San Antonio, Texas. ART Magazine.
Looking back to January of 2012, it is shocking to see how much things have changed in twelve months. Many galleries disappeared, others emerged, art collaboratives were formed, some Curators and Directors left their positions while others replaced them, major exhibitions happened in our city, artist-run spaces continued to flourish, the commercial art gallery industry had a major downfall, and we hosted the Americans for the Arts Annual National Convention.
We begun the year with a vibrant First Friday full of art galleries. But many galleries located in the Blue Star Arts Complex, such as Three Walls, Cactus Bra, and Joan Grona Gallery, closed their doors in April. After years of enjoying an art gallery-friendly lease, these galleries were forced to close after the complex decided to charge market price. The owners of the complex were criticized by many, but the true tragedy was the inability of galleries to subsist paying normal rent. Suffering by the lack of art collectors in our city, art galleries struggle to stay afloat. Another important gallery closed its doors, David Shelton Gallery, which after years of participating in national art fairs came to realize that it was not profitable to stay in San Antonio and finally moved to Houston. This event has deeply impacted our art scene, not only by transforming the First Friday experience, but also by jeopardizing the future of local artists who have less outputs and local galleries to represent them nationally and internationally. Even though we still have important commercial art galleries such as Gallery Nord or Anarte Gallery, this event has made a big statement on the struggling commercial art gallery industry in our city and the need to promote art collecting.
One could have thought that First Friday would change dramatically. However, the lack of smaller galleries has been compensated by the new curatorial and programming efforts of Blue Star and the continued endeavor of UTSA Satellite Space. Blue Star has been working in interesting curatorial projects bringing outside curators such as Barbara MacAdam, Deputy Editor at Artnews, Catherine Anspon, Art Editor at PaperCity, and renowned sculptor, Phillip King. The Black Box Lunch series and other community events are proof of their new take as an art institution on programming that places them further from an art gallery.
Second Saturday changed a bit as well. Gravelmouth opened on the Lone Star art complex in one of the smaller gallery spaces this year and then relocated to the SMARTart Project Space. Another big transformation happened after Sean FitzGibbons, who ran Lone Star Studios, left San Antonio to work on his Graduate education. It was uncertain what would happen with the space, but luckily around the same time a new art collaborative of young artists emerged: The Lullwood Group. The Lullwood group has now taken over Lone Star Studios, bringing quality curatorial projects and artwork such as Cr(e)ate by RJP Nomadic and Elizabeth McDonald and Seth Orion Schwaiger’s exhibition. Besides the engaging contributions the Lullwood Group is bringing into the art scene, it is refreshing to see a group of young artists who are involved in constructing the contemporary art scene. The Lullwood Group, Gravelmouth, Comminos Studio, and Fl!ght are examples of spaces run by young artists that are reinvigorating San Antonio’s contemporary art scene.
Even if the amount of commercial galleries is decreasing, the ones that survived the year are standing strong. Gallery Nord, Anarte Gallery, REM Gallery, Bismarck Studios, Ruiz-Healy Art, and Radius Center, seem to be doing well. Ruiz-Healy has just opened a location in New York, extending the reach of local artists nationally. However, most of the commercial art galleries seem to be locally oriented and do not reach out to the national and international market. After losing David Shelton Gallery to Houston, it seems like an outlet for local artists is quite needed.
Within the museum industry, our institutions seem to be doing very well. With increased programming and a vast list of outstanding exhibitions this year, San Antonio museums and institutions have thrived throughout the year. This year alone we had an important exhibition of Andy Warhol’s work, a solo exhibition by Radcliffe Bailey, and an extensive survey of Chicano printmaking at Estampas de la Raza at the McNay; San Antonio Collects: Contemporary and Adad Hannah’s Intimate Encounters at San Antonio Museum of Art; outstanding artists and curators have passed through Artpace’s residency program; a survey of José Guadalupe Posada’s work, and an exhibition of contemporary photography dealing with border issues at UTSA Art Gallery; an important exhibition of artists from Chihuahua at the Institute of Texan Cultures; and an extensive exhibition of Picasso’s work at Texas A&M University. Most of our art institutions and museums are showing strong programming and community engagement as well.
Two major events also shaped the future of art education. UTSA opened its new Sculpture building, which houses first-class studios for the sculpture graduate students. Having one of the strongest sculpture programs in the city and being the only graduate level fine arts program in San Antonio, the new facility and student aid that is coming with it will allow UTSA to bring in more students that will enrich San Antonio’s sculpture scene. The other major event was Southwest School of Art’s new BFA program. San Antonio now has its first private art school with a specialized curriculum for artists.
Last year, San Antonio hosted the Americans for the Arts Annual National Convention bringing art professionals from all around the country and putting the spotlight on the city. During the convention, San Antonio flaunted its thriving art scene and Public Arts program leaving a good impression, but most importantly it built connections with art institutions nationwide. Scale: A Gathering of Sculptors was also hosted in San Antonio. The sculpture conference brought renowned sculptors to our city engaging local artists in conversation with international artists.
Overall, the changes that happened in San Antonio’s art scene this year seem to be positive. Yes, we lost many galleries, but this might not be a bad thing since a growth in the commercial gallery sector needs to be supported by a growth in art collectors. The galleries that stayed already have a strong base of collectors and will probably benefit from the decrease in competition. Artist-run spaces continue to thrive and could compensate the lack of commercial galleries (they could even take over) if they do not neglect to promote art collecting. Artist-run spaces are at the core of San Antonio’s art scene and artists reigning and controlling over the industry (instead of gallerists and institutions) makes San Antonio unique, but the lack of collectors and reach of the outside market will still get in the way. The foundation has been put in place to have a private art school and a first-class graduate program, which will with no doubt raise the bar for the local art scene by contributing new professionally oriented artists. First Friday and Second Saturday have changed, but the changes seem to have brought new efforts from Blue Star and a young energetic group of artists contributing to the contemporary art scene. Hopefully, the city will continue to host important events such as the Convention, so we can continue to build a network nationally and internationally. We see an art scene that is looking to improve itself in all aspects. San Antonio’s art scene is big: there are a lot of artists, a lot of art institutions, a lot of artist-run spaces, and a lot of art galleries. This 2013 might be a good year to concentrate on quality over quantity and an increase in the one thing we are lacking: art collectors.