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Blueprints for reopening Arthouse constructs an engaging array of exhibit pieces

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Ryan Hennessee's 'The Specious Present at 700 Congress' has curb appeal.

It's like Winston Churchill said. ‘We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.'

On Sunday, Arthouse reopens its Congress Avenue home after a shape-shifting $6.6 million renovation.

Forward-thinking Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis Architects of New York performed an innovative architectural intervention, transforming a many-layered downtown building into a smart venue for contemporary art. The architects did so by taking advantage of the building's varied past (first as a 1920s movie palace, then a 1950s ‘Mad Men'-esque department store) while bringing it resolutely into the 21st century with a striking new entrance, a stunning roof deck and a façade playfully punctuated with green glass blocks that catch the light during the day and stay alight at night.

The newly refashioned Arthouse building signals its message loud and clear: ‘Here is where contemporary art is happening.'

Little wonder, then, that Arthouse leaders have opted to inaugurate their new facility with art that considers how buildings — and the process of building — shape our ideas, behaviors, creations and even our ideas of who we are.

Six projects go on view Sunday when Arthouse reopens, among them efforts by Mequitta Ahuja, Cyprien Gaillard and Ryan Hennessee.

Working from the most personal level, Ahuja probes the construction of gender identity, cultural identity and ethnic identity. The New York-based artist's ‘Automythography II' series constitute a visual autobiography written, as it were, as large paintings. Ahuja begins building her visual autobiographies by documenting her private performances in front of a camera, then revising and remaking — really rebuilding — those photographic images into vivid, expressive self-portraits. After all, how do we gain a sense of place unless we build it ourselves?

A much less personal sense of poking around for a sense of place informs French-born Berlin-based artist Gaillard's 12-minute 16mm film ‘Cities of Gold and Mirrors.' Situated in Cancún, Quintana Roo — a Mexican city built several decades ago out of a coconut plantation for modern tourist trade — Gaillard's non-narrative film journeys through the jarring juxtaposition of sleek modern tourist development set against the architectural remnants of the once-powerful Mayan Empire.

Finally, with his digital animated short video ‘The Specious Present at 700 Congress,' Austin artist Hennessee slyly reimagines Arthouse's past, present and future on the corner of Congress Avenue and Seventh Street. Projected out from Arthouse's second-floor window and shown in a continuous loop, Hennessee's irreverent view of what happens — or may happen or may have already happened — at that particular spot on the globe humorously reminds us that our present time hardly registers against geological time, lovely as a newly redesigned Arthouse may be.

Sorry, Churchill.

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

Arthouse Public Reopening Celebration

When:Noon to 8 p.m. Sunday

Where:Arthouse 700 Congress Ave.

Cost:Free

Info:www.arthousetexas.org

Noon to 8 p.m.Photo booth posted throughout the day to the Arthouse Flickr page.

1 p.m.Ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Lee Leffingwell

2 to 3 p.m.Sue Graze, Arthouse executive director and architects Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis

3:30 to 5:30 p.m.Artist Mequitta Ahuja and Arthouse Teen Program members lead an art activity

6 to 8 p.m.Ryan Hennessee's video ‘The Specious Present at 700 Congress' screened in the Community Room

6 to 7 p.m.Austin-based musical duo, Silent Diane

7:15 to 8 p.m.Austin-based trio, Little Stolen Moments and dance performance

A portion of Congress Avenue between Seventh and Eighth streets will host several food trucks selling throughout the day including Best Wurst, Chi-Lantro, Coolhaus and Old School BBQ & Grill.