The Jane and Arthur Stieren Center at the McNay. Image courtesy of the McNay.

It’s not every day that a major fine arts museum assembles and dismantles an exhibition in the span of a week, but that’s exactly what the McNay Art Museum intends to do with “Six Artists Celebrate the McNay’s 60th Anniversary,” on view to the public Jan. 24- 25.

This is the first presentation of its kind for Texas’ first museum of modern art and was inspired by the institution’s long-standing history of innovation and Marion Koogler McNay’s original desire to support artists in her community. The idea for the pop-up exhibition originated last summer while the committee was planning the museum’s 60th Anniversary Celebration.

“We took the opportunity to thank donors to our 60th Anniversary Fund for Exhibitions and Education with finale events that honor the McNay’s past and also represent the museum’s future,” said Sarah Harte, president of the McNay Board of Trustees. “The Fund provides essential support for exhibitions and educational programs designed to engage all visitors to the museum and all members of our community. As we begin our 61st year, this evening celebration, McNay After Dark, and the pop up exhibition are just three of many firsts to come.”

McNay After Dark attendees (tickets on sale now), will get a sneak peak at the exhibition on Friday, Jan. 23, but the McNay will also host a special artist meet-and-greet with wine and cheese reception (included with museum admission) on Sunday, Jan. 25 at 2 p.m.

The six Texas-based artists, who have each been given a specific space within the Stieren Center’s Tobin Exhibition Galleries, were selected by René Paul Barilleaux, Chief Curator/Curator of Art after 1945. Only two of the artists have previously exhibited their work at the McNay.

The six artists that will present at the McNay. From Left to Right: Sylvia Benitez, Elizabeth Carrington, David Anthony Garcia, Allison Gregory, Rex Hausmann, Leigh Anne Lester.
The six artists that will present at the McNay. From Left to Right: Sylvia Benitez, Elizabeth Carrington, David Anthony Garcia, Allison Gregory, Rex Hausmann, Leigh Anne Lester.

“Rather than impose an overall theme to which to respond, or look for commonalities connecting existing work, this diverse group of artists was selected for each one’s independent spirit and highly personal approach,” said Barilleaux, adding that he hopes the artists will capitalize on the creative freedom. “There will definitely be an element of surprise. When we offered them the space, we talked about ideas, but I didn’t want to dictate. This was an opportunity to experiment.”

Although each artist offers a unique point of view and uses different materials, a theme has emerged: the passage of time.

Allison Gregory drew inspiration from her own personal history.

"Round-and-round we go, where it stops no one knows," by Allison Gregory. Courtesy image.
“Round-and-round we go, where it stops no one knows,” by Allison Gregory. Courtesy image.

“I have chosen to display one or two pieces, juxtaposed in various styles, to represent every series I created, spanning 2011 to the present,” said Gregory, who uses everything from glitter to eye shadow and reflects the bright colors of her youth—the 1980s—in her work. “My pieces are meant to be energetic, stimulating, and tactile.”

Elizabeth Carrington was also inspired by time, specifically as it relates to a utopian future, and created four large-scale paintings, as well as benches covered in her signature screenprinted textiles.

One of the four textile benches by Elizabeth Carrington to be presented at the McNay. Courtesy image.
One of four textile benches by Elizabeth Carrington that will be at the McNay. Courtesy image.
"Rain Rain Go Away," by Rex Hausmann. Courtesy image.
“Rain Rain Go Away,” by Rex Hausmann. Courtesy image.

“My first thought when I was asked to be a part of the 60th Anniversary (exhibition) was ‘what will the next 60 years bring?’” Carrington said. “My children will be in their 60s … Thinking about the future, the youth of today, that also makes me examine the past and my past.”

Another theme is the use of vibrant colors.

“It’s like a gigantic cascarone exploded in my studio,” said Rex Hausmann, who grew up coming to the McNay, tagging along with his mother who worked as a docent.

Hausmann describes his work as “colorful, accessible, and autobiographical,” and says he is inspired by everyday things. Most of the paintings that will be on view were created using only two types of brushes—a Japanese calligraphy bamboo brush and a flat head brush that resembles a wood chisel.

“Limited tools, but unlimited variety,” Hausmann said.

Two other artists, Sylvia Benitez and Leigh Anne Lester, will exhibit works inspired by nature.

Benitez, who previously showcased her work as part of the McNay’s Artists Looking at Art series, will present immersive sky paintings and some river landscapes, including the recognizable Guadalupe.

Lester takes a microscopic view of plant species and enlarges it for viewers with her hand-cut drafting film.

A sample of Leigh Anne Lester’s work, inspired by genetic modification in plants, will be on view at the McNay.  Courtesy image.
Detail of artist Leigh Anne Lester’s work inspired by genetic modification in plants. Courtesy image.

“I am inspired by genetic modification in plants and the unconfined possibilities of that manipulation,” said Lester, who was featured in the McNay’s 2011 exhibition “San Antonio Draws,” as well as Artists Looking at Art in 2006 for her clear plastic mutant plants floating in the museum’s koi pond.

Last but not least, David Anthony Garcia plays with the notion of integration using text and ceramic faces.

“The use of faces within the work in various formats speaks to the notion that, as a society, we must merge and be aware that we are all reflections of each other as each consciousness is undeniably an infinite source of creative energy,” said Garcia, who has worked with the McNay in a teaching capacity for various programs including Free Family Days and Free Teen Night.

“It is a complete honor to have been selected for this opportunity,” Garcia said, echoing the sentiments of the other artists. “I am overwhelmed and feel fortunate to think that my role, not only as an artist, but as an educator afforded me this chance to make an impact on the mindset of others through my artwork.”

Remaining true to the museum’s history and founding vision, the show is a fitting end to what was an exceptional year of celebration. Major exhibitions included “Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE,” Barilleaux’s “Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting and, most recently, “Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art,” as well as smaller exhibitions, such as one currently on view, “School at Sunset Hills: San Antonio Art Institute Artists in the McNay Collection,” which showcases Marion Koogler McNay’s interest in local artists.

“In the footsteps of Mrs. McNay’s support of living artists, the museum continues the tradition by featuring contemporary work,” Barilleaux said. “The galleries will explode with a wide range of images and materials that not only celebrate the McNay’s first sixty years, but anticipate the excitement of years to come.”

 *Featured/top image: The Jane and Arthur Stieren Center at the McNay. Image courtesy of the McNay.

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Tommie Ethington

Originally from Wyoming, Tommie moved to San Antonio to attend Trinity University. She now works at the McNay Art Museum, and does freelance writing in her spare time. In addition to the Rivard Report,...