Let’s Talk About Arthouse

AUSTIN, Texas–I recently sat down with Sue Graze, executive director of the Arthouse at the Jones Center in Austin,  to discuss programming, events, and the renovation in progress (which has raised $5 million toward the $6.6m capital campaign put in place for the expansion.)

Originally a 1920s movie theater called Queen Theater, when Arthouse reopens October 22, its historic building at 700 Congress in Austin. will have seen extensive renovations by architect Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis out of New York. Lewis is executing the project, which includes expansion to the previously unoccupied second floor of the former department store-office building, both uses to which the Queens Theater was put after the 1940s  — before becoming the Arthouse. With the completion of the renovation/expansion growing nearer, Arthouse advances into the fall with new programming. left; Tina Sparkles, Systems Supernova, 113 closed systems of recycled computer wiring, thrift store curtains, 2009; and Marissa Cantu, Untitled, fake nails, nail polish, paint, fabric, thread, marker, pen pencil, 2010

The first show scheduled for the new second floor gallery will be Jason Middlebrooks mixed, media installations incorporating recycled materials and found objects — and this time initiating a close dialogue not just with architecture but food.  The show title, “More Art About Buildings and Food,” finds the artist reconstructing detritus from the Arthouse renovation to create utilitarian furniture. And Middlebrook is requesting Austinites family recipes for inclusion in a large drawing he will make during the exhibition.

Graze says Arthouses programs have always asked contemporary artists interested in playing off the space. “Its not a white box,” she explains, “Our building has character.” She pointed out artists need to consider the juxtaposition of contemporary architectural elements, along with 20s-era historical elements. And even during the transition period of renovation, collaborating with venues throughout Austin has let Arthouse continue to mount shows while under construction. Such as recently premiering “2010 Advanced Young Artists” at Okay Mountain,  a meaningful, community-oriented exhibition that Arthouse has presented every year. The concept:  pair exceptional teenagers with professional, local artists.

One “Advanced Young Artist” group of Teruko Nimura and Susan Pinales was especially successful. The team created (shown at left) “Returns and Exchanges-” a mixed-media installation, which inhabited an entire gallery at Okay Mountain. “Returns and Exchanges” features hanging hosiery and string, cotton clouds, cardboard flowers, and sculpted reptilian creatures. The master of the handcrafted world is a red-eyed, lizard sculpture, almost life-sized, perched above the flowered landscape. His domain was perhaps the land of lost socks, and tossed-out goods.

18-year-old Marissa Cantu and mentor Tina Sparkles crafted handmade dresses, another eye-catching pair at the exhibition. The passion of these young artists is immediately apparent.

Arthouses upcoming “5X7” exhibition will be held at Dunn and Brown Contemporary in Dallas, August 27-28. “5X7” includes art from contemporary Texas artists; art must be 5 by 7 inches. October 22, 2010 is the reopening celebration for the Arthouse building. Austinites can look forward to exceptional, contemporary art in their own backyard with an exciting fall calendar at Arthouse.

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