As we trudge into the dog days of summer in San Antonio, take solace in the promise that there are cool places to refresh the body and the mind. Our museums and galleries are filled with exhibitions that not only fill the eye with beautiful or compelling imagery, but that also nudge us to use our minds. It is easy to glibly meander through an art exhibition, no doubt. There are times when that is really all we want to do, but right now is a great time to reach a little deeper. Go alone, or use the opportunity to commune with another human or several through the experience. That’s the key: the experience. Here, we share a few touchstones on our list.
Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum
We headed out to see Ancestral Archetypes, San Antonio-based photographer Jenelle Esparza’s latest collection of work on display in Gallery 4 at The Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum from July 2 to August 3. The works are haunting and create more questions than answers. We spoke briefly during the opening, and I learned that this collection is comprised of portraits of people that she only knows obliquely; they are not intimates. This considered, the work is remarkably intimate. Each photo captures the human subject and layers them with images of the home environment that they inhabit. The results are ghostly images, and as one peers at the image to decipher the layers, there is a sense of discovering, but not knowing. They are ethereal.
All of the work -- the shooting of the film, the multiple exposures, the composition -- are done in the camera body; no Photoshop here, boys and girls. In this case, the artist is working with a Speed Graphic sheet film camera, famously known as the original “press camera.”
This is interesting because the process of shooting requires the photographer to load the film cartridge, focus, cock the shutter, and snap the shutter. The exposure time is a full two seconds.
We had the treat of watching Esparza shoot subjects in the gallery, a great reminder of how thoughtful and on the game one must be when using this gem as your tool of choice.
Although it is not yet time for Fotoseptiembre, the museum is filled with photography.
We finally had an opportunity to soak in Spinning Yarns: Photographic Storytellers. This travelling exhibition, running from June 5 to August 3, is curated by Anne Leighton Massoni and Libby Rowe.
The Main and Middle galleries of the museum are filled with 64 works by 23 artists. Such a broad range invites the opportunity to include an array of styles from unblinking realism caught in the ultimate alchemy of the medium, to more painterly approaches and manipulations, to purely Photoshopped whimsies. It's an excellent capture of a broad spectrum of works that really should be seen and heard. Be sure to attend the Black Box Lunch featuring a discussion with curator Libby Rowe on Friday, August 1.
In the Project Space, Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus no. 26 will completely challenge your basic assumptions regarding loom constructed forms. A mixed media sculptural work using hundreds of yards of thread and 500 hooks mounted to the walls, this installation was constructed by the artist on site, and will run June 5 to August 3.
The artist’s intent is to create “installations that explore the connection between fashion and architecture, and how they relate to the human need for shelter in all its shapes and forms.”
While the work is a deeper meditation on the complexities of gender identity not only in the artist’s birthplace, Mexico City, but throughout the western world, what the viewer experiences is a startlingly complex and beautiful 3-D construct. It seems to writhe and vibrate with your every move to the point of really messing with your depth perception. So, yes, in my opinion, the piece succeeds in its deeper musings. Don’t miss your chance to sit in on the Black Box Lunch with Dawe on Tuesday, July 8.
Last but not least, the doors of MOSAIC were open with the invitation to take a look at the work that Alex Rubio’s students have created. The talent is evident, but what is most striking to me is the careful and professional treatment that the student presentation receives. The work is titled, properly labeled and priced, a simple, but very often missing feature in gallery spaces across the city. These kids are being mentored well.
Secession Gallery 107
For those of you familiar with the photography of Kevin G. Saunders, forget everything you think you know. Well-respected for his Chamber of Commerce-worthy skylines, orchids brimming to the point of psychedelia, and architectural fancies, this is a pure and distinct departure.
At Secession Gallery 107, Sauders has joined forces with a group of award-winning documentary photographers including Christopher Capozziello, Kevin Nowack, and Ryan Spencer Reed. The way Saunders put it, “I’m just feeling really lucky that these guys invited me to join their group.” This is an opportunity for Saunders to explore a new realm and he’s jumping off into the deep end.
