Creek Show, the annual procession of light art staged by the Waller Creek Conservancy, turned a corner of sorts last year.
What started as mostly elegant minimalist efforts along downtown Austin’s eastern waterway went maximalist in 2017 with masses of pink flags for “Night Garden” by Eric Leshinsky (lead) with Colter Sonneville, Megahn Skornia and Wenjie Zhao.
The designs for year five — the free event will be Nov. 9-17 — were recently announced and promise to continue the large-scale experience. In 2017, more than 20,000 people attended Creek Show, sampling the kind of attractions planned for a transformed Waller Creek. For 2018, Creek Show will be in a different section of Waller Creek — between Ninth and 11th streets — and include Symphony Square, where the “Creek Show Lounge” will be located.
Here’s a look at early renderings of what’s planned for 2018, along with the teams behind the designs:
For the past five years, the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria has benefitted the Contemporary Austin. Hosts expertly employ the arboreal setting on the grounds of the Clara Driscoll villa to create an elevated atmosphere at dusk and into the evening. This year, that effort included the passage of the S.S. Hangover through the lagoon with members of an Austin music collective playing a dirge-like piece.
Visual artists do love a bit of theater!
Guests were in no hurry to pass up cocktails a key points in and around the villa, but the seated dinner took place under tents on the front lawn. Happily, I was placed next to designers Lydia G. Cook and Geoff Fritz from the Cambridge, Mass. firm of Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture. They helped explained the company’s master plan for the Contemporary’s Marcus Sculpture Park, including connectivity to nearby Mayfield Park.
The modest but tasty dinner arrived courtesy of restauranteur Tyson Cole along with chefs Ed Sura of Uchiko and Joe Zoccoli of Uchi. (Note to other Austin charity hosts: You don’t need a big slab of animal protein to satisfy.) The evening climaxed with an unusually civilized live auction featuring work by artists close to projects at the Contemporary.
“When all was said and done, we raised more than $500,000 in the live and silent auctions,” reported the museum’s spokeswoman, Nicole Chism Griffin. “One hundred percent of these funds will go to support exhibitions at both of our locations. We also raised $325,0000 toward the purchase of Ai Weiwei’s “Iron Tree Trunk.” Our goal had been $100,000 for the evening! This $325,000 will go toward fulfilling the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation’s challenge grant of $500,000 (for the purchase).”
I hear that some guests danced till the wee hours.
Some notes on the Austin Symphony‘s recent concert at the Long Center.
• One way to fill a house: Schedule Beethoven‘s Fifth. It is the duty of artistic leaders such as Peter Bay to expand tastes and lead audiences in new directions. Still, the Fifth — if well done, and it was — satisfies and enlightens with each fresh interpretation. It comes with the added benefit of a standing-room-only crowd.
• I’ve tried to sit in every part of the Long Center house since it opened 10 years ago. Row 4 on the orchestra level was not the right place to take in the concert’s opening piece, Michael Torke‘s “Bright Blue Music.” All I heard was the lower range of the strings and all I saw were the polished shoes of the musicians.
• Turns out the same seat was ideal for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion.” Here, only the strings really mattered and they came together beautifully in conjunction with violinist Vadim Gluzman‘s playful then profound solo turn. Booked as part of the “Bernstein at 100” celebration, this near-concerto is a gem to revive more often.
• Bay has proven time and again that he can take epic forms to ever higher heights. Last season, it was Mahler‘s Sixth, an almost brutally difficult symphony to get right. With Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, the challenge instead is overfamiliarity. Bay and his always advancing ensemble treated the first movement with rhythmic clarity, the second with architectural balance, the third with taut force and the final movement with bristling brilliance.
The beloved 14-acre site, home to b’s 1916 villa and, now, the sprawling b, is set to undergo a multiphase face-lift. The first step is to break ground March 21 on a new $6 million guest-friendly entrance complex and improvements to the verges of West 35th Street.
At some point, South by Southwest will encompass all human activity.
Austin’s vast March spree started with music in the 1980s, then added movies and technology, before taking on education, philanthropy, the environment and allied fields.
Art came next.
Today, SXSW announced six art projects for its second annual program scheduled for the conference and festivals March 9-18, 2018. Combined with the UNESCO Media Arts Exhibition at SXSW, the installations are meant to expand the discussion on visual and digital and media arts during the confab.
Kids rush into the doors and hang out the windows. Adults step gingerly over the mulch floors and step back to view the five, tall, curved, leaning structures that look like something from “Where the Wild Things Are” or “The Hobbit.”
“We let the kids in early,” says StickWork artist Patrick Dougherty. “They weren’t sure they were allowed to come in the gate.”
The fences come down today. The public unveiling is 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 10, courtesy of the Pease Park Conservancy.
“We wanted to make a cathedral,” Dougherty says. “We got five corners instead.”
The $106,000 project made from 10 tons of locally harvested then bent, woven and fastened Texas ash, elm, ligustrum and depression willow were built in three weeks by Dougherty and his son, Sam, along with volunteers and staff from Houston’s Weingarten Art Group. The site off Parkway not far from Windsor Road was picked because of accessibility and parking, but it’s also a little sheltered and not clearly visible from North Lamar Boulevard.
Dougherty, who has built 288 of these StickWork projects around the world after working on a family cabin, had always wanted to work in Austin. He says the still-unnamed group of five structures should last two years before they begin to deteriorate seriously.
