Co-Lab Projects builds an outdoors-ish gallery from giant concrete culverts

Also, other art outside at the Elisabet Ney Museum and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center


After a year of shutdown, Co-Lab Projects emerges with its ‘new normal’ workaround — enormous concrete culvert cubes cleverly seamed together to form a tubular open-air gallery. It’s wired for lighting, and for video art, and huge hinged doors double as access ramps.

The giant cubes are a donation from Forterra, an infrastructure supplier whose sprawling property surrounds Co-Lab’s half-acre empty lot tucked away in a light industrial area of East Austin. The non-profit purchased the property in 2018 though its plans to fundraise for a permanent structure have been put on indefinite hold by the pandemic.

Yet Co-Lab Projects has always been scrappy, and so it now does what it does best with the group exhibition “A Wished for and Welcome Guest” — be a gathering space (and party place) for its crowd. Featuring 21 artists who have exhibited at Co-Lab previously, the show is big group hug, a joyous confirmation that art-making happened despite a year of being huddled at home.

Co-Lab Projects
“A Wished for and Welcome Guest” is the debut exhibition in Co-Lab Projects new open-air gallery. Photo: Sightlines

Rebecca Marino’s jaunty graphic pink welcome mat splashes across the entrance. And Michael Anthony García makes his sweet mark by ingeniously tucking scraps of clothing fabric sourced from Co-Lab artists into the framework of huge hinged doors that bookend the concrete gallery. In two large paintings, Mai Snow doesn’t so much blend abstraction and figuration but in deft fashion elliptically hides one within the other. Alex Mabry’s whacky, cartoonish paintings on plastic-y quilted fabric provide the exuberance we need right now.

Ariel Wood’s mirthful contraptions, with their false narratives of function and purpose, might just be the perfect metaphor for our pandemic time with its fits and starts, the continual loop of repeated lockdowns, medical breakthroughs, practical workarounds.

Outside the concrete box, a handful of sculptures circle the lot including T.J. Lemanski’s delightful “Cenotaph, #3.” Earlier this year, Lemanski made a concrete cast from a dead tree found on site. After the concrete set, the wood was burned off slowly in the Co-Lab fire pit, as the artist and other Co-Labers watched, and drank.

Yep, the gang’s all here again.

Elsewhere outside and about in Austin, Jade Walker’s “Mire and Mend” installation engulfs a sign on the grounds of the Elisabet Ney Museum. Walker will have a solo exhibition this year at the city-run Ney Museum. With a virtual opening May 17, and the museum opening its doors sometime “soonish” (the museum’s official word), Walker in thee meantime started working on the museum grounds.

The piece “Mire and Mend” is also part of the “ArtsResponders: Social Practice Responds to COVID-19” a city parks and recreation program that gave out small grants to 11 artists to create responsive temporary projects rooted in municipal arts and culture centers, like the Ney Museum.

Jade Walker

Walker’s art brims with busyness, a sense of diligent hands working furiously. Reams of colorful chord and string are woven into an energetic wrapping of the museum’s sign. A mending? Perhaps. But not of the sign, rather the community. I look forward to Walker’s Ney show.

Each year, the artist who holds the St. Elmo Residency — a joint program of UT’s art department and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center — finishes off with a solo presentation at the botanical center. This year’s resident artist, Dawn Kim, created three large-scale cyanotype fabric panels that hang from the rafters of a pergola tucked into the verdant grounds of the Wildflower Center.

Each sheet is a series of cyanotype-on-fabric pieces hand-stitched together like a quilt. They billow nicely in the breeze. To create the cyanotypes, Kim used objects and supplies she used in the last year, a catalogue of her life in things: potatoes, limes, avocados; a dog leash and harness; seltzer cans and coffee filters; lots of gathered flowers and foliage.

Called “Once in a blue moon twice” Kim’s piece is a sweet document of the quotidian consistency of life, even in a world upended by a pandemic.

“A Wished for and Welcome Guest” is on view 12-6 p.m. Saturdays through May 22 at Co-Lab Projects, 5419 Glissman Road. “Once in a blue moon twice” continues through May 16 at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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