At The Contemporary Austin’s Crit Group Reunion, a generic and disjointed overview muted the spirit of what’s happening now in the city.
Crit Group Reunion
Chapter 1: Facing the World, September 11–November 14, 2021
Chapter 2: Facing Each Other, November 20, 2021–January 16, 2022
The Contemporary Austin
The Contemporary Austin spent the last couple of years in flux. A new director came in 2020 to lead the museum in taking inventory of its mission: sharon maidenberg, who spells her name all in lowercase, sees artist residencies and public-facing community initiatives on the same plane. And cancellations in The Contemporary’s 2021 exhibition schedule cleared the way for a look at the museum’s investment in working artists who’ve called Austin home over the years.
Crit Group Reunion, in two chapters, hosted the work of fifty-two participants in The Contemporary’s workshop for early-career artists since its inception in 2014. This roundup was not installed in the small grayDUCK Gallery, where each year’s cohort of Austin-based artists would organize a group show to cap each six-month critique session, but in The Contemporary’s actual exhibition spaces, “showcasing the spectrum of contemporary art in Austin,” as per the museum.
Claiming alums for the city and not simply the museum’s program was a choice that limited the show to broader strokes. Illustrating rich arcs in the boldest cohorts’ work over the years would’ve celebrated the program and more accurately defined the community of artists working now in Austin.
Christina Coleman’s clever, seductive comb sculptures—fanged, gleaming wands stripped of their function—for the 2016 Crit Group session would have beautifully punctuated the softer work on view at the museum’s Jones Center for the Reunion. Fellow 2016 alum and video artist Betelhem Makonnen co-founded the Black Mountain Project collective, a current local group with an electrifying presence, which could have been included.
An occasional standout ex-pat called to the future. Rachel Wolfson Smith’s large-scale graphite drawing No One Will Remember We Were Here (2020) pulled the viewer into a clearing drenched in uncanny sunlight. The Amsterdam-based artist began this year with a solo show at Liliana Bloch in Dallas. And, in a full-circle turn at grayDUCK, braver work by Makonnen and Coleman was displayed at the same time as the Crit Group exhibition. It will be a year to watch these artists.