Art Top Ten

Hanging the Best of 1995

by Rebecca S. Cohen

1. Artwork/Installation: Regina Vater's installation "Ita./Ota" (The Austin Museum of Art exhibition, Ceremony of the Spirit). While I didn't write about the show, I did make a point of going to the museum to hear Vater talk about her work. The Brazilian native who resides in Austin is an imposing woman, soft spoken and eloquent, despite (or maybe because of) her accent. She can evoke magic through her words as well as her work. "Ita/Ota" -- a mirrored pedestal covered with sand, stones, and burning candles set in bowls filled with water -- occupied a haunting presence in the upstairs gallery. With its everyday materials and otherworldly spirit, the piece continues to haunt my dreams.

2. Painting: Peter Saul's acrylic "Newt Gingrich Versus Little Orphan Annie" (The University of Texas Faculty Exhibition). Saul's work summed up, for me anyway, the current relationship of the arts and the federal government. It is a great painting but an ugly picture. The Speaker's uncommonly big head looms large in my memory. Whether Saul was talking about Gingrich's attitude toward orphans or orphan arts groups no longer welcome in Washington, the tale is told with the usual assortment of brutal colors applied with a sophisticated hand.

3. Exhibition Installation: The Posada exhibition (Mexic-Arte Museum). Former director Sylvia Orozco curated an exhibition of work by the Mexican printmaker Jose Guadalupe Posada for Mexic-Arte and designed the installation for the show. Select images by Posada were painted in large scale on the walls and the actual prints hung on top of them. A circular tissue paper kite hung from the ceiling. The work, which would have been fine on its own, was even more powerful in the environment created by Orozco.

4. Exhibition/Performance: The TFAA "Red Hot Auction." With signature flare, Jerri Kunz livened up the Texas Fine Art Association's "Red Hot" auction by "decorating" the front window with two live body builders from Hyde Park Gym. The pair, wearing skimpy red workout attire, performed as auction guests gathered and ate dinner. Then they helped present early auction items to the crowd, adding a dimension to the evening which seemed delightfully foreign to the imported auctioneer and TFAA guests.

5. Two-Person Gallery Exhibition: Tre Arenz/Sydney Yeager (Lyons-Matrix Gallery). The going can be tricky for dealers combining the work of two independent artists in one exhibition. One or the other frequently takes a back seat. Sometimes both lose when the work is mismatched. In the case of Tre Arenz and Sydney Yeager's show at Lyons-Matrix, both women pre-sented a professional body of work of similar weight, but wildly different materials. There was a comfortable, easy dialogue between the two artists, who share formal concerns and use familiar objects.

6. One-Person Gallery Exhibition: Julie Speed (Tarrytown Gallery). This show set a high standard for Austin's gallery scene. Opening night produced both good friends and faithful patrons who not only partied but ponied up money to buy major examples of the artist's work. Speed presents better and better shows each year, and her audience remains faithful and supportive. This is the way it's supposed to work.

7. Restaurant Show: Lauren Levy (Texas French Bread, Tarrytown). The TFB in Tarrytown offered buttons and birds, squiggly wire house shapes, and found objects delightfully intertwined. I worried I might be the only muffin muncher to appreciate the craftsmanship and quirkiness of the work until I noticed all the red dots indicating sales of Lauren Levy's work. Very impressive show.

8. City Art: Austin's Art in Public Places' exhibition (Municipal Building). This exhibition of small works by artists who have participated (or are currently working on) public art projects provided a fine opportunity to reflect on the first 10 years of this program. While the didactics were good, the exhibition would have been even more impressive with photo-documentation of the artist's public projects. Maybe in another 10 years.

9. Art Person/Female: Sandra Gregor. The Texas Fine Arts Association used to be an ill-defined statewide arts group headquartered in the Laguna Gloria Art Museum gate house, hosting shows that made the LGAM staff cringe. Under Sandra Gregor's direction, TFAA now owns a downtown building and will begin renovation on the new space in 1996. Their annual juried and curated exhibitions are among the best the city has to offer each year.

10. Art Person/Male: Alfred King. For more than two decades (that's as long as I've been watching), Alfred King has played a leadership role in the Austin arts scene. This past week, the current city council resolved to "move forward" toward building the Venturi-designed Austin Museum of Art downtown building with bond money approved over a decade ago. Alfred was active during the bond election, present on the board since that time, instrumental in creating the current AMA with its multi-cultural make-up, and present in council chambers (and no doubt behind the scenes) during this latest flurry of activity. While my optimism that the city will someday build a downtown museum waxes and wanes, my admiration for Mr. King's tenacity knows no bounds. n

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