Austin artist – Alyssa Taylor Wendt: HAINT

Recently in early 2019, at the UT Visual Art Center (VAC), Austin-based artist and curator Alyssa Taylor Wendt showed her video exhibition HAINT. A cinematic tryptic filmed in Detroit, Croatia and Texas over a three year span, Wendt shared a surreal reflection on multi-generational memory and the effects of the war.

One of the leaders of the Surrealist movement, Andre Breton, was deeply affected as a young wartime psychological medic working with soldiers suffering from shell-shock, or trauma. As an aspiring poet, he found their use of language fascinating, their “distant, often illogical, verbal relationships”.   Around the same time he was becoming exposed to the work of Freud, concepts like the unconscious and its links to dreams.

HAINT is a testament to how the memories of families, conveyed across generations can become intertwined with dreams and nightmares. Drawing in part upon her family’s wartime tales and experiences yet overlapping with current locations it’s unclear where her family’s history ends and her own inner landscape begins.

Alyssa Taylor Wendt, “Baphomet,” 2014. Digital chromogenic print.

The tryptic features different scenes, stitched together with an inner logic, overlaid with drone music, Eastern European folk songs and opera. HAINT takes place within industrial ruins, open fields and abandoned homes. There we see a cast of mysterious characters interacting, singing and performing what resembles Butoh dance. There are dramatic and surreal reflections of violence, but we cannot know if these represents her own internal conflicts or are references to her family’s stories. What could be more apt for communicating the dance between memory and trauma?

E.A.S.T. East Austin Studio Tour – Canopy round-up

Indulge me a complaint. Every time the East Austin Studio Tour rolls around I never see everything I want to.  Between crowds, traffic, sometimes rain, poor signage and impatient drivers, I end up focusing only on large studio warehouses where I can see many artists on foot. I really wish the tour was seasonal. Right now there are 277 Artist studios, 67 Galleries, 185 Exhibitions, 42 Happenings and 10 Libraries. It’s too much for just two weekends.

Update: thankfully Big Medium and other galleries/non-profits like atxGALS are leveraging platforms like Instagram to show video stories of many of these galleries. Two to three seconds of video scanning art overlaid with the artist’s own instagram clickable address does wonders for those of us at home (or in our cars) pausing to create our strategy.

Maneki neko welcoming you to Sa-ten

Canopy houses 45 small studios, three galleries, a number of offices for local creatives and the Japanesque cafe Sa-ten.  At Sa-ten I enjoyed a grilled vegetable Japanese curry with a homemade Japanese pumpkin syrup Pumpkin Latte. My curry seemed lacking in actual curry sauce however, but it was still tasty.

Grilled vegetables and Japanese curry

Grilled vegetables and Japanese curry

Visiting E.A.S.T. at Canopy offers up the chance to enjoy local beers and harder drinks from vendors out on the patio, and food from trailers including Mmmmpanadas. The crowds are always thick and touring the many galleries reminds me of arts college many years ago, down to the small cement rooms and industrial staircases. Wandering narrow hallways peeking into everyone’s individual studio spaces, each with different lights, smells from candles, oils, and tables with wine, beer or snacks, it all reminds me of warehouse parties back in the day.    Demographics have shifted however, older patrons of the arts, young families with toddlers, visitors in wheelchairs, this scene is accessible for everyone.

Artists whose work I admired include Soña Holman, who creates abstract pyrographic art using woodburn on wood. Soña is a native of San Francisco who has traveled to many countries and states as a child and young woman. She moved to Austin in 2011 and has exhibited in California, elsewhere in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Tree Breath#2 by Soña Holman -pyrographic painting – wood burn on wood panel 10″H x 8″W – 2016

Flip Solomons work never fails to impress me. Informed by vivid, narcoleptic dreams, her pieces are symbolic and complex in their geometric design. She creates large scale pen and ink drawings that are available in all sizes of prints as well as on clothing from dresses and leggings to t-shirts and tote bags. She was just recently awarded the Best Artist in Austin by the Austin Chronicle. I picked up a couple of her pieces as a print and a card.

