Glasstire’s Best of 2019
Destino San Antonio at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio
San Antonio artist Anne Wallace curated this much-loved exhibition of 19th- and early-20th-century stereograph and cabinet card scenes of the Alamo City. Serving her artist statement mission of examining “issues of representation, authenticity, and myth” in the American West, Destino depicted San Antonio lifeways as they were presented to the traveling public in souvenir images. On one of the small video screens looping commentary by scholars, Kiowa-Apache historian Jackie Dale Tointigh talked about a traditional aversion to being photographed that was maintained by some Native peoples … .
And amongst 2019 spirit-catcher faves, I must also shout-up to Paul Hester’s fine, half-century retrospective at Rice Media Center in Houston.
Focus: Njideka Akunyili Crosby at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
This was a gem of a show. Following blockbuster shows of other artists of Nigerian descent — Yinka Shonibare in the spring of 2013 and Kehinde Wiley in the fall of 2015 — Crosby’s work mines some of that same bi-continental history, illuminating the legacy of post-colonial Africa through a pop-culture lens. The works incorporated fabric, solvent transfers, and paintings that also referenced Crosby’s personal narratives of Nigerian culture.
Latino Hustle: Aquí Ahora went up in April; it was curated by the artists of the Fort Worth-based Latino Hustle collective: Raul Rodriguez, Jessika Guillen and Gerardo Contreras. The show featured works by Sara Cardona, Francisco Josue Alvarado Arajuo, Melissa Gamez-Herrera, Jeffry Valadez, Fabiola Valenzuela, and Giovanni Valderas — artists whose works address socio-political issues from Latino/Latinx perspectives. Two works in this show really did it for me: Cardona’s Gone with the Wind, a collage depicting multi-colored serape blankets with two tires contorted and flailing within their frame, and Valadez’s Limite de Seguridad, which loosely translates to “Fail Safe.” The piece is a mix of silk-screen on paper, oil on canvas and photo collage; it depicts a blindfolded kid with a gilded halo, with three armed men in hats with ammo belts criss-crossed over their torsos behind him.
Nari Ward: We The People at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
The first museum survey of the Jamaican-born artist’s work in Texas spanned 25 years and featured a recreation of his 1993 work Amazing Grace, a somber and foreboding work in which the artist creates a pathway made of fire hoses surrounded by rows of discarded baby strollers and pipes, backgrounded by Mahalia Jackson’s version of the hymn Amazing Grace. His piece Iron Heavens, with wooden bats, used oven pans, and ironed cotton balls is a massive tarnished sculpture that towers 12 feet high and forms Ward’s version of a night sky, with punched holes and stains forming constellations that hover over a ground of burned bats patched with the cotton. There is an implied violence in this work that feels like impending or just-realized mob injustice.
Sean J Patrick Carney
Janet40: Li Po at the Museum of Human Achievement, Austin
Mexico City-based Patricia Siller and Luis Nava collaborate as Janet40, an itinerant curatorial platform and URL-to-IRL production house. In April, they conquered Austin, employing an unholy trifecta of our most experimental institutions: the Museum of Human Achievement, Fusebox Festival, and the Unlisted Projects residency. At MoHA, Janet40 produced two separate exhibitions in a month’s time. Mexico City-based Canek Zapata’s Li Po: Rice for the People was a black-lit, neon plexi admonition about “alien capitalism.” As a sort of temporary antidote, Dubbe’s Nubes, a peaceful installation from Austin-based Hannah Dubbe, offered whispering pillows — a fleeting but cozy reprieve from late-capitalist anxieties.
Kenneth Tam: Details at UT’s Visual Arts Center, Austin
Equal parts uncomfortable, heartwarming, funny, and mournful, New York artist Kenneth Tam’s Details has stuck with me. Across three video works produced between 2016 and 2018, Tam documents structured and improvised interactions between men — strangers to one another — whom he’s hired off Craigslist and Reddit. A summer camp, an ersatz fraternal clubhouse, and a prom tableau provide charged sites where Tam’s participants explore gender and masculinity through performative rituals and collaborative play. Murmuring throughout is a disquiet around contemporary labor economics as we discover that several of Tam’s participants responded to his ads not only for the promise of an unorthodox experience, but also for the stipend.
Partial Shade and Co-Lab Projects: A Pit Fire for East Austin Studio Tour
In two pits dug into an empty field off Airport Boulevard one November weekend, burning sawdust, compost, copper, newsprint, and manure cooked (and cracked) scores of ceramic works by a veritable who’s-who of Texas artists. The following weekend, the fired wares were laid out ceremonially on a wooden platform. All charcoal and chalk, and looking like Xeroxed utilitarian vessels, they amounted to one of the punkest pre-holiday pottery sales I’ve ever seen. While Rachael Starbuck, Michael Muelhaupt, and Jesse Cline bring nearly unparalleled fabrication and design chops to everything they organize under the Partial Shade banner, A Pit Fire felt particularly ambitious and environmentally-responsive.
