Domy Books and Okay Mountain, Austin

Katie Geha

88, installation views, Domy Books, Austin, TX; photo by Carling Hale

88, the two-part exhibition at Domy Books and Okay Mountain organized by Andy Coolquitt, feels familiar. At Domy, a photograph is tacked up on the upper-left-hand side of a gallery wall. The picture shows a young man, knees to his chest, sitting on the banks of the Austin Greenbelt. His body fills most of the frame, his head slightly cropped by the top edge. He looks out into the distance. The photo is tender and nostalgic—how do I know this young man? While 88 is often more rough and playful than this somewhat sentimental photograph, it seems like an apt place to begin—both as a site of reflection, what once was, and as a site of projection, what is to come.

Not unlike the number 88, a double infinity symbol, reflection and projection can turn in and around on each other. The relationship between “then” and “now,” rather than following a linear timeline, becomes a constant looping, a movement in and out. In preparation for this exhibition, Coolquitt spent nine months collecting the work of Austin artists who inspired him as a young artist and helped him to craft his own successful art career. What emerges out of the familiar is a meditation on the Austin art scene since 1988. Through the presentation of ephemera (personal photos, gallery announcements, newspaper clippings) and art (works from 1988 and more contemporary pieces), Coolquitt creates a compelling exhibition that telescopes out from his personal experiences surrounding that year and into the future—from Austin then to Austin now.

The first part of the show, installed at Domy Books, looks like a historical exhibition of Coolquitt’s life as an art student at the University of Texas (he graduated from the BFA program in 1988 and later attended the MFA program from 1993 to ’96). Handmade band posters are mounted to the walls haphazardly, mixtapes are arranged in a plastic suitcase displaying a “Silence = Death” sticker and vitrines are littered with pictures of young people mugging together in paint-splattered clothes. Throughout there are references to “ASA,” presumably an unconventional art club, including a list of contacts with phone numbers (Adam E. Palter, Andrew W. Long, Bill Daniels, Carl Rojas, etc.) and a newsletter with a headline reading “ASA Snubbed by Art Faculty at ‘Art Opening.’” The specificity of the names on the contact list combined with the ambiguity of the group’s identity and the unnamed makers of the artworks on display (a checklist isn't apparent; only a very brief statement on the show is available) makes the exhibition feel so much like art school, like a testing ground, like smoking dope in your studio. Coming of age. Or, as one poster describes a student potluck: “community, cooperation, and fun.”

88, installation view, Domy Books, Austin, TX; foreground: Steve Jones, Hang'em High Mike Tyson, 1988; boxing gloves, dildos, chain; 24 x 9 x 6 inches; photo by Carling Hale

The artworks proper in the gallery at Domy also feel like student work. Scattered amongst the detritus that marks the year for Coolquitt are a juvenile video of an egg miraculously popping in and out of an anus, a set of boxing gloves sprouting penises and black-and-white photographs of seemingly primitive sculptures. And while these works might feel slightly young or unfinished, they offer a sense of the playfulness and experimentation inherent to any good education. These works also stand in stark contrast to what follows in the second part of the exhibition at Okay Mountain. Whereas Domy is treated as a playing field for the remembered, Coolquitt approaches Okay Mountain like an institutional white cube. What happens when the art students grow up?

Okay Mountain’s installation features the contemporary work of some of the young artists featured at Domy. Hung together with only a flimsy conceptual framework, the contributions by well-known Austin artists such as Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler, Luke Savisky and Lance Letscher make more for an awkward reunion than a homecoming party. What once linked these artists together—school or an Austin underground—no longer exists for this group. This is not to say that the works of art are necessarily bad (Ted Laredo’s N7 neutral gray portal is especially good) or that the artists lack talent (all of their careers prove otherwise); rather, it is merely to state that the creation of a division between “then” and “now” is tricky business. Instead of circling back in on itself, instead of reflecting and projecting, the exhibition at Okay Mountain creates too distinct a division between the past and the present. Nostalgia allows for acceptance through personal narrative. At Okay Mountain the works of art seem disparate and lost—each longing for some kind of narrative of their own.

Just as Coolquitt separates the artists of today from the students of yesterday between two gallery spaces, at Domy he curiously quarantines a set of October journals, an essay by Jenny Holzer, an essay by Douglas Crimp and a stack of Art in a America magazines in a single vitrine. It is as if he is pronouncing the loftiness of the art world—a place that in 1988 the young man sitting on the Greenbelt in Austin, Texas, had not yet reached. Coolquitt, now an artist with a New York gallery, states on his biography under education: “1996 – takes permanent leave of absence from UT Austin.” Departure and arrival can be just as circuitous as reflection and projection.

Katie Geha is a PhD candidate in art history at the University of Texas at Austin. She is writing her dissertation on 1970s art and the ordinary.

This exhibition is on view through September 4, 2010 at Okay Mountain and September 9, 2010 at Domy Books.

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