Visual Arts Center

Christine Sun Kim is creating work that challenges people’s perception of sound. She will have two exhibits in Austin this week — Bounce House and Calibration Room.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

You are in what looks like a storage room, and you are entirely alone. You hear a collection of sounds — scissors slicing through the air, people sucking their thumbs. You see numbers being projected on the wall. You aren’t dreaming — you’re in the Calibration Room, an art installation in the Visual Arts Center.

Christine Sun Kim, the sound artist behind the Calibrating Room, has been deaf since birth. Her goal was to redefine the way people understand sound and silence.

“I want people to leave feeling less fixed on the notion of sound and what it means collectively,” Kim said. “Sound doesn’t mean only receiving through the ears.”

Kim, who is currently an artist in residence at the VAC, collected a variety of sounds for the project, ranging from feet walking in sand to the sound of a maxi pad being ripped from underwear. She said she deliberately avoided asking other people if the recordings she collected sounded “right.” 

“It’s important to use a sound that empowers my work, so I haven’t asked anybody for help,” Kim said. “I get these from my own voice by using objects, parts of the body or hitting things and from sound samples I find online.”

When a visitor walks into the Calibration Room, they hear a variety of sounds played at a custom volume. A technician outside the room is responsible for setting the decibel level, and that technician factors each individual visitor’s hearing level into the experience. Kim said it was important to her that the work be accessible to people who can hear sounds at a variety of levels.

“Each individual’s hearing level is very personal,” Kim said. “It’s just like vision; everyone’s vision is different, and everyone requires a different prescription if they have glasses. It’s the same thing with our ability to hear.”

The sound being played at any moment, and the decibel level at which the sound is being piped into the room, are projected onto the wall as part of the installation. Kim said she tried to get the broadest range of sounds possible, and some are less pleasant than others — visitors can expect to hear anything from an airplane taking off to a person giving birth. 

Although conversational speech takes place at about 60 decibels, Kim’s recorded sounds measure anywhere from two to 115 decibels. Technicians can adjust sounds up to 50 decibels above a participant’s natural loudness comfort level without injuring anyone’s hearing. Kim said the installation centers around personal relationships people have with sound — hearing is not a collective or communal experience in the way people might think it is, she said. 

“The concept is that no matter what your decibel level is, you won’t miss anything in that space,” Kim said. “In that space, I’m not considered deaf. I’m accessing all the sound.”

In planning her project, Kim worked closely with the VAC’s Sound + Vision program and with the Church of the Friendly Ghost, a community organization working with experimental sound and music.

Xochi Solis, director of events and public programming at the VAC, said the staff at the VAC collaborated extensively with Kim to organize the technical aspects of the Calibration Room and to repurpose the storage space effectively.

“This ambitious project has challenged some of our own perceptions of sound,” Solis said. “It’s been very exciting to learn new things about ourselves alongside our artist.”

Kim will host a talk Thursday at 4 p.m. in the Art Building to discuss her body of work, including the Calibration Room. The installation is free and open to the public.

Dan Lothringer looks at a piece created by a faculty member of the Department of Art and Art History on Monday afternoon. The Visual Art Center’s “Inquiry” exhibit features artwork from faculty in all four departments in the College of Fine Arts.
Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

When faculty members from the Department of Art and Art History were asked to create art inspired by personal research, the results were questionable. “Inquiry,” the Visual Arts Center’s latest exhibit, features a towering stack of manuscripts, flasks of preserved goldfish and hand-drawn hieroglyphic translations.

“Inquiry” allows faculty members to showcase different modes of creative expression in each division of study in the College of Fine Arts: design, studio art, art history and art education. The exhibit features work from 58 of the 70 department faculty members who taught in the fall. Running from Jan. 30 to Feb. 21,  “Inquiry” aims to foster unity between the four divisions of study. 

Elizabeth Welch, a Ph.D. Curatorial Fellow and the co-curator of the exhibit, said the curators hope to give all divisions equal emphasis. Generally, studio art is the focus of the VAC’s time and space, according to Welch. 

