows the viewer to see. I will sometimes have the responsibility of turning them on in the morning when I occasionally open up the Gallery. I really enjoy that each box has to be turned on individually, slowing turning the room alive with sound as I make my way to each box.
While this work is very different from mine, I find it inspiring and thoughtful. Both artists are documenting what exists around them, with all the works constructed from objects, sounds, and imagery collected locally in San Antonio. These bodies of work interest me as individual points of views from within the same city. I suppose my work is yet one of many other perspectives, born and raised in San Antonio. My current work begins with the environment I am surrounded and influenced by, my installations discuss memories and experiences that I feel were a part of forming my identity, expanding into what we ultimately choose to let create our identities and influence our everyday lives. Using everyday objects such as bird cages, laptops, and pill bottles, I want to create discussions about the life we live and the life we are creating, directly referencing what takes place daily. I will continue to draw inspiration from what I surround myself with everyday.
This weekend I went on a road trip to have a reunion and see fantastic art. I headed west to Marfa, TX. About six hours from San Antonio, the main part of this trip is desert. You must fill up your gas tank when you stop, there may not be another one in time to save you. This tiny town remains largely unknown, except to artists. Then it is recognized internationally. In the 70’s, Donald Judd, a minimalist sculptor, discovered this Texas town in the middle of nowhere. From then on, he worked in both Marfa and New York City and, I believe, truly began his legacy. Judd’s vision was to display the work of the artists that inspired him in permanent, large scale installations, unlike the short, rotating exhibitions he disliked in New York. Also, he didn’t feel these artists were properly represented in permanent collections. With help from huge organizations like the DIA, he was able to purchase large, former military buildings, and in 1986, opened the Chinati Foundation. It has now expanded to an incredible 340 acres. He also began the Judd Foundation, that focuses on the preservation of his own work. The collection features large scale work from Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, and John Chamberlain, to name a few. That is an incredible collection of art. From the massive amounts of art he created, to the expansive project Chinati has become, I respect his ambition and can see he created an art community here. When I was in college I went to Marfa for the first time. It was an amazing experience. Seeing what Donald Judd has created is inspiring. With an art compound that large, it is normally only able to be viewed through a guided tour. Except for one weekend a year, the Chinati Open House. During this time, you are free to wander through the extensive displays of art on your own. So far, during this open house is the only time I have ever visited Marfa. There are also normally plenty of free events that coincide with the weekend. The first year I went in 2007, my husband and I bought a tent, hopped in the car and headed West. Not knowing what to expect, we found an amazing community, fantastic art, and a pretty unique experience. The city had a free barbeque in the evening, after which Sonic Youth played a free show, and ended the next morning with the Chinati Foundation hosting a free breakfast. Did I mention the word free enough times? It was such a fantastic experience, the next year, 2008, I organized a trip with some classmates. There were ten of us on that original trip. Since then, eight of us have remained friends, artists, and a support system for each other. Beginning that year with everyone, the event began to change. No more dinners from the city. Still a free music event, but nothing as legendary as Sonic Youth. This has changed the number of people dramatically that attend this weekend. But that doesn’t detract from the real reason for going – amazing art. There are still lectures, screenings and readings that relate to the artist or project featured for the weekend. And of course, there will be the huge permanent installations, always amazing to contemplate in person. While a few other said they were going to come this year, ultimately, it was the eight of us that returned. We enjoy experiencing this unique adventure together.
The road to the Chinati entrance is dotted with a few older houses. We find that one of them belongs to the artists Julie Speed. Having seen her included in many shows, as well as seen books of her work at various museum shops, I am familiar with her art. We go in and find what an incredible studio she has. Wonderfully spacious, each room leads to another body of her work. There are three rooms, then a huge additional room, the largest in the house. Prints, paintings, and collages line the walls and shelves, displaying her extensive collections of work. As if that already wasn’t enough, her backyard view is of the huge concrete sculptures created by Judd, made up of fifteen displays of various cement blocks.
