As we prepare to bid farewell to a year riddled with chaos and tragedy, and cautiously welcome another with an odd combination of hope and uncertainty, it feels slightly therapeutic to revisit some of San Antonio's more notable moments of 2017. In an effort to paint a broad picture, we asked 27 members of the local art community to weigh in on our year in review with one condition: that they identify highlights or milestones they weren't personally involved in. Running the gamut from stellar exhibitions (the McNay’s Chuck Ramirez retrospective “All This and Heaven Too” was an unsurprising favorite) to major accolades for women artists (big congratulations to Ana Fernandez and Ruth Buentello) and creative reactions to the current political climate (AP Art Lab’s Planned Parenthood benefit “Nasty Women”), the responses we received covered almost all the bases we hoped to include. So we’ll take the next few lines to give kudos to local artist Christie Blizard for her bizarre and refreshingly humorous Artpace exhibition “We Invent Nothing,” to the Artist Foundation of San Antonio for securing a $50,000 grant from Bexar County, and to Luminaria for its memorable return to Hemisfair.
Marco Aquino (Arts Writer)
I think right after the Chuck Ramirez retrospective “All This and Heaven Too,” the Ángel Rodríguez Díaz retrospective at Centro de Artes and FL!GHT is probably the most important one this year.
Rene P. Barilleaux (Head of Curatorial Affairs at McNay Art Museum)
The San Antonio Museum of Art’s exhibition “Of Country and Culture: The Lam Collection of Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art” was a revelation. Co-organizers Lana Meador and Erin Murphy presented the nearly 100 works in an exquisite and compelling way.
Yvette Benavides (Director of S.M.A.R.T.)
I would say a show that stuck with me was AP Art Lab’s “Nasty Women” show in January of 2017 — just after the Trump inauguration. Women, men — all ages of both sexes packed the building, with a line to get into the gallery, to support the show knowing that all proceeds benefited Planned Parenthood. In my 15 years in the 1906 [South Flores arts complex], I hadn’t seen a reaction like this from the general public. People need to feel connected and empowered. Art does both of those things and more.
Sabra Booth (Artist)
Earlier in the year, I witnessed the amazing Women’s March in Austin, which helped take some of the sting out of watching a male chauvinist @$!* win the White House. Now with all the controversies swirling about sexual misconduct, more than ever, girls and women need positive examples of what we can do in the world. Hanging out with artist Katie Pell on the steps of the 1906 South Flores arts complex, as her daughter Bygoe took the stage with her teen rock band, brought that home to me. San Antonio did step up to the plate this year in presenting a variety of shows highlighting women artists. A few highlights of female-focused shows that I saw included Colombian artist Johanna Calle’s Ruiz-Healy Art show “Trama,” with her witty formalist drawings that have a social conscience; Kristy Perez’s Southwest School of Art show “The Giving Distance,” whose revealing drawings tapped into autobiographical desire; the Kathy Vargas-curated Centro de Artes show “A Woman’s Place Is…” offered an inspiring sweep of cross-generational local Latina talent; Jennifer Ling Datchuk threw some feminist porcelain punches in her show “Girl You Can” (shown at Trinity in collaboration with Blue Star Contemporary); and Suzanne Paquette quietly explored the massive dynamics of nature in huge, mixed-media works she presented at Gallery 20/20. Lastly, it was an honor to spend time with the courageous champion of the New York independent alternative art space Franklin Furnace, Martha Wilson, whose politically tinged First Lady portraits are on display at Artpace through December 31. Her stance against Senator Jesse Helm’s censorship crusade of the 1990s is a timely reminder to keep the good fight going.
Jennifer Ling Datchuck
Mike Casey (Co-Owner of Isaac Maxwell Metal)
The McNay’s Chuck Ramirez retrospective. I’ve seen it four times, and friends of mine who’ve seen it have been very moved by it.
Sarah Castillo (Director of Lady Base Gallery)
I’d say that the highlights of 2017 for me are the San Antonio Zine Fest, the announcement of the 2017 recipients of the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Painters and Sculptors Grant program (Ruth Buentello and Ana Fernandez), the announcement of the Luis Leal Award for distinction in Chicana/o, Latina/o Literature to Norma Cantú, Murchison Endowed Professor in Humanities at Trinity University, and the announcement of Eva Ybarra (“La Reina del Acordeón”) being awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship.
