Visual Arts Center at UT Austin

Ry Rocklen, Cover to Cover, 2010. Photo Credit Robert Boland.

The Visual Arts Center opened last month in an ingeniously subtle renovated Art Building, swiftly filling an enormous gap on the University of Texas campus.  San Antonio architects Lake | Flato are responsible for the staggering streamlined space—think white box white walls, natural light streaming in from punched out windows, and tall vast gallery spaces. Besides all the new opportunity for exhibitions and performances, the VAC’s proximity to habitual student activity is what makes it so essential to the UT Art Department. Throughout the month of September, large windows that look into the gallery spaces allowed students, walking to and from classes, to witness the progress of installation. Often, one would peer in and see artist-in-resident, Ry Rocklen, instructing a band of students on carpet cutting and gluing. Now that the galleries are open, students can stroll the space on most days. This fluid integration between students, faculty, artists, and the public is what makes the Visual Arts Center feel less like a stodgy exhibition space concerned with attendance and more like a playing ground for experience, a laboratory of art made largely by and for the University of Texas community.

Ry Rocklen, ZZZ's installation, 2010. Photo Credit Robert Boland.

LA artist Ry Rocklen’s ZZZ’s is a sculptural installation that makes good use of the 1500 square feet of the Vaulted Gallery–from the tiled carpet flooring to the wind-chimes hanging from the ceiling that when activated by the opening and closing of the gallery doors, fill the space with a soft dreamy twinkling. The exhibition takes sleep and its attendant manifestations as its subject and features woven PVC pipes in a canopy bed frame, a thumb tacked pillow, bronzed bed sheets, and a tumbleweed of thrift-store photographs that all manage to remain humble in their assertive monumentality.

Rocklen spent five weeks in Austin creating the installation with student volunteers enabling a fundamental learning experience in how to conceive of and build a major work of art. Talk to any of the volunteers and their respect and admiration for Rocklen and his work is immediately apparent. I’m excited to see how the student’s process and art works are influenced by their exposure to Rocklen’s seemingly effortless treatment of objects, from abandoned lonely things to gleaming relics of our everyday world.

Magli Lara, Blue Ice, 2010. Photo credit Luis Ordonez.

MacGali Lara: Glaciers is installed in the upstairs gallery and is co-curated by Department of Art and Art History faculty member Dr. Andrea Giunta and former faculty member Dr. Roberto Tejada. The exhibition of drawings and animation examines the solidity and danger of the natural formations through ephemeral notions of line and memory. Mexico-based artist, Lara, creates drawings of fragile looping lines that are accompanied by her animation that details, in abstracted drawn marks, her impressions after a recent trip to the Argentine Glaciers of Patagonia. A brilliant on-line component features the curatorial research that went into the mounting of the show as well as an exhibition essay by Giunta, a poem by Tejada, and an explanation of the work by Lara.

The Kayem Arbor at the Visual Arts Center

The Visual Arts Center also features an additional gallery space currently used for a group exhibition investigating forms of making and unmaking.  Yet another space is allocated specifically for student work and student curatorial collaborations. A rotating schedule of performances and film screenings, from digital music shows to Cassavetes film nights, proves the Visual Arts Center to be ambitious in its programming. Taken as a whole, the VAC is offering itself to the University community, providing a space for rigorous intellectual play and much needed art experimentation.