The Contemporary’s Crit Group program has helped nurture Austin artists for just-shy-of-a-decade, having launched in 2014 under the programming of then-Director of Public Programs & Community Engagement Andrea Mellard. And for those of us who have seen the program from its inception, Crit Group holds a special place within the calendar of events that make up Austin’s art scene.
It was always joyous, a chance to see folks in the community be celebrated not just for their work but for their potential. Anecdotally, the program was also well received by those who participated, serving as both a way to connect to other artists within town and garner critical feedback from a peer group.
Each year, the program culminated in a public exhibition hosted at grayDUCK Gallery. Excitedly, we art lovers would truck over to the East Austin art space and witness the latest crop of talent, often including both young artists as well as older artists embarking on a new trajectory. The beer flowed. Hugs were given. Artists were given their due credit and we all felt merrier for it.
2020 did not stop Crit Group, and its artists were once again housed at grayDUCK. But to showcase the Crit Group program holistically, the Contemporary’s Associate Curator Robin K. Williams organized “Crit Group Reunion” for 2021. The exhibition features artists who have participated in the program in years past, this time showcasing new work. “Crit Group Reunion” gathers these former program participants in a two-part show at the museum’s downtown Jones Center and is intended to “foster a timely sense of togetherness.”
It’s refreshing to see the Contemporary reinvest in local talent and contribute to their well-deserved momentum. And for audiences who feel antsy for an art exhibition that is varied and dimensional, “Crit Group Reunion” offers just that.
The show jolts between mediums, opening with Calder Kamin’s “Death Cap” sculpture and segueing into Paloma Mayorga’s aluminum prints. Virginia Lee Montgomery’s “O LUNA!” video and “EGG STONE” sculpture help punctuate the first gallery, which is notably flanked by a full wall of charcoal, chalk, graphite, pastel and glitter illustrative work, titled “King of Delhi,” by Manik Raj Nakra. The second gallery is equally captivating, holding new sculptural work from Adrian Aguilera and delicate watercolor-textile-collages from Deborah Mersky.
While a few organic themes are raised within the curation — there are sections such as “animism and spirituality” as well as “nature and healing” — the work as a collective does not adhere to any particularly notable thematic elements. In fact, it is almost more enjoyable to view the exhibition not from the lens of a cohesive group show but a veritable where-are-they-now for the Austin arts community.
And for the many of us who were starved for social interaction over the last year, the exhibition feels like a familiar homecoming — a chance to catch up with the artists who have been diligently at work outside of the public eye. It feels grounding and optimistic to acknowledge that yes, that the world kept turning, art kept being made, and ideas insisted upon being explored. While the show itself does not engender a profound sense of togetherness in its subject matter, its success lies in the reintroduction of Austin artists to the audiences who love them.
Crit Group Reunion will unfold in two parts, with this first segment up through Nov. 14. The second batch of Crit Group alum will be unveiled starting Nov. 20. Crit Group Reunion is on display at The Contemporary Austin Jones Center.