“The theme was a way for us to think about what a studio artist does, what an art historian does, what a design artist does, what an art educator does and what they have in common,” Welch said. “And that’s [the fact] that they all have to read and do research before they create their work.”

In order to make the exhibit more inclusive, Welch and VAC director Jade Walker decided to use the term “inquiry” to tie four areas of study together.

Gloria Lee, design associate professor and “Inquiry” contributor, said many creative types spend time on extended research.

“A lot of people believe that people who make things may not actually reference reading,” Lee said. “If you spend some time with them, a lot of the faculty who are makers, artists and designers actually read a lot.”

Faculty were encouraged to accompany the art with a list of books — career-related or general — that were important to them. Gallery manager Emily Kelly said faculty had the option of submitting a bibliography, a biography, a physical piece of artwork or any combination of the three. 

Lee contributed all three forms. Aside from providing a biography and bibliography, she submitted a series of text messages printed onto blank cards using letterpress printing. She said her inspiration stemmed from text messages she shared with her children.

“I treasure the ordinary moments, and a lot of the texts we send are really kind of precious,” Lee said. “People like to preserve things, and it’s harder to preserve things that are digital. I [began] to realize that if I ever lost or upgraded my phone, some of these really great, fun, sweet or emotional texts would be gone.”

Welch said the faculty aspect is what sets “Inquiry” apart from traditional galleries and exhibits.

“I think students tend to forget that faculty members do work other than in the classroom,” Welch said. “When we spend time in the exhibition, it can really remind you that the reason [the professors] teach is because of what they do. They have their own practice, they make exciting things, they do exciting research.” 

Lee said the exhibit embodies each faculty member’s research interests and inquisitiveness.

“People tend to view things just as pretty,” she said. “But we actually have a question in our mind that we’re answering — not with words necessarily, but with form.”

European studies senior Brigitte Chapman (left), studio art junior Cara Butler and fine arts senior Kristyn Coster share the journals they created during the Tuscany study abroad program. The met through their trip to Tuscany and were inspired to pursue art in their professional lives.

Photo Credit: Claire Schaper | Daily Texan Staff

Seated on a bench outside UT’s Visual Arts Center, Cara Butler, Brigitte Chapman and Kristyn Coster laugh about how their trip to Italy was nothing like a European romantic comedy.

“Scratch everything,” Chapman said. “We are just like ‘The Lizzie McGuire Movie.’”

Butler, Chapman and Coster met each other during UT’s “Learning Tuscany: Art and Culture in Italy” study abroad program. Despite their commentary on the importance of pizza, they emphasized how their time spent in Italy convinced them to pursue art in their professional lives.

“Being in someplace new gives you an outlet of ideas,” Coster said. “I think you become more productive.”

Butler is a studying English and art, Chapman is studying European studies, and Coster studies studio art. They said the trip to Tuscany sounded appealing because they finally had an opportunity to focus on art.

“I actually wanted to be an archaeologist,” Butler said. “This trip solidified [that] I want to do art.”

The program required students to create journals. Each student kept two journals. One journal was displayed in the UT Visual Arts Center as a part of the “Gestures of Travel: Learning Tuscany” exhibit, while the other was personal. Coster said the professors did not provide specific guidelines on how to format the journal. Chapman used watercolors, Butler drew illustrations, and Coster combined modern day events with traditional Italian art.

“I put a sarcastic twist on Italian culture,” Coster said. “It is difficult to explain. For example, I made Jesus into Mick Jagger. It does not look offensive. It just has a little satire in it.”

After returning home, Coster is currently working on another journal. In this journal, she translates poetry into different languages and makes videos based off of the poems.

“After learning Italian, I got more into languages,” Coster said. “It’s like I’m writing an inner dialogue with myself.”

Butler continues to create illustrations and would love to pursue illustration as a career.

“[Italy] taught me how to be disciplined,” Butler said. “I did not want to lose that and I try to make for my own versions of children’s books.”

Although Chapman is not working on an official project, she still dreams of opening a gallery one day.

