Sometimes I’ve been feeling that, besides the organizers and the partcipating artists, I am the only one excited about the 2007 Texas Biennial. It may just be that I don’t hang out with many folks. Or maybe I’m just that pathetically lame : /
Anyways, I was wondering how its gonna go down this time. In 2005 it was met with what can be described as a cynical reception. But that gave way to the realization of the energy working in Austin. Glasstire, the Austin Chronicle, ArtLies, and the Austin-American Statesman (sorry its archived yet I can’t get to it) covered the going ons. Combined with Austin Museum of Art’s 22 To Watch exhibit, Self-Portrait symposium and Arthouse’s Texas Prize, the Biennial helped establish 2005 as Austin’s cotillion.
On the archived Glasstire forums you can still read people’s reactions to the announcement of the 2005 Texas Biennial. They scorned the name “Biennial” (demonizing the organizers), they whined of the application fee (failing to support this new endeavor), complained of the Austin heavy representation and jurors (Austinites organized it, after all) and criticized the quality of the works (actually, I have no problem with this). Throughout these discussions, you can see the dependence of artists to the status quo. The calls for institutions in their hometowns to replicate such an event sounds like a fifth-generation welfare recipient demanding a Cadillac Escalade to make punctual visits to the unemployment office. There is a disconnect between aspirations and reality. And it assumes that others will provide the most convenient path. Success is easily attained. Get your bachelors, your Masters, have a couple coffeeshop shows, get invited to some group shows, then, after years of eating Ramen noodle dinners, your local museum will bestow a retrospective of your work at the wizened age of 35. This road is tried and true. I know this girl who read about some guy that said this happened to someone he heard about. So, get in line and here’s your ticket. You’re #598,427 and their serving #16, you’ll feast when you get to the marbled gates of the institution. Its kinda’ a jerk ass way of describing things, but if there are only a small number of opportunities (created by institutions with differing agendas from artists) and an infinite horde of artists, someone is going to get hungry.
It’s that very hunger that I see in central Texas, and specifically in Austin. Austin could be described as a transient population. Students enrolling and graduating, politicians winning and losing elections and workers riding the hi-tech wave and bubble-burst, it’s not difficult to see movement. Those swirling waters disrupt financial support on the artist level. More and more people have been sticking around, but the infrastructures hadn’t sufficiently developed to support such a stable population. So Austin’s buzzword was DIY (do it yourself). Designers and artisans were having success, why not artists? The Texas Biennial organizers dreamed big and acted accordingly. They understood their relationship to AMOA, Arthouse and the Blanton. As a coalition of independent entities, they could act quickly, unencumbered by bureaucracy, yet they were restricted by financial realities. The press picked up on all of these daunting tasks. Spread across five small exhibit spaces, holding a couple of fund raisers and requiring an application fee from artists allowed the Texas Biennial to kick off a banner year for Austin.
It sounds like I’m hatin’ on museums when I’m actually acknowledging their roles in the artist’s development. There is only so much they can do. As public institutions, they should be focused on serving the general public with help from arts professionals and not get distracted with coddling local artists. Arthouse was transitioning from exhibiting Texas art to serving Texas with art & developing the Texas Prize, meanwhile the Blanton was constructing a permanent home and AMOA began “22 to Watch” while bringing in textbook, contemporary art. Their work was beneficial, it just wasn’t visible because of the long-term, overarching effects of those decisions. More immediate results were coming from Gallery Lombardi, Camp Fig, Bolm Studios and Fresh Up Club. UT grad students got some attention with “Construction Site” and UT undergrads comprised the majority of the collaborative group, Open Doors. This artist-level energy was met in 2005 with the official triennialization of “22 to Watch” and the awarding of the big Texas Prize. The opening of the Blanton was postponed a couple of months from early 2006, so the AMOA organized symposium in October 2005 seemed appropriate. Opening a discussion about Austin as a contemporary art scene allowed reflection and defined possible avenues for growth. What was really handy, “Self-Portrait at Austin Museum of Art” answered what it takes to make a good art scene. Take it as a blueprint of what Austin needs to work towards.
With the Texas Biennial establishing itself as a new institution, the landscape is unique. The challenges it brings, the more artist-centric perspective it provides, distinguishes the scene from its peers. But now that it is officially a biennial, what does it mean?
I’ll tell you ’bout what I sees.