CAM 2008: ‘Playing With Time’ at Blue Star

The challenge in presenting a group show of (mostly) established local artists in this gallery-rich town is finding a theme or perspective that makes well-known work newly exciting — achieving the equivalent of a makeover or a getaway vacation for a couple with the seven-year itch. San Antonio Museum of Art curator David Rubin succeeds with many of the familiar faces in Blue Star 23: Playing with Time, his entry in the annual Contemporary Art Month series.

Inspired by his own background in early Modernism, including the Surrealists, Rubin began to notice that many SA artists address or manipulate the human relationship to time — time as both an external, seemingly disconnected phenomenon that happens to us, and a manmade bugaboo that’s malleable or dictatorial depending on our perspective (or sometimes our jobs).

For Blue Star 23, he pulled together new and newer pieces from a mostly A-list of SA talent, including Chris Sauter, Karen Mahaffy, Ansen Seale, Stuart Allen, Nate Cassie, and Luis Valderas. This review, unfortunately, doesn’t include most of the several video works, which were unavailable this past Saturday or Sunday (they were turned off for a sculpture symposium Saturday afternoon, and hadn’t been turned back on yet for Sunday afternoon’s open hours, either).

Valderas’s preoccupations will be familiar to fans of the annual MASA show, the MeChicano Alliance of Space Artists, which explores space and time archetypes related to ancient Mayan culture as they’re reflected in contemporary Latino art. He’s represented here in part by a papier-mâché “Cosmic Totem” of his signature rockets and skulls, bluntly primitive yet somehow

Across the gallery, David Anthony Garcia’s painting, “Connectivity,” travels some of the same non-linear paths, challenging modern Western notions of discreet, sequential time. It’d be irresponsible to do a San Antonio show based on time without including this Latin-American perspective, but where the show gets unexpectedly revelatory is when you’re expecting it to be the most literal.

Stuart Allen’s pigment prints of sequential sky exposures aren’t as plainly lovely in Blue Star’s artificially lit cavern as they were in SAMA’s sunlit atrium, but illuminated in another way by Rubin’s theme, they’re a tool of art-history exploration, deconstructing every Rubens’ cloud or Whistler atmosphere you’ve taken for granted. On the mundane daily plane they’re a reminder that we’re bathed in light daily, and even subtle shifts in cloud cover or angle of the sun affect our moods and how we physically see things. These prints — which at first glance look like pastel paint chips ranging from warm translucent browns through gold, peach, and ecru to cool foggy grays — at their simplest represent the way that physical time, whether you think of it as a line or a circle, passes continuously through and over us.

In addition to “playing with time,” some of the artists are playing with formal themes. Ansen Seale uses his “digital slitscan camera” to record a nude dancer in motion, creating momentary statues in waves of movement. John William Keedy creates double self-portraits intended to, according to the gallery notes, capture the possibility of two alternate realities separated, perhaps, by the smallest of unintentional decisions. I like to think they might be a sly commentary on the lack of imagination in privileged hipster culture, since the alternate realities aren’t even as stark as Sliding Doors’ doppelgänger Gwyneths.

Two installations get separate galleries, and one absolutely deserves it, even without its video. Justin Boyd’s soundscape, like a KLF album I’ve now had cause to reference twice in one year, captures the timeless suspension of a roadtrip, when you might drive unsuspectingly into a wormhole and emerge imperceptibly rearranged at your destination. Or as John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World details in hundreds of journal entries, driving is a form of historical excavation.

Across from Boyd’s mesmerizing escape is one of the few false notes in the show, a multimedia installation by George and Catherine Cisneros. A video of rocking trees and sky is projected from an upended child’s swing onto a white screen painted on the floor – a method (sans swing) Andrea Caillouet employed successfully a few years back. But the hand-painted cloud border, probably purposefully childish, makes the piece look amateur, and the billowing blue-and-white fabric at the back of the space seems to be missing its interpretive dance troupe.

I also was disappointed to see one of Linda Pace’s “Timeline” pieces, in which she arranged castoffs and memorabilia like motel-room keys, jewelry, and medicine bottles in monochromatic “portraits.” These were first shown at Joan Grona Gallery a couple of years ago, and as it relates to this show’s theme, this piece is most interesting as part of her personal timeline as an artist, capturing a moment that was still formative, and more derivative than not.

But Chris Sauter’s full-size gestation workshop (in which he’ll be “working” occasionally, says Blue Star Director Bill FitzGibbons `pants on, although a photo tacked to the peg board suggests otherwise`) could compensate for many more weak spots than this show contains. An enormous uterus made with scrapwood and metal hogs the floor space, the mother of all invention (ahem). It’s lined with dad plaid, which it’s tempting to read as the father inseminator, along with the armchair that appears in the artist’s project timeline, also tacked to the peg board. Scattered against the wall and on the floor are remnants from construction, and for your own inspiration, this sign hangs stage right: “Energy from the Big Bang is the same energy that sends blood coursing through your veins.”

You’ve no excuse, in other words, for not creating here and now. Time is wasting. •


Current CAM picks for July 2-8

Hybrid Vistas: Two South Texas Painters
C-Art Studio
1426 W. Craig Pl.
(210) 380-6508
Reception: 6-10pm July 2
The paintings of Ricky Armendariz and Richard Martinez seem to have a natural relationship. As the curatorial statement notes, these up-and-coming Latino painters (who both teach at UTSA) synthesize diverse cultural and art-history themes in their large, richly layered work.

Art by Osmosis
cactus bra SPACE
106C Blue Star
(210) 226-6688
Reception: 6-8pm July 3, 6-9pm July 4
What does Mr. Chris Sauter do in the shadow of his pretty-famous artist husband? Well, we know where to find Rick Frederick most of the time (onstage, usually at AtticRep), but this show turns the gallery limelight over to him and other full-time muses: Shannon Armendariz, Connie McAllister, Trent Harkrader + more.

Puffy Taco Plate Company
Three Walls
106D Blue Star
(210) 212-7185
Reception: 6-8pm July 3, 6-9pm July 4
Track down Dignowity Hill Pushcart Derby pioneer Cruz Ortiz for some pre-race smack talk at this exhibtion, where, judging by the PR still, he seems to be channeling a little Alejandro Diaz Mexican busker spirit through his signature double-entendre signage.

REM Gallery
120 Blue Star
(210) 224-1227
Reception: 6-8pm July 3, 6-9pm July 4
Staring at one of Estevan Arredondo’s gorgeous monochromatic abstract paintings is like being able to breath underwater, giving you time to watch a strange world reveal a few of its secrets.

Conversations with Artists: Bettie Ward
San Antonio Museum of Art
200 W. Jones Ave.
(210) 978-8100
6:30pm July 8
An accomplished abstract painter, Ward has gained attention most recently for her cosmic, narrative large-scale embroideries (the artist calls them “threaded drawings”), which she collaborates on with Mexican artisans (SAMA recently added one to its collection). The sex-laden, blatantly feminist (or self-actualizing, anyway) images were a hit in her one-woman Marvelous Hysterical show at Southwest School last year. She’ll discuss her work with SAMA contemporary- and modern-art curator David Rubin.

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