Alana Coates (Associate Director of Ruiz-Healy Art)
In general, I loved the uptick in politically focused art. A favorite exhibit that I was not involved in was the Planned Parenthood show at AP Art Lab.
James Courtney (Educator and Arts Writer)
“Biochromatic,” Essentials’ blessing to Luminaria 2017, was an immersive journey into the futuristic yet organic vision of the multifaceted multimedia art collective. In light as delicate as human skin, apparitions, growths and warped forms of the subconscious confronted, as though in impossible motion, the viewer, to disarming effect. Painter and illustrator Angela Fox’s first big solo show (believe it or not) “Heart of the Snake” (at Gravelmouth) laid bare the artist’s diabolical intentions to hex the patriarchy. Direct violence is cool too, as long as it’s a party. But, seriously, this exhibit marks (or damn well better) the next phase of visibility (and vision) for one of our most gifted and mischievous. Hosted simultaneously at Presa House, Ed Saavedra’s “The Price of Free Dumb”and Albert Alvarez’s “Don’t Be My Judas,” an ideal thematic/aesthetic pairing, were both visceral vistas into the many faces of contemporary suffering and betrayal — in other words, they felt necessary in 2017.
Chad Dawkins (Critic and Curator)
Progress doesn’t always come by way of addition; deliberate retraction can be just as important for a progressive city that supports contemporary art. The city’s midnight removal of a sculpture in Travis Park, an ill-advised city commission of little to no artistic merit, should be applauded as a decisive and enlightened action. It is imperative for politicians, activists and artists to directly address the current rise in extremism but to do so, it is important to clear the wreckage of our past.
Ana Fernandez (Artist and Entrepreneur)
The “Entre Orilas” [by Arlene Mejorado and Adriana Monsalve] and “Chicana Feelings” [by Sarah Castillo] shows at the Guadalupe (on view through January 19) are both powerful exhibitions!
Bill FitzGibbons (Director of Dock Space Gallery)
“MetaDADA: High Art for the POPulace” was the best art exhibit I experienced in 2017, which featured an impressively innovative use of space in an art gallery. Inspired by the Pop Art and Dada movements, the curator asked each of the San Antonio-based artists to install their two-dimensional artwork directly onto original murals. This show was vibrant, contemporary, and elevated many emerging local artists.
Dan Goddard (Arts Writer)
Crown jewel of the San Pedro Creek improvements, the Linda Pace Foundation began construction for the $16 million Ruby City, a 14,000-square-foot, magenta-colored, post-modernistic, contemporary art space designed by famed British architect David Adjaye, slated to open September 2019.
Roberta “Nina” Hassele (Director of Contemporary Art Month)
Not since Allison Smith’s Artpace fall 2006 International Artist-in-Residence exhibition “Hobby Horse” have I been so roused by performance art as I was this year with Presa House presents Jimmy James Canales: “Para Chrome” at FL!GHT Gallery, and Artpace fall 2017 resident Heyd Fontenot’s “Unnatural Urges.” Chrome mirrors, PVC pipe, Roberta Flack music, chaps, bull whips — need I say more? Both Jimmy and Heyd touched on topics reflecting self awareness, sexuality and anxiety. Hooray for live performance art in San Antonio in 2017.
Susan Heard (Director of Cinnabar Gallery)
Catherine Cooke’s book about Juan O’Gorman’s [1968 HemisFair] mural is not just a confluence of cultures, but also one of time and memories.
Mary Heathcott (Executive Director of Blue Star Contemporary)
It’s been a great year for the legacy of San Antonio’s Chuck Ramirez, from the reopening of Casa Chuck after an electrical fire to the McNay’s presentation of the first significant retrospective of his work. Chuck must be beaming from above high.
Justin Korver (Co-Director of Hello Studio)
Hiromi Stringer’s “Umeyama Time Teleportation Museum” exhibition at the Southwest School of Art stands out to me because she did a couple of really difficult things. First, Hiromi made a show that was rich in images and text, where the audience could shift back and forth from reader/viewer and a real, complex relationship between images and text. Second, she created a character who could look at San Antonio as an almost complete outsider, and she found humor, wit and criticality. I’ve been a fan of Hiromi’s work for a long time but the “Umeyama Time Teleportation Museum” created a complete web of her thought that was visually stunning and intellectually playful.
