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|Report from San Antonio
by Michael Duncan
|Shouldn't the art world's newfound globalism include the American heartland? To the list of current art hotbeds such as Johannesburg, Havana and Bejing, why not add San Antonio? Its strong Hispanic roots, Texan quirkiness and thriving tourist industry make it a rich breeding ground for fresh art-making. The city's healthy conflux of museums, galleries and alternative spaces provide the textures and tensions necessary for a burgeoning scene.
Best known to art-world cognoscenti is Artpace, a privately funded foundation that features exhibitions of work made on-site by local, regional and international artists selected for a two-month residency program. Established in 1995, the foundation is the dream child of philanthropist-artist-collector Linda Pace, who recently ripped out her suburban tennis court to reinstall one of Artpace's most successful projects, Nancy Rubins' soaring sculpture, 5,550 lbs. of Sonny's Airplane Parts, Linda's Place, and 550 lbs. of Tie-wire (1997).
Just closing at Artpace is a project by Milan-New York goofball Maurizio Cattelan, who constructed in one of the posh artist apartments a tiny mouse hole installation complete with squeaky Disneyesque soundtrack. Danish artist Joachim Koester also installed a group of murky photographs in a willfully murky gallery, while in the downstairs space, Austin sculptor Margo Sawyer offered a more substantial, gorgeous installation of large metal bowls embossed with shimmering gold-leaf. Artpace's adjunct space currently features as well a mini-survey of L.A. conceptualist Stephen Prina (until Oct. 1).
The A-List priorities of Artpace keep the grassroots scene on its toes. At Finesilver Gallery, San Antonio conceptualist Hills Snyder slyly reanimates the gigantic space with translucent ornaments that play off the high design architectural details. His installation of color-chromed Plexiglas within the steps of the gallery's free-hanging staircase is an interventionist knockout. Upstairs, Texas-born Irene Hardwicke Olivieri's fantastical paintings playfully inscribe fairy-tale nature scenes with heartfelt textual confessions and sensual narratives (until Aug. 26).
For the 15th anniversary of the alternative public gallery Blue Star Art Space, former San Antonio artist Alejandro Diaz has returned to curate "Rites of Passage: Quinceaneras, Debs and Other Queens," a show inspired by the coming-of-age parties given for adolescent Mexicanas. Maintaining a loose touch, Diaz mixes old and new feminist works by Mary Beth Edelson, Carolee Schneemann, Tracey Moffatt and Ethel Shipton with a variety of funky videos and installations by gender-bending artists. Danny Geisler's pinatas in the shapes of open-skirted party girls set the raunchily festive tone (through July 28).
Philip Avila, whose installation was a centerpiece of the Blue Star show, presents a more elliptical and formally intricate floor installation at the artist-run gallery Cactus Bra. For his joyfully absurd shrine to fun, Avila artfully arranges a hip but disarmingly immediate display of crepe paper flowers, bottles of colored water, digitally altered photos of sprouting cacti, cuckoo computer drawings of octopi and construction paper cutouts of monster faces.
Similarly of-the-moment are the embellished album cover collages of fellow San Antonian Arthur Polendo, which are tucked away in the back of Joan Grona Gallery. These collaged and painted-on compositions play off of the original cover designs for records such as Antheil's Ballet Mechnanique, Engelbert Humperdinck's Live at the Vegas Hilton, and George Shering's Hi-Fi Eclipse.
The artist-run house-gallery Sala Diaz currently features installations, assemblages and collages by Henry Rayburn that employ bits of embroidery, fabric and nostalgic doodads for openly sentimental and decorative effects (until July 30).
Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center is the nation's largest art complex dedicated to developing and preserving the culture of Chicano, Latino and Native American peoples. The Theater Gallery presents quirky pastel drawings by Joan Fabian of benevolently surreal sci-fi creatures (until Aug. 25).
Just closing at the Southwest School of Art and Craft is Mary Ann Smothers Bruni's sumptuous group of large color photographs of Dervish rituals in Turkey and local Via Crusis reenactments of the Stations of the Cross. Energized with light and motion, Bruni's depictions of spiritual ecstasy illuminated the former chapel gallery, capturing the out-of-focus realities and light-filled ardor of religious experience.
The Southwest School also features a group show of artists, "Like a Painting/Like a Book," who use paper and paper pulp in innovative ways. An installation of book-based sculptures by Chicago artist Melissa Jay Craig evokes a gorgeously surreal library haunted by sublime literary ghosts (through Aug. 12).
At the San Antonio Museum of Art, "Earth and Fire," a group show of contemporary ceramics, features standout pieces by David Gilhooly, Peter Voulkos, San Antonian Dennis Smith and Viola Frey (until Oct. 1). Housed in the recently renovated old Lone Star Brewery, the museum is distinguished by its surprisingly rich collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities as well as the posh new Nelson A. Rockefeller wing devoted to Latin American Art.
San Antonio also is home to the McNay Museum of Art, whose strong collection of modernist works is augmented by the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts. Although the McNay facility is currently being renovated, two galleries remain open, one featuring a selection of prints by Mexican modernists, including Diego Rivera. In October, the McNay grounds will feature an exhibition curated by museum director William Chiego of outdoor sculptures by Joel Shapiro.
San Antonio's institutions offer complementary strengths that collectively provide a firm foundation for its emerging contemporary scene. With all this, who needs the Alamo?
MICHAEL DUNCAN writes on art from Los Angeles and elsewhere.