by Robert Boyd
This weekend was busy--a new show at Lawndale, a big show at The Joanna, Art Crawl. I was curious to hear what Houston's artists thought about the potential West Oaks Mall art space. Here is my beer-fogged recollection.
Mark Flood was predictably skeptical. To paraphrase him, he said how can they expect to fill 22 Lawndales with art when they can't even fill one? He basically expressed doubt that Houston's artists and curators could step up, which is a concern that many people have expressed. He suggested that Sharon Engelstein might be able to fill the space with art that didn't get lost. However, despite his skepticism, he seemed willing to entertain the possibility of success, suggesting that if Dia Beacon could do it, maybe we could too.
Daniel Heimbinder came up with an idea for an installation that I frankly considered stealing from him. Air dancers.
Air dancers, aka skydancers, would be used to fill the interior space of the old J.C. Penney's. Hundred of them. The blowers would be so loud, it'd be like being in a jet engine. The spastic air dancers would have such frenetic, jerky motions, they could cause seizures. And as an installation, it would be an apt comment on the space itself, a mall on the desolate retail landscape of Highway 6.
At the Box 13 opening for Dutch Invasion, Paul Middendorf described being contacted by Sharston Plenge--the organizer of the West Oaks Mall art space--and being a bit suspicious at first. He wondered what Plenge, a Californian artist, was doing sniffing around Houston non-profits. (Mark Flood also wondered about the ulterior motive--but to me the ulterior motive is not hidden at all: Pacific Retail Capital Partners wants artists to help increase the visibility and desirability of West Oaks Mall. Their exit strategy is always to sell the property--that's the business they are in.) However, after Middendorf heard a first hand report of the space, he was more open to the possibilities and spoke of a similar large building that was handed over to Portland, Oregon, arts groups for temporary use.
Jonathan Leach instantly honed in on the problem of making effective use of 100,000 square feet. His suggestion? Sound stages for film and video students. Of course sound stages aren't cheap, but with two of the primary expenses--the building itself and the utilities--paid for, any use of the space is already heavily subsidized.
Rachel Hecker focused on practical issues. She said everyone has ideas about the space, so there needs to be a "think tank" or conference where all potential stakeholders get together and thrash out a plan. No one person or art organization can make this happen. Thinking about such a conclave, I can envision it having all the faults of committee-think (lack of boldness, conventionality, compromise that destroys any visionary thinking, sluggishness, jockeying for power, etc.). Making sure that a committee didn't succumb to group-think would be one of the big challenges. Hecker also suggested that the space be split between studio space/residencies and exhibition space. The former would guarantee that the building would be in constant use.
So Pan readers--what do you think should be done with 100,000 square feet of air-conditioned space in West Oaks Mall?