Earthling 2

“Earthling 2”

Lastly, the artists whose work really grabbed me this year, was that of the couple Jamie Lea Wade and her husband Jess Wade.  Jamie is a curator and ceramic sculptor whose work calls to mind Guillermo Del Torro and Matthew Barney, yet exemplifies a serene, feminine sense of the grotesque. Her work is uncanny, other worldly, surreal, with a gentle, loving quality, evident even in her ‘creatures’ that resemble alien parasites or tumorous organs.


Her husband Jess Wade‘s paintings, drawings and ceramic sculpture appear to contain a similar quality as Ralph Steadman, with yet a darker and more surreal humor, if that were possible.

The Wade’s work can also be found at the Eye of the Dog Art Center as well.

East Austin Studio Tour continues next weekend November 17-18. So please come on out, enjoy some great food, drinks and explore the dreamscapes of all these fantastic artists.

Mexican Modern Art at the Harry Ransom Center

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Running for just a couple more days is the Harry Ransom Center’s exhibit “Mexico Modern: Art, Commerce, and Cultural Exchange, 1920–1945.”  One of the main points this show raises is the impact that transnational curators, gallery owners, and journalists had on political artists in Mexico during and after the the Revolution.

The archival photographs, letters, books, prints, and paintings are, as always at the HRC, brilliant and worthy of deeper study. Drawing from over 200 works including jewelry and decorative pieces this exhibit “highlights the important history of 20th-century art…how both countries instigated a cultural phenomenon by creating and promoting art that pioneered a synthesis of indigenous traditions and international aesthetics,” explained the curators. There are examples of many works and correspondences from Diego Rivera, David Alfaro, Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco, as well as Frida Kahlo, Miguel Covarrubias, and photographers Edward Weston, Manuel Bravo, and Tina Modotti.

Poster for Mexican tourism, published by Asociacion Mexicana de Turismo, 1940, 97.2 x 73.3 cm.

However, as an overall installation it was not moving, and I really wanted it to be. Not sure if it was the weather, the last days of the exhibit, post-holiday fatigue (there were a lot of visitors), but I wanted something dynamic and colorful, doing the subject matter justice.

As is often the case with archival exhibits, an immersive or experiential element is missing. I worry that younger people may not have background on the Revolution, or why it was important or meaningful for the artists to make the statements that they did. Sometimes these exhibits can be heavy on the text, and could benefit from more documentary footage, music from the era and more art. Performative or sculptural pieces could provide dynamism and three-dimensionality to the exhibit. Without enough narrative flow and context the pieces can come across as random and flat, which is a tragic disservice.

Paul Strand (American, 1890–1976), Cristo with Thorns, Huexotla, 1933; printed 1940. From the portfolio Photographs of Mexico. Photogravure, 26.1 x 20.5 cm (image).

If you knew nothing about early 20th century Mexico or modernism, this might not be the best introduction, unless perhaps you signed up with a tour with a vibrant docent. On the other hand, if you find the collaboration between journalists, curators and artists, across Mexico and the U.S. during the first half of the twentieth century fascinating, you will find plenty to read and explore.

Ultimately what these exhibits are about, is giving the public a taste of what the Harry Ransom Center has in its collections, tempting scholars to do further study. Many of these holdings can also be found in the exhibit catalog. 

Mexicana: A Book of Pictures by René d’Harnoncourt, with cover illustration by d’Harnoncourt, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1931.

Will the early 90’s be lost like tears in the rain?

I saw on Twitter a poignant post recalling the early days of the internet, how there is little record of it all due to defunct websites and bit rot…describing it as all lost, like tears in the rain.

