EAST: Do Big Spaces Rule?

Artists and viewers can make the most of EAST by hitting austin's large studio complexes

<i>End of Time</i>, by Drew Liverman and Michael Ricioppo
End of Time, by Drew Liverman and Michael Ricioppo

A not-so-secret secret about EAST: You have to wade through an abundance of bad to get to the good. Which is why EAST-ers tend to hedge their bets and begin (or only stop) at the big studio complexes: Pump Project, Canopy, Big Medium, Up Collective, et al. These super-studios are madhouses during the tour – filled to the brim with arties and part-time arties popping in and out of studios like whack-a-moles. Drinks flow forth from common areas and individual spaces. Conviviality is currency. For many artists, EAST is the yearly financial windfall they depend on to pay their bills. And who doesn't want artists to make rent and then some?

But viewers beware: Just because artists in these venues can pay rent, it doesn't follow that their work is up-to-snuff. The curatorial principle in such spaces is simply real estate supply and demand. Note the common areas, which are either ho-hum samplings of the artists within (Pump Project, Big Medium) or considered curatorial ventures, like the whip-fast collaborations of Michael Ricioppo and Drew Liverman (MASS Gallery) and Ricardo Paniagua's exuberant, obsessive "Hard Edge in da Paint" (Big Medium Gallery at Canopy).

Artists have their own strategies to distinguish themselves in the mazelike complexes. Some, like Jaelah Kuehmichel (Canopy), sell prints, drawings, and small paintings at prices under three figures; instead of selling one big painting, she sells 20 little ones. Others pull out all the stops, mounting mini-retrospectives, like Terri Thomas (Canopy) with her something-for-everyone salmagundi of Swarovski-studded kitty cats (she calls them "pussies"), naked clown bondage paintings, and fetishistic door/objects. Painter Jeana Baumgardner (Pump Project) simply makes quirky, funny, well-executed art: Awkward pastel commas and striated blobby forms float against rectilinear grids, their spatial dimensions unresolved.

So there are diamonds in the roughs of the super-studios. And so you know, the roughs are rough. Why are so many Austin artists working in the ubiquitous abstract-art-as-noninvasive-decoration idiom or the street-art-with-muddy-politics spiel? We really wish we could tell you.

The East Austin Studio Tour continues Saturday & Sunday, Nov. 23-24, 11am-6pm, throughout East Austin. For more information, visit www.eastaustinstudiotour.com.

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