The bulky blue gray rope tumbles in massive wave-like undulations down the amphitheater at Laguna Gloria.
At the shore, one rope wave continues its downward-flowing journey, jutting out like a stream of lava onto a wooden barge-like platform right to the edge of the lagoon.
Orly Genger’s "Current" is the fourth site-specific installation commissioned by the Contemporary Austin for its Laguna Gloria site since the museum (the entity formed after the merger of the Austin Museum of Art and Arthouse) refocused its artist mission last year.
Genger chose the amphitheater for her project on a visit last year.
And in doing so, the New York-based artist has upped the ante, invigorating the Laguna Gloria site with a surprising and elegant artistic reconsideration of a very prominent feature on the 12-acre lakeside grounds.
(Visitors are welcome to walk in, around and even on Genger’s installation as well as explore the barge.)
As she has in her other ambitious and labor-intensive installations, for "Current" Genger used recycled lobster rope that she purchased from fishermen — a deliberate gesture containing both economic and social purpose.
In her Brooklyn studio, Genger weaves, crochets and knots the braided rope — an unforgiving, hard-to-wrangle material — into organic forms, teasing out sensuous shapes that are at once very painterly and also thoroughly muscular.
Genger succeeds in subtly combining techniques that suggest women’s traditional handiwork with the enormous scale of artwork favored by so many post-war male artists.
Last year, Genger used 1.4 million feet of rope to cover three lawns in Madison Square Park — a project that took nearly two years of rope-wrangling to create. In Houston’s Hermann Park, Genger’s colorful patchwork sprawl of painted rope "Boys Cry Too" measures 225 feet long and 17 feet wide.
Last month’s unveiling of "Current" dovetailed with the official naming of the Laguna Gloria grounds as the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park, a recognition of the $9 million the Dallas-based Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation awarded the museum last year when it announced its plans to retrain its energies into becoming a nexus for permanent and temporary site-specific art.
In fall, celebrated artist Do Ho Suh, known for his full-size house sculptures, will unveil a new project at Laguna Gloria.
For the summer, though, "Current" is one of two new exhibits the Contemporary has staged.
At the Jones Center downtown, with "A Secret Affair: Selections from the Fuhrman Family Collection," museum director Louis Grachos demonstrates with flair his stewardship in corralling a show out of a private collection — the first group exhibition that Grachos has selected since coming to Austin last year. (Museum staffer Danielle Nieciag served as the exhibit’s co-curator.)
Glenn Fuhrman is a co-founder of MSD Capital, the private investment firm for the family of Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Inc.
An avid collector of contemporary art, the New York-based Fuhrman also operates the Flag Art Foundation, a private exhibition space in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Here in Austin, Fuhrman made news in 2009 when MSD Capital purchased the renowned Magnum Photos collection for an undisclosed sum and subsequently housed it at the University of Texas’ Ransom Center. Last year the archive — now valued at $200 million according to UT — was officially donated to the center.
Fuhrman gave Grachos free rein with his collection of contemporary art. And Grachos selected an A-list including mostly sculptural work by Matthew Barney, Louise Bourgeois, Maurizio Cattelan, Robert Gober, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Anish Kapoor and Ron Mueck.
Like an alien creature, Thomas Schütte’s shiny bronze larger-than-life-size figure seems to stalk the window-walled lobby at the Jones Center, startling passersby on Congress Avenue. Perhaps part robot or part ghost and certainly rudimentary unformed human figure, the sculpture — titled "Großer Geist," or roughly "larger spirit" — isn’t on a pedestal, but rather it hulks directly on the floor.
"Großer Geist" is the antithesis of, say, Michelangelo’s’s "David." And beyond its schlumping form, the exhibit treats us to more fresh (and sometimes subversive) considerations of traditional art, with much of the work on view bordering on the surreal.
There’s Cattelan’s hyper-realistic figures of New York policemen propped on their heads and leaned against the wall. There’s Subodh Gupta’s enormous steel-and-brass spoons coupled up on the floor. And there are two laughing old men implausibly seated in chairs stuck high up on the gallery wall, a ribald spectacle by Juan Muñoz.
Paired with Genger’s sublime re-imagining of the Laguna Gloria amphitheater, "A Secret Affair" offers a little surreal fun.