It’s a reference to the death monologue given by the dying android Batty in Bladerunner. Reflecting upon early 90’s and 80’s indie culture, small businesses owned by Gen-X shopkeepers, many of these disappeared as well, during waves of recession and rent increases. There was no Yelp back then, no local foodie magazines propped up by investors. There might have been a fleeting reference or xeroxed photo in a 50 cent zine, but beyond that this was a undocumented zeitgeist that disappeared before much could be recorded for posterity.

Decades of attention were showered upon Boomers and the 60’s. There were documentaries, retrospective exhibits.  It pains me as a trained archivist that the punk to early 90’s era received comparatively sparse attention. Outside of noxious Newsweek articles about Generation X, where are the archives? Yes, there are musical documentaries and biographies, but outside of those that made it big, where are the digital records?

These days we have an excess of data due to millennials documenting everything with Instagram, Twitter, Yelp. It is impossible now to live and create without leaving a digital trace.

My generation spawned flyers, zines, diy comics, cassette mixed tapes, but how much has survived? If some had been been digitized, have them been tagged? Indexed? None of these records are searchable.

Online you can find thousands of iterations of viral memes from the last two years. It reminds of trying to read one’s social media news feed beyond yesterday. Online blogging platforms only show you posts from the last two weeks. What does this say about our value of history?

Many in my generation prided ourselves on being indie and underground, but much history was buried when bigger businesses took over and everyone went online. To counter historical homogeneity we need proof of the other narratives. Loft living did not begin with dot com tech workers for example, it started with artists living in unheated warehouses, filling giant open spaces with 50’s style kitchen furniture, Xmas lights, art school sculptures, graffiti and yes, code violations. There were cottage industries that sprung up around the late 80’s, early 90’s rave culture. Clothing, diners like Hell’s Kitchen on Haight St. that were as known for its collection of vintage toys hanging from the ceiling as for lack of service and cleanliness. I do not argue these factors (as well as drugs) did not contribute to this vanishing, but I mourn the lack of photos.

When I lived in Santa Cruz there was a small cafe across the street from a comic book store on Water St. The cafe owners were an older, quiet Gen X couple that reminded me of Kim Gordon and Michael Gira. They collected vintage, mid-century modern furniture and coffee mugs. They served Peet’s coffee in French presses. There were large art magazines around and 80’s era experimental art. I loved going there to escape the crowds of students and/or hippies elsewhere, but sadly they did not get enough traffic to survive. This was the other nail in the coffin for these special places, as the post-Reagan economy became more cut-throat, unique businesses had to play a numbers game or fail.

It makes me envious of Europeans, who not only experience businesses lasting a lifetime, but some have lasted over a century. I don’t have the space to explore the effect of this late Capitalist churn on the American culture and social psyche, but we basically have no permanence. Cafes and restaurants I took my son to when he was a toddler no longer exist and that’s just a handful of years. There used to be cafes and restaurants in my hometown that existed for 40-50 years. We’d meet there during holidays, it was a kind of psychic touch stone. A chance to step back into that stream in time. How can one go back ‘home’ when everything is gone?

Photographs help, telling stories help – but when there are no records and you no longer know anyone who remembers these places, what then?

This is what motivates archivists and historians.

Before you Instagram one more acai bowl or tumeric latte – go through your old zines, flyers, photos and digitize them. Upload them, tag them, GPS-tag photos of businesses that used to exist. Date-stamp them with the year, or best estimate. Don’t let these memories be lost like tears in the rain.

Reflections on Chef’s Table – Massimo

I was watching the first episode of Chef’s Table, on Massimo‘s Italian restaurant, how he has become a national treasure, despite early on being considered treasonous by traditionalists. His creative energy and artistry is palpable; reminding me of the Italian Engineering professors I encountered while working administration in a Computational Engineering department. The professor I supported was from New York and would host professors from Italy, Spain, Argentina, Norway. They would often go to local modern Italian trattorias and coffeehouses for brainstorming sessions. They were some of the most energetic, imaginative people outside of artists I ever met.

