Last week, I had the chance to go to the MACAA (Mid-America College Art Association) conference in San Antonio, Tx. What to say…
Well, San Antonio was grey. Very grey. As in, concrete grey. There seemed to be miles and miles of interstate overpass, underpass, and on-ramps. Myself and my ad-hoc tour guide Brotha O were able to get around the city a bit in his rented dodge charger (we looked like some sort of nerdy, out of shape, middle-aged Starsky and Hutch cosplay wonks) to see what the city had to offer beyond the inner loop. Surprisingly, the outer loop looked a bit like the inner loop. We did have fun driving around and looking at the city, though. I think if I were a photographer I would have enjoyed it quite a lot because of the dystopian urban landscape mixed with commercial advertising and new construction. It was really interesting to witness and I think ripe for some sort of photo essay. Maybe in another life.
The first night of the conference I was able to see was a reception at the McNay Museum and a performance by the Art Guys. The museum certainly had some great pieces and was a quality institution to visit. The highlight of the night, however, was the Art Guys. Their performance was funny, irreverent, and cynical—all things I like about art. They were very engaging to say the least. They even handed out some artworks to some of the lucky people that seated themselves first. I managed to get an embossed dollar from them (signed and numbered) as did many in the audience. There was one woman in the audience that I initially thought was part of the performance because she had that nervous-comedy-club-over the top-hysterionic-laugh that people sometimes get in audience situations. My first thought was that she was a plant by the Art Guys because of her loud and boisterous laughing, but realized that no, she was just having a great time. I am not sure whether I was disappointed or relieved.
One thing that happens at hotel conferences is that people not affiliated with the group always seem to enmesh themselves into the scene somehow. The end effect can be super rewarding or, more frequently, quite the train wreck. We had the distinction of witnessing the latter during the after party reception. A highly intoxicated woman walked up to the group and proceeded to tell us her life story of woe and sorrow. She opened with “My husband just cheated on me with me sister…” and the conversation went spiraling downhill from there until it devolved into a semi-lap dance/wet noodle grind on my friend’s chair. It was heartbreaking to hear casually presented stories of abuse and addiction in person from a complete stranger. It’s almost like the internet has made people feel anonymous for so long that they become that way in person, too. That may be a stretch, but it just seems like people have much fewer filters on what they say these days compared to just a few years ago. Or maybe at the underpass hotel, that is just what goes down…
We drove out to the University of Texas San Antonio (go Roadrunners!) for the MACAA members’ art show at the campus gallery on a warm and sunny Friday. The show itself was quite diverse and well represented, though not exactly challenging in content. I gravitated most to the winged wooden sculpture by Kurt Dyrhaug (I’m a sucker for well crafted stuff with cool content), but there were many other very nice pieces, as well. UTSA is out of town a bit, so we had the opportunity to experience one of the finest examples of suburban sprawl in the country on the way to the show. We decided to get a snack en route and somehow wound up at the sophomorically titled Twin Peaks restaurant. The place was as if a Colorado hunting lodge and Hooters had a sports-bar baby. It was a bizarre experience (as those type places always seem to be) and the fries were way too salty. To be fair though, because of a couple wrong turns, some crazy traffic, and a few thirsty passengers, we did manage to go there twice in one day somehow. I’m not sure quite what to make of that, but I can’t say it didn’t happen.
The keynote speaker for the conference (held at the San Antonio Art Musuem) was Joe Seipel, the Dean of the College of Art at VCU. Virginia Commonwealth University is one of the top sculpture schools in the nation, so it was great to hear what he had to say. He had some great points about preparing art students to be artists, but also preparing them to be great people that think critically and act accordingly. He showed many of his past works such as the Enviro-plug, a genius performance-art piece of sorts, as well as other interesting sculptures. In addition to the keynote, the museum had a nice reception on the patio next to the RiverWalk.
Other venues that were great to visit were the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum and Artpace, which appeared to be some sort of residency/gallery situation. They had a food truck out front, so it couldn’t be all bad, I suppose. The Blue Star was a great space that fronted the RiverWalk and also had a couple galleries nearby. The area was a nice art experience, over-all. At both places, the staff was helpful and very friendly, an art trend that seems to be disappearing of late (I’m looking at you Chelsea).
Of note for the actual conference-y part of the conference, there was a special presentation for Jack Gron, professor and former director at Texas A&M Corpus Christi for a lifetime achievement award from the MACAA President (Jeff Adams) and vice president (Chris Olszewski). It was a nice presentation that outlined Gron’s service to the teaching community as well as his service to the conference community. A wealth of professors in the country were either taught by Jack (including me) or were influenced by him in some way. It was great to see him get some recognition for all his efforts over the years.