“I went to many museums and I want to be surrounded by that beauty in my professional life,” Chapman said. “Italy reinforced what I want to do, rather than helping me what I work on, since I am mainly an art historian.”

Chapman also talked about the importance of studying abroad.

“When you study and study abroad, you’re looking at all view points,” Chapman said. “You can always take the LSAT after, but I think art can teach you a lot about how to be a human being.”

Butler, Chapman and Coster agreed they would study abroad again if they got the chance.

“When you’re stuck in one place, it becomes mundane,” Chapman said. “Sometimes, you have just got to shake it up a bit.”

Artistin-residence David Brooks started exhibiting his artwork at the Vaulted Gallery on Sept 19.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Visual Arts Center | Daily Texan Staff

When walking into the Visual Arts Center Vaulted Gallery, it looks a little like the room is under repair. Building scaffolding holds up a 70-foot long core sample. The sample stretches diagonally from one corner of the ceiling to the opposite ground side of the gallery, where it exits through a hole in the gallery window and reenters the earth.

David Brooks, who has a Master of Fine Arts from Columbia University and works out of Brooklyn, is the Vault Gallery artist-in-residence. His exhibition, “Repositioned Core,” which opened Sept. 19, blends his knowledge of science and art. His artwork highlights the dynamics between individuals and nature and often the disconnection that exists between the two. For example, he placed a section of the tropical rainforest in the Museum of Modern Art in New York to represent his perspective on humans and nature.

Each year, the Visual Arts Center invites working artists to show their artwork at the gallery. During the selection process, faculty determine which artist is invited to work at the University based on their need for resources and desire for collaboration.  

“As this is one of the country’s great research universities, this was certainly an opportunity I was delighted to take,” Brooks said. 

At the beginning of the process, Brooks explored the Jackson School of Geosciences for inspiration. As he toured the facilities, he realized geological material resembled sculpture. Along with the physical nature of core samples, he drew inspiration from Texas oil culture.

“As a Northerner. when I think of Texas — for better or for worse — I think of oil,” Brooks said. “I wanted to think about another way to build relationships to an industry that is very much a part of our lives and also very much a destructive one.”

In addition to the 70-foot sculpture, Brooks published photographs of articles in pamphlets given to visitors. The articles he and a team of UT students came across were used by field workers to date sediments. By placing a daily newspaper with the core sample, the samples were chronologically archived. The articles cover everything from national events, like the Red Scare, to old advertisements indicative of the era. 

“It takes a serious team to do these kinds of projects, and everyone involved had an enthusiastic spirit about them, and I think the project succeeded with a perfection only possible with this kind of community spirit,” Brooks said. 

A little over a year ago, Jade Walker, the director of the Visual Arts Center, asked Brooks to be an artist-in-residence at UT. 

“David is a perfect fit for this project as his artistic practice spans disciplines and in a collaborative nature,” Walker said. 

The University installed a solar-powered charging station outside the Art Building and Museum in June. The station can charge up to six cell phones, laptops or electrical bikes at a time.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

After four years of preparation, the University installed two solar-powered charging stations, one outside the Perry-Castañeda Library and the other outside the Art Building and Museum, in June.

While other campuses such as Stanford University and Hampshire College have introduced similar charging stations, these stations are the first solar-powered, permanent fixtures on the UT campus. Powered through a roof composed of three solar panels, each station can charge up to six cell phones, laptops or electrical bikes at a time, among other electronics. Each station's six batteries allow users to charge their electronics at nighttime and on cloudy days.

The Green Fee Committee, an on-campus organization made up of students, faculty and staff members, decided in 2010 to fund the student proposal for the charging stations as part of its mission to support environmental-conscious campus initiatives. Karen Blaney, program coordinator of the Green Fee Committee, said while the stations may not significantly offset the use of fossil fuel-based energy on campus, they can teach students and community members about solar energy in an interactive way.

“It reminds people that solar energy is an option and that it’s a growing technology,” Blaney said.

