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.

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.

Secret Art of Dr. Seuss

The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss on view at the Art on 5th Gallery on S. Lamar til April 9th.

Many of us grew up with the visual vocabulary of Dr. Seuss’s art. His wild trees with their fluffy tops or the whimsical horns on his animals all communicated not just creative freedom but also gave us a sense that there was more to the world than we were being taught.  Apparently there was more to Dr. Seuss as well. During the day he wrote children’s books, by night he was a surrealist painter.  Art on 5th Gallery has a wonderful collection of his many works, spanning a variety of styles and ranging from the familiar to more mature interpretations of his literary oeuvre.

at Art on 5th Gallery

Maybe you were one of those children who would spend hours pouring over the imagery in his books, absorbing the nuances in all of his characters wild expressions.  You owe yourself a favor to spend some time now, revisiting these wonders in a new light. While you discover more to Dr. Seuss than you knew you may gain a new look into your own grownup imagination and perhaps marvel at the journey you both took.

If viewing these works up close at Art on 5th Gallery is still not enough, there is a wonderful volume on this secret art of Dr. Seuss that offers an introduction by the equally formative Maurice Sendak. Similarly there is another work on his secret art entitled the Cat Behind the Hat (which is also the title of one of his works featured in the Gallery.)


Punk Rock Holiday Markets, Yule Bazaars and Cocktails

As the holidays pick up, more fun events are added to the local calendar. It’s hard to keep up! Subscribe to stay tuned in for new happenings and reviews!


punk rock xmas

Saturday, Dec. 12 at the Lost Well, 2421 Webberville Road, 2pm til 8pm.  Hand-rolled Tamales and over a dozen local Punk Rock Artists. Get unique gifts! Jewelry, organic soaps, art – full list of artists and info can be found here.

Or maybe you might be interested in Holistic/Wellness shopping for body products, jewelry, and crystals while sipping specialty cocktails like the Vampyress or Butterfly Nectar and enjoying out of this world Italian food? Sunday Dec. 13, 5pm-11pm at the Vortex on 2307 Manor Road. 

holistic market


Maybe you’re not interested in an evening affair – the same Butterfly Bar cocktails will be available next to the Vortex at the following weekend’s Winter Yule Bazaar. This one promises DJs and belly dancers and a morning Yule ritual! Gifts provided by the East Austin Handmade Market. From Noon to 5pm, all weekend, all ages and free.   Dec. 19 and 20th. 

yule bazaar


Done with your shopping and still want to get your holiday spirit on? Come out and join the Solstice Lantern Parade!
Monday, December 21st, 2015, 5 pm  ***KID FRIENDLY!***  The site is TBA, and there are instructions on the page to make and bring your own lantern. Music will be provided by the Minor Mishap Marching Band, “Bourbon Street meets Budapest” they describe themselves. Sure to be a magical way to celebrate the shortest day of the year.


Best Place to Shop Austin Style for the Holidays

2015 Marks the 15th Anniversary of the Blue Genie Art BazaarNov. 27th – Dec. 24th at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre (that’s across from Highland Mall) featuring handmade artwork & gifts from over 200 local & regional artists.  A portion of proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and admission is free!

xmas 054

Who will be there? Here is their directory.

What can you find there? Paintings, photography, prints, sculptures, jewelry, clothing, accessories, glassworks, ceramics, and more!


You can follow them on Facebook or Twitter for more info.


Artist Wade Beesley’s Bottle N Soul

East Austin Studio Tour Survival Guide

The first weekend of EAST is over but you have one more weekend to check it out! Perhaps you didn’t get a chance to go or perhaps you went and weren’t able to see all the galleries.  I recommend heading out early to beat the crowds.

Stack out a spot at Sa-Ten, the amazing Japanese fusion cafe inside the Canopy art complex where you can enjoy your cappuccino with a breakfast of smoked salmon with sriracha mayo, nori, mozzarella on toast. That’s just one of many offerings, in addition to everything from oatmeal to allegedly the famed Red Rabbit vegan donuts.  But wait, you say…Red Rabbit vegan collective closed, how is it I can get my vegan donut fix on?  Wheatsville Co-op came through and saved the day. Point is, when EAST is happening you don’t want to spin your wheels elsewhere in town doing brunch, you need to get out into it early.  As the day progresses at Canopy you can enjoy the best teriyaki gluten-free fried chicken with a side of kimchi, and some of the galleries offer free beer (sorry not gluten-free).

