On Tuesday, January 20th, local artist and DJ John Mata sent out an interesting email that began simply, "For his exhibition Sala Diaz Is Open John Mata will utilize the east and west rooms of Sala Diaz to present an art show and record store respectively." Given John's focus in both art and music, the exhibit suggested a perfect synthesis of these two parallel interests.
The next line in the email quickly turned enigmatic and hilarious, rejecting the typical academic artist statement: "In the East Room, Mata will be presenting an installation entitled "Your Black Majesty: My Facade Says a lot About Who I'm Not". Mata's work incorporates drawings, collages, and sculptures containing images of Apocalyptic Cartoon Landscapes, often referencing the fall of the common person to the hegemony of cycloptic mountains in molten pits of hellfire and sunflowers."
Through his statement's abstractness, pre-conceived notions for the show were somehow both rejected and reborn. How the molten pits of hellfire and sunflowers would relate to the record store in the adjoining west room was unclear, assuming clarity was even the intention.
On Friday January 23rd, when Sala Diaz opened, more questions surfaced. In the east room, surprisingly, there were no Apocalyptic Cartoon Landscapes, drawings, or collages. Instead, there was a massive tower of black amplifiers in the center of a dark room, emitting a loop of synthesized dissonance. Was there a last-second change of plans? Or was the email all part of a purposefully misleading façade?
In contrast, the west room was a scene of illuminated order. Jesse Garcia (of the now- defunct 180 Grams Records store) had set up shop, literally, and was selling vinyl again. There was a rack of t-shirts. Select records were on display on the walls, with most items priced around $13.99. Two records players sat on a bench in the middle of the room, and almost always there was a customer listening while contemplating a purchase.
Business was fairly brisk, which was odd for several reasons. If business had always been this good, Jesse’s store on San Pedro would probably still be open. As a part of an artist exhibition, Jesse had actually found his home ¾ perhaps not permanently, but at least for the month.
From my experience visiting 180 Grams Records in the past, I was struck by the monumental challenge Jesse faced in trying to make a living selling obscure vinyl in an age of mp3 overabundance and complacency, especially in San Antonio, a city not known for supporting unique niche ventures. In fact, I remember once walking in the shop and finding Jesse alone, asleep on the sofa. The moment made me think of 180 Grams as its own performance art piece. 180 Grams existed, but more as a high concept than a working business, and now with Jesse setting up shop at Sala Diaz, the moment had come full circle.
So where was John in all of this? At first, it seemed like the art show was a way to help support a good friend sell records again, as well as allowing John to spin records behind the gallery for the large party to follow. One patron observed that this show, more than most, epitomized how the ensuing party often overshadowed the art opening.
To consider this art opening only in that light would be a mistake, for in reality the party was just as much a part of the exhibit as was the record store or the installation. It's as if Jesse and John were working in perfect symbiosis. It seems too easy to understand: Jesse sells the records, John spins them, and then people dance and have fun. The line about hellfire and sunflowers was a distraction from something more pure.
Art is ultimately supposed to touch people's lives; however, the path in doing so is often purposefully tortured. Is a dance party too direct? For art purists it probably would be ¾ I found it to be completely refreshing, however. There's at least one very successful artist in town known for creating festive spectacles. And in the end, it is the artist, not the art, that is remembered. In that regard, John Mata has already succeeded, and perhaps, added another brick to his façade.
JOHN MATA: SALA DIAZ IS OPEN
For the run of the exhibit, John and Jesse will be keeping daily hours at the gallery and plan to coordinate weekly musical events by local and regional artists. Though the opening has passed, it seems as if this exhibit is actually gaining momentum.