Texas Contemporary Peeves and Qualms

by Sarah Fisch October 27, 2011

"Sorry We Closed" Rachel Hecker, 2011. Acrylic on canvas. Texas Gallery, Houston.

So, the Texas Contemporary Art Fair is over.

(Which gives me an excuse to post the above image. This particular Rachel Hecker piece is impactful and funny in-person, too.)

So I’m still processing everything I saw, PLUS I’m recovering from a bout of dog-days writer’s block, which I blame on 9/11, heatstroke and having watched a Fran Lebowitz documentary. She briefly convinced me that since my lifespan didn’t cross with James Thurber’s, all self-expression was meaningless.

This weekend was a shot in the arm, though. Texas Contemporary in Houston was a hoot and a holler AND a matter for serious consideration. I saw an awful lot of creative strength from  Champion Contemporary, David Shelton, Lawrence Markey, The Texas Gallery, Exquisite Corpse Booksellers in a very cool and innovative  — and miraculously cozy — bookshop installation, this photo of which doesn’t contextualize it enough:

To browse here was nerdy fun.

I also saw fine-ass Stuff from LA, NYC and galleries from other-where, but I’ll add my two cents to a best-of worst-of compendium.



I want to address a few clunky notes, tropes I feel I’ve seen an awful lot of, and that artists, gallerists and curators might should scrutinize a little harder. No trope should be off-limits, but I’m just not getting a lot of juice from these, currently. This could change, given art’s possibilities. So maybe this is a grito! A challenge to make this stuff arresting again!

1. Art made from construction materials — PVC and 2x4s can make for pure visual poetry, but can also come off as deliberately obfuscating, a little bit macho-brinksmanship unless there’s some payoff or seeming contemplation.

2. Chandeliers — I really like chandeliers, but this is one of those areas where I feel fashion and design as they interact with fine art gets a little repetitive and ubiquitous. Also shoes.

3. Wolves — Wolves are cool, and symbolically rich, and gorgeous, and I’m eager to see a representation that doesn’t seem redolent of a “fuck yeah!” hipsterism.

4. Impenetrable narrative – ambiguous is OK, but a deliberately opaque symbology with no clues, no humor angle, no relatable POV gets tedious. I’m happy to do the math, but give me a couple of goddamn variables.

5. Crochet — The craft movement as it applies to fine art makes for some of my favorite works in recent years, but to clothe some 3D objects with crochet coats is beginning to feel expected. **(see note below)

6. Monofilament – Useful and beautiful, and a terrific material to have in your arsenal. But does this piece have a reason to hang from the ceiling?

6. Taxidermy – This is tough, because I feel like it can definitely work. But it can seem like a too-easily readymade sculpural shorthand. ** (see note below)


Given how diverse, inventive and confident the Texas arts orgs and artists proved themselves to be, I felt that San Antonio’s Blue Star Contemporary Art Center missed an opportunity at Texas Contemporary. I was hoping for a ka-pow range of San Antonio or regional artists who’ve shown with this multi-part arts nonprofit. While I liked some of the work, the collection seemed mis-curated, with Chuck Ramirez’ Piñata series shown in smaller-than-original scale, two small Alex Rubios seeming like an incomplete part of a larger series, and no seeming through-line, concept, or aesthetic. Artpace did well in this regard, in that Artpace alaum such as Isaac Julien donated works, in Julien’s case a lovely photoprint inspired by the late Linda Pace.


Isaac Julien for Artpace


Blue Star’s a beloved and necessary monster, the spring and original anchor of the Southtown arts scene, a leader in uniting community and artmakers (especially via Alex Rubio’s MOSAIC), and an institution that should (and often does!) make contemporary art part of the city-wide experience. The Blue Star artist directory contains dozens of promising SA artmakers; that several of the Blue Star Texas Contemporary artists were staff or board members makes Blue Star seem, fairly or unfairly, like an unreceptive insider club rather than the springboard for challenging art .

**EDITED TO ADD SPECIAL NOTE: A special dispensation and shout-out to artist Elaine Bradford, who was way ahead of the curve with both these elements. Check her out here and here.




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