Photo by Farideh Sadeghin c/o Saveur

I try not to delve into politics on this blog, but I am very concerned. We may be losing our grip on the very engine that made America a leader in science, technology and innovation with our current administration. There’s a great three part program on Netflix right now about three cities….Vienna 1908, Paris in the 1928’s and New York in the 1951’s. Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds. New York took over the spot as the center for new art and creativity in large part because of the great European diaspora after WWII. We can thank this for the introduction of cafes to America and the energy of New York unlocked the potential of an entire generation of artists and writers.  Similarly, Americans brought enormous creativity to Paris during the 1920’s, as did artists from Japan.

There is a growing ferment in the world that would have countries lock themselves down, despite the fact that acts of terrorism are more often occurring with radicalized, mentally ill citizens. Economic anxiety and policies of austerity are causing birth rates to drop…triggering fears amid white Europeans and Americans that their time is waning, giving rise to supremacist movements. Yet little attention is paid to labor issues, living wage issues, mental health issues, education issues.

Populations are electing governments that promise to close countries off from immigrants while they continue to starve supportive sectors like education, heath, housing, sciences, the arts. All these efforts fuel the fires that could extinguish Western Civilization and its potential rather than preserve it….or develop it! Where will the next great center of science and the arts be? Could be Dubai, Oslo or Hong Kong.

We devote our budget to fighting wars on ‘terrorism’…but without support for infrastructure, science, housing, arts, education….where will our next engineers, artists or talented chefs come from…what are we fighting for?

Nina Katchadourian’s Curiouser at Blanton Museum of Art

Multimedia artist Nina Katchadourian’s exhibit Curiouser will be at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin until June 11, 2017

A child of transatlantic flights, raised by Armenian and Finnish parents, Nina Katchadourian is a conceptual artist steeped in mapping and translation. Her parents and brother figure into her pieces, appearing in video and audio works. They provide active and supportive participants for her rituals and mythologies which create unique order out of seemingly mundane, disparate items. For the viewer her multimedia pieces are playful, evocative and break down the molds imposed by popular culture and homogeneity.

Lavatory Self-Portrait in the Flemish Style #4

Lavatory Self-Portrait in the Flemish Style #4

Studies have shown that the mind when subjected to chronic stress and conventional demands over a period of time, with no space for reflection or creative re-organization, can begin to suffer loss of memory. Parts of the brain, through both overuse and atrophy can see a shrinking of connections and activity. The visual arts can be valuable in that they force a separation from the rational world, providing a controlled space in which one can engage with playful exercises in fragmentation or contradiction. Whether through surrealistic juxtaposition, the absurd, or an exploration of childhood play revisited after 30 years, Katchadourian’s art is perfect for this.  Her work engages in a natural disengagement from inherited conceptual categories. In one piece she takes apart all the countries on a Rand McNally map of the world and then pieces them back together, re-imagining geography. Her entire show resembles this process and is a welcome relief for our imagination. I saw groups of both children and adults delighting in the serendipity behind her creations. I can say with certainty that their minds grew and stretched happily in the process.

Geographic Art

In some of her pieces, such as the Genealogy of the Supermarket, Katchadourian locates absurd links between unrelated images, building enormous webs of relationships between them that could exist, if the world followed different rules.   In another she has observed a torn and abandoned spider web and she attempts to rebuild it with red thread.

The humor in her artworks is not a cynical humor, from a secure, knowing vantage point, ironically disrupting or challenging preconceptions in some cruel manner. Instead it is the humor of an outsider, traveler, or child who builds her own meaning and order, organizes and arranges collections that communicate relationships or patterns.

Katchadourian sees a world of languages and cultural objects and arranges them, repairing gaps like a broken spider web so they can communicate new stories. For the viewer, we are grateful for these changes to have our own static categories interrupted, challenged, and rebuilt. And for the modern mind, bogged down by repetition and tired structures, these new mythologies allow us to breathe and build new connections, maybe even with red thread.

