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Arts & Culture

'TX 13' is a Jumble of Good Intentions

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Rebecca Carter, 'Wrong Perspective with the Dirty Rainbow'

Trying to cram all the contemporary artists in Texas into a single space seems foolhardy, but “TX 13,” the showcase exhibit of the sprawling, statewide Texas Biennial, tries to do just that for the first time at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum. Big, busy and brawling, the crowded, noisy show featuring 69 Texas artists and collectives has painting, photography and sculpture duking it out with video art and mini-installations.

In the 19th-century Paris salons, some of the still-biggest names in art made their reputations by not being selected. However, unlike most of the hundred or more institutionally driven biennials in the world, the Texas Biennial is a grassroots effort involving mostly younger, emerging artists. Starting in Austin in 2005, it’s spread to about 80 participating galleries, artist-run spaces and a few of the state’s museums. But big institutional backing—meaning money, publicity and prestige—is sadly lacking.

This year, the 13 curators of TX 13 chose from more than 1,000 entries by artists who live and work in Texas. Those who entered are eager to be recognized, but most of the state’s well-established artists didn’t bother, so the show doesn’t necessarily represent the best of Texas contemporary art. And the curators haven’t done much to put the art in perspective, so the collective effort comes off as a multimedia jumble.

San Antonio represents well, especially collagist Kelly O’Connor, whose large-scale shadowboxes have grown into complex, museum-like dioramas, conjuring a retro 1950s space age fantasy using images clipped from decades-old magazines of Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic domes, Shirley Temple, vintage TVs and labor-saving devices. The other San Antonio artists selected by curator Rene Barilleaux of the McNay Art Museum also tend to use retro-looking found objects and images to make humorous social commentary.

Gary Sweeney’s Are You a Psychopath? could have been made in a mid-20th century high school shop class, and makes you wonder about the totalitarian tendencies of dog owners. Claudio Dicochea elongates dogs and guns with an El Greco style. Chris Sauter’s Land Factory, a volcano sprinkled with construction cranes, looks like a vintage textbook illustration. Thin color clippings are used by Shannon Crider to form her John in Drag portrait collage.

Why not hang artists by city? Installing each curator’s choices together might have provided a better idea of what they were thinking in making their selections. Another possibility is to do away with the open call and ask only a few curators to pick the Texas artists they think are best, similar to the Whitney Biennial.

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