San Antonio’s Presa House Gallery is a DIY arts space that since it opened five years ago has become a fixture of the city’s cultural scene, a stop for anyone seriously interested in contemporary art.
Located in a modest 1940s bungalow in the Lavaca Historic District southeast of downtown, Presa House is the creation of Rigoberto Luna and his partner, artist Jenelle Esparza. The gallery’s focus is intentionally inclusive and gives major attention to Latinx artists from across central and south Texas, the Rio Grande region, and Mexico. Luna and Esparza now have a track record of highlighting artists who become rising stars like Michael Menchaca, Jose Villalobos and Adrian Armstrong.
The gallery’s event-driven programing isn’t limited to exhibitions. Film screenings, poetry readings, and performances also fill the schedule, all with an eye toward creating community. And though not officially a non-profit, the gallery only takes a small commission from any art sales with all proceeds going to covering expenses.
A native of San Antonio, Luna is multi-hyphenate talent: an artist, a designer, an independent curator, and a museum professional who has a full-time ‘day career’ at the San Antonio Museum of Art. Recently, he coordinated the presentation of the Texas Biennial at several San Antonio museums.
Somehow, among the many things he does, Luna managed to take The Sightlines Questionnaire.
Describe San Antonio in three words.
Nothing Like It
How would you describe the San Antonio arts community?
Whenever new artists visit or move into town, they almost always comment on the super welcoming San Antonio arts community. I’d completely agree. It must be a bit unusual for artists from highly competitive art scenes across the country. I think there’s a generally laid-backness, which makes it easy to navigate and approach art spaces and artists. But don’t let it fool you; it’s serious business. There is highly contagious energy and passion in every corner of our arts community, from the most prominent museums to the smallest DIY art spaces.
Who are your favorite local San Antonio artists? What are your favorite local galleries or art institutions?
I hate to sound biased, but my partner Jenelle Esparza is my favorite person all around, and it’s been incredible to watch her art career blossom. The same goes for my brother Ruben Luna aka Gacho Style. I’ve also enjoyed working with amazing artists like Jose Villalobos, John Guzman, Michael Menchaca, Eva Marengo Sanchez, Lauri Garcia Jones. Others that come to mind right away are Naomi Wanjiku, Hiromi Stringer, Joey Fauerso, Joe Harjo, and I can’t forget Angel Rodríguez-Díaz or Rolando Briseno. That’s tough because there are so many more.
As for the institutions, I’m going to sound biased again, but I work at the San Antonio Museum of Art, so I’d be hard-pressed, not to mention them. I always try to catch Artpace‘s International Artists-in-Residence openings. I always recommend stopping by Ruby City. Centro de Artes, Flatlines, Not For You Gallery are all galleries worth visiting.
What do you value most about your work?
The relationships and trust we build with our artists. Many artists are all over Texas, and we may not be very acquainted with each other going into the installation. Still, we do everything possible to welcome them and make them feel comfortable and confident. Creating an atmosphere where they can be honest and open helps us do our jobs of providing the necessary physical, technical, or emotional support needed while they’re sharing their work with our community. Jenelle and I understand how vulnerable an artist can feel when sharing a new body of work in a new city with a new audience, and we do our best to make their experience here a positive one.
What do you consider your greatest career achievement so far?
Building Presa House from the ground up has been a labor of love, and we’re proud of it. I genuinely believe that had we not created this space, speaking for myself, many of the opportunities in my career would not be possible. I have a career completely separate from Presa House as a museum professional and independent curator. I’ve always compared it to my father, who ran his own business by day and tended and trained horses by night, it was his passion, and Presa House is mine.
In terms of my career outside of Presa House, I hope my most significant achievements are still ahead. With visibility comes opportunity, and they have been growing steadily. It’s been incredible some of the invitations and work I’ve been fortunate to do across Texas. Though I have my eyes on 2023 because I have two significant exhibitions, I’ll be curating. I can’t say much more about them other than I’m very excited about both.
What do you do on a day off?
Those are few and far between, but Jenelle and I like to spend a lot of time with our orange tabby cat, Nicho. We enjoy taking short weekend trips as often as possible. Jenelle’s from Corpus, so we try to get down there regularly. I love going to the movies and live music shows, which of course, I’ve missed throughout the pandemic; we last saw “The French Dispatch” in the theater and Yves Tumor at the Mohawk in Austin. It’s always nice to cook or barbecue and have friends or family over at the house. I’m also a huge San Antonio Spurs fan, so you’ll probably catch me at a game.
How do you want the statewide arts community to evolve?
Funding, access, and support in the arts are always at the top of the list. It’s good to see recent investments like the current initiatives and civic art programs we’ve seen in Houston. Still, we need similar commitments across the state. There’s so much talent in areas that lack access and resources of larger Texas cities, and I think it could be a game-changer in uplifting those communities. With that, I think legitimate support of BIPOC and LGBTQ artists living and working in Texas is needed. Over the past several years, we’ve seen more attention and focus on these groups. Still, I think city cultural affairs offices, museums, and institutions are just scratching the surface and can always afford to do more. The level of talent and diversity found throughout Texas art communities deserves more visibility. Texas as a whole would be viewed nationally as a true powerhouse if we can improve on that.
What part of the pandemic were you surprised to find being a creative benefit?
For us, taking the gallery programming online through the use of Matterport virtual technology to create 360 tours of our exhibitions and recording video walkthroughs with our artists, and building an audio-recorded archive of those early months showed our commitment to our artists and the importance of finding creative ways of amplifying their voice. We were more than prepared to take on new forms of engagement through online and curbside sales, virtual studio visits, and online conversations with artists from across the country via Zoom and Instagram. I think getting creative and finding a solution to engage people in new ways while our physical space was shuttered ultimately helped us expand not only our skill set but our reach beyond our core audience. In turn, we saw a rise in art sales outside of the San Antonio area and many more outside of Texas. Despite how overwhelming and stressful the outlook appeared for us as a small business and gallery, we consider ourselves incredibly lucky.
Where is one place in Texas you want to go but haven’t been?
Probably El Paso/Juarez. I’ve been through, but it’s probably one of the bigger cities of Texas I haven’t spent any significant time in, and it would be nice to visit for a few days. Maybe from there, head east to the Guadalupe Mountains.
Presa House Gallery is at 725 S. Presa St., San Antonio, presahouse.com