K Space Contemporary at La Palmera

“What is the next movement going in art history textbooks?” A friend of mine once asked an art historian this question. The answer went something like “Always the next technology. And Burning Man and the like.” Whether you agree upon its importance or not, artists have long used alternative space to display their work. Recent Southwestern sites range from Nestor Topchy’s funeral home, Dark Dirty Place’s flea market, to the middle of the desert along the border wall. There is a narrowing of audience to “those who came to see this.” On the inverse are the selfie-fodder museums that are well-visited (if not always artist-intentioned) displays.

Then there are weirdly available places, ones that are meant to access a wide-ranging audience: an airport, a public square, a mall. Works in this category can easily fall prey to the gimmicks of being pleasantly colorful, low-risk, easily photographed feel-good stuff coupled by the phrase “soothing environment.” Hello, Guy Kemper’s Jet Trails in Chicago O’Hare.

K Space Contemporary began a public arts project in April 2018 in partnership with La Palmera mall in Corpus Christi. Something about the mall plagues me with nostalgia, memories of driving the 3 hours from the sticks to the big city to make perfunctory back-to-school purchases. It was exciting and seemed so metropolitan. The peaceful hum of other shoppers and water fountains, lots of atrium-style lighting and warm, buttery smells. Now I know that sprawling malls, like anything, are hyper-political space. They host the capitalist, the throw-away, the exploiter/exploited, the ruins left by a growing online-economy, and the low-nutrition high-caloric American diet.

The artworks at La Palmera are discreetly placed, tucked away. Greg Reuter’s oversized seagull sculpture Sentinel could have gone unnoticed had the information sign not been placed in the middle of the walkway below.

The most visually friendly of the works, Leticia R. Bajuyo’s Shiny Entropy, a vortex of CDs, reads like a blackhole of outdated personal information, from computer backups to wedding videos to mix tapes. If you read the recent article on Facebook and Google data and how it never really goes away, Bajuyo’s archaic tide of technology should have you shitting your britches.

The K Space project aims to eventually have an open call through their website, rotating artists every four months. This truly could be a democratic exhibition space for serious artists. The majority of people in the mall at any given time are food service and retail employees, retirees getting their daily steps in, and parents gathered around the indoor playground trying to resist the aromatic pull of the American Cookie Company. The demographic also consists of high school mall rats and bougie young adults devouring the fast fashion of Forever 21. If an artist does have a didactic message or wants to sneak up on you, I imagine it’s easier to get that feeling in a place like this than in a museum or gallery. Because the installations of brightly lit store adverts and murals of gleaming svelte bodies make works like Jennifer Arnold’s suspended transparent Frenchdoors incredibly difficult to photograph, perhaps mall art is the unassuming antidote to the death of the museum.

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