WEST Pop-Up at the Neill-Cochran House Museum
For the West Austin Studio Tour, 15 artists show their work in this historic Austin home to varying and delightful effect
Reviewed by Melany Jean, Fri., May 18, 2018
There has never been a better time to explore the Neill-Cochran House Museum than this weekend, when, in conjunction with the West Austin Studio Tour, the site is not only spectacularly transformed, but also free. Perhaps you're unfamiliar with the venue, and, fair. To catch you up: It's one of the 10 oldest buildings in Austin and is usually open for the public to tour and discover more about life in 19th and early 20th century Austin. The restored building offers a specific, domestic, and rather rosy lens for looking into the past. Sumptuous furnishings and tableaux are arranged just so throughout. For WEST, the museum invited 15 artists to use the space as a group stop. Their work punctures the placid time capsule, to varying and delightful effect.
Start on the porch, where Lucy MacQueen's sublime paintings face San Gabriel from beneath an impressive set of Doric columns. Waves spray and flames flicker in works that capture the pulse of nature and its lashings. Inside and to the right, the exploration of the natural world continues with Regina Allen's topographic paintings. Blocked into sections and crisscrossed by the veins of infrastructure and waterways, the pieces prompt consideration of cross sections at all scales, from the cellular to the geographic, some with little dotted trails imposed on top.
To continue our trail through the house, be sure to step into the dining room, where the table is set for dinner: mounds of peas in a bowl (fake), sweet potatoes on a platter (also fake), and little trays of sweets hanging from the mantel (yes, fake). But, wait, the last is not part of the museum's staging. It's a small series of whimsical soft sculptures from Valérie Chaussonnet. Along with the yarn éclairs and cakes, hung like stockings, Chaussonnet also shows some paintings and other sculpture work in the dining area. Her setup is one that stands out for either a lucky room assignment or a clever assemblage and use of the venue. In any case, it's wonderfully suited to the setting.
Another example of this captivating resourcefulness is upstairs. Hung and draped around a bedroom, Paul Finch's vibrant and deceptively simple textiles accentuate the textures already found there – the rose-colored velvet settee, the slightly tattered woven rug, and the dark, heavy wooden floor and furniture – and inject some airy modernity into the space. A bright golden yellow silk garment frames the area alongside a colorful sort of quilt, and deep Klein blue fabric billows over the four-poster bed. The space seems like a distillation of color and texture, and I find myself stepping into the room again and again.
WEST provides a venue for little moments like this all over town, discoveries of whose studio is right next to your favorite restaurant, and what piece of Austin history was hidden in plain sight right down the road from where you used to live. The pop-up show is only for the two tour weekends (one of which has passed), but a stop by the Neill-Cochran house will give you a glimpse into a curated past of Austin and offers a grab bag's worth of talented artists in one spot. With such a range of artists offering a variety of works at a variety of prices, you just might find something to bag for yourself.