I really didn’t start this blog to write about local politics, but I’ve been in contact with some staff members at the Alameda National Center for Latino Arts and Culture, and some of the things they are telling me need to come out. Rumors have been swirling around the Alameda for months; director Ruth Medellin was apparently forced out back in June, shortly after Laura Esparza left. At lease one board member has been forced out. According to sources, management showed the door to many of Medellin’s friends within weeks of her departure. From what I understand, the entire staff had to reapply for their jobs, and many were let go. Now, this is the kind of thing that happens at nonprofits, and from the outside, it’s hard to tell whether the purge was actually good or bad for the organization.
However, if this string of firings and resignations was the result of a decision to clean up the Alameda, you wouldn’t expect to see Founding Chairman Henry Muñoz III use Alameda staff to set up his personal parties, or his Clinton fundraiser tonight. And you wouldn’t expect him to call Alameda staff in the middle of the night to clean up after these parties at his home. Surely this would be seen as an ethical lapse? I’m hearing from sources at the Alameda that this kind of behavior is typical. I’m hearing that Alameda maintenance staff are often sent to Muñoz’ house to make repairs or do landscaping.
One source, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, believes that the Museo Alameda itself is being “offered” for parties thrown by Muñoz’ business associates and potential donors. At these late night soirées, sometimes with hundreds of attendees, alcohol and food is served in the exhibit spaces. And of course, Alameda staff are pulled away from their jobs to set up and clean up the parties. I have not been able to confirm that these parties are thrown at no cost; if the space is being rented for a fair price, many of the ethical concerns over the use of the space vanish.
There are there are also worries about cronyism. Eliseo Rios was recently hired as the director of administration and is a member of the management committee which is charged with running the Alameda temporarily while also searching for Medellin’s replacement. Rios apparently has no experience or qualifications in the art world or the museum world (beyond his work at Alameda); until recently he worked at Cartel Creativo, which handles Latino-targeted advertising for Labatt. He majored in finance and marketing.
Now I think the Alameda is a great thing for San Antonio; I’ve seen some really good contemporary art shows there (e.g. Seis Who), and I think it has fantastic potential to develop a rich narrative or dialectic of Latino culture that embraces the historical and the contemporary. But those who have put in long hours trying to make the Alameda what it is are saddened to see its resources squandered for personal gain. In the wake of the Lawrence Small scandal, we should all be wary of this behavior. As one source says, “We are not Henry Muñoz III, and contrary to popular belief we are NOT HIS museum.”
At the very least the Alameda needs to conduct an internal investigation into Muñoz’ use of Alameda resources for private (non-fund raising) functions. The Alameda receives public funds as well, and this may be a situation in which the city needs to conduct its own investigation. I’d also like to see the Express-News and the Current dig deeper into this story. They have skirted around the issue, but I think we need to get to the heart of it and look at the actions of Henry Muñoz.
Please leave clarifications or any other information you want to share in comments.
Over at Tyler Green’s house, a long series of posts about art responding to 9/11 is underway. So I thought I’d make a little contribution by way of discussing pre-9/11 work that may provide a vision for a post-9/11 world. In 1908 architect Antoni Gaudi began working on a project called Hotel Attraction for the site which later became the World Trade Center. The hotel, conceived while Gaudi was working on La Pedrera, was abandoned before construction began. The project was unknown to the public until 1956, when one of Gaudi’s assistants produced a set of plans for the 360 meter tall building. There is also another strange connection between Gaudi and Ground Zero. Gaudi was arrested on September 11, 1924 (77 years before the attacks on the World Trade Center) by the totalitarian Spanish government for celebrating the National Day of Catalonia.
Now some, including Gaudi followers and visionary artist Paul Laffoley, have proposed that the hotel finally be constructed on Ground Zero. The concept has some interesting implications — in Laffoley’s words, bringing back “architectural ghosts” to create “utopic space“: “It is not Time that heals, it is the Spirit of History.” Rather than dwelling on the traumatic moment, perhaps we ought to reach back and negate that moment with an unrealized possibility from the past.
The Museum of Fine Arts Houston offers an eccentric look into the Chaney Family Collection in Red Hot Asian Art Today. Two of Do Ho Suh’s monumental sculptures, Paratrooper and Karma, fill the gallery space with surgical precision and scale-skewed significance. The humorous works of the Luo Brothers brighten up the voluminous space while several animation and video works from Wu Junyong and Takeshi Murata add strange soundtracks to this fantastic exhibition.
Also if you are in U-town, stop by The Station for an interesting juxtaposition of Rice University sculpture professor George Smith’s weighty, stoic steel sculptures, Aime Mpane multi-media installation and James Little’s vibrant, Stella-esque oil and wax canvas paintings. Though they are billed as solo exhibitions in this space, Smith and Little fit together in a harmonious tesseract pattern of elongated triangles. The Station show ends this week and you can still catch the Red Hot Asian Art show through mid-October.
Copyright law has given essential protections to artists as long as it has been around, allowing for a legally enforced structure within which to distribute reproductions of artwork. In recent years, with the rise in popularity of sampling and appropriation, it has also been seen as a major obstacle to many artists. Hence the rise of ‘copyleft‘ and Creative Commons, which created a sub-structure within existing copyright laws allowing for certain kinds of reuse and redistribution, while keeping ownership of the work in the hands of the original artist.
