The McNay Museum of Art “Infinite! Five Women Reshape Contemporary Art,” is designed to encourage interactivity and make installation art accessible to a wide range of audiences, many of whom want to get out with friends and family members after a long break from public spaces.
Featured are the work of five outstanding artists at various stages in their careers. Instead of offering a serious intellectual lens to investigate these artists, the museum focuses on exciting technology and entertainment devices.
With a background in photojournalism, Letitia Huckaby (b. 1972) integrates photo sensitivity with issues related to African-American history and heritage. The work in this show is tailor-made for that, though McNay already holds at least one artist print, “Halle Lujah (The Flour Girl)” from 2011. Here, however, Huckaby’s “Koinonia” consists of several large-scale black and white silhouettes on patterned fabric. resembling vintage floral wallpaper on display in the museum lobby, behind the check-in desk. To me the placement of the installation makes it read as a sign or decoration, not an autonomous work of art examining the history of the race and the cotton industry, whose other work is not impressive.
Also, near the front of the exhibit is an enlarged Huckaby embroidery hoop inviting visitors to position themselves inside and take a selfie “or ask your friends for help!” and hashtag it “#MakeItLimitless.” Empty frames may welcome interaction, but as a work of art it leaves me, well, empty.
Sandy Skoglund (b. 1942) performed a large tableau applying an artificial color palette, after which he photographed it. (You probably know “Radioactive Cats?” Skoglund.) In this “Cocktail Party” show, the artist’s symbolism of repeating Cheez-Doodles as an ingredient may go unnoticed by some. Using Cheez-Doodles to turn familiar but outdated social habits into sickly yellow-orange furniture and figures (two gestures) and convey discomfort and anxiety. McNay’s has a print of the original “The Cocktail Party” photo, which is also on display. Together with Fte Skoglund, along with his wider “Winter”, occupies more real estate than any other “Boundless” artist. In “Winter,” bluish owls, snowflakes, and crisp walls of ice create an eerie sculptural landscape.
Jennifer Steinkamp’s video, animation, and voice work (b. 1958) (“Botanic 3” from the McNay collection and “X-Ray Eyes”) is intended to be immersive. The combination of visual and audio imagery is always captivating and often dynamic, but here it is a little difficult to fully appreciate amidst interactive installations and other museum foot traffic. I love watching Steinkamp’s work with the volume up.
Martine Gutierrez (b. 1989) and her four-panel video installations stand out for their freshness. Gutierrez is a trans Latinx artist known for the large format glossy magazine “Indigenous Women” (2018) and videos relating to class, gender, sexuality and race. Self-produced videos such as “Clubbing” (2012) consciously explore tropes in fashion photography, commercials, and music videos. Dressed in a bikini-and-heels, the artist flips her hair slo-mo to the lyrics of the soundtrack, “I know every inch of you.” Seductive scenes are interspersed with shots of curious onlookers, highlighting ideals of beauty and gender constructs.
Around Gutierrez’s workplace, an area with disco balls, carpets and mirrored walls, invites visitors to join the “Dancing Challenge!” Elsewhere, a circular floor sticker advertises a text bot, “Text DANCE” or “Text COLD” to 830-468-9600,” perhaps for some (valuable?) content.
Obviously museums need to stay agile and use technology to expand their reach, but some of these elements described in the museum press as “a pleasant surprise on the premises and at home,” along with the overall dark gallery (even for video projection), may not have showcased the merits of the work. this artist brilliantly.
The greatest draw and physical culmination of “Infinite” is Yayoi Kusama’s (born 1929) mirror room, “All the Eternal Love I Have for Pumpkin” on loan from the Dallas Museum of Art. This version features the artist’s trademark gold polka-dot flask (you know, made into coin purses sold at MoMA design stores and elsewhere) and its mirror reflection shows infinity.
