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En el Camino con Austin Thomas/On the Road with Austin Thomas

Over the past three years, New York-based artist Austin Thomas has been building a series of architectural structures known as Perches. Perches are both functional and aesthetic objects, combining skilled craftsmanship with elements of mid-century design.

Austin Thomas, Perchance: A Floating Scenic Overlook, 2003....Sculptural Installation


Over the past three years, New York-based artist Austin Thomas has been building a series of architectural structures known as Perches. Perches are both functional and aesthetic objects, combining skilled craftsmanship with elements of mid-century design. Inspired by outdoor patio furniture plans from the 1950s, Thomas’s stained, wooden gazebo-esque sculptures were first placed within an interior context — that of a gallery/museum space — thus altering their original intention. During their exhibition, Thomas has baked pies and cakes, hosted tea parties, or shared a beer with visitors and passersby, inviting them to ‘perch.’ These open and informal exchanges between artist and spectator dislocate the traditional experience of artwork and act more as spaces of potentiality. Part salon/part tea party, Thomas cultivates a practice that extends beyond the object itself to allow a space for pause and reflection. As in the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija, Lee Mingwei, and others, Perches embrace a spirit of hospitality, intimacy, and intellectual rigor within the domain of the art space.


In 2001, the Public Art Fund commissioned Thomas (and her crew of Perch Power disciples) to build an outdoor perch in Brooklyn, NY. To re-situate her perch back into an exterior context meant creating a functional object that could exist as sculpture in dialogue with the area’s surrounding architecture. For Thomas this piece initiated a year-long inquiry into the notion of “the outdoors” and the architecture of leisure. Her elegant drawings and paper models merge a retro-palette of mint greens, buttery yellows, and glossy oranges with the subject matter of backyard barbeques, outdoor picnics, and courtyard furniture.

Austin Thomas, Social Climber, 2000. ...Wood (hand-stained, construction grade particle board and pine), and metal hardware. 15' x 12' x 13'


In her last show at Black and White Gallery in Williamsburg in 2003, Thomas further explored the notion of open-air living, expanding the architectonic language already inspired by her Perches. Twin lawn recliners, revamped Adirondack chairs, and colorful elbow rests graced the outdoor courtyard. Like her Public Art Fund Perch, these delightful, functional sculptures ignored the distinctions between the object and its setting, calling on the two to complete the intention of the piece.

Thomas’ new work expands on her ongoing interest in design, craft, and social exchange. She recently purchased a 1973 El Camino off eBay and drove it cross-country from California to her studio in New York. The flatbed of the El Cam has been rigged into part salon, part roving tailgater known as Perchance: a Floating Scenic Overlook, which will travel throughout the United States in the next year. In her artist statement, Thomas explains, “Wherever I go, I can undo the cover, set up the perches and entertain, have a barbecue, a picnic, listen to a history of the place I am visiting, or play a game of poker in this specially designed patio. The constantly changing scenery as well as the participatory nature of driving, setting it out, and perching, will enable increased chance encounters and diverse social interactions.”

In Texas and the Western US, Perchance taps into several particular cultural references: the glorification of the open road, highways, truckers, Southwest car clubs, Andrea Zittel’s AZ West, rasquachismo (make do with what you have), Marfa and minimalist aesthetics, and of course the original Camino Real through Texas. Perchance will go on parade beginning November 1, 2003 (Saturday) at The Fresh Up Club in Austin, Texas and then all day Sunday at Arthouse, November 2nd, with pending dates in San Antonio and other spots in Texas.

Perchance will go on parade beginning November 1, 2003 (Saturday) as part of Arthouse Presents… a new program curated by Regine Basha. It will be hosted on Saturday night by The Fresh Up Club, and then spend all day Sunday, November 2nd at Arthouse, with pending dates in San Antonio and other spots in Texas.Perchance originated at New York’s Socrates Sculpture Park in an exhibition called Float.

Images courtesy the artist.

Miki Garcia is a Project Coordinator at the Public Art Fund, New York.

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