Janine Antoni and Anna Halprin: Paper Dance at The Contemporary Austin
I admit to a strong bias, since Antoni is one of my all-time favorite artists and I had the great pleasure of interviewing her earlier this year. Several aspects distinguished this exhibition from a typical artist retrospective. Over a period of two months, Antoni performed a series of dance movements developed with pioneering dancer and choreographer Anna Halprin that responded to Antoni’s sculptural and photographic works. The exhibit was a constantly changing and living environment for both the viewers and artist. Rather than freezing work in a historical framework, the malleability of the interactions allowed for reflecting not only on the past, but also going forward in Antoni’s practice, perhaps bringing new meanings into the work. I also appreciated the use of the artworks’ shipping crates as part of the show’s architecture, providing seating for the audience, as well as demystifying what goes on “behind the scenes” in a museum.
Robyn O’Neil: WE THE MASSES at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
The exhibition is a 20-year survey of O’Neil’s graphite drawings, collage and a collaborative animation. Her technical proficiency including the insane detail in her drawings, combined with prolific output and many layers of social, environmental, literary and art historical references, provide a lot for viewers to unpack and decode. I appreciate her subversive humor in presenting an apocalyptic world that features men but no women or children. This is an exhibit that requires multiple visits. Her three-panel tour de force Hell is not to be missed. Luckily, there are still six weeks left to see the show.
Focus On: Ragnar Kjartansson at the Dallas Museum of Art
The Visitors is Ragnar Kjartansson’s floor-ceiling nine-channel video installation that features eight musicians each playing a different instrument, performing and singing the same fragmented lyric/phrase from a poem Feminine Ways. Each screen/channel was filmed in a separate room in a large historic house in the Hudson Valley, New York. At 64 minutes, it is well worth the time. The visuals are lush, but the power is in the mesmerizing music as each musician performs with complexity and intensity. Prepare for an emotional rollercoaster. The Guardian aptly named it the maddest house party ever.
Jose Villalobos at the Luna Ranch, San Antonio
Jose Villalobos’ performance art is rigorous and densely coiled with ideas and symbols. Early this year he performed at the family ranch of Presa House founder Rigoberto Luna, just south of San Antonio on a perfect, golden spring day. Villalobos’ work often concerns effort, restraint, and catharsis. At the ranch he was dragged by a horse, donned high heels, hoisted bales of hay, stacked them and knocked them over. It was mesmerizing, beautiful, and resolutely non-didactic experience meditating on gender, colonialism, and the icons that uphold them. The best performance art can achieve moments that feel instantaneously cinematic. On this day, Villalobos singlehandedly unfurled an entire film.
Sátántangó at Austin Film Society
The white whale of slow cinema, Bela Tarr’s seven-hour-and-fifteen-minute epic from 1994 (restored for its 25th anniversary) demands to be seen with an audience to steel each other for the journey. Once you surrender to the long tracking shots, haunting soundstage and minimal editing, the film becomes a transcendent, three-dimensional experience. Despite it being almost ludicrously bleak, the film is filled with beauty, humor, and moments of true cosmic heft. It is probably the greatest filmgoing experience I’ve ever had. It’s playing again at Rice Cinema in Houston on January 18. See you there.
Éliane Radigue: tape music Vice-Versa, etc…+ Kyema from Trilogie de la Mort at Live Oak Friends Meeting House, Houston (organized by Nameless Sound)
The French composer Éliane Radigue isn’t as famous as some ambient, slow-music legends like Morton Feldman or Brian Eno, but she may be the greatest. Her works range from microphone and reel-to-reel tape to the ARP 2600 synthesizer to later works for cello, harp, tuba, and bassoon — and all are slow, meditative, and quietly rapturous. Like Bela Tarr’s movies, Radigue’s music feels absolutely radical in our modern, rapid-fire culture. These works do not beg for your attention through a desperate attempt at being entertaining. They require patience and respect. The two performances — one of tape works at a James Turrell-designed Quaker church, and one of the chamber works at a cathedral downtown — were the best music experiences of the year. It was truly a spiritual; at the end of each performance the audience sat in silence for several moments, reveling in the sense that we had journeyed somewhere together, and truly shared something.
The Art of Texas: 250 Years at the Witte Museum, San Antonio
Thinking about the extensive lassoing required to round up the 130 works from 89 different lenders in this show, a sumptuous assemblage of greatest hits and sleeper-surprises from Texas art history, makes me wanna take a nap. Then get up, slam some jo, and go see the exhibition again. Except I cain’t. The caravan has packed and traveled on, dispersed to mysterious, myriad niches and nooks. Fortunately, one may still hoist and savor the exhibition’s excellent catalog, edited by Ron Tyler.
Ghostly Moan: Texas Artists on the Blues (blowing in the lonesome Texas prairie wind)
I loved exploring how Bruce Lee Webb, Andy Don Emmons, Dan Williams, Tim Kerr, and other Texas visual artists respond to the music and mystique of Blind Lemon Jefferson and other blues and gospel artists. Shortly after Webb’s exhibition at Yard Dog Gallery in Austin, which sparked Ghostly Moan, the gallery featured work by Belgian artist Jo Clauwaert, including a primordial, urban ‘hood dreamscape of Blind Willie Johnson’s head looming with giant tortoises beneath the darkest of skies and the brightest of stars.