The McNay Art Museum’s “Limitless! Five Women Reshape Contemporary Art,” is designed to encourage interactivity and make installation artwork accessible for a variety of audiences, many of whom are looking to get out with friends and family members after a long break from public spaces.
Featured is the work of five accomplished artists at different stages in their career. Rather than offer a serious intellectual lens through which to investigate these artists, the museum focuses on engaging technological devices and amusement.
With a background in photojournalism, Letitia Huckaby (b. 1972) integrates a photog’s sensibility with issues related to African American history and heritage. The work in this show was made especially for it, although the McNay already holds at least one of the artist’s prints, “Halle Lujah (Flour Girl)” from 2011. Here, however, Huckaby’s “Koinonia,” consists of several large-scale black and white silhouettes on a patterned fabric resembling vintage floral wallpaper displayed in the museum lobby, behind the check-in desk. To me the installation’s placement made it read as signage or decoration, not autonomous artwork examining the history of the race and the cotton industry, which her other work does admirably.
Also, near the front of the exhibition, is Huckaby’s enlarged embroidery hoop inviting visitors to position themselves inside and take a selfie “or enlist a friend to help you!” and hashtag it “#MakeItLimitless.” The empty frame may welcome interaction, but as an artwork it left me, well, empty.
Sandy Skoglund (b. 1942) stages large tableau implementing artificial color palettes, after which she photographs them. (You may know Skoglund’s “Radioactive Cats?”) In this show’s “The Cocktail Party,” the symbolism of the artist’s repetition of the lowly Cheez-Doodle as a material might escape some. Using Cheez-Doodles to transforms the familiar yet dated social custom into sickly yellow-orange furnishings and figures (two move) and conveys both discomfort and anxiety. The McNay’s owns a print of the original photo of “The Cocktail Party,” which is also on view. Together Skoglund’s fête, along with her more sprawling “Winter,” occupy noticeably more real estate than other “Limitless” artists. In “Winter,” bluish owls, snowflakes and a wall of crunchy ice forms create an eerie sculptural landscape.
Jennifer Steinkamp’s (b. 1958) video, animation and sound works (“Botanic 3” from the McNay’s collection and “X-Ray Eyes”) are meant to be immersive. Her combinations of visual imagery and audio are always captivating and frequently dynamic, but here somewhat difficult to fully appreciate amidst the other interactive installations and museum foot traffic. I like seeing Steinkamp’s work with the volume up.
Martine Gutierrez (b. 1989) and her four-panel video installation stands out for its freshness. Gutierrez is a Latinx trans artist known for the large format glossy magazine “Indigenous Woman” (2018) and videos relating to class, gender, sexuality and race. Self-produced videos like “Clubbing” (2012) self-consciously explore tropes in fashion photography, advertising and music videos. Clad in bikini-and-heels, the artist flips her hair slo-mo as lyrics to a soundtrack croon, “I know every inch of you.” Seductive scenes are interspersed with shots of curious onlookers, highlighting beauty ideals and gender constructs.
Around Gutierrez’s work, an area with disco balls, carpet and a mirrored wall, beckons visitors to join the “Dance Challenge!” Elsewhere round floor stickers advertise text bots, “Text DANCE” or “Text COLD” to 830-468-9600,” presumably for some (valuable?) content.
Obviously museums must stay nimble and use technology to broaden their reach, but some of these elements described in museum’s press as “playful surprises on-site and at home,” along with an overall dark gallery (even for video projection), may not have showcased the merits of these artists’ work resoundingly.
The biggest draw and physical culmination of “Limitless” is Yayoi Kusama’s (b. 1929) mirror room, “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins” on loan from the Dallas Museum of Art. This version features the artist’s trademark golden polka dotted pumpkins (You know, the ones made into coin purses sold at MoMA’s design store and elsewhere) and their mirrored reflections suggesting infinity.
Guests are required to make a reservation to see the “Pumpkins” although if there isn’t a crowd, staff members likely will wave this rule, even encouraging the unaware to que up and prepare to immerse oneself for the intended 45 seconds. On exiting the white box, guards enthusiastically ask, “What did you think?” “Did you like it?” as if viewers were stepping off an amusement park ride.
The McNay featured Kusama in another exhibition (“Immersed: Local to Global Art Sensations”) as recently as 2018. Although there’s no shame in double-dipping, Kusama’s spectacular and smart phone friendly installation is a good fit.
Ruiz-Healy Art offers a more serene setting to see some Latinx, Latin American and Contemporary Art. On view through Aug. 14 is “E La Nave Va,” an exhibition of works 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 sails on,” in Italian, and was taken from a Fellini film. The phrase seems to reflect a sort of creative directive during this transitional pandemic period. It is also the title of an abstract acrylic painting by Biagini, in which forms both build up and fall apart potentially representing moving out of uncertain times and into the future.
Fernandez’s watercolor and gouache paintings of vendors do more than charm. She paints slices of city life to reflect cultural, psychological and spiritual shifts in Latino and Hispanic communities. “We’re all subject to the laws of gravity and like a river cutting into the earth and making its path, so do we,” the artist writes. “The line of demarcation that separates before/after the pandemic is stark and remains etched in my mind like a highwater mark after a flood. One day we will be far enough away from this catastrophe to wonder how we survived in those high waters, but for now I will continue to move forward and not look back.”
Equally interested in navigating his changing environment and mental state is Andrade. During the last year his practice became an outlet. He says, “Staying active and focusing on colorful, improvised abstract painting helped me channel the world around me as I attempted to heal my state of mind.” The graphite, acrylic and watercolor on paper “Suspended Thoughts, Dysphoria” (2021), depicts a figure falling backwards as if having lost his grip on an imaginary support. The figure is superimposed over a kind of color field abstract painting full of amorphous blue, green and cream-colored shapes.
Andrade’s work is also part of a two-person exhibition, called “Somewhere,” along with the work of Ernesto Ibáñez. It can be seen at the first floors galleries of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Hemisfair Plaza — an undersung art space, spacious and free. Andrade’s colorful abstract paintings and Ibáñez’s figural metallic nail-sculptures complement each other nicely and enjoy plenty of room.
Upstairs is “Chilango Subconscious: An Exhibit by Photographer Faustinus Deraet.” The welcome – and rare during summer months – solo show features white walls with neatly arranged street photography. I counted 30 framed 16” x 20” archival ink prints from 2014 divided into themes like “help” and motifs like “hands” and “absences” The focal point is the rear wall, where 21 digital color contact sheets and 84 proofs from Deraet’s third and upcoming book “El Subconsciente Chilango” are displayed in an massive grid. The word ‘Chilango is slang for a resident of Mexico City, and what the artist/photographer now recognizes as intimate subconscious influences while picture-taking. A level of intuitive connection to the aesthetics of place reveals itself through publication proofs and contact sheets as well as the different colored dots applied to indicate work-in-progress selections.
Contact sheets were a critical tool in the publishing process for decades. Multiple prints (from digital files) on a single sheet are no less valuable today – to photographer and to students of photography. Seeing the editing process is incredibly satisfying in developing an understanding of an artist’s “eye,” and another level of interacting with the work.
“Limitless! Five Women Reshape Contemporary Art,” is on view at the McNay Art Museum through Sept. 19, mcnayart.org. “E La Nave Va,” is on view at Ruiz-Healy Art through Aug. 14 ruizhealyart.com “Chilango Subconscious: An Exhibit by Photographer Faustinus Deraet” is on view at the Mexican Cultural Institute through June 28, icm.sre.gob.mx/culturamexsa/