I recently had the privilege of seeing a huge portfolio of her prints at the Southwest School of Art (work in addition to what I was seeing here). Speed will be showing there next year and Kathy Armstrong, the Director of Exhibitions, had picked up her work. Speed was very friendly, as I discussed seeing her portfolio. She willingly shared her techniques on pieces there on display, as well as how she printed her own catalogs for some smaller exhibitions. The information was very helpful and it was nice that she was easy to talk to. I always love going to visit people’s studios. It is, of course, much more revealing than at a gallery space exhibiting only one body of the artist’s work. Arriving at Chianti, it looks like a few old buildings and a lot of desert. However, enter, and you find a world class collection of Contemporary Art displayed unlike any other museum. Donald Judd displays his permanent collection of metal boxes in two huge former airplane hangars. This is a personal highlight of the trip for me. Jim, a friend of mine, jokes that the hundred boxes no longer
make Judd a Minimalist. While there were one hundred works in the two buildings, they way they worked with the environment made it feel as if the room was empty. We discuss how important the environment is to minimalism. He said the way they are displayed here “cleanses the pallet,” and I absolutely agree. Placing minimalist pieces alongside artwork from other genres does interfere and take the piece out of context. This could be argued for almost any artwork, but I believe it is an important element for minimalism. The slick, fabricated metal boxes played with the reflection from the floor to ceiling windows. Sometimes where the piece ended and the environment began was blurred. I think that is what I find mesmerizing about these pieces. No matter where you are standing, the effect is the same. I had a difficult time choosing these photos in particular, so many were easily great examples of Judd’s intentions. Each I time I experience them, I understand a little more. Making this pilgrimage several times, I still continue to learn learn something new, each experience evolving my feelings about these permanent installations. On display in another building was a temporary exhibit of some more of Judd’s work, seeing his concepts realized smaller, in a third medium of wood. They have similar patterns to the
fabricated metal boxes, but are much smaller in scale, displayed on the wall, and have a much different feel. These pieces do not react with the environment. I’m not sure if these are considered studies or completed works, and I also contemplate the huge cement blocks. I have never considered those to be studies. Is it just the size that I am thinking about? Judd does tend to work on a massive scale. It’s interesting to see an artist work on a particular concept over such a long period of time. The original thoughts and ideas evolve, as all art should. It is just more obvious how they evolved on similar series of works. With Minimalism concerned with the formal elements, you can understand from these pieces that the scale and material are an integral part of his work.
Besides Judd’s metal boxes, my other absolute favorite permanent exhibit here is Dan Flavin. I have posted seeing his work in New York and Berlin, but this is one of my top two Flavin installations I have ever seen. The other is the fantastic piece at the Menil in Houston, taking up an entire building. This installation is much larger in comparison. Displayed in the center of six different U-shaped buildings, there are two pieces on each side, a total of four physical pieces in each building. Then there is the way they work together, expanding this installation further. This unique piece must be viewed from both sides to fully appreciate what he has created. Each side exposes a different color, working with elements of light and color theory. Like Judd, Flavin’s work is best displayed without interaction from any other art. The scale and concepts are enough to stand on their own. In fact, they thrive that way. The color pallet alternates buildings from pink and green to yellow and blue, eventually bringing all four colors to the last two remaining buildings. Flavin’s pieces also play with displaying the light from both an interior and exterior fixed location within the building, changing the perception in each installation. These pictures are not a very good example of how these pieces are experienced. Some things really cannot be captured on a camera. But I had to at least try to show you what I had experienced here.
We then headed a few blocks into town for the lectures. The main exhibition on focus this Open House is John Chamberlain’s huge collection there. Housed in a large separate building from the Chinati Complex, I had actually never been there. Both huge in terms of the scale of the work, as well as the number of pieces that were displayed, it was yet another impressive collection put together by Donald Judd. Saturday, there were two lectures and Sunday, there were three film screenings with or about Chamberlain. The lecture by Lynne Cook on his process was very insightful. Her introduction was very impressive, having an extensive resume that included working with world class artists at world class galleries and museums. It is a dream job to co-curate the Venice Biennale or an exhibit of Richard Serra at the MOMA. Definitely someone I should be looking to model my career after. When I think of working behind the scenes of an exhibition with big names, my thoughts always go to touching the work. That’s all I want to do. Be able to pick up a Cindy Sherman photograph or hang a Jasper Johns print. Really. I am getting chills thinking about that right now. And it’s a real job. Someone gets to unpack each piece of work for all these travelling exhibits and personally look over it for anything that may have happened when it was shipped. Of course, the curator has full access to the pieces without actually having to do the physical labor of installation. Cook discussed Chamberlain’s process, how when working, he was looking for pieces to “fit”. He visually knew when it was right. This is how most artists intuitively work, regardless of the medium. I don’t think anyone that is not an artist can really understand what that means. It sounds so flighty, maybe even a little poetic. Showing clips of a film on his work also allowed us to see his incredible studio! A massive warehouse stored huge piles of auto parts, sectioned by what type of part it was. It was pretty insane to look at. Occasionally, I get accused of being a hoarder when people see my collection of materials. However, it is a tiny pile compared to the enormous stockpile Chamberlain was working from. What a fantastic studio that must have been to work in!
