Open Room Austin
photography by Travis Hallmark
You’ve seen it time and time again, either cruising by on bike or stuck in traffic on Cesar Chavez. You’ve noticed it’s a table, admired those distinct lamps. But you’ve also probably wondered what it is exactly, and how it came to be. Nestled between the train tracks and the Seaholm Power Plant, the aptly titled Open Room Austin is a public art installation by Rosario Marquardt and Roberto Behar. The over-sized, open-air picnic table is made entirely of almuninum and features a lace-like “tablecloth”, benches to seat 24, and four tree-like lampposts. Conceived as a social sculpture, it encourages a shared community experience in an unexpected setting, and as AIPP says, is “intended to dissolve boundaries between fiction and reality and limits between art and life.” The piece is first come, first serve and currently awaits its next sitter.
We at aether decided to take advantage of this unique meeting place and host a dinner party for members of the Austin art community. What better use of public art than to gather and commune over a meal? The night was one of a kind, magical even, and the setting ensured an incomparable experience.
Open Room Austin certainly proves to be an inspiring and successful project. Luckily, there are many more public art projects on the horizon. The following paragraphs take a look at how we used the space, what our guests thought of the experience, and what’s next in the public art sphere.
“This public art space helps de ne Austin’s unique ability to bridge together art with everyday life. The incredible setting was only surpassed by the inspiring group of individuals that made it happen.”
-LISA ROGERS, R SQUARED Art Management
I think Open Room Austin can be led under “making something ordinary, extraordinary.” It’s a somewhat simple idea, yet with more complex implications. What should public art be if not a meeting place? I like the aspect that you may have to eat or “commune” with someone else. Food and communion are important aspects of faith. (Jewish Feast of Passover, Christian Last Supper/Eucharist, etc.) This city loves being outdoors, loves food, and it combines the two. There’s also this social relevance—sharing meals, food, nutrition with your tribe.
– ERIN KEEVER, writer
Public art is one of the elements that makes this city come alive. For those of us from smaller towns in Texas where public art isn’t high on the agenda, driving past a funky art installation or a sculpture that we weren’t at all expecting is a brief reminder that life here is more than routine. Public art reminds us that life isn’t just ticking off boxes of errands that have to be completed, that we have something to give one another that’s vibrant and re ective.
-CLAY SMITH, Kirkus Reviews
In our new landscape of fast cash, fast food, and even faster downloads, installations like Open Room are encouraging us to sloooow down! At this generous table you can share a meal, catch up with friends or make new ones, watch the sun set, or even the sun rise. It’s not al fresco dining, it’s al fresco art.
– CATHERINE ZINSER, Blanton Museum
PEDESTRIAN GEOMETRIES / 3rd St. Streetscape
The 3rd St. Streetscape project combines the complete reconstruction of 3rd Street from Nueces to Trinity with the talents of Austin-based artist Erin Curtis and her teammate Nicole Blair. Curtis and Blair will construct multiple sculptures made of Elgin-Butler brick, a durable glazed ceramic brick commonly used for building construction. The brick will be cut and laid in geometric patterns inspired by a variety of sources—Navajo Rugs, Islamic textiles, Art Deco design and the natural geography of Texas—that channel Egyptian and Mayan ancient pyramids and the modernism of 20th century sculptures.
BIRDS/ Central Library
Austin’s new Central Library, set to open in 2016, will feature a 37 foot-high wall sculpture fabricated by California-based artist Christian Moeller. Preliminary designs resemble a cuckoo clock with a swinging pendulum. The wall will incorporate a computer animation screen showcasing a large black bird, paying homage to Austin’s ever-present grackle, and referencing the importance of black birds in myth and literature.
STREET SOUNDS / Brazos Streetscape
The Street Sounds project is an interactive sound installation conceived by the creative collaborative Sodalitas—Shea Little, Jana Swec and Joseph Phillips. Twelve microphone tubes designed to collect street sounds will line the east side of Brazos between 2nd and 3rd Streets. Sounds will be relayed to twelve corresponding speaker tubes stationed in a listening location. The tubes themselves will be sculptures, twisting and curving until they appear to dive underground through the sidewalk and emerge to connect the two locations. The speaker tubes will arch over benches and create a fountain of sound for listeners below, inspiring the public to take a moment and contemplate the power of sound.