If San Antonians somehow haven’t had enough of winter yet, or prefer a far more elegant version than the one visited upon the city two weeks ago, the McNay Art Museum is ready for your curiosity.
Among the installations in Limitless! Five Women Reshape Contemporary Art, an exhibition opening Thursday, is Winter, a new version of a room-sized 2018 installation by artist Sandy Skoglund.
Depending on which way viewers enter Winter, they are greeted by either three scowling 3D-printed owls or a “winter woman” who looks as if she’s seen a ghost. On the walls, human eyes peer out from the centers of elaborate snowflakes, drawing viewers into a tableau that encapsulates the fourth season of both climate and life, owls as symbols of wisdom in judgment of the fear that vulnerability and aging can create.
Limitless! was in planning long before winter storm Uri threw San Antonio into chaos, said its curator René Paul Barilleaux, the McNay’s head of curatorial affairs, but it does complete a strange set of coincidences involving Skoglund.
She was in town to work on the installation the week before the storm. “We literally brought winter with her. And she left and then it hit us,” Barilleaux said.
That circumstance was bizarrely echoed in 2011, when Skoglund visited San Antonio to install The Cocktail Party, an elaborate Cheezdoodles-filled animatronic room-sized sculpture, which is also featured in Limitless!. As many will remember, a weeklong deep freeze also hit San Antonio in 2011, causing power outages and rolling blackouts.
“It’s totally crazy,” he said. Back then, “she was still in town when we had the snowstorm … but it was it was the same thing. When she arrived it was beautiful, but as the week progressed, it kept getting worse. And then by the end of the week, that Friday, we had to close in the morning because it was ice and snow, but we hadn’t really quite finished.”
The piece, eventually completed by staff, will return in full for the current show, joining large-scale videos by Martine Gutierrez and Jennifer Steinkamp, and a polka-dot pumpkin-filled infinity mirror room by popular artist Yasoi Kusama. Works by Gutierrez and Steinkamp are part of the McNay collection, while the Kusama was borrowed from the Dallas Museum of Art.
In a statement sent to media outlets, CEO and Director Richard Aste said the McNay is a “place of beauty and belonging because of the vision of a woman artist,” reminding museum visitors of the institution’s founder Marion Koogler McNay’s “commitment to excellence, community, and equity.”
Barilleaux said the focus on women artists made sense for the McNay because of “the fact that we have such a strong tradition of showing the work of women artists, we were founded by a woman artist, and we have a lot of work by women in our collection.”
The show also singlehandedly fulfills the annual #5WomenArtists campaign, which aims to raise awareness nationwide by asking social media participants to share the names of five women artists during Women’s History Month.
The Steinkamp video Botanic 3 also resonates with what San Antonians are dealing with in the wake of the storm. It depicts an array of beautiful flowers that come apart, petals falling off and leaving the screen before coming back together, in a coincidental homage to gardeners who have watched their well-tended plants wither and die, with hopes for some to be restored as spring weather breathes life back into the city.
All videos in the show are projected on four walls, a decision made by Barilleaux to increase the immersiveness of the experience.
“I want you to be surrounded by them,” he said.
The Kusama room All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins is the most literally immersive piece in the show, inviting viewers into its mirrored room one at a time for a contemplative, if brief, experience of optical endlessness. The yellow LED-lit glowing pumpkin forms project an infinitude of black polka dots in vanishing perspective on each wall, floor, and ceiling.
The work echos the popular Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, Kusama’s infinity room shown in the McNay’s Immersed exhibition of 2018.
Tickets are required for timed 45-second visits into the Kusama room, a regular procedure when her immersive works are shown, rather than a pandemic-specific protocol.
The Limitless! title derives from these women artists’ refusal to adhere to set boundaries in pursuing their work, Barilleaux said, as pioneers of the installation and digital mediums.
“We were thinking about … artists who create without boundaries, who don’t get influenced by the structure of the art world and the limitations the art world imposes on artists,” he said.
Artist Letitia Huckaby, from the Fort Worth suburb of Benbrook, is known as a portraitist who began in photography but has moved into other mediums, including painting. Her mural-sized work Koinonia will greet McNay visitors in the entrance lobby, the title a Greek word for fellowship common to faith communities.
Huckaby’s series of lush, haunting silhouette images of lone figures in large-scale embroidery frames will remind viewers that while we are all at some distance until the coronavirus pandemic ends, we can exist alone while sharing space together.
Limitless! Five Women Reshape Contemporary Art opens Thursday and runs through Sept. 19. Information on tickets and safety protocols is available on the McNay website.