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Underdogs of the world, unite and take over!

photo courtesy of Okay Mountain

Let’s face it, despite all the potential and growth in the last few years, Austin will never be a real art center.
never be New York, or L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, Miami or Houston.
Austin a small city; and although that doesn’t mean that our
aspirations should be small, it does mean we should be realistic with
what we can and should do. Perhaps part of the current problem with the
visual arts in Austin is that we’re trying to jump steps, eat the cake
before even mixing the ingredients.

Maybe we need new models
to work towards. Smaller, more attainable and sustainable models. Maybe
we should look at smaller cities that somehow manage to have things we

photo courtesy of Okay Mountain

Like Kansas City. Ok, fine. Technically, it’s a bigger
city, if you count the whole bi-state metro area. What does Kansas City
have that we don’t, other than an NFL franchise? Well, (1) cheap real
estate, (2) a more stable group of artists and (3) more distance from
Houston, it seems.

(1) A friend has a theory about why
illustration and small-scale drawings were pretty much the
institutional style of Austin for a while: real estate isn’t cheap
here. Studio space is expensive, especially considering the cost of
living in this city. So large scale sculpture, painting, installation
and anything that can’t be accomplished in a cubicle-sized space goes
out the window. The exception to that have been the MFA students, who
get free studios, making people like Buster Graybill, Jules Buck Jones,
Jarrod Beck, Scott Proctor, etc. Which brings us to…

People are constantly leaving Austin. The other side of that coin is
that people are constantly moving to Austin as well. It’s a mixed
blessing. It’s easy to get here and get excited about the possibilities
and it’s also easy to become disenchanted, realize that there is a very
low ceiling in our small pond, and move away. The result is that
there’s barely any historical memory about how to improve the scene or
understand the patterns and cycles we semi-regularly get stuck in.

(3) But more and more, I’m beginning to think that the biggest problem
with Austin arts is proximity to Houston. We really just can’t compete!
They have better museums, better galleries, better studio spaces,
better artist services programs, better contact with the outside world
(hub airport!), better residencies, and so many more rich people… So
instead of trying to, then perhaps we really should try to think of
ways that we can can grow in Houston’s shadow. Perhaps it’s time to
hang up the leftover 80s punk attitude Austin that makes us want to
tell everywhere (except for Brooklyn, aka "Little Austin") to fuck off
and shove it. Maybe it’s time to go into a hippier phase, where we try
instead to build bonds with other small cities and create a network of
the provinces that doesn’t have to be provincial.

photo courtesy of Okay Mountain

Which brings us to: Okay Mountain and Kansas City’s Charlotte Street Foundation.
I’m not sure how it first began, but a pretty awesome partnership has
sprung up between these two organizations. The first sign of it for
Austinites was OKMTN’s current show SLOW COOKED (curated by Sterling
) which included Marcus Cain, Michael Converse, Colin Leipelt,
Kacy Maddux, and James Woodfill .
And now this weekend, Austinites invade KC, with TWO shows, presented
under the banner of Charlotte Street Foundation’s Urban Culture

gallery, curated by Kansas City-based painter Grant Miller and
Charlotte Street Foundation Associate Director Kate Hackman, features
the work of six Austin artists selected through image reviews and
studio visits conducted in Austin this summer. Artists featured are
Erin Curtis, Ryan Lauderdale, Erick Michaud, Jill Pangallo, Joseph
and Virginia Yount.

is a group exhibition of artworks and site-specific installations by
the Okay Mountain collective, who will spend more than a week in Kansas
City prior to the opening. This new series of works seeks to highlight
the collaborative way in which the group maintains its gallery and
wealth of duties. 

photo courtesy of Okay Mountain

The latter seems to be a reprise of their show at CRL last year,
IT’S GONNA BE EVERYTHING, right down to moving, or in this case
re-creating, their picnic table in the gallery space.

photo courtesy of Okay Mountain

It would be a pretty inspired choice to continue this exchange with
other small artist-centric institutions and gallery spaces in different
cities. Maybe Portland, Seattle, Atlanta, Boston, San Diego, Cleveland,
Baltimore or New Orleans can teach us a thing or two about being an
photo courtesy of Okay Mountain

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4 Responses

  1. salvo cheque

    Interesting topic.
    Precisely why I link to blogs in Boston, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Seattle, Portland, Atlanta and Indianapolis.