During her freshman year, Megan Archer, environmental and biological sciences senior, pushed the original proposal for a solar-power project on campus as part of a class assignment with now-alumni Eric Swanson and Austin Jorn. She said her team originally had proposed solar panel roofs on University buildings, but budgetary restraints stood in the way. They decided to stick with their idea of solar-powered technology because they wanted to see solar energy on campus for the first time.

“We liked the idea of how restrictive [working with solar power] was,” Archer said. “UT didn’t have anything that was solar-powered then.”

Archer collaborated with Beth Ferguson, a UT alumna and founder of Sol Design Lab, a design company that has helped create solar charging stations at other universities, to rent a temporary charging station for the PCL plaza in 2012. During workshops, students in environmental science classes contributed ideas for the final model

During workshops, students in environmental science classes contributed ideas for the final model.

“Solar power is hard to understand, so we wanted the project to be hands-on,” Archer said. “We wanted students to have that hands-on experience with our solar station to create their own and modify [their stations] to meet their needs.”

With funding from the Green Fee Committee and the Science Undergraduate Research Group, the customized charging stations, which cost about $60,000 each, were constructed.

Nicholas Phillips, mechanical engineering senior and president of student group Engineers for a Sustainable World, said he hopes the demand for renewable energy products increases on campus.

“The main hindrance with renewable energy advancements is the lack of awareness of the current technologies that are available,” Phillips said in an email. “By having more projects on campus, we are making sustainability become a staple in our campus and by extensions our lives.”

The final phase of the charging station project will include a customized touch screen device, which will display the station's available stored energy, according to Blaney. Students are working on a mobile feature, such as a website or phone application, that will allow users to check the station's available energy, Blaney said.

The University will celebrate the installation of the charging stations on Sept. 19 outside the Art Building and Museum with a series of solar energy workshops.

Art and design students, Regan Hann, Raymundo Delgadillo and Jesse Kinbarovsky will have their art displayed in the Visual Arts Center as part of their senior thesis exhibit.

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

There are not many events where a new video game design and a watercolor painting will be showcased in the same exhibition, but this Friday, the Visual Arts Center will be filled with sculptures, paintings, graphic designs, household designs and other contributions from UT art and design students.

The collective exhibit features the work of 50 studio art, visual art studies and art history seniors in “Wellspring,” 19 design seniors in “Make, Do, and Mend” and five design graduate students in “Playgrounds.”

Manifest Destiny 

Studio art senior Regan Hann’s contribution is an installation with a taxidermy antelope wrapped
in wires. 

“I always like to start with materials, so I will spend a lot of time browsing through piles of old cords and lights and things like that,” Hann said. “I usually make works that show the relationship between technology and the natural environment.”

After graduation, Hann hopes to get a job in art administration. She said this gallery exhibition provided a sense of what to expect from the professional art world come graduation in May. 

“I think it’s a really great way for seniors to dip their toes into the world of having your work out there because it’s hard to get out there and make stuff happen,” Hann said. “This is my first experience with a full-fledged gallery and having my work in the show.”


Neo-Craftsmanship Chairs 

Design senior Raymundo Delgadillo decided to concentrate his design degree on product design. For this exhibit, he created a line of neo-craftsman chairs out of wood and one from metal and yarn.

“I was working with curves and forms that are usually used in plastic furniture, and I was trying to transform this wood,” Delgadillo said. 

While Delgadillo’s designs are not related to the 18 others through medium, the design process is what connects all of the projects. 

“We were thinking about what is our methodology rather than what is our outcome, so we all agreed that we make, do and fix things — meaning mend — but also we ‘make-do’ out of what we have,” Delgadillo said. “It just depends on the context.”


Wayfinder and others

Like the undergraduate design program, the graduate design program encourages the study of different outlets of design, but the five graduate students featured tend to focus on a single project to commit most of their studies toward.

As a Type 1 diabetic, design graduate student Jesse Kinbarovsky noticed that there really weren’t tools available that would help enrich the lives of diabetics. He is focusing on creating an app and other products that allow users to work with their disease.

“For me, what that ended up becoming was a focus on diabetics and a way to incorporate that physical experience with some of the digital tools we have available to us now,” Kinbarovsky said.

