“Against A Civic Death”
The Contemporary Austin, Ongoing through August 26
by Neal Baker
As the winner of the Suzanne Deal Booth Art Prize, Rodney McMillian scored the dream gig. He has been allowed to take over The Contemporary’s entire space with his extensive work “Against a Civic Death.” The ongoing project is about as multimedia as it can get, featuring painting, sculpture, sound, and audience interaction via a giant tapestry depicting the White House that can be peeled back to view a surreal video work shot in The Contemporary’s own backyard at Laguna Gloria. McMillian is the kind of artist who can extract profundity from something as everyday as an armchair. That this new work should take on something so monumental and loaded as the White House should speak to how much is on his mind. The beauty of it, though, is that in his representation, it doesn’t seem monumental at all. His deconstruction is born out of McMillian’s own thoughts about race and the quotidian experience of living in a country whose past and present are full of divides. Each medium he explores finds another way to cast concrete structures of power into abstraction. But this isn’t without space reserved for practical action, as the exhibit invites visitors to prepare for civic duty by offering voter-registration on-site.
The month of May provides a special opportunity to explore part of the inspiration for this work through The Contemporary’s “With Liberty and Justice for All” film series. On May 23 comes “Chisholm ’72 – Unbought & Unbossed,” a documentary about the landmark presidential campaign of first-ever black congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, whose words play back in McMillian’s exhibit. “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners” follows on the 30th. Both films will be showing on the rooftop of the Jones Center.