Veronique Le Melle (Executive Director of Artpace)
Without a doubt, one of the most significant moments for our arts community this year was Ana Fernandez and Ruth Buentello becoming the first women of color from San Antonio to win a prestigious Painters and Sculptors Grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. We are so proud of the work Ruth has done since winning an Artpace Travel Grant and can’t wait to work with Ana as one of our Texas artists-in-residence next year.
Leigh Anne Lester (Artist)
I liked the exhibit “Daydreams and Other Monsters” out at UTSA. Hiromi Stringer’s “Umeyama Time Teleportation Museum” show at the Southwest School of Art is amazeballs. I really liked Jennifer Ling Datchuk’s “Girl You Can” show at Trinity. I have also recently rediscovered Second Saturday. I love the vibe there; it reminds me of what First Fridays used to be like — full of possibilities and experimentation. The art isn’t always great but you see the up-and-comings. It makes my heart sing! Flax Studio and Hello Studio are doing some great programming. I saw an Angela Fox show (“Heart of the Snake”) at Gravelmouth that I loved.
Rigoberto Luna (Co-Director of Presa House Gallery)
I think Elda Silva’s departure from the Express-News after 24 years was a glaring moment for me in 2017. Elda’s insight, professionalism and commitment to the arts community here is going to be missed. Exhibition-wise the Centro de Artes retrospective of Ángel Rodríguez Díaz, curated by Ruben Cordova, was probably the show that will stay with me for a long time — powerful exhibition.
Amada Claire Miller (Founder of Hello Studio)
The artist-run spaces in San Antonio really stepped it up this year (Clamp Light, Corporate Studio, Mantle, Gravelmouth, French & Michigan, Mini Art Museum, etc.), providing adventurous programming and dialogue in line with world-class art hubs. Operating on the margins can be a difficult chore but with these experimental spaces, I think local artists will have a place to navigate their careers in a more meaningful way.
Ana Montoya (Founder of AnArte Gallery)
The Chuck Ramirez exhibit at the McNay, heartfelt …
Kelly O’Connor (Head of Collections & Communications at Linda Pace Foundation)
"In Real Life"
It has been a pleasure to see artists Ana Fernandez and Jennifer Ling Datchuk, two voices with their finger on the pulse, receive the attention they deserve this year. Both have been highly prolific in 2017 and have received some of the highest accolades one could hope to achieve as a visual artist. Ana almost broke the internet this fall when receiving the Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant and Artpace Residency within one month. Jennifer’s exhibition of work from her Blue Star Berlin Residency, “Girl You Can” transcended elite art audiences and gender norms. One of my favorite moments was her Basic Bitch work trending on Instagram with men.
Dana Read (Director of REM Gallery)
2017 had many outstanding exhibitions and art events, from pop-ups to museums. Most memorable for me was, “Heaven and Hell: Salvation and Retribution in Pure Land Buddhism” at San Antonio Museum of Art, an amazing exhibition featuring 70 works of art drawn from 20 private collections and institutions across the country and the world, as well as SAMA’s own Asian collections.
Riley Robinson (Studio Director of Artpace)
Even with the current political climate, the arts are more vital than ever with lots of things percolating for 2018. But 2017 was not a throwaway year, with Buster Graybill’s work at the Southwest School and Jimmy James Canales at FL!GHT – both were highlights. Mary Magsamen and Stephan Hillerbrand, with work at Blue Star through January 21, are really some of my favorite artists. I can relate to the humorous narrative stories built around family, and love seeing their work.
Katy Silva (Founder of Flax Studio)
I am interested in the book series that Clamp Light launched this year, “The Book Lights.” They are propelling the local contemporary art conversation forward by organizing book club meetings on notable publications (Just Kids by Patti Smith and The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker) and situating the discourse around the San Antonio art scene. For those of us who aren’t in art school but want to talk about art, this is a lovely resource.
Hills Snyder (Artist, Musician and Curator)
2017 is easy — Chuck!
Suzanne Weaver (Brown Foundation Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at San Antonio Museum of Art)
For me, one of the highlights was the terrific curating of Michelle Grabner and the three artists — Kate Newby, Nicholas Frank and Robert Hodge — she selected for Artpace’s residency program (spring 2017). The artistic practice and realized projects of each artist were mutually enhancing and made in Gestalt terms, “a whole other than the sum of parts.”