Kinbarovsky said he found it frustrating that diabetics use their blood testers many times a day, yet the devices in the market are surgical and impersonal. He created the Wayfinder blood tester, which is made of wood that will mold over time to the hands of the owner. The blood tester has no display and uses different colors of light and sound to convey blood sugar levels, a method more pleasant than numbers. 

“You test your blood and get a light,” Kinbarovsky said. “There is a soft glow that indicates if your blood sugar is low, correct or high. What’s interesting about the colors is that they are associated to emotions.”

All of the graduate designs work to improve the way different systems function. 

“If you look at the different things in the show, we’re taking systems we think are wrong, inappropriate or not very consciously constructed. We’re taking another look at those and trying to push the system in another direction,” Kinbarovsky said. 

Dean Fleming skyped into the Visual Arts Center to discuss his gouache paintings Thursday evening. Fleming said that his North African travels inspired his art style . 

Photo Credit: Miriam Rousseau | Daily Texan Staff

Even hip replacement surgery couldn’t stop artist Dean Fleming from presenting his gouache paintings from 1964 on Thursday at the Visual Arts Center.

Fleming used Skype to tell the story of his work with gouache, a type of paint, and his travels in North Africa. Linda Henderson, curator and art history professor, said Fleming, who is recovering from surgery, lives in Colorado in Libre, one of the last 1960s art communities in existence. According to Henderson, Fleming had to go down the road to his ex-wife’s house to use a computer and the Internet.

“He was so disappointed when he couldn’t come,” Henderson said. “He is a storyteller, and of course, he doesn’t have a computer. [In Libre], he lives in this dome without email.”

According to Henderson, Fleming was one of the few artists in the 1960s who saw how the fourth dimension could be applied to art. Fleming said he was living in Pittsburgh when he began learning about the different functions of art besides just being a decoration on the wall.

“What I wanted to do was give geometry a liveliness that was not inherently straight lines, which could kind of be almost deadening to your spirit,” Fleming said. “That meant that if I made a grid [with] a specific form, the thing that would give it the liveliness would be the color.”

According to Fleming, by 1964 he was tired of dealing with Pittsburgh’s cold winters, so he and his friend decided to travel someplace warm. Fleming said they meant to go to India, where he would be able to paint and surround himself with spirituality, but they ended up in North Africa after taking the Yugoslav freighter to Tangier, Morocco.

“The first thing that I saw coming into North Africa was the brilliance of the light and the vibrancy of the color,” Fleming said. “The other quality that was immediately visible was that there was geometry. Geometries that were actually very close to what I was trying to deal with.”

According to art history graduate student Alex Grimley, it is a different experience to look at fourth-dimensional art compared to other dimensions.

“It takes time for the special ambiguity and complexity to read on my eyes,” Grimley said.

Henderson said she became familiar with the artist in 2001 when she was researching the fourth dimension of space.

“With the popularity of Einstein, everybody thinks the fourth dimension is time,” Henderson said. “Painting was supposed to be flat. Space was not supposed to be part of the deal.”

Collecting art is more than a hobby or financial investment — personal collections often contain works by underrepresented artists. When diverse private collections are displayed in museums and galleries, they broaden people’s understanding of art history by providing access to works of various styles and backgrounds. 

Local art collectors Rudolph Green and Joyce Christian collect African-American and African diaspora art. Pieces from their collection are currently on display at the Visual Arts Center and are open to the public until March 8. On Saturday, the center will host a symposium with guest lecturers who will discuss how to collect art and why collecting art affects art history.

The Green-Christian Collection of Art of the Caribbean and African Diaspora consists of works spanning from the 1940s to the turn of the 21st century. The collection features artists from the U.S. and the Caribbean. Eddie Chambers, art and art history associate professor and the symposium’s organizer, explained that the portrayal of the artists and their communities in the media is a prominent subject in the exhibition. 

“It reflects the images of people and artists themselves,” Chambers said. “That tends to be a wonderful manifestation of culture. It means a lot when an artist visualizes him or herself and their communities. You have artists who give explicit social narratives.”

