AUSTIN, TX.- The Contemporary Austin
opened its signature new program of creating exhibitions of works commissioned from today's leading artists. The inaugural exhibitions by Liam Gillick and Marianne Vitale, with their works installed indoors and outdoors at the Jones Center and at The Contemporary's lakeside estate at Laguna Gloria, are currently open to the public and will remain on view through Jan. 5, 2014.
"After months of reconceiving our museum and setting it on an exciting new course, we are now ready to show our public what The Contemporary is all about," Louis Grachos, the Ernest and Sarah Butler executive director, said. "With these exhibitions, we give the Austin community its first opportunity to experience the work of two of the most topical and challenging artists on the contemporary scene, with projects created especially for us. For the many visitors from around the world who come to Austin, knowing that this city is a hub of cutting-edge culture, we are proud to offer something vital that they can see nowhere else."
Liam Gillick, who was born in Aylesbury, U.K., in 1964 and lives and works in New York City, is known for rigorously thoughtful and multifaceted activities in sculpture, design, film, architectural interventions, writing and music. Alluding to the work of iconic mid-century modernist architects such as Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, and to the work of the Minimalist sculptors who followed shortly thereafter, such as Donald Judd and Carl Andre, Gillick's three-dimensional objects tend to be industrially fabricated in materials such as steel, aluminum and Plexiglas and often take the shape of autonomous platforms, shelves, cubes and architectural interventions on walls, floors or ceilings. For his two-part exhibition at The Contemporary, Gillick has collaborated with museum staff and local architects, engineers and fabricators to create a multicolored, powder-coated steel platform structure, installed at the base of the Driscoll Villa stairs on the shores of Lake Austin. With its colorful fins and geometric forms, the work is a surprising architectural insertion into the site's natural beauty, inviting the wayward wanderer to sit, play or take shelter beneath it.
Simultaneously, in the video gallery of the Jones Center and on an audio track that is projected from the first floor, Gillick has installed the second in a series of films he is producing, in which he addresses specific architectural sites (in this case, Laguna Gloria) with a view toward constructing new, speculative narratives about territory, power and change.
Marianne Vitale, who was born in East Rockaway, N.Y., in 1973 and lives and works in New York City, is a sculptor whose imposing pieces, sometimes created on an architectural scale, are often built out of found or reclaimed materials from the American landscape, such as sections of railroad tracks, or salvaged pieces of timber. These evoke in the sculpture an almost narrative sense of long use, which Vitale sometimes complicates, or obscures, by charring or reconfiguring the materials, or even riddling them with bullets. For The Contemporary, she has created individual installations at Laguna Gloria and on the second floor of the Jones Center.
In Laguna Gloria's lower meadow, Vitale has installed a series of nine altered railroad common crossings or "frogs," the thousand-pound, solid-steel switches that change the direction of trains. Welded to bases and standing upright, these structures evoke a clan of totemic beings, ancient and alien, emerging from the woods and clustering in the grass. At the Jones Center, returning to her practice of creating primal constructed forms, Vitale has created a large-scale sculptural structure of two intersecting bridges. Basing the work on the covered bridges built in the American Northeast in the late nineteenth century, Vitale constructed the sculpture using raw wood, which she and her studio team then burned and transported to Austin. With its dark grandeur and imposing presence, and with the scent of burning wood lingering on its surface, the assemblage is a charred crossroads whose interior spaces transport the viewer to another world.
The exhibitions Liam Gillick and Marianne Vitale have been organized for The Contemporary by Heather Pesanti, senior curator.
"These inaugural exhibitions reflect the practices of two artists who are very different but who share an inquisitive and powerful response to the sites made available at The Contemporary," Pesanti said. "At Laguna Gloria, Liam's colorful, semi-architectural platform seems to emerge from the banks of Lake Austin, and Marianne's railroad crossings stand at attention in the meadow down the way. At the Jones Center, Liam's mesmerizing film in four chapters, realized over the course of his visits to Laguna Gloria, greets viewers on the first floor, while Marianne's double bridge crossing extends powerfully into three-dimensional space on the second floor. With these dual-site exhibitions, we begin to operate as a laboratory for contemporary art, and a place for engaging with artists and the community in exciting and unpredictable ways."