The Contemporary Austin unveils confrontational but celebratory new mural in the heart of downtown
The Jones Center at the Contemporary Austin is somehow one of the city’s most recognizable buildings despite changing facades. Following the usual mostly-white convention, the museum has unveiled a new mural on that prime wall space on Seventh Street and Congress Avenue.
This one is especially minimalist; red words in a sans serif font on the white wall. They double as the name of the exhibit inside, “In a dream you found a way to survive and you were full of joy.” In all capital letters, despite the austere presentation, the jubilence of the powerful message resounds in its urban space. An almost identical work in inverted colors inside the museum greets visitors with a little more detail on what to expect.
The artist, Jenny Holzer, is known for this type of work, consisting almost entirely of stark words on plain backgrounds. Many are written on walls and buildings. This sentence in particular comes from her “Survival” series (1983-1985) across a variety of media, including granite and paper. In this new context, it names a theme between works of eight female artists, notably from diverse cultural and gender backgrounds: Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Adriana Corral, Ellie Ga, Juliana Huxtable, Tala Madani, Danielle Mckinney, Wendy Red Star, and Clare Rojas.
As usual when the Jones Center builds a new exhibit, it takes over the whole building. This time, with enough artists, it does feel more like a standard gallery, with little pockets to view each exhibit, as opposed to the experimental residences that are sometimes there (and which have only recently vacated the space). The exhibits include textiles, audiovisual, and memorably strong concepts past creating a beautiful or experimental image.
Juliana Huxtable lends collages that poke fun of conservative reactions to trans people in tabloids, displaying those headlines very starkly, similarly to the Holzer work. “Experimental surgeries turn youth into mutant creatures of the night,” says one poster next to a sexy, fashionable imp. Another exhibit upstairs, by Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, places the viewer in a glowing red room with video game controls on a podium, and a projection on the wall. Try to walk home without looking behind you for too long: another metaphor for trans life.
Another work, by Tala Madani, uses projection and collage to depict a “mother” wandering through a meticulous Tehran home and smearing herself (a “shit mom,” physically composed accordingly) on furniture. Considering the recent protests in Iran, this is one of the most saliently current works in the gallery, although perhaps the ennui represents more of a universal, multicultural feeling than what drives action today. Similarly, "Latitudes," a work by El Paso-born artist Adriana Corral, displays embossed copies of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in various languages. The white-on-white text is nearly impossible to read.
“[Holzer’s] work prompts people to revisit the ideas they hold, and invites them to act for change,” said curator curator Robin K. Williams in a press release about the mural. “Our hope is that presenting this text in the heart of downtown Austin, seven blocks from the Texas capitol building, will do the same. The message is simultaneously critical, reflective, and inspiring.”
The mural can be viewed now by anyone passing by on East 7th Street. The corresponding exhibit has been open to the public since September 17, and will remain open until February 12, 2023. Tickets ($0-10) are available via The Contemporary Austin.