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At the Blanton, Okay Mountain’s ironic homage to roadside culture

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Okay Mountain’s installation “Roadside Attractions” is an ersatz brochure stand complete with 100 rack cards advertising imaginary tourist attractions.

Like so much by the Austin collective Okay Mountain, “Roadside Attractions” — a 2012 installation recently acquired by the Blanton Museum of Art — is a deft fusion of artistic irreverence and pop culture homage, of hand-made DIY craftiness and exquisite attention to detail.

“Roadside Attractions” is an ersatz brochure stand complete with 100 rack cards advertising imaginary tourist attractions such as “Nihilism Gardens,” “House of Lotions” and “The Second Largest ‘Night Court’ Museum” or even “The Vaguely African Museum.”

It is satirical and shrewdly on point, the rack cards bearing brash over-the-top graphics of splashy fonts and gimmicky photos, the rack itself framed by a pair fake plants just like it might be in the lobby of a chain motel.

“Roadside Attractions” is now on permanent display at the Blanton. And yes, visitors may help themselves to the cards.

Now with nine active artist members (Sterling Allen, Tim Brown, Pete Duggins, Nathan Green, Justin Goldwater, Ryan Hennessee, Josh Rios, Carlos Rosales-Silva and Michael Sieben), Okay Mountain formed as a group not with the intention to make art together but to show it.

Situated behind a piñata shop on East Cesar Chavez Street, the Okay Mountain gallery launched in April 2006 — the same month the Blanton Museum of Art opened its new building.

It was a shape-shifting moment for Austin’s cultural landscape. The Blanton’s new building provided the city with its first major brick-and-mortar art museum, unleashing the university’s not insignificant collections onto a wider audience.

Simultaneously, an ambitious young generation of artists — the Okay Mountain group among them — opened their own thoughtfully curated exhibit spaces. If not all survived (Bolm Studios morphed into Big Medium, purveyors of the super-popular East Austin Studio Tour), they paved the way for the city’s still-busy scene of indie arts spaces.

The Blanton’s acquisition of “Roadside Attractions” makes for a graceful chapter heading of sorts in the on-going narrative of Austin’s art scene.

Okay Mountain first began creating art together in 2008.

One of the collective’s first major projects was “Cornerstore,” an installation that was an entirely functioning off-brand convenience store, with every odd, ironic product crafted by hand and sold off the shelves during several art fairs. Other Okay Mountain projects include a home-customized barbecue trailer, a library of self-help books and a mini-golf feature hole.

Though its riffs on American popular culture — especially consumer culture — have always had a playfully impertinent tone, Okay Mountain eschews malicious mocking.

Instead, there’s a sincere and loving attention to detail manifest in every installation the collective creates. And the deliberately handmade quality of the ersatz items — each thing bearing the marks that belie the efforts of its making — hints at the allure the real items hold for so many.

After all, the artists of Okay Mountain are not aloofly above popular culture. Instead they’re entirely okay with it.

“Roadside Attractions”