Saturday September 30, 2017 was a much anticipated date for 20 Houston VAA members and it did not disappoint! It was Bus trippin’, museum hoppin’ day in Austin! It was the first out-of-town educational program for VAA members with an art packed day of 4 museum tours, Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycle sculpture and to complete the day, the TX * 17 Texas Biennial was a bonus round add on.
The day started at 7:15 am with coffee, Einstein breakfast sandwiches and pastries spread over the picnic tables at Silver Street studios. With lovely weather, a sunny day on tap and a cooler in tow, we boarded the shiny, white 2017 luxury bus and headed west to Austin. With anticipation in the air and Mimosa’s in hand, the group was given an overview of our art filled itinerary for the day and a brief history and explanation of each Museum we were scheduled to visit. The VAA members were to enjoy private guided tours at each stop by docents that would share their broad wealth of knowledge and intriguing stories about the art we would be viewing. We settled into our reclining seats and let Rhonda, our very capable driver take us on down the road.
10:30 a.m. brought us to our first stop- The Harry Ransom Center, an archive library and museum at the University of Texas in Austin. The HRC specializes in the collection of literary and cultural artifacts and rotating exhibitions such as the Mexico Modern 1920-1945 exhibit they were currently showing -which included historical photographs, manuscripts and paintings. Highlights of the visit to the center included: Joseph Nicephore Niepce’s View from the Window at La Gras– the first successful permanent photograph from nature, a thought provoking and very striking oil painting- Frida Kohlo’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940., a Gutenberg Bible (printed in 1454 or 1455 and one of only 21 complete copies known to exist in the world.)
Second stop was The Blanton Museum of Art which delighted from an architectural sense as well. Upon entering the building our group was immediately drawn into the expansive lobby filled with natural light, add to that a soaring ceiling from which hung an amazing, massive white organic sculpture that seemed to float and dangle in the space, seemingly pulled from the ocean floor to adorn the tranquil space. The surrounding walls were covered in beautiful glossy blue marbled tiles, applied from the floor half way up to the ceiling in a dark to light gradient which contributed to the tranquil and oceanic feel of the space.
Following a brief introduction from our docent we were on our next tour taking in Epic Tales from Ancient India – a collection of paintings from The San Diego Museum of Art depicting religious deities and mythical stories and bronze statues from India. We saw two of an important series of paintings by Vincent Valdez entitled The Strangest Fruit, a synthetic velvet and hand dyed floor installation by Polly Apfelbaum titled Townsville, a large double-sided, shimmering tapestry like piece crafted from thousands of colorful, flattened aluminum wrappers taken from Nigerian liquor bottle caps and connected by twisted copper wire titled Seepage by artist El Anatsui,
and finally Madame C.J. Walker
by Sonya Clark amazed us as we learned it was a 10′ tall portrait of Madame C.J. Walker (born in 1867 and said to be the nations first self-made female millionaire) constructed entirely of 3,840 fine toothed black plastic hair combs!
The Blanton Museum of Art – https://blantonmuseum.org/
After an enjoyable lunch al fresco at The Blanton Museum cafe and a look through the gift shop we were on to the third stop –The Contemporary Austin. Much of the art here focused on the work of Kenyan born artist, Wengechi Mutu, who lives and works between New York and Nairobi. Through video animation, sculptures and two dimensional works such as an action painting infused with emotion and made from volcanic soil and water she colllected from her native country, this artist uses her personal experience with East African mythology, science fiction, and Afro-surrealism to address issues of gender, race, identity and colonialism. We saw her sculptures called Heelers– high heeled, stacked platform shoe crafted from mud and roots that looked as if they had grown naturally from the earth. Also included in this installation were Matu’s Prayer Beads and another work, This sacred dreamer, 2017 –a bronze female head with a braided crown that lies sleeping on a large wooden block was another highlight from this exhibit.
A short walk brought us to our next stop, the Mexic Arte Museum- The official Mexican & Mexican American Fine Arts Museum of Texas. Here we saw the current exhibit LOVE TO DEATH – Day of the Dead Community Alters. We learned about the annual parade that happens in Austin and important symbols of the Day of the Dead celebrations were also explained. We saw folk art miniatures, sculptures and an impressive collection of black and white photos that were part of the Diego and Frida – A smile in the Middle of the Way exhibit which depicted the ups and downs of their marriage and very prominent lives.
The guided portion of our day completed, we headed outside to see the next sculpture titled, Forever Bicycles by internationally known, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Forever Bicycles
is a massive, shiney steel, stacked sculptural tower of 1,254
bicycles. It is presented as an extension of The Contemporary Austin’s – Museum without walls program.
The work alludes to the Forever brand of bicycles that flooded China’s streets during the artist’s childhood yet remained financially out of reach for so many. One cannot see this amazing geometric sculpture without being struck initially with the conceptual complexity of this stacked piece (that made me think of a complicated math problem) contrasted with the strong impact of a singular object, a bicycle, repeated over and over and over. Needless to say for Matt Adams it was love at first sight!
A quick hike over a bridge, through a field and across a parking lot brought us to Rainey Street. Imagine an entire street lined with restaurants and cool people. Foods of all types and tree-shaded patios lit with those little white party lights beckoned from both sides of the street. So much fun! Dinner and refreshments with the group and off again to our final stop of the evening (not counting Buccees).
TX * 17 Texas Biennial –
Opening evening with 2 of the 17 artists chosen being members of the VAA! How cool is that?!! We saw flora and bugs encased in resin eggs, like snow globes without the snow and glitter. There were sculptures, felted works, dangling paper works and paintings. We were excited to surprise VAA member, Luisa Duarte
who didn’t know she would have an entire group show up to see her work and congratulate her. Luisa’s paintings and work which uses sharp, angular elements to guide you through her compositions is strong and taps into her background in Architecture. We also immediately recognized the upside down hanging trees as being Noelle Mulder’s
work (the other VAA member) which also taps Architectural design and Urban Landscapes. Admittedly we did not stay as long at this final stop but were thrilled to have it added to our day’s itinerary. On the bus once more and ready for our departure back to Houston we counted ourselves a final time, a very happy group of 20.
(There were a few other happy surprises on the bus which I will not divulge, if you want to know more… sign up for the next one! There will be more!!!)
***A very big thank you to Lisa Goodrich and Michelle Vassallo Alves for months of preparation and time involved in organizing this trip for the VAA members. It was enjoyed by all and much appreciated.