Thriving Art Community Putting Alamo City On The Map
San Antonio Express – News

By Dan R. Goddard

San Antonio artists must be doing something right.
Chris Sauter’s ‘furniture’ is part of ’10 x 3: Ten Contemporary San Antonio Artists’ at the San Antonio Museum of Art.William Luther/Express-News Contemporary Art Month exhibits include ‘B’bleb’ by Sharon Engelstein at ArtPace.Courtesy ArtPace

More coverage· CAM themes are all-American· Hints of violence threaded in today’s art· CAM highlights· ‘Art in the ‘Hood’ back again AmericanStyle magazine readers recently voted the city as one of the country’s Top 25 arts destinations, cited for its ‘enormous diversity.’ UTSA’s Fran Colpitt wrote a lengthy article in the February issue of the venerable Art in America magazine extolling the city’s art scene, especially Contemporary Art Month, which has grown into the state’s largest celebration of contemporary art.

This year, the Contemporary Art Month calendar lists nearly 75 exhibits and events at about 60 different locations, including all of the city’s museums, galleries, nonprofits and artist-run spaces. Along with getting shows in Houston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, local artists talk about their exhibits in London, Munich and Amsterdam. But many San Antonio artists still remember a time when the city barely had a handful of contemporary galleries and the museums acted like the only 20th-century art that mattered came from New York or Paris. That began to change with the formation of the Blue Star Art Space 18 years ago, when local artists banded together to form their own artist-run institution after the San Antonio Museum of Art canceled a planned exhibit of local artists and fired its contemporary curator.

Today, artist/administrators head both the Blue Star and the Museum of Art. Bill FitzGibbons, known for his large-scale public art, recently was named as the new director of the Blue Star. The Museum of Art has George Neubert, a sculptor, who serves as both director and curator of contemporary art. ArtPace, founded by Linda Pace, an artist in her own right, and headed by Kathryn Kanjo, has brought national and international attention to San Antonio. Even the McNay Art Museum has hired a curator of art since 1945, MaLin Wilson-Powell. None of these directors or curators was here 18 years ago. But the art battles of yesteryear have come full circle in 2002.

The Blue Star and the Museum of Art, working in conjunction with ArtPace, have joined together to present ’10 x 3: Ten Contemporary San Antonio Artists.’ Curated by Kanjo, the show features artists who have shown at the Blue Star, including Jesse Amado, Andréa Caillouet and Riley Robinson. ‘There’s a whole new ecological climate for art in San Antonio,’ Neubert said. ‘The Museum of Art has a broad mission of presenting art from all over the world and many different historical periods. But that mission includes the art of our own time, which for me is often the most challenging kind of art. We want to show that we are extremely interested in the art being made by local artists.’ Kanjo said there’s a new synergy among the city’s arts institutions and artists. ’10 x 3′ is a symbol of the institutions’ newfound willingness to work together, share resources and spotlight local contemporary artists. ‘ArtPace’s success for seven years in bringing together local, national and international artists shows the strength of the San Antonio art scene,’ Kanjo said. ‘Not many second tier cities have the critical dialogue to make something like ArtPace possible. We have to credit UTSA for its masters of fine arts program, turning out quality graduates and providing artists with a place to work. ‘This is certainly a different time for artists in San Antonio than it was 18 years ago. I don’t see that much overlap among the institutions and there’s enough art and energy here for us all to do good programs and exhibits.’ ArtPace is opening a new exhibit on July 11 by resident artists Sharon Engelstein of Houston, Arthur Jafa of New York and Ann-Sofi Sidén of Stockholm, Sweden. California artist Thomas Scheibitz is showing new paintings in the Hudson (Show)Room.The Blue Star is celebrating its history with an exhibit featuring artwork by about 40 of its past and present board members.

‘I think this is a pretty active time to be an artist in San Antonio,’ FitzGibbons said. ‘I feel like we’re on the threshold of a new era. This isn’t an apex; I think things are only going to get better. When I got here 14 years ago from Alaska, there was only a small art scene, but I think it’s evolved into an art community that can compare with any in the state. ‘I feel like this show is the Blue Star family. It’s a kind of time capsule. We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support for this show. I think people are proud of our history. We’ve grown from a grassroots alternative art center into an important and well-known contemporary art center for San Antonio.’ Maria Elena Botello Mogas has organized the show, which includes artists such as Rolando Briseño, Jim Broderick, Stephen Daly, Alex de Leon, Jane Dunnewold, Mark Hogensen, Gail Kline, Ken Little, Diane Mazur, Steve Reynolds, Kent Rush, F.L. ‘Doc’ Spellmon, Robert Tiemann, Vincent Valdez and Kathy Vargas. ‘All of the artists are submitting new work,’ Mogas said. ‘I was around 18 years ago, serving as a docent at the Museum of Art, but I didn’t really know the artists involved in the Blue Star until I married my husband (Richard Mogas). It’s been a great education to research how the Blue Star came together and the exhibit will feature panels detailing that history.’ Mogas said she interviewed the four people primarily responsible for founding the Blue Star: Jeffrey Moore, the founding director; Lewis Tarver, a lawyer who has served on the board; Kent Rush, who teaches at UTSA; and Richard Thompson, now a dean at Alfred University in New York. For the first time during Contemporary Art Month, the McNay Art Museum is presenting three contemporary exhibits. Twenty-five paintings by Hans Hofmann, a seminal figure in the development of abstract expressionism, are now on view through Sept. 15. Ray Smith, a South Texas artist who has achieved international renown, brings the events of Sept. 11 home with paintings based on his experiences from his studio, which is just eight blocks from ground zero. Merging images from journalism and his imagination, Smith has created a powerful body of work that bears testimony to the confusion and rage caused by the terrorist attack. ‘I’m thrilled to be presenting such a significant exhibit by such a well-known artist,’ curator Wilson-Powell said. ‘I invited him to do the show before 9-11, so we didn’t know that it would be such a timely exhibit. Ray has canceled some shows recently while he’s been working on these paintings, so we’ve very proud to have them at the McNay. ‘I think the Hans Hofmann show fits right in because there is a resurgence of interest in painting, and he’s such an important figure in the second half of the 20th century.’ In addition, curator Lyle Williams is putting together a ‘San Antonio Drawing’ exhibit that opens July 21.

‘I feel like San Antonio has developed a vibrant artists community and there is a high level of achievement here,’ Wilson-Powell said. ‘I think there is a definite feeling that we’re participating in the larger contemporary art world. It’s global, cosmopolitan and provocative. I think that describes a lot of the art being made in San Antonio now.’