While the official Contemporary Art Month Kick-Off Party doesn’t go down until March 6 at Blue Star Contemporary — where CAM was born back in 1986 — the 34-year-old San Antonio tradition is already in full swing at the McNay in the form of the CAM Perennial. Built around a formula that invites a guest curator from outside San Antonio to select Bexar County-based artists from an open call, the Perennial offers a portrait of our local art scene from a fresh perspective.
Having previously handed over complete creative control to curators from Dallas, New Orleans, Houston, Miami, Mexico City and the Canary Islands, the Perennial this year landed in the hands of Lee Hallman, an associate curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. From the 2020 open call, Hallman shortlisted 16 applicants for studio visits and ultimately narrowed her roster down to nine artists — Jimmy James Canales, Anthony Francis, Nicholas Frank, Raul Gonzalez, Mari Hernandez, Megan Harrison, Buster Graybill, Jasmyne Graybill and Amada Miller. Titled “Topographies of Truth,” the exhibition is intriguingly couple-heavy: Buster and Jasmyne Graybill, Amada Miller and Nicholas Frank, and Jimmy James Canales and Megan Harrison are all respectively partnered. During a media preview, Hallman said she chose each artist based solely on the strength of their work and that the connections between them were coincidental.
Although peppered with works art scenesters may recognize from previous exhibitions, “Topographies of Truth” cleverly brings together disparate and complementary elements to evidence “truths about the political, cultural, and environmental topics of our time.” As viewers enter the McNay’s Frost Galleries, they’re greeted with pensive, large-scale portraits by photographic artist and educator Anthony Francis; Raul Gonzalez’s poppy yet personal paintings documenting slice-of-life scenes that celebrate fatherhood and the artist’s colorful “werking” life; and an untitled series of layered black-and-white photographic self-portraits that shed light on Mari Hernandez’s process of transforming her appearance with makeup, prosthetics, wigs and costumes.
Things get significantly more organic in the middle gallery, where Megan Harrison’s surreal interpretations of the natural world share the walls with a naturally dyed fiber collage Amada Miller created during a residency in Trinidad and Tobago — don’t miss the video of it being paraded through the streets of Port of Spain. Also on hand are an assortment of well-worn tools Jasmyne Graybill enhanced with intricate polymer clay configurations inspired by molds, lichens and fungi. Thanks to lighting and strategically arranged white surfaces, shadows come into play in the back gallery, where Nicholas Frank presents a slightly dangerous-looking “room divider” rendered in shards of broken glass and Jimmy James Canales reprises two key elements from his 2017 solo show “Para Chrome” — a dangling, armor-like sculpture made from metal tubing, rear-view mirrors and low-rider bicycle parts, and a short film of the artist wearing the contraption while combing his hair to the tune of Roberta Flack’s classic “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”
Although teased in a video trailer housed in the middle gallery, arguably the biggest wow factor of “Topographies of Truth” isn’t inside the McNay but parked on the lawn in front of the museum. An ongoing project that nods to everything from Marcel Duchamp’s iconic porcelain urinal Fountain to doomsday anxiety and DIY survivalism, Buster Graybill’s fully functional R. MUTT: Renegade Modernist Utility Travel Trailer is a bizarre sight to behold that comes complete with a mobile kitchen, outdoor shower, first aid kit, tools aplenty, fine art books, a flotation device, “emergency whiskey” and even an escape hatch.
$10-$20 (free from 4-9 p.m. on Thursdays and the first Sunday of the month), 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday through May 17, McNay Art Museum, 6000 N. New Braunfels Ave., (210) 824-5368, mcnayart.org.
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