The Austin Chronicle

"I'll Be It" at Pump Project

Austin artists Jade Abner, Michael Muelhaupt, Rachael Starbuck, and Frank Wick provide accessibility to a multitude of conceptual ideologies

Reviewed by Caitlin Greenwood, September 25, 2015, Arts

Pump Project has long straddled the line between a community arts hub and a contemporary gallery. When former director Debra Broz left in 2013 and Rebecca Marino inherited the space, the new director seemed primed to reinvent the gallery's overall direction and push for innovative growth. While some worried that the forward momentum would detract from the grassroots arts efforts that Pump Project had fostered through the years, others excitedly hoped that a more sophisticated lens could overtake the space.

The latest exhibition, "I'll Be It," initially speaks to that latter audience. The show highlights four local artists: Jade Abner, Michael Muelhaupt, Rachael Starbuck, and Frank Wick. Some employ commercial mediums like vinyl, steel, and concrete. Muelhaupt sculpts hollow couch cushions, adorned with plaster, and transforms them into a ghostly monolith, for example. Much of "I'll Be It" evokes a personal touch – Wick's work stands out for its exploration of bodily forms through both painting and sculpture. The show, overall, attempts to tackle a multitude of conceptual ideologies, like personhood, locality, and objecthood. These themes register more acutely with contemporary art theory than with general aesthetic appeal – this exhibit slants unabashedly toward the academic.

The glory of art that explores objecthood, however, remains that human interaction is required for the work to be fully embraced. With Starbuck's from the mountain you see the mountain, five cardboard-and-plaster tubes of varying heights decorate one of the gallery's corners. With textured plaster platforms at their bases, each of the white-tipped tubes is meant to be studied from above. Due to the nature of the piece, individual audience members will receive wholly unique views into the work as they scale the viewing platforms. Starbuck invites the work's viewers to consider their own physicality in relation to from the mountain you see the mountain, an invitation that provides new accessibility into an artistic experience that could, under different circumstances, feel alienating. It's that dual mission of Pump Project – to be both publicly accessible and progressive – at work while the curatorial tastes of Marino remain intact.

"I'll Be It" beautifully celebrates the contemporary talent in Austin while facilitating enough audience interaction to entice wary viewers to discover new attitudes and, hopefully, new appreciation for relationally based sculpture.

"I'll Be It"

Pump Project, 702 Shady
Through Sept. 26

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