Another reason for my excitement to visit Marfa: Prada Marfa. This installation by Elmgreen and Dragset was funded by Ballroom Marfa, but actually exists about 35 miles outside of Marfa, in
Valentine, TX. Completed in 2005, the non functioning store houses Prada shoes and purses from the 2005 Fall Collection. The non function is reinforced by the absence of a door handle. While housing these valuable commodities, the store itself will eventually deteriorate, decaying back into the landscape, I imagine looking like many of the tiny towns and houses in the area that only now exist as a remnant of the past. I saw this sculpture two years after it went up, in 2007. Now returning five years later , I begin to see the wear and tear the building is taking. Cracks have begun to appear on the facade. The transformation has begun. One of my goals is to see this building at sunrise or sunset. Having only seen photos online, it looks beautiful. This visit, however, had some disappointment for me. I had been wanting to do a photoshoot here for a while, so I found a camera and arranged for model months ago. Unfortunately, the week before the trip, she cancelled, leaving me without enough time to find someone else. This will have to happen another time. A few people don’t understand why I try to return here annually. It is the art, but it’s much more than that. Maybe I am cleansing my own art pallet, clearing my mind from racing imagery and over processed thoughts. The six hour drive (really 5.40) is a serene coast through the desert, removing yourself from the realities of everyday life. I can just be here. Even anonymous in other destinations, there is still an urgency rushing around you. That is all removed here, where life moves much slower and the art is such an important part of the community.
I know I have not discussed too much of my own art, but have mentioned I have several long term installation projects I am always working on. This is one project I have been working on for a little over a year now that is very personal to me.
Inspired by birdcages, I began a project last year about my memories. My concept is to cage my most important and cherished moments, the things I feel made me who I am today. The execution, however, is not so simple. When I began, I estimated this may take about a year to create. Once I delved into it though, I found that was a laughable timeline. The process is very long and drawn out, and no matter how much I try to rush it, this project will apparently let me know when it is ready.
Step One: Cages
This is really how it all began, this was the first step. When I saw my first birdcage, I was inspired immediately. I saw the cage and had an instant connection. I wanted to fill it, I wanted to cage something. Slowly, I have begun to collect them. An ongoing process, I ultimately envision this project taking up an entire small room, hung from various lengths with enough room for people to walk through and explore. I want the viewer to engage with the installation. Once I complete this project, I should have 25-30 birdcages, each individual pieces themselves, making a complete installation. These are a few of the cages I have already collected. I still have quite a way to go!
Going to dinner one night with a friend, we were driving in my neighborhood and I spotted these huge bird cages outside a rarely open antique shop, Cesar Vega Decor, and immediately pulled over. Everywhere you turned were treasures. Frames, statues, furniture, alters, mirrors, doors, and birdcages are just a few of the things that were stacked in every nook. Trying to see everything is impossible, as amazing items kept drawing my attention in different directions. Antique stores possess items that can’t be found anymore, that is the magic. The aisles were made from the small areas you can walk through among the stacks of incredible finds. The drawback though, may be the price. However, talking to the store owner, most of the cages inside are for only about $20 more than I have been pricing. The much larger ones outside range from $150 – $250 each. Sigh. Of course, those are the cages I feel would go perfect with this project.
While antique birdcages are definitely unique, they are not cheap. Instantly falling in love with this HUGE cage, the price was $600. It sits on a table towering over me. I think it is at least five feet tall. While in love with it, it is also very daunting at the same time. Do I have a message that big? This would obviously be the main piece of the installation, the essence of what I am saying defines me. What do I have to say that is that important? After a few days of thought, I believe the most important moment is when I decided to become an artist. That is the epitome of who I am today. It was not an obvious career choice for me, I had never been particularly encouraged to be creative and didn’t grow up in that kind of environment. But it changed my life completely and finally gave me a purpose. I am very happy with my choice, I always find going into work exciting and rewarding. It was the best decision I’ve made. Ever.