The Conservancy will maintain the art, then, with the help mulch the remains to spread around the park.
We lied. This post reports on no firings. You can relax.
Yet “hires, fires, gifts and honors” sounds like a good catch-all headline. We might use it again.
Zilker Theatre Productions makes two key hires
The group that has staged the Zilker Summer Musical for 60 years has taken on J. Robert “Jimmy” Moore asartistic director. Moore, remembered recently for “Buyer and Cellar” at Zach Theatre, will work alongside Executive Director KateHix, already in place. Also, one of those beloved behind-the-scenes heroes, Shannon Richey, has been drafted as director of production. Moore and Richey are trusted veterans who will undoubtedly bolster this free and singularly Austin tradition. No word on next summer’s selection.
Austin Opera‘s board of trustees has designated Jeff Kodosky, founder of National Instruments and inveterate arts lovers, as its next chairman. He takes over the position from Elisabeth Waltz, who has served as chairwoman 2016. Kodosky has been with the board and the company through thick and thin since 1996. I’m sure this quiet, smiling man could tell some tales about the group that almost went away at least twice, but also has triumphed repeatedly. Next up is “Carmen’ in November.
Huston-Tillotson is now an all-Steinway school
Following a gift of $800,000, Huston-Tillotson University will become the only institution of higher learning in Central Texas, the fourth historically black college or university in the country, and the 196th college or university to join the All-Steinway School club. University officials will unveil the Steinway pianos during their Charter Day Convocation 10 a.m. Oct. 27, 2017 in the King-Seabrook Chapel on the campus at 900 Chicon Street. In addition, Steinway artist Marcus Roberts and the Marcus Roberts Trio will headline a special concert.
Ransom Center selects new curator of art
Austinites generally think of the Ransom Center as a literary treasure trove with out-of this-world strengths in modern literature, movies, performing arts and photography. And, oh yes, the Watergate papers. Yet is also houses, preserves and exhibits a lot of excellent visual art, too. Over the summer, Tracy Bonfitto was named curator of art. She comes with sterling credentials from Getty Research Institute, the Fowler Museum at UCLA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She’s also a University of Texas grad.
I’m sure she will meld partnerships with the other distinguished and closely related cultural spots in that area of Austin, including the Blanton Museum of Art, LBJ Presidential Library, Briscoe Center for American History and Bullock Texas State History Museum as well as UT’s highly regarded Landmarks public arts program and its Visual Arts Center. Maybe the new Ellsworth Kelly house will help point the way visually and viscerally for more of a interrelated cultural campus.
What a rush: Pease Park Conservancy has put out a call for volunteers to help build a major sculpture in the park in January 2018.
Designed by renowned artist Patrick Dougherty, this will be the latest Stickwork, a series of over 275 distinct sculptures around the world. (Here’s a few examples.)
According to a Pease Park communiqué, it will take about three weeks to build the site-specific piece – comprised entirely of locally harvested saplings – which is intentionally built for the community by the community.
“Volunteers are needed for single day shifts, although if the project really gels with the right person they are welcome to help out for longer,” says spokesman Mason Kerwick. “Since Patrick will be on site every day guiding the shape of the piece, this is the perfect opportunity for anyone curious to learn more about the artistic process of an internationally renowned artist – while also spending time outdoors, enjoying the sunshine and nature in one of Austin’s oldest park.
Once complete, the sculpture will remain on display in Pease Park for a few years.
Stone-carver Stuart Simpson, who lives in Cedar Park and works from a studio in Southeast Austin, can estimate how much it would cost to add President Donald J. Trump to Mount Rushmore, something the president has discussed in public with a mocking tone that ends up sounding serious.
New York-based Washington Post reporter Philip Bump contacted Stu, a neat guy and a member of the Stone Carvers Guild whom we’ve always intended to profile, to find out what it would take.
“His estimate — which was obviously very rough given the infrequency of projects of this scale — was that it would take a team of about 180 people about four years to complete the job. (The work is “not like making a pizza,” he said.) That team would consist of about 25 designers, 30 trained stone workers and some 125 laborers to do the bulk of the chipping away at the mountain to create a 60-foot-tall head.
“At estimated hourly rates of $100 (designers), $50 (trained stone workers) and $30 (the rest of the crew), that’s about $64 million alone — just for labor.
“The way the work would proceed would be by “taking away the parts that you know don’t need to be there,” working from the top down, Simpson said. He likened it to terracing the side of a mountain, which, in a sense, it is. While the original sculptures were carved using tools such as jackhammers, Simpson noted that building this in 2017 would offer some advantages.
“Technology these days is way more advanced,” he said. “I think a lot of it will still have to be sculpted and removed off the mountain in the same manner that it was in the past, but with the new computer abilities and 3-D scanning, I would think there’s much more equipment that could be used to make it a more accurate and easier process.” Laser locating could allow for much more precise carving, for example, allowing a carver to hit a very particular depth on a section of Trump’s face.”
The mosaic of the feather-haired star, who attended the University of Texas and studied with sculptor Charles Umlauf, was recently finished by Stefanie Distefano for a hair salon, aptly.
We especially like the crop below, since it reminds us somewhat of her famous poster as well as the Andy Warhol print that became the subject of a lawsuit between UT and Fawcett’s longtime main man, Ryan O’Neal.
The Umlauf recently showed an exhibit that documented the artistic link between mentor and student.