With generous, wide steps and large new windows, Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum extended an open invitation to visitors Friday after being closed for five months to make renovations and other ADA accessible modifications.

The remodeled space is more accesible and walkable.
The remodeled space is more accessible and walkable. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

In honor of the reopening, Blue Star Contemporary will feature five new exhibitions – four located inside the space’s four galleries and one in the adjacent MOSAIC space – which will be on view through Jan. 8, 2017. Executive Director Mary Heathcott and Exhibitions and Programs Manager Jacqueline McGilvray collaborated in selecting the work for the four galleries in Blue Star Contemporary’s space.

Blue Star Contemporary Executive Director Mary Heathcott explains the changes to the building.
Blue Star Contemporary Executive Director Mary Heathcott (center) explains the changes to the building. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Blue Star opened its doors 30 years ago as San Antonio’s grassroots space for contemporary art. Today the space continues its mission of exhibiting local contemporary artists while also widening its curatorial scope to include a range of international artists. Under the leadership of Heathcott, Blue Star Contemporary’s outreach extends from its local MOSAIC student mentorship program to the international Berlin Residency Program. Every year, the organization selects four artists who reside in Bexar County for a three-month residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien.

Since its opening in June 1986, Blue Star Contemporary has undergone a series of changes to reconcile the needs of the nonprofit organization, its programs, and its surrounding community. Several name changes over the years were followed by the creating of a 2015-2020 strategic plan aimed at reinforcing both internal and external operations. Examples thereof include an new, responsive website, the hiring of skilled staff, certification to ensure fair payments of artists, as well as a three-round, double-blind open call for artists from Texas, the U.S., and abroad.

The most significant change to date was the large-scale capital renovations and updates to the 116 Blue Star building, which were unveiled Friday. On the outside, a new, raised awning, a wider and more accessible staircase, a state-of-the-art, all-glass entryway, and a fresh coat of paint enhanced the space and visually connected MOSAIC with the rest of Blue Star Contemporary.

Inside, a new art education lab, featuring content provided through a partnership with the Bexar County Bibliotech, as well as updated office spaces, HVAC, fire safety, lighting systems, and ADA accessibility allow the art museum to operate more efficiently and accommodate for growth.

In addition, Blue Star Contemporary recently celebrated a $87,522 tourism grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts, which will go toward increased marketing efforts, focused specifically on cultural tourists and creating a ripple effect to support the King William Cultural Arts District surrounding Blue Star Contemporary.

The new and improved Blue Star Contemporary kicked off its fresh start with the opening of new exhibitions:

Artist Leigh Anne Lester explains her work.
Artist Leigh Anne Lester explains her work. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

In Flexible Foundation, Leigh Anne Lester, one of Blue Star Contemporary’s Berlin residency artists, exhibits work inspired by the time she spent in Berlin. While there, Lester encountered rubble mountains, former Nazi bunkers that have been covered with rubble and slowly overtaken by nature.

Lester, whose work focuses on the genetic modification of plants, has lifted imagery from her experiences in Germany and infiltrated it into her complex visual system, which involves images traced onto drafting paper that she intricately cuts and drapes over sculptural armatures. Some of her blind contour drawings, from hand-cut black vinyl, are made from a seashell that she found on a rubble mountain.

The artwork of Leigh Anne Lester stems from the concept of genetic engineering and cell structures.
The artwork of Leigh Anne Lester stems from the concept of genetic engineering and cell structures. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Blue Star Contemporary also announced its inaugural curatorial collaboration with Sala Diaz’s Casa Chuck Residency. This residency program brings international curators to stay in San Antonio and engage with the city’s cultural landscape. Sala Diaz was the former home of deceased artist Chuck Ramirez, and the residency program developed in his honor began in 2012. Blue Star Contemporary’s collaboration honors Ramirez’s longstanding relationship as a board member and advocate.

Casa Chuck’s residency curator Claudia Arozqueta, who is based in Sydney, Australia, curated Reclaimed by Nature, on exhibit in Blue Star Contemporary’s Project Space. Arozqueta selected 11 artists whose work melds the man-made and natural worlds.

Joey Fauerso’s A Hole Life echoes the bunker reference made by Lester, juxtaposing text about what kinds of animals live in holes with images of man-made bunkers. In her sculptures, Jasmyn Graybill covers objects like nail clippers, muffin tins, and drain stops with polymer clay, resulting in a eerie fusion of what we conceive of as synthetic and organic.

Photographs and Moss Samples by Daniela Edburg and clay pieces by Jasmyne Graybill.
Photographs and Moss Samples by Daniela Edburg and clay pieces by Jasmyne Graybill. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Two different artists, Robert Langham III, from Tyler, Texas, and Casey James Wilson, from Cincinnati, Ohio, present their explorations of contemporary still life photography. Hold Still presents Langham’s black and white silver gelatin contact prints, juxtaposed with primary color bright images of Wilson’s sculptural fabrications.

Blue Star Contemporary’s main gallery features Beneath Metropolis, a group exhibition of work by 12 artists selected from its last national and international open call. The art selected represents the “anxiety and isolation” that results from city living. In Qian Zhao’s photograph, a figure walking across a bridge encounters an ominous dust cloud.

In the center of the room, Jason Yi’s That Hollow Feeling provides a dramatic focal point for the exhibition. A bountiful array of bright orange plastic fencing cascades from the ceiling.

“There’s a lot of synchronicity in this work, with what we’ve been going through,” said Heathcott, in reference to Yi’s use of construction materials. “I think it was in our (subconscious).”

Wendy Weil Atwell is a writer living in San Antonio, Texas. She received her MA in Art History and Criticism from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2002. Atwell is the author of The River Spectacular...