Arts If you can't say anything nice ...

When it comes to art, 'don't say anything at all' isn't an option

Work, the 9-5 kind, was weighing heavily on my mind last Thursday evening when I approached Franco Mondini Ruiz' Blue Star 20 installation, "Advice from the Artist's Mother $5." For a little more than the price of a Venti Latte, Franco's mother dispensed cake, cookies, and comforting words inside a cozily furnished Airstream. "Your mother is awesome," declared three identically clad Valero volunteers as they tumbled out the door. Why not ask the artist's mother about art criticism? my brother suggested.

A detail from an orange "Timeline" in Linda Pace's one-woman show at Joan Grona Gallery, on view through
July 9.

Franco's mom, elegantly attired in a cream, pin-tucked dress with matching flower corsage, played the role of archetypal mother, receptive and anticipatory one moment, gently directorial the next. If an art review is at all critical, I complained, threats to pull advertising from the offending paper have been known to fly; invitations to parties dry up. What should I do? I asked.

"Well, I've always believed in the saying, If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," she replied. But isn't it important to address the ideas expressed in art? I pressed. No, she said, art and politics are different; art is a personal, subjective expression and above criticism. I pointed out that her son's work is very political, and the better for it, but my turn was up and we couldn't continue the conversation. As I left the trailer, cookie in hand, I did feel very much like I'd had a conversation with mom: Frustrated that I didn't get the answer I wanted, but grateful for the warm attention.

Pace combines found objects with mementos and discarded pieces of day-to-day life in her monochromatic Timelines series. "Semiprecious" is solid gold.

I pondered my purchased advice at Joan Grona Gallery, where Artpace founder Linda Pace's one-woman show is on view through July 9. The show presents numerous difficulties, not the least of which is that, Pace, who deserves as much credit as anyone for San Antonio's thriving contemporary art scene, is generally considered above reproach - that is to say, most people in the local arts community are afraid of upsetting her. Yet I assume that Pace wants very much to be taken seriously as an artist, and I suspect that she may also face some unspoken discrimination, a perception that she's a wealthy dabbler rather than a true artist (whatever that is), and also gets a critical "by" on that count.

But Pace has been busy elaborating on her monochromatic bricolage "paintings." No longer large-scale catch-alls for found and donated objects, the new works are monochromatic timelines composed of mementos, some of them portraits of Pace's friends. In our possession-driven culture it's a great idea to consider the narratives that seemingly disposable objects reveal, and Pace's work is reminiscent in some ways of Southern artist Thornton Dial's work. She takes items that are the equivalent of the blank piece in Scrabble and puts them in context, thereby giving them meaning. Taken together, the strips of color form a San Antonio Fiesta palette: purples, golds, and oranges.

Linda Pace: Timelines
11am-6pm Wed-Sat,
noon-4pm Sun
Through July 9
Joan Grona Gallery
112 Blue Star
But the pieces, for all of their elaborateness, lack bite because - and I'm not sure this was the artist's intention - they seem to want to be pretty, like duchesses preparing for coronation. Presented ironically, this would also be an appropriate San Antonio reference, but it's hard to read any critical element into Timelines. They are like Andy Warhol's pop portraits of the late Houston patron Caroline Weiss Law, but without Warhol's oeuvre to back up their cred. As the founding of Artpace indicates, Pace lacks neither critical thinking ability nor the chutzpah to act on her convictions. If this body of work is going to succeed, Pace needs to take off the white gloves: If you don't have anything nice to say, say it creatively.

By Elaine Wolff

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