Two Austin Art Shows You Don't Want to Miss
One closing, one opening, both extraordinary
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
12:34PM, Wed. Sep. 29, 2021
Yes, of course there are many art shows in Austin that you don’t want to miss – but we’re spotlighting just two of them right now.
One of them is opening this Saturday, with an inaugurating artist reception from 3-5pm – and that one is Felice House and Dana Younger’s “The Peacemakers” in the Fine Arts Gallery at St. Edward’s University.
1. OF THE LAND
It’s partly because of what Annie Dillard said, that you don’t want to miss Alejandra Almuelle’s exhibition of new works at Cloud Tree.
Not that Dillard said anything about the exhibition – although we’ll bet she’d love it – but that, in her classic essay “The Wreck of Time,” one of this nation’s wisest thinkers noted, “We arise from dirt and dwindle to dirt, and the might of the universe is arrayed against us.”
And what Almuelle is working with in “Of the Land” is – even more literally than ever – dirt.
And what she’s done with that dirt … well, even with the might of the universe arrayed against us, we're betting on the Peruvian native and longtime Austinite to prevail in most aesthetic battles.
You probably already know about Almuelle’s ceramic works – the gorgeous functional items she creates, sure, but even moreso the sculptures of figurative symbolism she shapes from raw clay, rendering a complex mythos out of mud, peopling fortunate galleries with her pantheons of gods and goddesses and other embodied concepts of humanity. So you’ll be glad to know, then, that there are new iterations of those – heads and busts in the form of large, intricately textured vessels, their sightless eyes gazing from within carefully formed faces – in this Cloud Tree show.
But the main pieces on display here, if only due to their size and nonfigurative incongruity, are what really give “Of the Land” its name. Because Almuelle’s gone and excavated the earth of Austin itself, forming a vertical installation of discs harvested unaltered from fields of local clay sediment – the cracked, dried mud now arranged circular and discrete, punctuating an entire wall with pieces of what once was the planet’s rainsoaked floor.
In addition, the artist’s constructed a wide floor-to-ceiling curtain, beading strands of twine with hand-squeezed lengths of clay, a sort of reverse veil-of-maya in the midst of her symbol-rich dreamscape. Alejandra Almuelle has made, you might say, the terra firmer.
So, yes, because of all of that – and because Brian David Johnson’s tiny gallery store is one of this town’s best-kept giftshop secrets – you’ll want to stop by Cloud Tree Studios this Friday night and experience “Of the Land” for yourself.
2. THE PEACEMAKERS
How appropriate: This second exhibition is not just number two on the list, but features two artists displaying their works together. The wife-and-husband team of Felice House and Dana Younger hone distinctly different practices, but, at their level of talent and skill, either would be hard put to find a better match. And, in “The Peacemakers” at St. Ed’s Fine Arts Gallery, Younger’s archly provocative sculptures and House’s stunningly realistic oils-on-canvas conspire to turn the myth of the American West (and how it was “won”) back on itself.
Does this two-person creative conspiracy succeed? Yes, it totally does – like the opposite of Custer at Little Bighorn – or we wouldn’t even be mentioning it here. House’s huge paintings of women in steer-wrangling garb and archetypal cowboy scenes are like a more vivid, genderswitched array of Frederic Remington images – but not merely parodic: These are portraits with depth, evocations of distinct individuals in the reimagined history of former Europeans’ progression across the already inhabited land. Grit, we’d insist, has seldom been more true.
And Younger’s works, whether additive or subtractive in their creation, provide a commentary that lingers after the viewer’s eye has grown almost accustomed to the exquisite sculptural details, after the viewer’s mouth has ceased chuckling at the acerbic humor.
It’s akin to how, in the world of stand-up comedy, George Carlin was funny, sure, but what he said also just made so much sense? Like that – but captured, in dimensional portraits and objects, with the sort of painstaking labor you’d expect from an artist whose earlier years were spent in Black Mountain and Blue Genie Art Industries.
Now, the venue that contains this “Peacemakers” show, this is the Fine Arts Gallery at St. Ed’s we’re talking about. Which is not, to put it mildly, the easiest fucking place to find. You know what I’m saying? I’m saying: Consider giving yourself enough time to get to the reception, to locate the gallery among those winding, wooded streets of the university’s lovely campus. Because, as is the point of this post, here’s another show you definitely don’t want to miss.