Meanwhile, publishing companies, who see copyrighted work as their lifeblood, have struggled to extend and strengthen copyright laws. We have seen the lifespan of a copyright extend from a modest 14 years (with the possibility for a 14 year extension) at the founding of the United States to the entire life of the artist plus 75 years today.
Recently, however, free speech and free culture advocates have been trying to fight back the rising tide of copyright regulations. A major decision was handed down yesterday by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding these expansions of copyright. They relate specifically to the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) enacted under Bill Clinton. This act placed certain foreign works under US copyright which had previously been considered part of the public domain in the US. The 10th Circuit found in Golan v. Gonzales that taking works out of the public domain retroactively
is unconstitutional requires further scrutiny, invalidating this section of the URAA remanding the URAA to the District Court for First Amendment review.
Lawrence Lessig (who argued the case) believes that this will have major implications for the Supreme Court review of another case, Kahle v. Gonzales, which seeks to overturn the shift from opt-in copyright to opt-out copyright (that is, it used to be that you had to specifically mark something as copyrighted to take it out of the public domain; now, works are copyrighted by default unless the creator specifically chooses to place it in the public domain). More analysis of this important decision can be found at Balkinization.
These decisions have potential to move the balance closer to the ‘culture wants to be free’ side of things, and further from the ‘culture is property’ side, limiting the kinds of laws Congress can pass to further lock down the free flow of information and art.
This weekend is going to be pretty dense with art in San Antonio, so I thought I’d give a little run-down here to help you sort through it all. Over at Southwest School of Art and Craft, Multiplicity opens on Thursday. This exhibit features some top-notch ceramic artists, including one of my favorites, Marek Cecula. Other artists featured are Shawn Busse, Bean Finneran, Kay Hwang, Denise Pelletier, Jeanne Quinn, Gregory Roberts and Juana Valdes. You can read a review of the show in Artlies (when it was at UT El Paso). If you’re going to see one show this week, make it Multiplicity. Southwest School is also showing new ceramic work by three “certificate students” (Miguel Abugattas, Janice Mann and Lyn Woods), and photography by faculty member Richard Kline.
This Friday is also First Friday, and it looks to be a good one. Rome Prize winner and UTSA faculty member Ron Binks is showing photography at REM Gallery (there will also be work by Ricky Armendariz, another UTSA faculty member); Marlys Dietrick shows new drawings at Three Walls; and Sala Diaz shows new work by Buzz Spector, Chuck Ramirez, Kimberley Aubuchon, and Michelle Monseau. All these exhibits are worth checking out; and if you missed the opening, Yellow Wallpaper at Unit B is closing on Friday as well.
As it happens, this month Second Saturday falls the day after First Friday, so on Saturday night the South Flores crew will be opening three photography exhibits in the 1906 building. In Salon Mijangos we’re having Richard Yanas curate a show of young photographers from San Antonio and Houston; FL!GHT is showing Club Foot, a collection of photos of club-goer’s feet by Bryan DeLaGarza; and One9Zero6 shows the work of David Blow, a faculty member at UNT.
And Sunday, we sleep.
In the interest of debate, let me put in my two cents on the various stabs being taken at Elaine Wolff (both in Michelle’s post below, and in the various articles she links to). In her critique of Olmos Famous, Wolff accuses the show of being too much surface, not enough depth. This assessment isn’t necessarily wrong, but I think it misses the point. Franco Mondini-Ruiz’s shows (both his solo shows and those that he curates) are about spectacle, crowds, and excitement. They aren’t about quiet contemplation of a body of work. He’s working on making the community aware of the quality of contemporary art that is made in San Antonio, of the kind of excitement and energy that can surround this work, and of the fact that you can pack a gallery in Olmos Park with people who live on the north side and the south side. And he’s doing a great job of it.
There is room for other kinds of shows, as Michelle Monseau’s quiet, mysterious, and very spacious exhibit at Blue Star recently demonstrated. Franco just isn’t going to curate those shows. The “fairy god-mother” remark may sound bad from a certain perspective, but knowing Franco, and the degree to which he can dish it out, I have trouble getting worked up about this comment.
San Antonio gives weekly alternative media little to be proud of these days. The SA Current tried to cover up its fatuous reporting with an Eighties inspired graphic re-design but it looks like things are just getting pickled. I wrote a Letter to the Editor, Elaine Wolff, last month for her derogatory and vapid review of the Olmos Famous Show at Galeria Ortiz [Curated by Franco Mondini-Ruiz]. You can’t read it because there is no archival search engine on SA Current’s sparkling new website. Although Wolff posted the letter on her blog, she never published it in the print version.
Wolff is under some serious heat for her dubious coverage of one Mikal Watts and her husband’s deep pockets that connect the local weekly editor to a Texas lawyer’s run for Senate. Did I mention her husband, Michael Westheimer, is a Zoning Commissioner? I’m still working on this story but you can read the Express-News [read Aug. 23 post] and local muckraker, Barbara Gonzalez coverage of the ongoing discussion. In the meantime, I wanted to get things started after I waited a few weeks for possible publication of my letter. I am posting Wolff’s response in tandem. In addition, Wolff just fired news staff writer Kelly Dailey. Fellow writer Dave Maas just left the paper a few weeks ago to work for a weekly in Santa Fe after serious contentions over Wolff’s delayed disclosure.
More news later this week…
Here’s the letter and her response for the Olmos Famous Review: