Arts & Culture
Art is (Not) Dead: How to not starve as a San Antonio artist
Published: February 5, 2014
When I first started writing about San Antonio’s art scene five years ago, there existed a narrow, but real, aspirational path of commercial galleries. A local artist’s ideal trajectory in, say, 2009, may have launched from University of Texas—San Antonio’s MFA program or the then-mighty Alamo Colleges art departments, aimed for a show at itty-bitty tastemaker Fl!ght Gallery, thence headed toward commercial grand dame Joan Grona and hopefully been picked up by tireless national market hustler David Shelton. Along the way, there would have been plenty of opportunity to build the all-important CV via artist-run spaces like Sala Diaz, Unit B or via the many important galleries in the Blue Star complex like Three Walls or Cactus Bra.
Fl!ght and Sala Diaz are still staging terrific shows, thankfully, but in 2012, with the Blue Star Complex re-development, Joan Grona retired her space there, ready to take a break after 20 continuous years. Last month, Unit B opted to "close its door indefinitely to ponder the future of the gallery and life in general," a hard-earned respite for artist/gallerist Kimberly Aubuchon.
Cactus Bra, 19 years old, and Three Walls, 14, became casualties of the re-jiggering of Blue Star’s Building B in 2012. Also in 2012, David Shelton moved his brick-and-mortar gallery to Houston. As Shelton told the Current at the time of his relocation, “… being based in Houston will significantly increase exposure for the artists and their work among a diverse and highly sophisticated new audience, both within and beyond Texas.” True to his word, Shelton maintains several of San Antonio’s marquee names on his roster and prominently displays their works at high-profile venues like Texas Contemporary in Houston and Art Basel Miami. He is, in fact, raising San Antonio’s profile, which is all to the good.
But now, for emerging or mid-career local artists, the 2009 trajectory is dead. It seems the career ladder is flat on the ground rather than rising vertically, and after ascending one rung, the next local one is likely on the same plane and not necessarily above it. Even after going through all the rungs, without the inclusion in significant collections or recognition from regional and nation media that respected commercial galleries can bring, the artist may not be in any better position to grasp the brass rings of residencies, fellowships, faculty positions, grants and press needed to progress to the promised land of full-time professional artist.
Public art is one way up, though the competition is stiff and repeat commissions are generally awarded to artists with previous experience in that sector. There are some great profile-raising events in San Antonio, such as the Red Dot fundraiser at Blue Star, audience-driven Contemporary Art Month events and, arguably, Luminaria, which of late has seemed more like a committee-designed cattle call than an expertly curated arts celebration. Artpace’s Window Works installation series opens a “high art”-world resource to local mid-career artists, and pragmatically, it’s an impressive brand-name association for resume purposes.