This rebirth for Saunders kicks off an ambitious multi-year project depicting “America as it exists today.” According to the gallery website, “Topics will include oil exploration, the environment, water, migration of labor and social issues such as our transforming military and multiculturalism, and the disappearance of the middle class in America today.”
In process is the installation of a dark room in order to work with raw film on site, “zines” (newsprint reproductions) will document every phase of development, rotating exhibitions of the group photographers as well as others who lead in the field, and the development of a website presence and social media will accompany the development of the project.
As I scoped the collected photography, I noted that there was no acknowledgement attribution for the individual works. The curator for this first phase exhibition, open through July 25, is “Anonymous.” Although it is made clear that the work should speak for itself (and it does), there is a lengthy manifesto displayed along with the work, also by “Anonymous.”
I asked Saunders and gallery manager Carla Cain about this and it was explained to me that because of the current nature of the political divide in this country, the curator prefers to keep their identity under wraps for now. I won’t comment on the contents here, and furthermore, the manifesto is not published online. Hopefully, curiosity will be roused enough that our readers will feel the need to check it out in person.
Honestly, words aren’t necessary.
The subject matter is diverse and much of it disturbing. Not in the gaudy and gory desensitized manner that has become commonplace fare in the 21st century, but in a real matter-of-fact way that we have almost become too jaded to pay attention to anymore. The majority of the photos have been shot within the last few years, but there are some that go back as much as a decade.
This is very recent history, folks. We are living it whether we choose to be aware or not. These guys have my attention and it will be interesting to see where they go with it. Will it be objective journalistic style documentary, or will they seek to craft a particular message? It can go either way.
The space is exquisite warehouse chic: spare, high ceilinged, and well lit. It very nicely makes the transition from being solely a commercial display and workspace to being a gallery dedicated to the art and craft of photography. It isn’t enough to put iPhones into the hands of reporters. There are stories that only the wisest eyes can tell, that point when words fade and there is only the fact of the image and the response that it elicits.
Raw introspection was the theme for the evening at FL!GHT. "Lost Pines and the Dying Words" features the work of Tommy Gregory, Ben Judson, and soundscape by Jamie Stolarski. The net effect of the installation was damned eerie. The burned church steeple, the last words of Texas death row inmates, and the soundtrack created by electronically manipulating pealing church bells. Eerie. And powerful.
Justin Parr filled us in with the story of Tommy Gregory’s mad dash across central Texas during the Bastrop fires, and the desperation and lies and cunning that it took for the family to come together and ultimately save his grandparent’s homestead, the only thing that was saved for miles. The charred steeple speaks to this personal mark on the land. Gregory was formerly based in San Antonio: he was a public art specialist for Public Art San Antonio (PASA), and is now with the Houston Arts Alliance as a project manager.
Ben Judson is a writer, artist, KRTU DJ – ah hell, Ben does a bit of it all – and his Last Statement project is extremely poignant. The State of Texas gathers the last words of all those executed and Judson has put them into a form that we can even follow on Twitter.
I had previously taken a look at the site and was led down the rabbit hole for awhile. It is everything and more than you might imagine. During this exhibit, the gallery space is darkened and the words of these misbegotten souls projected large. Jarring.
So, combine the steeple and the executed with Jamie Stolarski’s soundscape which veers from grinding, to merely dissonant, to harmonizing banshees… I think you get the idea. Stolarski is a very well regarded graphic designer in our fair city, to say the least. That’s his bread and butter, so to speak, but his sound explorations are certainly a passion. This element was the tie that bound the show together. As I mused over the exquisite offerings in the gallery’s salon space, Stolarski’s siren call bade me back. I think he’s onto something here.
There's more, so much more. Stay tuned. Perhaps art can save our very souls. Or at least we can just stay cool while we drink it in.
*Featured/top image: Detail of a photo collage at Secession Gallery 107. Photo by Page Graham.