  2. salvo cheque

    I understand that you are building up your argument to support your approval of the OKMT-CStF exchange, but your bullet points seem inaccurate.
    1) I don’t think you’ve been to a sculpture grad’s studio. They are the same size, if not smaller than the painting studios. True they do have access to tools and share communal spaces that allow for larger works and installations. But studio space? Not that big.
    2) If Austin has a problem, it is in its writing. Present time dialogue and historical research need to be accessible if Austin is to continue growing into a supportive and relevant art community. I was happy to see Austin-centric blogs pop up and saddened when Zimmerman completely deleted his blog (rather than just abandon it).
    3) Here, I think you are presenting a singular (maybe even selfish) point of view. It is naive to think that Austin can compete with Houston. Two totally different animals. It sounds like you, yourself, were trying to make it big without moving to Houston. Working WITH Houston is a better option (Box13 extended their deadline to Nov 10!).
    Also, Austin has always felt more “hippy” rather than “80s punk”. Everywhere I look, businesses are open, friendly and supportive: from Craft Mafia, to E.A.S.T., to coffee shops, to Coworking.

    I didn’t think it was important to publicize this info, but when Chicago’s Green Lantern Gallery published its “Phonebook 2007-08” I emailed Austin galleries, telling them to get listed.
    I support the Texas Biennial, I supported the Art Palace/Road Agent exchange.
    In short, I agree with you.
    Its how you laid out your argument that I don’t agree with.

  3. Ivan L

    I’m gonna start off by completely admitting that yes, I have a bad attitude, especially i/r/t Austin and Texas in general. Now, let’s move on:

    1) Let’s consider the amount of space that grad students have access to while in school compared to what they can afford when they graduate.

    2) Agreed. However, I don’t think “more writing” is an intrinsically good thing. Context is ridiculously important, and the first thing we lose with the brain drain.

    3) I agree that it’s naive to think that Austin can compete with Houston. That’s kinda the point of the whole post.

    About the “hippy” vs. “80s punk” thing, I don’t really think that in Austin those two subcultures were that different. 80’s punk in Austin was a pretty hippie thing. Which ties in with what I mean by context and ahistorical writing. Also, i qualify the term. I specifically said “leftover 80s punk attitude,” I certainly didn’t mean Black Flag and Fugazi. Look at people like Randy Biscuit Turner (http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid:285396) or the Butthole Surfers or the basis for testsite’s current show or even SLACKERS.

    I do however, take offense to you bringing up whether I was trying to “make it big without moving to Houston.” It’s completely beside the point. I have attempted as much as possible to not mention my career as an artist, any projects I’m involved in or shows I’m a part of in this blog because it presents a conflict of interest and a can of worms for me that I refuse to deal with. You can think whatever you want about whether I’m “making it” or not, just don’t bring it up here please.

  4. salvo cheque

    Hmmm. I guess I’m a slow learner. Last time I used “making it big” I also caused offense.
    I can split hairs with the best of them, but “making it big”, “finding success” “building your career”, “selling your work”, they’re all the same idea to me.
    Sorry for offending you, you can strike that phrase from the record.

    But I still think that in the context of building relationships and working collectively, your 3rd point sounds/feels very singular. Even though you use “we” you make it sound like you just figured this out and you are going to promote this new idea of yours.
    I guess that didn’t sit well with me because I think of Austin Craft Mafia creating a national network of syndicates and the Texas Biennial reaching out from Austin (and a couple of other initiatives) that are already making those connections.

    Happy gobble-gobble!

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