Austin is well known as a DIY city – from unique patio bars to charming boutiques full of Austin-made goods, the scene is small, crafted, and in many cases inimitable. The 2014-15 Austin Critics’ Table awards are exemplary of these traits in many ways, the first being the very nature of the awards. Given by an informal group of arts writers from the Austin Chronicle and the Austin-American Statesman, the awards are meant to applaud and encourage exceptional accomplishment in a broad variety of arts disciplines. The list of critics and writers who chose this year’s awards is a veritable blue book of the most active arts writers in central Texas: Cate Blouke, Claire Canavan, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Elizabeth Cobbe, Robert Faires, Caitlin Greenwood, Luke Quinton, Adam Roberts, Claire Spera, Seth Orion Schwaiger, and Jonelle Seitz.
The awards span the visual arts, theater, dance, design, and classical music. Happily, sculpture is well represented in the visual arts award winners. Notably, the Artist of the Year award was given to sculptor Margo Sawyer in recognition of her last year of accomplishments- including her wonderful REFLECT at UMLAUF Sculpture Garden and Museum. Just a few weeks before receiving the Artist of the Year award by the Austin Critics’ Table, the Texas Commission on the Arts recognized Sawyer as the Texas State Three-Dimensional Artist of the Year for 2015. Sawyer has lived and worked in downtown Elgin, TX for the past seventeen years, renovating a beautiful old warehouse-like building into her home and studio. Her work is a convergence of art and architecture, utilizing color and space as primary tools. Using the idea of transcendence, Sawyer aims to transform mundane structures into carefully considered and beautiful spaces of sanctuary. As a Professor of Installation and Sculpture in the Sculpture + Extended Media department at The University of Texas at Austin, she has influenced and encouraged countless young sculptors on their own their journeys as artists.
In visual art, the Museum Exhibition category went to Do Ho Suh at the Contemporary Austin. An incredibly rich and varied exhibition ranging from drawings to videos and starring his quintessential intricate sewn architectural structures, it was truly powerful and robust in its breadth. For the Solo Gallery Exhibition category it was a tie between Contamination | Pollination: Elizabeth McDonald at Pump Project and the sculpture exhibition David Culpepper: Wake Me When It’s Quitting Time at Co-Lab Projects. The Group Gallery Exhibition went to Gently Fried curated by Los Outsiders, an incredible Austin based curatorial collective that has been active since 2007. Their scopey and forward thinking work is a nod towards what the Austin art scene can aspire towards.
The award for a Work of Art: Independent or Public Project was given to AHOM at the Museum of Human Achievement, a warehouse-sized parody of IKEA in which 60 plus artists transformed the 7,500-square-foot space into a pseudo-IKEA. Filled with work ranging from music playing robots to micro-installations and monumental indoor sculptures, AHOM was ambitious and fearless. Last but not least, the Gallery award was given to the groundbreaking Women and Their Work for exhibitions such as Akiko Kotani’s beautiful crocheted installation Soft Walls and Susi Brister’s sculptural photographs in Fables. These awards show the gritty energy of the Austin arts scene and, hopefully, its continued momentum. A hearty congratulations to all of the award winners and nominees!