Colonial Hong Kong influenced Cyberpunk Dystopia


When asked to imagine a post-industrial, urban dystopia, Westerners may summon images from Bladerunner, Neuromancer, or Ghost in a Shell. Backdrops of crumbling hyper-density, juxtapositions of poverty and neon, advanced technology and decaying urban infrastructure.

We may imagine humans living like colonies of ants within anarchic, decentralized structures covered in graffiti, filled with crime and the smells of laundry and street food. If asked to point to exact cultural locations, we would  think of Tokyo or Hong Kong based upon the films, anime and books mentioned above.

What is it about those cities that brought those qualities to mind, especially as these are already historicized, locked away in 1980’s cyberpunk nostalgia? These cities are now likely cleaner, filled with high rises instead of slums, Still, these images persist due to the powerful work of artists, writers, photographers and filmmakers. Where did it all come from? What were the roots of this post-industrial dystopia and why does it still touch people? What meaning does it all hold for us now in the 21st century…a time of luxury condos and sterile interiors?

Liam Wong, a graphic designer in the video game industry has come to enjoy fame with his photographs of Tokyo on Instagram. Citing influence from Ridley Scott‘s Bladerunner he tells of how he fell in love with Tokyo as his romantically filtered nighttime neon photographs attest. 

While looking at his work I reflect on my favorite post-war Japanese photographers who also photographed Tokyo at night, capturing this urban, dreamlike underbelly. Photographers like Daido Moriyama, or the terribly under-rated Osamu Kanemura whose disjointed, black and white images of post-industrial, post-war Tokyo couldn’t embody the dystopic imagination more. With rare collections with names like Shockhammer or Spider’s Strategy, they capture the darker, industrial aesthetic that is so different than works on Paris for example. Tokyo emerged from devastation after the war and built itself up in a hyper-modernizing pace as an amalgamation of both industry and pre-modern, Japanese culture. What we in the west see as an exotic juxtaposition actually carries deeper resonance for those in Asia.

This brings us to another city with a relationship between modernizing forces, cultural retention and change:  Kowloon City in Hong Kong.  Japanese photographer Ryuji Miyamoto captured this infamous locale in his works from 1987.  Renowned for his photographs of demolished buildings he carried his expertise at capturing in black and white the detailed layering and texture of industrial decay. Kowloon City, as seen in this footage or Japanese explorers is really interesting  as the creative team highlights attitudes urban Japanese have toward space, density and collections that differ from those in the West who might focus primarily on blight, neglect, and code violations. A longer documentary explains the history of Kowloon City, as one rooted in Chinese resistance to British rule, of creating a self-sufficient city of sorts, albeit one lacking in first world amenities. However, Kowloon City holds powerfully nostalgic value for many 20th century East Asians, as their worlds underwent changes from Colonialism and growing Capitalism. It was an incubator in many ways, a place of liminal transitions, a blurring of post-war ‘village’ with the dark underbelly of industrial urbanism.

When Hong Kong gained its independence and became prosperous, Kowloon City became a blemish from its past, and the government soon set upon demolishing it over a period of many years. Prior to its erasure many architectural and design students from Japan as well as New York rushed to document what they could of this unique walled city. Its impact upon the modern imagination persisted, soon providing a backdrop from everything from kung fu crime movies to science fiction and video games. The anime artist Mamoru Oshii cites it as the basis for his imaginative backdrop in Ghost in a Shell.   The Japanese were so intrigued by Kowloon City that they created a three-story theme park in Tokyo replicating everything they could to preserve its cultural and architectural trace. The documentary footage linked here contains interviews with former residents, historians, artists and designers, all testifying to impact that city had upon post-colonial consciousness and memory.


Can Gentrification be Stopped by Kicking Out the Artists?

