‘Texas Biennial, Site 1808’

The 2007 Texas Biennial exhibition at Site 1808 boasts strong outdoor artwork, but the use of PODS didn't quite realize its potential

Painting by Noah Simblist
Painting by Noah Simblist

2007 Texas Biennial, Site 1808

through April 15

(Because of the significance and scope of the Texas Biennial, which is statewide in reach and spread across four Austin galleries, the Chronicle's visual-arts writers chose to review the exhibit collectively, in a dialogue. They will cover each gallery separately. The first review, of the works in the Butridge Gallery at the Dougherty Arts Center, appeared in the Chronicle's March 30 issue. The review of the exhibition at Okay Mountain is also in this issue.)

Nikki Moore: Much of the work here gave me the impression that the site was being designed as a time capsule. Not because sculptural works, like Tom Matthew's work with schoolroom chairs, played on nostalgia, but because so many of the pieces are answering past questions rather than posing new ones. That being said, I liked Kurt Mueller's work best when it was silent. Looking at the speakers, I tuned into the sounds of the site itself and found that pole a powerful presence that evoked what was always already there but unheard. And I do wish Tom Matthew's chair work could be installed in morphing configurations somewhere in Austin as more permanent public art.

Amanda Douberley: Overall, I thought the outdoor work was very strong: Matthew's stacked-chair sculpture and Mueller's Red Dawn, plus Gary Sweeney's portraits of Jackie O and JFK, which are made up of pieces of colored plastic inserted into chain-link fence, and Jarrod Beck's sinuous strips of bent metal. Engaging artists to execute temporary outdoor works at a site like 1808 should be an annual, if not quarterly, event. Such a program could be a step toward bringing new artists into the field of public art.

The PODS [portable on-demand storage units], on the other hand, were a great idea that didn't pan out for the most part: They worked as performance spaces but fared less well as temporary galleries. Eduardo Navarro showed a group of tacked-up drawings on Xerox paper in a POD at Art Palace last year, and the casual sketch quality of the work paired well with the vibe of a temporary-storage-space-turned-gallery. In contrast, Noah Simblist's sound-and-drawing installation at 1808 just seemed like work that didn't physically fit into the Biennial's other venues. Rebecca Ward's orange duct-tape installation could have made the most of the POD space if it hadn't seemed so unresolved.

Salvador Castillo: I agree that Noah Simblist's work could have benefited from a more neutral space. Perhaps that is why the work at Okay Mountain feels so vibrant. The space is not domestic, like Art Palace, or have an odd floor plan, like Bolm Studios. The PODS themselves did feel lacking. I wonder if there could have been improvement if they were grouped together?

From the street, Gary Sweeney's piece was well-placed. As the most visible, I think it did a good job of inviting passersby into the field.

Site 1808 made me wonder what Hunter Cross and the Open Doors group have been up to. They aren't public art, but their approach to installation easily confronted that topic. In fact, it was Open Doors and the group I dubbed the "Foreign Four," both of whom created installations at the AMLI, that opened my eyes to the energy in Austin's art community. Which was then captured by the 2005 Biennial.

Regarding your "time capsule" description, is that the main challenge of the Biennial? As a survey, should the works represent what has already been made or represent the artists who are currently making art?

Nikki Moore: I was not comfortable with the "time capsule" effect, honestly. If contemporary art is to be contemporary, it seems to me that it should be pushing, not just answering the questions we are asking today – something that is, admittedly, better reserved for a larger discussion at a larger time.

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Texas Biennial, Site 1808, Gary Sweeney, Kurt Mueller, Tom Matthews

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