Maia Schall

UT alumna Maia Schall works on setting up the exhibit "Girls Gone West" at the Center Space gallery at the Visual Arts Center on Wednesday afternoon. The exhibit, created by Schall and several friends, will be on display from Jan. 31 to March 8. 

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

For their senior spring break in 2012, UT studio art alumnae Ally Acheson-Snow, Karina Eckmeier, Maia Schall, Allie Underwood and Chantal Wnuk used their undergraduate professional travel grant to travel 3,600 miles and visit famous Earthworks. 

These pieces, located in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Texas, are artworks created from the materials found in the surrounding environment.

The trip resulted in a final gallery exhibit, “Girls Gone West,” which opened at the Visual Arts Center on Friday. 

“A lot of students want to go to New York or Los Angeles or other big art capitals and go to museums and galleries, and we decided we wanted to do something different and see these other artworks that weren’t accessible in that same way,” Schall said. 

Over 10 days, the girls visited “Spiral Jetty” and “Amarillo Ramp” by Robert Smithson, “Double Negative” by Michael Heizer and “Sun Tunnels” by Nancy Holt. They also later visited “The Lightning Field” by Walter de Maria in New Mexico a little more than a year after the first trip, since the piece was closed during their spring break.

The pieces were completely set in nature. For instance, “Spiral Jetty” is a large spiral made from basalt rock that can be seen in the Great Salt Lake in Utah. 

“It’s totally different than going to a gallery and seeing a painting on the wall because the trip there is part of the
experience; also, the context of the work is extremely important, so the surrounding landscape is a huge part of it,” Wnuk said. “Those are all things you can’t experience just through photos. You actually have to go and see the work.”

The artists got lost on multiple occasions and had many unanticipated roadblocks during their trip. Some of these were just bad luck, such as when the girls were forced to sit in their car and wait for a herd of about a thousand sheep to cross the road. Other challenges occurred because many of the sites were hard to find because of natural factors, such as weathering and erosion.

“Because [the pieces] are so site-specific and they’re built from the land, they sort of start to blend in with the landscape,” Schall said. “Part of that is time taking over and the elements having an effect on the works.”

Although the art inspired by the road trip is being displayed together as “Girls Gone West,” the exhibit is made up of the artists’ separate works of art. 

“I think each piece is really our individual reactions and the way that we approached the pieces and the way that we think about them afterwards,” Schall said. “I think that trip really affected a lot of the things that we think about as artists and that has continued on to what we’ve made since the trip.” 

One of the pieces is a series of videos featuring Eckmeier’s alter ego, Corey, a strong and feminine character named after a body builder. In these videos, Eckmeier sets up difficult obstacles for Corey to complete. 

“For ‘Spiral Jetty,’ I swam the jetty, using the jetty as a lane because we found it underwater,” Eckmeier said. “For ‘Amarillo Ramp,’ I ran the ramp and touched the end.”

The drive from location to location became just as important as seeing the pieces. 

“Another important thing about the trip is it wasn’t just going to the works,” Wnuk said. “We really embraced the journey in between.”

Wnuk, Eckmeier and Schall all said that some of the best parts of the road trip were the things other than the Earthworks. 

“So we went places like the Grand Canyon, Cadillac Ranch, et cetera,” Wnuk said. “We embraced the idea of the American westward road trip, which is kind of a romantic thing.”

Bike Sale art show attendees observe work displayed at the Visual Art Center on Friday evening. The artwork, which was related to bikes, sold for $20 a piece as a fundraiser for the student art group Center Space Project.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Last year, when the student art group Center Space Project needed to fundraise, it came up with an innovative twist on the traditional bake sale. Instead of peddling brownies in the West Mall, it asked students, faculty and staff to submit “food-inspired” artwork. With the donated art it received, the group put on Bake Sale, an art exhibition held in the lobby of the Visual Arts Center where the price of admission, only $10, bought guests both an entrance to the exhibit and a piece of donated art.

By all accounts, the event succeeded. It brought in a diverse crowd of both students and non-students and garnered more than 50 pieces of donated art. Maia Schall, current president of the Center Space Project, said that the event succeeded in part because the “bake sale theme” was a “tangible thing that people can make art about.” Schall remembered one piece particularly fondly: a miniscule set of teeth cast from the artist’s mouth in which a tiny piece of spinach had been glued. “It was just a beautiful little object,” Schall said.

This year, Center Space Project had a different spin on the art sale concept. Instead of bake sale, which had an intentional, food-centric feel, it chose to hold a bike sale, in which bicycles, one of Austin’s favorite modes of transportation, inspired the submitted art. The call for submissions allowed artists to interpret “bicycle-inspired” however they wanted, but requested that artists make pieces smaller than a bike helmet, less than two pounds and able to be hung on a wall. The exhibition opened Friday in the lobby of the VAC. Unlike last year’s sale, guests were admitted for free and could elect to pay $20 for a piece of their choice.

This year, the event drew a smaller crowd, possibly because Center Space Project chose to hold the sale two weeks earlier than last year’s, giving students less time to work on submissions. Also unlike last year’s event, Bike Sale did not coincide with the opening reception for the Visual Arts Center’s fall 2012 season, which this year will be held Sept. 21. The total number of submissions also fell short of last year’s numbers, with the tally of submitted pieces coming in just under 30. At the event, most guests lingered in the courtyard outside the tiny exhibition space, listening to music floating from the speakers and drinking the provided Topo Chico. Inside the exhibition space, a few guests lingered along the hallway where the artwork was hung, considering which pieces to buy or not buy and critiquing the submissions. Many of the artists themselves attended, leading to at least one meeting between an artist and an excited patron.

The pieces themselves ranged in quality and content from impressive and interesting to dull and poorly executed, with the majority of pieces falling somewhere above the midline. Among the stand-out pieces was a painting featuring a bright blue bicycle on a whimsical multicolored background. Another memorable piece, a charmingly creepy charcoal drawing, depicted a revolutionary solider standing in a dark alleyway with his rifle in his hands and his bicycle at his feet. In another piece, a fantastical black-and-white print displayed a buxom lass with a bicycle over her breasts. The wheel rims coyly cupped her chest, while black text to the side of the figure read “She gets around.”

Also popular were 3-D pieces smaller than a postcard. The pieces were simple bicycle parts, such as bells and streamers, hung carefully on the wall, while others consisted of small pieces of interlaced wood reaching curiously out of paper — not all pieces contained obvious references to bicycles.

For all the interesting art at the exhibit, the show had some disappointing pieces as well. One large canvas combined pink paint, sparkles and broken bicycle pieces in a messy mix that demonstrated a lack of technical skill. Some blurry photo submissions felt half-baked, as if the artist had taken a series of shots and chosen one at random without a greater reason.

Ultimately however, Bike Sale deserves praise for inspiring student artists and providing art to students at an affordable price. As one contributing artist, PhaseZero, said, having her art displayed “feels like a thank you.” No doubt the students who walked away with a new piece of art felt like saying thank you as well.