San Antonio Visits

On a Thursday in November, I got picked up at home very early in the morning by my colleague in an unusually low-key car for her. We were on our way to a Texas Public Art Administrators meeting in San Antonio. It was so good to meet people in a specific realm of the arts, and they came from a variety of places and agencies: San Antonio Public Art of course, but also Love Field (an airport), Houston Airports, San Antonio River Authority, etc. Most are city-funded, others included a library with a public art program and no dedicated staff. It was two days after the election and we were all able to tell each other about our local places and not worry about national affairs for the day.

After lunch we met up at a newly re-done park called Yanaguana Garden, which was spectacular. The play structures were huge and wonderful, like nothing I’d ever seen, and there was art all over. We learned that in addition to the large, stunning mosaic sculptures by Oscar Alvarado, were 6 more artworks from the public art exhibition “Play” at Hemisfair, brought together by lead artist Stuart Allen, who led a tour of the park to talk about working with the city and the artists to make ideas reality.

After *that* we went to Blue Star Contemporary, a space I’d certainly heard of, but never visited. We heard from their Artist in Residence, who detailed a very different AIR program than I’d ever heard of – long term artist in residence, working with a group of high school students to make personal and public artworks. (The AIR himself, Alex Rubio, was included in the Yanaguana exhibition, with a great painting that all the public art administrators wanted to know the most about – see header image )

Blue Star recently re-opened after a renovation so we were fortunate to be among the first to see the new space (though of course I’m very curious what it was like before). I picked up a packet of artist bios to find a friend on the cover, though his work was deep in the back.

Last week, I went to another -shorter- meeting in San Antonio. I’m clearly a Texan again, as I considered making the 3ish-hour drive twice in one day as a day trip. Instead, I made arrangements to stay with family in town the night after the meeting and looked up area museums. I gladly picked the McNay Art Museum, with a varied collection (including modern and contemporary, my favorite) in a retrofitted villa. What a fun little museum, I’d love to go when the weather is better, as it sits on a large parcel of land with a patio in the center of the original house and splendid gardens all around. I did get lucky, in that it was a Thursday and the museum is open until 9 with free admission on Thursdays

The patron of the museum, Marion Koogler McNay was a fascinating lady, as I learned in the orientation video that plays on loop upstairs. She had 4 husbands in her 60ish years of life, and a lifelong affair with art (1 or 2 of her husbands were artists). He family had money, as did her second husband. The first, whose name she fondly kept, brought her to San Antonio and died a young man, less than a year after they arrived.

There are minor works by major artists, a great exhibition of a small number of their important collection of prints by Mexican artists, and some very nice ones from a variety of contemporary artists I wasn’t familiar with.  I was struck by the architecture of the house and by some of the furniture displayed without labels among the paintings. There are two wings added more recently – one is for the theatre arts, no pictures allowed, with a fabulous library. Current exhibition of Jim Dine’s designs for the set design and costumes for Salome at the Houston Grand Opera in 1984 is beautiful. The doors between the gallery and the library are something to behold, very theatrical indeed.

I did sneak a shot of the spiral staircase, because the world needs more spiral staircases: 

Then I perused the shop for quite some time and got offered sparkling water or champagne by the shop manager and had the nicest chat with the clerk about art books for kids. These folks are A-OK, A++ will go again!

Header photo from Play at Hemisfair website.

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