Olmos like being there

San Antonio artist and Sala Diaz founder Alejandro Diaz has been in New York for going on a decade now, occasionally getting the media exposure his gently reproachful work deserves — like that time his “I ™ Cuba” accessories for the Eighth Havana Biennial ended up all over the island and in the Washington Post. So it wasn’t a surprise to find some of his pieces featured in New York magazine’s guide to summer shows to see in Chelsea. But it was disappointing: Just a snapshot of a few of his signature cardboard signs, looking kind of juvenile on a white wall: “Marfa, 1800 miles,” and “Make Tacos Not War.”

I felt the same nagging disappointment when I went to see Olmos Famous, the Contemporary Art Month group show curated by another of SA’s made art men, Franco Mondini-Ruiz, which prominently features neon versions of “Make Tacos Not War” in the windows of Galeria Ortiz. Not that the phrase isn’t timely — tension over immigration and the so-called Minutemen’s rhetoric running as hot as the Iraq War debate — and puro S.A. We’re so accustomed to the world not taking us seriously — for a variety of reasons from economy to geography to racism — that we’re not averse to playing Nero to its Rome. Burn baby burn, and don’t try to lay that corporate-ladder-climber baggage on me.

Olmos Famous:
A Survey of Local Legends and New Talent

10:30am-5:30pm Tue-Fri
Through Aug 25
Galeria Ortiz
4026 McCullough

New Works 07.2
Noon-5pm Wed-Sun, noon-8pm Thu
Through Sep 9
445 N. Main

But Diaz’s work, which uses self-deprecating humor to point out the inherent contradictions in a society consecrated to equality but built on the dollar, needs context, needs more of his work, to bring out its depth so it doesn’t just seem flip, like so much contemporary art these days (there’s so much money and so little accountability, it’s bound to breed cynicism in its practitioners, and its viewers). Olmos Famous, instead of exploring a handful of established and emerging talent, crowds the gallery space with local favorites: rising stars such as Kristy Perez, Mario Perez, and Aaron Forland, and consistent faves such as Diaz, Chuck Ramirez, and Juan Ramos. There’s some fine work — a gilded slingshot by Perez; Daniel Saldaña’s high-heeled boot teetering on one of his metal-plated coral-like sculptures; Evan Guerrero’s necklaces unfurling like delicate, organic chain mail — but Mondini-Ruiz missed an opportunity to present a CAM show that argues for the greatness of a few artists rather than tipping its hat to many. CAM happens every year; we don’t have to include everyone each time.

I hear the opener for Olmos Famous was smashing, though (you’re the only person who wasn’t there, reported a Current staffer), as was the swanky reception for Mondini-Ruiz’s one-man painting show (curated by Ramirez) at SoHo Wine Bar — where the artist swished among the crowd like a fairy godmother waving a VIP wand, and chic barmaids handed out complimentary cocktails (Real vodka cocktails! Not cheap red plonk).

CAM is a blast, so I found the mission statement of The Final Run Ins — a NY-based band that began as a book-contract gambit — a little puzzling: “They are comprised of three mischievous malcontents searching for that highly elusive element of fun in an increasingly un-fun art world.” Maybe art isn’t fun in NYC anymore, but in SA we’re still having such a good time that we forget we’re supposed to think about it critically. Take The Final Run Ins’ two loud shows at Artpace and Unit B mid-month. They’re fast and furious — in a really clean way — sell anti-war T-shirts, and smash their conceptual sets. So what? Their alleged targets are either not in attendance or inured to the irony of our lives. The boys are playing at being a band (right on down to the vicious feuding; is it real? Who cares?), and we’re playing at being an audience and agreeing that it’s just as good as the real thing. We’re not just inured to the irony, we’re active co-creators, and it’s going to take more than faux punk to shock us out of it.

Vicarious experience is the Achilles’ Heel of another Artpace exhibit, Houstonian Lorraine O’Grady’s contribution to this round of resident artists’ New Work: a darkened club filled with larger-than-life digital hipsters breaking it down on the dance floor, framed by upturned bar stools, and ceiling-to-floor glass windows through which you can peer but not enter. It’s a tribute to a scene that O’Grady knows through the tales of the DJs (co-producer Jay Lopez, super-competent Artpace receptionist, is known to many more San Antonians as DJ JJ Lopez, aka DJ Deepfeel) who lit up the Davenport’s dance floor until Majestic building management reportedly used a contract detail to boot the downtown cocktail lounge.

“Lorraine O’Grady’s ‘Persistent’ symbolizes neither failure nor success, but the perseverence of counterculture in the face of racism and discrimination,” advertises the gallery notes. But the exhibit — even though it uses Davenport furniture and the soundtrack was created by Lopez and DJ Rise — fails to evoke the particulars that make a universal moral resonate. The club feels generic, and the dancing figures look not like an oppressed counterculture but like the Generations X through Next that marketers spend billions of dollars a year courting. The exhibit is mesmerizing for a few minutes, but the failure to incarnate the specific experience of this true San Antonio story means we don’t get to debate the real conflicts that drove the Davenport’s demise: upscale gentrification versus youthful nightlife, owners versus tenants, corporations versus small business. Perhaps racism, too. The story of the Davenport is part of the larger story of our city’s struggle to evolve and modernize, change versus the status quo, and it’s not easily reduced to song and dance. Sentiment without examination is nostalgia, and while nostalgia in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, we should expect more of art.

Join the Current and Unit B Gallery for an evening of classic lawn sports in honor of Artlies, the Texas journal of art, and Texas contemporary-art organization Arthouse. Bring your team of two or more and sign up to compete in whiffle ball, badminton, croquet, and horseshoes. No experience required, but matching team uniforms are welcome. Beer by Shiner, snacks by Rico's, fun by you!

5-9 p.m. Saturday, August 4, Free!
Unit B (Gallery + yard!), 500 Stieren

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