There’s a working class, Mexican-American community in Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, that sees the artists and art galleries as the first wave in the gentrification that could destroy their homes and culture.  Activists from this community want to hold off the influx of development by demanding the artists leave.    When you can’t fight for fair representation in government to protect you from predatory realtors, investors and developers…is the solution to take it out on struggling artists? There’s got to be a better way to protect these neighborhoods.

There’s an arguable problem with this approach – that it promotes the concept that Art as a White thing, implying also that their neighborhoods don’t deserve art galleries or studios. How about parks? How about trees, cafes and good schools? Why perpetuate the belief that your people ‘can’t have anything nice?’

This could be akin to how certain tribes would scar and make their women ugly to make them unattractive to other tribes. It’s not a great solution. Instead, demand that government intervene and create an equitable solution to protect these communities who are being driven from their homes. There are Latino and Chicano art collectives in San Francisco that are being kicked out by greedy landlords after living and performing there for over 20 years. Artists are not the enemy. Real estate speculation is.

I agree that there needs to be cultural sensitivity. Establishing art studios and their associated creative economies needs to be done carefully and right now in many ‘hipster landscapes’….it’s not. Are the art studios affordable for local, native artists? Are the art galleries open to showing the work of local, native artists? Are the cafes serving their food too – playing their music too? Can the locals afford the food and drinks or is everything four times as expensive? Are these new artists and businesses extending themselves to welcome their community? Or are White artists coming in and creating invisible gated communities through economic and cultural exclusion?

Right now there’s a controversy in East Austin..a predatory realtor kicked out a long-term Pinata business, Jumpolin, and the space was later re-developed into a hip vegan cat cafe. I had no idea when we went there that that was that site, but now I feel very conflicted. While the concept is great, vegan food, helping people adopt shelter animals…the prices are high and there’s a cover charge to drink your vegan latte with cats. This is not something the locals can afford, or honestly asked for.

Something that I saw in the 70s-80’s in Berkeley, Oakland, SF, Santa Cruz that I don’t see anymore is creative cafes/art studio/galleries/bookstores keeping their prices at what the locals could afford and working very closely with their surrounding communities. There were bulletin boards for local events, businesses, classes, political issues….people in the neighborhood gathered, read the paper and talked to each other. Bookstores and comic bookstores had racks for local small press publishing, self-publishing, cheap mini-comics and books of poetry. The Irish pub displayed political posters bringing awareness in the 80’s to what was happening in Central America. There was an economic and cultural feeling of connection. You had local creative collectives, co-ops, people working with the schools and parks.

Now in this post-regulation world, after the internet, growth of online businesses like eBay, Amazon, with a generation that grew up in homogeneous suburbs with shopping malls where they could find commercially produced ethnic and subcultural merchandise…rather than experiencing and creating these from the ground up via do-it-yourself ways, this generation has moved into the communities that helped birth a lot of these things organically. Yet their new economic models bear more in common with the world of online marketing and venture capitalism. They are more aligned with realtors and developers than the diverse feet on the ground in their new neighborhoods. And all of this accounts for the unregulated and rapid slide into hyper gentrification that we have never seen to this extent ever before.

Artists (read: white artists) may be the first to ‘colonize’ a place, making it ‘safe’ for speculation and further development, but as we have seen with New York and San Francisco, after poor, working people of color are pushed out, the artists are next in line to lose their homes. Local creative retail, music venues, cafes in growing cities across the country…once they have attracted newcomers that land becomes too expensive for the creative businesses as well. Soon we may find the cities filled with luxury condos and the very culture that brought them in will have vanished. It’s a tragic trajectory that needs regulation because Capitalism without restraint produces dangerous bubbles. Only the people can create culture and art.