Robin K. Williams, curatorial fellow and graduate student, said the collection is important because European artists dominate the mainstream art world, while African-American and African diaspora artists tend to be sidelined. 

“It’s the problem with the way in which art history as a discipline was formed and how art has become historicized,” Williams said. “Art has always been produced by all kinds of people, so the collection is important for bringing those voices into the conversation because our culture is more pluralized, and it should be.”

Saturday’s symposium will host professors from around the country who will discuss their personal experiences as curators and scholars. Each speaker specializes in African-American or African diaspora art and will address the topic of how these kinds of collections help broaden the understanding of art history. 

“The speakers are coming from different backgrounds, so they’re each offering a unique perspective on this broader topic,” Williams said. “It will be an interesting, lively lineup, with strong personalities and backgrounds in the area of collecting and thinking about art.”

Part of the goal of the symposium is to encourage people to consider art collecting as more than a hobby for rich people — anyone can begin to collect art, whether it’s posters or postcards. More serious art collectors often leave their collections to museums and galleries after they pass away, contributing to the kinds of art available to the public. 

“In New York, the Schomburg Center grew out of one collection of one man,” Chambers said. “His library, art, artifacts, books — all that material is now the Schomburg Center and is now a major resource for so many subjects. So the ways in which individuals have this wonderful potential to make contributions above their own interest, that’s really what we’re exploiting here.”

The symposium will offer guests a comprehensive insight into Green and Christian’s collection, as well as information on how to explore art collecting for themselves.

“The key message or assertion of the symposium is that people should be encouraged to not be intimidated by the prospect of collecting and to know their contributions are going to make a difference and are going to be worthwhile,” Chambers said. “One can visit a graduate-degree show at a local school and buy the work of a student. There are all sorts of ways that each of us has the potential to make a contribution.”

Bodiless creatures called The Dwellers peer out from dark places in an art exhibit about childhood and the transition to adulthood that features a deteriorating skateboard ramp and wooden fort.

The exhibit, “It Will Happen Again,” is what Michael Sieben, a UT alumnus and artist in Austin, said he imagines might lie underneath the deck of a skateboard ramp, and is about the youthful qualities that fade with adulthood. Sieben’s exhibit opened at the end of January and will run through May 10 at the Visual Arts Center.

“I’m hoping to make more of a blanket statement about the loss of innocence and imagination,” Sieben said. “The Dwellers are a metaphor for imagination [and] creativity that is so readily accessible as a child but that’s increasingly harder to tap into as we transcend into adulthood. … But [they] could be so different for each individual.”

Sieben said The Dwellers, characters that appear throughout the exhibit, represent creativity and imagination for himself, but could have differing meanings, depending on who is interpreting them.

“For me, The Dwellers are peering out from underneath the rotting skateboard ramps of my childhood,” Sieben said. “But The Dwellers could be different for each individual. For that reason, they’re only represented as eyes peeking from the dark, allowing the viewer to inject their own personal history into the narrative.”

Sieben has connected with students who are new to the study of art, Visual Arts Center director Jade Walker said.

“The class of freshmen that spent time with him were more interested in the content,” Walker said. “They were like, ‘Yeah, we’re in the midst of growing up ourselves so this speaks to us right now.’”

Studio art senior Vladimir Mejia said he also found Sieben’s success interesting — if not relatable — to his own experience as a student.

“Because Michael Sieben was a student here … it’s been interesting to see [him] transition, in the sense that [he has] also grown outside of UT,” Mejia said. “Because you go through the art program, but there’s also that step after you graduate where you have to figure out what your voice is going to be.”

Jonathan Gruchawka — also a studio art senior — said he found the art easy to relate to because of its meaning, which he said he believes can be understood by all types of audiences.

“I think you can look at all of these paintings and structures and they seem like pop sculptures, but they’re talking about nostalgia and childhood, skate culture [and] all of these other things,” Gruchawka said. “He’s kind of appealed to a broad range of people. This audience — everybody’s been a kid. I mean, who didn’t want to have this badass fort when they were a kid?”

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.