Guests are required to make a reservation to see the “Pumpkin” although if there is no crowd, staff members will likely wave this rule, even encouraging those who are not aware to queue and prepare to immerse themselves for the intended 45 seconds. Upon exiting the white box, the guard enthusiastically asked, “What do you think?” “Do you like it?” it’s as if viewers are getting off an amusement park ride.
McNay featured Kusama in another exhibition (“Immersed: Local to Global Art Sensations”) as recently as 2018. While there’s no shame in double-dipping, Kusama’s spectacular and mobile-friendly installation fits perfectly.
Ruiz-Healy Art offers a quieter setting for viewing some Latin, Latin American and Contemporary Art. Seen through August 14 is “E La Nave Va,” an exhibition by Fernando Andrade, Richard Armendariz, Cecilia Biagini, Nate Cassie, Ana Fernandez, Leigh Anne Lester, César A. Martínez, Cristina Muñiz, and Mark Schlesinger.
The title of the show, “E La Nave Va,” translates to “And the ship went on sailing,” in Italian, and is taken from the film Fellini. The phrase seems to reflect some kind of creative direction during this time of pandemic transition. It is also the title of Biagini’s abstract acrylic painting, in which forms piling up and collapsing potentially represent movement out of uncertain time and into the future.
Seller Fernandez’s watercolor and gouache paintings are more than just a charm. He paints slices of urban life to reflect cultural, psychological and spiritual shifts in Latino and Hispanic communities. “We are all subject to the laws of gravity and just as a river divides the earth and makes its way, so do we,” the artist wrote. “The line of demarcation that separates before/after the pandemic is very sharp and remains etched in my mind like a tide mark after a flood. One day we will be far enough from this catastrophe to wonder how we survived in those high waters, but for now I will keep moving forward and not looking back.”
Equally interested in navigating his changing environment and mental state is Andrade. Over the past year, the practice has become an outlet. She says, “Staying active and focused on colorful improvised abstract paintings helps me channel the world around me as I try to heal my state of mind.” Graphite, acrylic and watercolor on “Suspended Thoughts, Dysphoria” (2021) paper, depicts a figure falling backwards as if losing grip on an imaginary support. The figure is superimposed on a kind of abstract painting of a color field filled with blue, green, and cream colored shapes.
Andrade’s work is also part of the two-person exhibition, called “Somewhere”, along with the work of Ernesto Ibáñez. It can be seen in the first-floor gallery of the Mexican Cultural Institute at Hemisfair Plaza — a hidden, expansive and free art space. Andrade’s colorful abstract paintings and Ibáñez’s figural metal nail sculptures complement each other well and enjoy plenty of space.
Upstairs is “The Subconscious Chilango: An Exhibition by the Photographer Faustinus Deraet.” A welcome solo show – and a rarity during the summer months – features white walls with neatly arranged street photography. I counted 30 16″ x 20″ framed archival ink prints from 2014 divided into themes like “help” and motifs like “hand” and “absence.” The focal point is the back wall, where 21 digital color contact sheets and 84 proofs from Deraet’s the third and forthcoming book “El Subconsciente Chilingo” is shown in a big box. The word ‘Chilango is slang for Mexico City residents, and what artists/photographers now recognize as an intimate subconscious influence when taking pictures. The level of intuitive connection with the aesthetics of the place is revealed through publication proofs and contact sheets as well as different colored dots applied to indicate a selection of work in progress.
Contact sheets have been an important tool in the publishing process for decades. Multiple prints (from digital files) on a single sheet are no less valuable today – for photographers and photography students. Watching the editing process is very satisfying in developing an understanding of an artist’s “eye,” and other levels of interaction with the work.
“Unlimited! Five Women Reshape Contemporary Art,” on display at the McNay Art Museum through September 19, mcnayart.org. “E La Nave Va,” featured on Ruiz-Healy Art until August 14th ruizhealyart.com “Chilango Subconscious: An Exhibit by Photographer Faustinus Deraet” is shown at the Mexican Institute of Culture until June 28, icm.sre.gob.mx/culturamexsa/