Step Two: Reviewing My Life
This is a very personal and intrinsic journey that no one can help me with. I simply began by thinking about my life. My thoughts began as a teenager. I delved into my past relationships, considering who I felt was important to me in my life. While dating a lot of different men, I was only in love with a very few, important ones. After a while, I was so swept up in my thoughts, I forgot I was even working on a project. Around my birthday last year, I was in the middle of processing all of this, and I got very confused. I actually began to think I was having a midlife crisis, and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get these men out of my head. Then one day I snapped back to reality – I conjured up all of these thoughts. It made me laugh so hard! It is very easy to get wrapped up in your past. Then disappointment set in…I wanted to figure out what was important to me, and I think of the men in my life? I was not happy with that. If I let men define who I am, then am I simply a shell of my former relationships? Thankfully, I snapped out of that reality as well. I had to realize these were just starting points. By no means were these the end of my thoughts, this was not the end of what I felt does define me. However, I did figure quite a few things out about myself and also figured out why some of my relationships couldn’t survive.
So I have moved on from the men, into my childhood. There are moments of embarrassment, confusion, wonder, and exploration. There is a lot to think about. It’s funny to think about moments you thought were the end of the world, and now realize they were just a bump on the road. Dissecting yourself is a difficult journey, definitely not for the weak. There are obvious selections one would consider important moments of your life: graduation, marriage, having a child. But are those the events that define you? As I work on this more and more, I realize they are not. To get to that point you must already be somebody, not expect to fulfill a ritual and become somebody. But there are pivotal moments in my life where things just clicked together, and I got it. For me, this normally happened after a lot stubbornness and hitting my head against a brick wall. Though, each time I made it through, even learning a few things as I went along. While I am not old by any means, I still have lived several different lives. Each one completely a completely different and unique experience. As I was living it, there were times I thought I would never make it through. It’s funny to realize how much strength you really have if you just decide to fight for it.
Step Three: Physical Manifestation
While defining myself and my important moments is extremely difficult, that is only the first hurdle. Deciding how to physically represent these life changing points is a whole other story. How do you even begin to represent a feeling, an event, a single moment? This is the place I still have the most work to do. This is such a personal project to me, I will spend as much time as I need to figure this out. I have a few sketches, but I have not begun to assemble the pieces yet. This is the most daunting. My thoughts are very confrontational, but they are still private, just within myself at this point. I now have to get my thoughts together in a cohesive way in a physical form. And be ready to share publicly. But this project for me is the epitome of what it is to be an artist – scary, exciting, insightful, and thoughtful, all at the same time. I want to be pushed and have to figure things out, not just complete a paint by number painting. This is another long, drawn out process. Thinking of what I want to represent then finding the random objects to represent it. Sometimes this is done by sketching out an idea, other times I find an object and instantly know what it reminds me of or represents to me. As with all art, there is no right or wrong way, no definitive answer. Nor am I searching for one. I am an artist because I want to constantly be invigorated by intelligent ideas. I hope when this project is finally completed, the viewer will take the time to process my intimate thoughts and details, and think about their own and who they are.
There are so many elements of this project for me, there is always something to be working on. But besides the limitations of my own thoughts and creativity, are the limitations of my funding. As I mentioned, the supplies I want to work with add up quickly (as with any art project, I suppose). To fill a room with cages will be a costly endeavor to begin with. But I am not put off by this. I WILL COMPLETE THIS PROJECT. It is very important to me and will be the largest installation for me to date. It is the direction I see my artwork heading and am very happy with that. This particular art project I envision I am applying for The Idea Fund, an artist grant for unconventional, conceptual, and guerrilla artist practices. While the application is not difficult, I am up against many fantastic artists, all with the same drive to complete their work. Getting this grant would mean I could concentrate on my project, at least for a full month without having to work, and be able to just focus on completion. I could afford even the wonderful $600 huge birdcage I really want. I think I would walk straight into Cesar Vega Decor and buy most of the cages there. To be able to spend a month just thinking, searching, and assembling. That’s the dream. My dream, anyway.