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UT’s New VAC: More exhibition spaces than you can shake a stick at

Students enjoying the Lake Flato remodel.

The Visual Arts Center at the University of Texas opened last weekend after an epic remodel by architects Lake|Flato. I never saw the building in its pre-remodel, circa 1963 state but in listening to accounts and reading descriptions of it, it sounds about as esthetically appealing as a Supermax prison. No natural light, all-fluorescent, all the time.

Post Lake|Flato, it’s light-filled and gorgeous. An old dropped ceiling was removed to reveal the building’s amazing barrel-vaulted concrete roof. It’s got 9,072 square feet space, divided among five galleries (plus another 3,000 in the lobby). Three of those galleries are primarily dedicated to UT-affiliated work and projects.

The two-story, 1,875 square foot Vaulted Gallery will host site-specific installations by emerging and mid-career artists. The gallery has a lot of glass wall so it will be a little like working in a fishbowl, which is a good thing in an academic environment. VAC Director Jade Walker is looking for artists intrested in involving students in the realization of their projects.

With 2,086 square feet, the adjacent rectangular Arcade Gallery ends in a big bay window. Video projectors and a large back projection screen allow for passersby to also see the video screened in the gallery. That’s a pretty great way to engage people outside the art department.

Newly exposed concrete barrel vaults with part of...Rebecca Ward's strong installation in the...Mezzanine Gallery.

Next to the Arcade Gallery is a space dedicated to student-driven exhibitions. The L-shaped, 1,436 square foot Center Space will be programmed by a student organization, the Center Space Project. Current graduate and undergraduate students as well as alumni may submit proposals. It’s a good idea and hopefully it will be equally good in practice. Students and alumni will have to step up and propose some strong shows.

Upstairs, the 2,353 square foot Mezzanine Gallery is slated for traveling exhibitions and works created by faculty, students and alumni. The VAC director or a visiting curator will curate the exhibitions. I’m thinking the parameters of this will eventually broaden. It’s a pretty big space to restrict to only a traveling exhibition or only stuff made by UT people.

Also upstairs, the 1,322 square foot East Gallery is restricted to exhibitions by or curated by faculty. It can also include work that relates to “classroom study.” I’ve seen similar venues turn into vehicles for logrolling. Hopefully that won’t happen but really, as long as the work is good, it’s a non-issue.

The VAC is an impressive space, now it just comes down to the programming. I wouldn’t necessarily call the first round of shows an unqualified success, but I’m reserving judgement. Not only does Walker have to bring it, so do the students, faculty and alumni. Stay tuned.

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