Cool AIR rises

Whitney Biennial alum Corey McCorkle is one of the three current residents whose work is on display as part of 2010’s second Artpace Artist-in-Residence triumvirate. A Yankee by birth and a New Yorker by choice, he appears to be quite taken with San Antonio’s ubiquitous infrastructure dedicated — and our all-consuming addiction — to air-conditioning.

McCorkle gained recent fame with the cryptically titled When a Dog Barks, the Response in the Ear of the Sky Is a Star, a series of photographs of an abandoned and decrepit zoo outside Istanbul exhibited to some fanfare in Greenwich Village’s Maccarone Gallery. He’s been described as a “spatial interventionist,” but he seems less concerned here with constructive intervention than he is with interfering construction: An aluminum air-conditioning duct snakes throughout the building, intruding on other spaces and installations. His gallery installation includes a large wall projection of a reverse image of the Hotel Robert E. Lee’s rooftop sign, accompanied by one end of the duct installation. I found myself following the shiny shaft up the stairs, through the building’s other galleries, and into McCorkle’s dorm room, where the interminable piece prevents his door from closing — and is actually connected to the building’s central-air system.

This could be a commentary on waste, or a denouncement of our cravings for creature comfort — at the other end of the duct, inside his gallery space, the shaft is simply bolted to the floor. Perhaps, by depriving himself of personal privacy, McCorkle is examining our cravings for autonomy and isolation. He touches a lot of bases, but his seeming refusal to commit to one idea makes the experience anticlimactic. The homegrown flattery he’s paying us in his monumental projection of a downtown landmark, and whatever commentary that imports aside, McCorkle seems to think us easily amused. I, for one, had trouble taking my eyes off the shiny, pretty, long silver thingy.

Mexico City-based guest curator Patrick Charpenel also selected Houston’s Jamal Cyrus and the Polish structural sculptor Monika Sosnowska for this AIR round. Charpenel has in the past been associated primarily with Mexican art and artists, only very occasionally helming exhibits elsewhere. His hand is not readily evident here, which is, perhaps, the mark of true management.

Cyrus has spent much of his career exploring the FBI’s relationship with the world of pop culture, including its investigation and persecution of musicians, artists, and extraterrestrials. Next door to McCorkle’s installation, he has created a few visually stimulating — if remarkably disconnected — objects inside his space, including a slab of concrete that will be something of a challenge to remove, a tribute to the free rein Artpace grants its residents. In another area, a kick drum is amplified with 200 or so microphones. The cables run up a column into the ceiling above, but, I was informed, he neglected to plug them into anything.

Cyrus’s contribution seems ill-fitted to the other two artists’ sensibilities. It’s easy to imagine him peeking over the shoulders of the other residents to measure their progress against his own. His installation is dissociative, vague, and entirely devoid of the direct social commentary (aside from some sort of trés conspiracy-derivative poster thing, a nod to his preoccupation with the FBI), which has in the past been so intrinsic to his notability.

Perhaps most interesting from a local’s perspective is Sosnowska’s exhibit in the upstairs gallery. Known for her architecture-inspired installations, she especially enjoys twisting metal. Cruising around the Alamo City in her Artpace-financed loaner car, she found inspiration in some of the city’s extensive old fire escapes. She presented a series of miniature paper models to a local metal shop, which produced vaguely beige landscapes of writhing metal staircases that are bolted to the gallery’s white walls. (She forged a strong bond with local metalworkers, who will reportedly continue to manufacture her work after she leaves SA.)

Sosnowska is lauded by contemporaries and critics for her habit of creating installations destined (because of sheer size or other impracticality) to be destroyed. The implication is that her work must be financed mostly by artist stipends (like the one she received while in residence at Artpace), rather than the sale of her artwork. I’m not sure that this is consistently the case, but it creates an interesting dilemma in the mind of the viewer. Sosnowska apparently has no problem throwing out the canvas instead of framing it, which is, if nothing else, a noble exercise in willpower for any artist.

While it could be that there is an actual change in temperature from downstairs to upstairs (due to McCorkle’s efforts to properly air-condition the building), Sosnowska’s installation induces chills — it’s a stunningly conceived and executed ode to emergency escapism that rises above the downstairs exhibits, and affirms her status as an internationally renowned artist. •

New Works: 10.2
Through Sep 12


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