Catherine Walworth, Book of the Dead, 2005

...might be good #49
Bull's-eye! ArtPace Hits the Mark with New Work: 05.2 by Catherine Walworth

The International Artist in Residence program at Artpace often feels like theater. The behind-the-scenes work is a rehearsal no one but stagehands are allowed to see and the artist dialogue and reception create an intimate opening night. The latest exhibitions by Jorge Macchi, Anton Vidokle, and Hills Snyder, strike bull’s-eyes as both critical and popular successes. Appropriately, the house was packed July 7th for a discussion moderated by Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, curator of Latin American Art at UT Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art. Pérez-Barreiro, who chose the artists, distinguished his role as selector more than curator and modestly called this residency the best exhibition he never curated.

Jorge Macchi has seduced San Antonio with his cerebral, yet beautiful, barely-there artworks that speak a musical and metaphysical language. He had a busy summer residency, during which he also represented Argentina at the Venice Biennale. For that project he collaborated with musician Edgardo Rudnitzky on La Ascención. A trampoline is placed beneath a church vault painting of the Ascension of the Virgin so that, in effect, everyone can ascend. At Artpace the stream of thought continues and Macchi imports his musical scorebook, La Ascensión, which has empty bars. One by one the bars float to the top of the page. The “score” crescendos into a heavenly feeling without the need for actual music, or even notes. In another flipbook, Ten Drops, punch holes appear one by one, like rain on water. Once they come into view a circle radiates outward, wavelike. In works such as these, simple moments become profound and are expressed quite simply again. Both books rest on a table with television monitors embedded in its surface. The screens continuously repeat the last moments of various 1940s black and white films—no color appears in any of the works. Macchi stitched together their epic soundtracks into something that continually builds rather than fades—just like the rain and the scoreless music.

Anton Vidokle’s Artpace project was attempted elsewhere twice before, but the host organizations were put off by his need for sixty-six television sets and accompanying gadgetry. The artist credits Artpace with allowing him to complete the final work in a trilogy based on a single building at the Salto del Agua metro station in Mexico City. Significantly, this building was constructed in 1968, a year with an amazing confluence of international political uprisings, as well as the Mexico City Olympics. Vidokle has already painted the building red, a color that ties it to Russian Constructivism (the artist is Russian by birth) and reinforces the building’s utopian architectural style. This bold color is also a sad reminder that the utopian dream was never realized. For his latest project, Vidokle infiltrated the building for the first time and filmed a single workday in each of the offices, pointing the camera out the window. Typewriters click, cars zoom past, and colors have an outdated patina. At Artpace, scaffolding frames the televisions into the Salto del Agua's original wall of windows—six high and eleven across. It is not just a simultaneous view; it is a valentine to the building that has driven the artist for three years of successive projects.

Hills Snyder is an erudite artist, and his work refuses to talk down to the viewer. If this were another age, he might, for example, be a Rosicrucian, drink absinthe, and talk about music with Erik Satie. But this is Texas, so he merges a priest-like symbolism with gritty reality. Snyder’s installation Book of the Dead was a well-kept secret and on opening night each visitor was allowed in at spaced intervals in hopes of compartmentalized moments of deep impact. For Egyptians, the Book of the Dead was a series of chapters that guided the deceased through the Underworld, provided magical spells, and helped them to find their way to a happy afterlife. Snyder’s gallery works in a similar way, “killing” you, making you wander, and giving you something else to live for. (We won’t give it away, but we wouldn’t recommend going by yourself because you’ll want some good friends in the afterlife.) On opening night, Snyder was there, playing a white tuxedo-clad deity ready to welcome you home with a glowing shot of tequila. Even without the artist, however, the finale is strangely divine. It shares Macchi’s continual buildup and Vidokle’s nostalgic colors of harvest gold and green. It is probably the most heavenly spot in San Antonio right now, too.

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