Art City Austin happened over the weekend in its new home at the Palmer Event Center. Outside raged the usual art festival scene (pop-up tents filled with high-definition nature photography, blown glass sculptures, face painting, food trucks, etc.), but inside was a new addition to the event: the Art City Fair. Present were Austin familiars like Big Medium, grayDUCK and Co-Lab Projects, as well as a handful of galleries from Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. The vibe was similar to what you might find at the Texas Contemporary or Dallas Art Fair, where people approach Fine Art with high heels and a checkbook—a distinctly different scene from what was just outside.
The most intriguing collection I found was curated by Kevin Rubén Jacobs from Dallas (under the name Pushkin & Gogol), featuring works by Keith Allyn Spencer, Pierre Krause, Puppies Puppies, Michael Mazurek, and Luc Fuller, a group of artists who hail from New York to Copenhagen (and other non-Texas places) whose work moves against the overly polished aesthetic I associate with contemporary art fairs. Spencer’s works first drew me in—assembled paintings made with wood, fibers, and acrylic, similar in method and energy to Youngsons’ work at Co-Lab Projects. Another favorite was Amber Renaye’s Woman, a white sculptural nude with soft and beautiful features, looking peacefully off into the distance, straddling a Renaissance and 21st-century world. The piece was impressive in both scale and skill; it also reminded me of this.
Outside of a gallery setting, I had a difficult time finding the pieces I was drawn to. The advantage is in the buyer’s court with this one-stop-shop kind of experience. It allows easy navigation and comparison of multiple collections in the same place, cutting out the time spent otherwise shuttling back and forth between galleries and openings. However, loosing that highly controlled viewing experience of an isolated space produces some very strange and distracting moments of discord. This of course is part of the nature of an art fair, with so many competing visuals in one large space creating a cacophony of curated works.
The most peculiar scene of all was the performance piece by Dallas-based collective Art Beef, in which the participants wore hazmat suits and enacted a gallery installation. The performance itself appeared well-constructed and interesting to watch, but the zoom-out effect cast it and everything around it into a disorienting light.
It seems that the long-term goal of the Austin Arts Alliance in making this shift to the Palmer Center and investing more energy into inviting galleries from elsewhere to join is to enter a wider conversation in other, larger contemporary art markets. It also helps train local art enthusiasts to be collectors, and not just consumers—a necessary goal if Austin wants to keep its creative class fed and happy. This year’s effort, though not devoid of awkward growing pains, marked a small step forward.