Review: Come As You Are – Art of the 90’s

The sign upon entering the exhibit warns the viewer of adult content; this is real. Come As You Are: Art of the 90’s is probably one of the strangest and most unsettling exhibits I have seen in the Blanton. I had the sense the student and volunteer staffers felt a little destabilized with the content and its sensory challenges. This was not pretty art that lay quietly on the wall, it was a collection of jarring pieces that did not all play nicely. Each piece was provocative in the overall sterile space, like an isolated scream or a fist thrown up in an environment that expected polite behavior. When I discussed the exhibit with another 90’s era friend, we joked about how tempted we were to pull pranks with some of the participatory pieces. We would probably be kicked out but it would have been in keeping with the spirit of that time.  It’s always a strange thing to navigate a space that historicizes a time you either know intimately or know was anti-establishment. I felt similarly at odds visiting Punk and Fluxus retrospectives in museums. One could not help but feel the work better suited to dingy warehouses filled with cigarette smoke and the noise of motorbikes.

Ultimately however, the work has the last laugh….poking out at the viewers, making them shift uncomfortably and glance away. There is an overwhelming drone of noise that fluctuates in the space, partly stemming from an adrenaline-triggering installation of a late 90’s Aeron chair, typical of those populating 90s start-ups. The chair in Glenn Kaino‘s piece the Siege Perilous (2002) revolves within a glass box, faster and faster, simulating the feeling of the intensifying dot com era, until it whirls madly, filling the air with the sound of a something out of control. I couldn’t help but wish it was juxtaposed with something signifying the crash.

The other loud drone comes from a video piece across the hall in a small viewing room. Doug Aitken‘s Monsoon (1995) is a sobering, eerie piece, from the artist visiting the site of the Jonestown 1978 mass suicide almost 20 years later. The camera follows the overgrown jungle, littered occasionally with abandoned vehicles like a deserted, tropical ghostown. The only sound is that of insects, birds and the slowly building noise of an impending monsoon. The piece develops so much tension and unanswered questions that you expect the rain to wash it all away, but the rain never comes.

While you’re listening to these insects and thunder you overhear the LA babble from one of Alex Bag’s characters in her proto-YouTube/proto-reality show video diary (Untitled, Fall ’95), perhaps the new art student who is struggling with identity, theory and expectation. Her valley girl tones pierce your experience of all the art as she battles with perception and articulation.  Are her characters ironic or truer than the audience wants to admit?

Alex Bag, video still from “Untitled Fall 95.” From “Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s." Alex Bag (born 1969, USA) Untitled Fall 95, 1995 57 min, color, sound Courtesy of Team Gallery and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York Alex Bag
Alex Bag, video still from “Untitled Fall 95.” From “Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s.”

Does the exhibit capture the 90’s? To this I have to say no, because there was so much more to that era and these are only snapshots from a selection of conceptual artists.  It’s difficult to build something immersive and cohesive out of time when we felt full of questions and rejected all the answers. Explaining to someone who was not there, or who was not in their youth at this time, it would be difficult to say that these pieces spoke for me, or even spoke to me. The show does call attention to most of the major issues of the time however, from the fallout after the AIDS crisis to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was a period after the 80’s when people wanted to pull down and critique all the walls and conventions.

If I were to curate the period I would  select different some different pieces. Mine would likely overlap with the 1980s as that was a time that the early 90’s was still trying to digest and rebel against. I would probably cover the period 1987 to 1994 and would highlight some pieces by Joel Peter Witkin bringing attention to the influence he had on 90’s industrial band Nine Inch Nails. I would have to incorporate performance pieces by Guillermo Gomez-Pena and films by Greg Araki and Jon Moritsugu.  I could weave music by Portishead with Sonic Youth and Janes Addiction. I would like to include dioramas featuring old Amiga computers, external 56k modems, bottles of Orbitz sodas and Jolt cola, Doc Marten boots, art by Taraoka Masami and Dave McKean, novels by Anne Rice and Kathy Acker, Mondo 2000 magazines and Fringeware zines.  The exhibit would span the beginning of the Indie/Alternative scene breaking through to the mainstream, to the beginning of the dot com era, because for many of us the latter signaled a domestication of these energies. The full story of this time has not yet emerged, but, Come as You Are is a great place to start that conversation.