AMOA's Symposium on Austin Art: How Deep Is Our Love?

The Austin Museum of Art symposium Self Portrait: Austin Art in Local, National, and International Contexts was a positive day of critical dialog and amazingly open-minded community work

AMOA's Symposium on Austin Art: How Deep Is Our Love?

With its "New Art in Austin: 22 To Watch" exhibition wrapping up this month, the Austin Museum of Art organized an epic symposium around this regional talent show. On Saturday, Oct. 15, a capacity crowd listened to 25 visual art professionals discuss Self Portrait: Austin Art in Local, National, and International Contexts. Keynote speaker Eleanor Heartney, art writer and contributing editor for Art in America, was extremely well-spoken, and her knowledge and rigor in addressing contemporary art was inspiring. "If you can't think of one earthly or rational reason for the object to exist, it must be art," she said. Among her other good lines: "What was the artists' intention? Did they richly succeed with their goals? Was it worth doing in the first place?"

The day yielded several comments that were bravely spoken in this public forum and controversial enough to be discussed further. In the panel Austin Art in the Rear View Mirror: Reflecting on Our Past, Mark Smith of Flatbed Press said, "One factor that … I would love to see a group like this take on in a more serious way … is helping to create a more thoroughgoing critical dialogue. Now, we have more people who can think and write about art than we ever had, but where are they going to write about it?" He bemoaned the lack of support in area newspapers and noted that while coverage has grown through statewide art journals and online journals, "we still don't have a local set of organs of communication, where a critical dialogue can happen, and I think that's keyed into and would help grow all the things that we need."

Later, arts advocate Arturo Palacios offered a homespun take on creating an arts patron: "To build a collector, a collector has to buy one piece, and after that they're good. If you buy one piece or get your friend to buy one piece for a hundred dollars at the next auction or whatever, it will be good for the long term."

On the panel The Next Wave: Can We Abandon Geography, internationally renowned artist Teresa Hubbard observed the small percentage of painting in the "New Art in Austin" exhibition and wondered about the professional prospects for those artists working in video, photography, sculpture, installation, and performance-based works: "In the general art market, paintings still dominate in terms of sales revenues at around 90%. So as I look around this exhibition and all the potential it holds, I really have to wonder about the kind of odds for these kinds of artists with this kind of work. … I have to ask, and my question is very insistent for this community and the provincial power structures that exist here: How are you supporting, on a deep, long-term basis, this kind of development, this kind of artist, these kinds of artistic positions? How deep is your love?"

To my utter shock and joy, artist, UT professor, and Arts Commission Chair Mel Ziegler said that the city's slogan, "keep Austin weird," was depressing, a comment reiterated later by Randy Jewart of Austin Green Art on the final topic, New Synergies: Looking Toward the Future (a panel from which Vincent Kitch, cultural arts program manager for the city of Austin, was noticeably absent).

Overall, it was a positive day of critical dialogue and detailed discussions, with the educational staff of AMOA doing some important and amazingly open-minded community work. Too bad it only happens every three years.

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