This is the 14th annual EAST that Big Medium and the Austin art community have put together.  Featuring 287 artists, 152 exhibitions and 7 happenings there’s more than enough for everyone. They’ve even put out a handful of different guides to curate and help plan your attack.

Taking kids? Check out the events in their family-friendly guide, like Austin’s Tinkering School, Austin’s own Maker Space, for hands-on art-making activities.  Or Creative Action‘s Community Art Sunday on Nov. 22 where you can enjoy dance, music, food, art and inventing.  Or perhaps you and your kids would like to check out kinetic steel sculptures inspired by Jean Tinguely. Your purchases will go to Save Our Springs Alliance at Barry George’s collection at 204 Attayac St.

I went to EAST last weekend and was impressed with what I saw from the following artists.

  • Diana Presley Greenberg‘s delicate abstracts are like viewing a gentle bouquet of flowers through a soft curtain of linen.  Other examples feature bold splashes in complex relationships upon white canvas, bringing to mind Swedish interiors.
  • Gert Johan Manschot produces dramatic works resembling Japanese Zen calligraphy.
  • Alex Diamond‘s work was a personal favorite of mine, for his fantastic sense of texture, line and intensity, with a cartoon/graffiti edge.  He produces woodcuts, photo paintings and installations.
  • Chun Hui Pak creates gorgeous geometric abstract works inspired by the structures of origami.  Her pieces serve as 2-D interpretations of the ancient art of paper-folding.
  • Ann Fleming produces vibrant abstractions with bold punches of color that relate to each other in surprisingly ways.
  • I was blown away by the assemblage work of Janie Milstein.  Inspired by cityscapes her textured work features architectural abstractions, layers of material and an industrial palate that will leave you speechless.
  • Rothko Hauschildt is a budding encaustic artist whose pieces communicate intensity and release.
  • Flip Solomon is an incredible illustrator, her drawings are eclectic and full of wonder.

So get out there and see these and other artists. And if the crowds become too much, escape to the quiet retreat of Zhi Tea on Bolm. If the weather is fair they have a beautiful garden patio under the trees.

Strange Pilgrims – Environment & Place

The Contemporary Austin is offering til January 24th of next year,  a surreal, experimental journey hosted in three parts, at the Jones Center, Laguna Gloria and the Visual Arts Center at UT.  Inspired in part by the title of the collection of short stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, these three showings feature “vignettes offering dark and surreal meditations on memory, mortality and the passage of time.” The following artists’ work is present in the exhibition:  Charles Atlas, Trisha Baga, Millie Chen, Phil Collins, Andy Coolquitt, Ayse Erkmen, Roger Hiorns, Nancy Holt, collective Lakes Were Rivers, Angelbert Metayer, Bruce Newman, Yoko Ono, Paul Sharits, and Sofia Taboas.  UT Press has published a 250 page catalogue of the exhibit.

The Jones Center is offering the first installment of the three-part exhibition, Environment and Place showcasing installation, video, architectural and landscape oriented works. 1960s-1970s conceptual and minimalist art by Bruce Nauman and Nancy Holt share space with contemporary artists Millie Chen, Andy Coolquitt, Roger Hiorns and Angelbert Metayer.

Bruce Nauman’s Green Light Corridor (1970) is about changing perspectives by inviting the viewing to walk through a narrow corridor lit by green neon lights. It’s presented within the large upper space of the downtown Jones Center, with its historical stone, wood and industrial walls. The juxtaposition of this piece with its neon to the cool, calm of the natural elements in the building is jarring.  I did not see many viewers volunteer to walk inside the corridor, perhaps because we are so often surrounded by neon and artificial light.  It would be interesting to compare audience perceptions from its original debut and environment 45 years ago.

Millie Chen’s Tour (2014) invites us to return to a different kind of temporal site.  In hers she presents four historical killing fields viewed while walking through tall grasses or meadows that have reclaimed the land. As we walk away from and through these sites of trauma we hear lullabies and gentle folk music from the Lakota, Khmer, from Rwanda and from Yiddish artists. Each site blends meditatively into the next allowing us to take this tour and reflect.