Austin's Texas Biennial Comes to Houston's Box 13 ArtSpace

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The Texas Biennial, a month-long art festival dedicated to an independent survey of contemporary Texas art, is going statewide this year, including an exhibit at a quirky Houston gallery in the East End. The Biennial starts this Saturday and runs through May 14.

The Biennial, which is organized by Austin arts organization Big Medium, has taken place every two years since 2005. This is the first year the event, which is organized with a collaborative spirit in mind, has moved beyond the bounds of Austin. Six different galleries in Austin, San Antonio and Houston (take that, Dallas) will feature works chosen by New-York based art historian Virginia Rutledge, 2011's Biennial Curator.

Box 13 ArtSpace is the only gallery in Houston selected to show official Biennial works. Big Medium director Shea Little said the Biennial's expansion into other venues almost happened by accident.

"We felt it was just too Austin-centric," he said. "To really call this a true 'Texas Biennial' we wanted to do something different."

He said the board of directors began to look at creating a touring exhibition that could travel to art spaces throughout the state, but they quickly found out that it would require more resources than the small non-profit could handle.

That's when the group began looking for organizations in other cities who could stage their own shows of Texas-made work. Two of those galleries, Box 13 and Blue Star Contemporary Art Center in San Antonio, wanted to do even more.

"In that push to gather up as many participating organizations as we could, they expressed interest in being even more involved," Little said. "It was kind of a zeitgeist." Little said that also explains how Dallas got left out.

"Those galleries came on kind of late. It just happened. We didn't really push it. But once we had San Antonio and Houston, we did try hard to get a space in Dallas. And of course, as soon as you try, it gets harder."

Box 13 is the perfect venue for an event like the Biennial, Little said. "We started with galleries that were similar to Box 13 -- artist-run, non-traditional."

The art space, which just celebrated its 3-year anniversary, resides in a warehouse on Harrisburg Boulevard that used to be a sewing machine factory, said board member Heather Bause. It includes five gallery-like spaces inside for exhibiting artwork as well as shop windows and a courtyard for installation pieces. The artist-run non-profit is an "environment for the creation and advancement of experimental contemporary art in Houston." Elaine Bradford, the shop window artist Art Attack profiled yesterday, is a founding member.

"We create this environment through the availability of affordable work space for artists," Bause said. "Some of our art is experimental, some is contemporary."

The artists on display starting tomorrow as part of the Biennial include Cassandra Emswiler, whose recent work includes wood sculpture and collage, Laurie Frick, Tim Harding, Olivia Moore and Brad Tucker.

The opening reception will be April 30, from 7-9:30 p.m., featuring nibbles by El Tiempo Cantina and beverages by St. Arnold's and Cava Wine Bar.

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