Art's New Address
Uptown Is Home to Austin's Latest Cultural District
AVAA's celebration this past weekend was set for 6-10pm. That's too long an evening for all but the most hardy souls, but the organization and its members have much to celebrate after 20 years of serving Austin's artists. Their move back into the downtown area alone (from an obscure office some 40 blocks to the north) would have been worth a party. Now, AVAA offices in a building filled with artists' studios and across the hall from a gallery space that is perfectly suited to the shows sponsored by that organization. It seems the perfect marriage of convenience.
The matchmaker was Gary Peden, a young commercial real estate broker. While he explains that he is not an artist, ArtPlex is certainly a fine work in progress. Challenged to find the highest and best use for a building with an excellent midtown location but limited parking, Peden brought the gallery and studios of the Artists Coalition of Austin (ACA) from their former location on Baylor (in the Goodwill warehouse) to 1705 Guadalupe this past spring. Already there have been several exhibitions in the two-room gallery and the studio spaces are just about full. On Saturday evening, I had the opportunity to visit one artist's studio in the building. It was a small, dark-paneled room with no natural light. The young woman who worked there was ecstatic nonetheless, because she was working near other artists. Peden, who was himself leading studio tours throughout the building, stopped to extol the virtues of the artist-painted doors that have begun to appear up and down the hallways. His own door -- his commercial offices are also in the space -- is still serviceably plain. He also proudly pointed out the banner hanging on the outside of the ArtPlex building, promoting the AVAA show.
AVAA's mission includes "expanding public appreciation and awareness of the visual arts and visual artists." More so than any other art space in the Uptown Cultural District, this organization and the ACA expose vistors to art by a broad cross-section of local artists. While both groups encourage professionalism, many (though certainly not all) of the folks represented in the members show are "young" artists whose work is not ready for prime time presentation in one of the other galleries in the district. But it would be a mistake to ignore the ACA Gallery@ArtPlex when you're in the neighborhood. Not only is this a place where artists are being trained to present themselves to the public, but here visitors with a good eye can train themselves to spot stars that are about to shine. It's easy to find great art in a museum; it can be much more fun to watch artists develop, to see if you can recognize talent on the rise.
Across the street from ArtPlex, R. Peeples Gallery is a new "art venue dedicated to museum-quality studio furniture and decorative art." The gallery opened in April and is located on the first floor of 1708 Guadalupe. Peeples provides a resource for Austinites looking for unique hand-crafted furniture, textiles, and creamics, as well as for the occasional fine art object and black-and-white photograph. Owner Robert Peeples, once a professional pilot, began making his own furniture in 1993. He fancifully combines exotic woods to produce highly patterned high-concept pieces which are also on display. Of course, now that he's the proprietor of this new venture, he has very little time to make furniture. No doubt he's begun to realize how the dips and leaps of running a for-profit gallery parallel his flight experience. It might even be scarier.
Peeples' current exhibition features furniture by Dallas architect Russell Norton Buchanan. It's hard to pin down the style of this collection which includes pale (but stout) screens wth an oriental feel and rounded whimsical design, a nouveau-Stickly-style chair and ottoman, and a boxy bureau drawer poking directly out of a tall vertical wall mirror. The gallery also shows Beverly Penn's first-rate constructions and drawings (which sometimes include furniture or architectural references) and work by other artists and craftspeople from across the country. Peeples is less the traditional craft gallery than a space devoted to beautifully crafted objects.
Returning to Guadalupe Street, Galleria Sin Fronteras is currently showing paintings by three Mexican artists: Nunik Sauret, Paul Birbil, and Morgan Santander. This exhibition was brought to the U.S. by the Instituto Cultural Mexicano in San Antonio and the Foreign Minsitry of Mexico. Galeria Sin Fronteras rounds out the district's cultural scene by adding an international flavor with this exhibition and a Latino focus year round.
Even in the heat of summer, once you've slipped your coins into a meter or managed to find some other safe place to leave your car, you can easily navigate this district by foot, strolling from one gallery to the next and stopping at one of the area restaurants to refresh yourself. The Uptown Cultural District is ready to provide a diverse assortment of art and culinary experiences for Austinites and out-of-town guests. It's time to check it out!
Rebecca S. Cohen is an arts writer and recovering art dealer.