Overshadowed by Houston and Austin’s artistic boom for years, San Antonio is finally coming into its own with a cultural scene that’s ready to rival those of its hip neighbors. From the renowned Blue Star Museum to the beautiful McNay Art Museum, from artist collectives to public art installations and private galleries, exhibitions and cultural initiatives abound in this Texan city. We select ten independent, alternative art galleries and spaces you should visit in San Antonio.
Ever since its opening in 1993, Artpace has been a leading voice among San Antonio’s independent galleries with its prestigious residency program setting a benchmark for art spaces in the country. Each year, nine artists from across the world work at Artpace for two months, a time frame that allows them to hone their skills, create new work and exhibit it afterwards; in summer 2014, French-Algerian artist Kader Attia known for his mesmerizing installations was the international recipient of the honor; in spring, it was the Berlin-based experimental artist Rosa Barba whose main body of work is produced from cellophane. An ambitious program of rotating exhibitions and collaborations complements the schedule at Artpace, making it San Antonio’s premier venue for contemporary art.
A non-profit art space dedicated to creative experiments, Sala Diaz is a friendly affair created by and for artists, where Texan, national and international creatives get to exhibit their work. Recent exhibitions have ranged widely in scope, exploring themes such as marketing and consumerism, and domestic life – the latter of which was embodied by the gallery as a whole, turned into a domestic space by the artists involved in the exhibition. An effortlessly cool art space, Sala Diaz has also used its 20 years of experience in the art world to open up a solid residency program, Casa Chuck, which collaborates with artists from around the world. Located in the Southtown Arts Districts, a stone’s throw away from the Blue Star Museum, Sala Diaz is a great spot to visit for an alternative gallery experience.
Contemporary art – or rather, art that speaks for the contemporary condition of art – is AnArte Gallery’s field of interest and expertise. Fittingly, their roster of artists reveals trends in local art, and includes Mexico-born and San Antonio-based Jorge Puron, whose dramatic paintings carry a sense of freedom and energy, and Russell Stephenson, a Texas native working with mixed media and creating a space of intersection for printmaking, painting and sculpture. Working with artists since 2001, AnArte Gallery has built a name for itself in San Antonio thanks to its owner’s skilled curation and commitment to her artists, whom she selects instinctively, yet with evident flair.
An exciting hybrid of conventional gallery and experimental space, High Wire Arts plays host to performance art, film screenings and installations brought in by artists from the area and abroad. So far this year, events have included a show of Cindy Palmer’s abstract expressionist works, a group exhibition in March (which was the gallery’s Contemporary Art Month), a benefit concert, and a graduate show for local students. All of which demonstrate the breadth and outreach of the gallery’s program. Combining a community spirit with originality and engagement, High Wire is an accessible cultural spot keen on exploring social issues in a welcoming setting.
Another community-oriented gallery, Gravelmouth defends its mission fiercely; run by artists with the explicit mission of promoting ‘non-traditional art’, the self-proclaimed artist space attempts to ‘find a balance between urban interventions and formal institutions’. Although the artist owners are interested primarily in street art, their space has hosted various innovative projects, from Shoot Yourself, an interactive selfie project that invited visitors to co-create artworks, to Uvas Agrias, a show of two- and three-dimensional works by Dallas collective: The Sour Grapes Crew. Gravelmouth is situated in the South Flores Arts District.
‘Art without compromise’ is still FL!GHT Gallery’s philosophy, even after a decade of activity in the ruthless world of art. From an interactive performance and installation show by local collective Alternative Studio, to Chris Sauter’s multi-location exhibit which required the visitor to embark upon a ‘pilgrimage’ through the city to see the work in whole, FL!GHT engages in diverse media and modes, allowing for creative experimentation and boundary-breaking art projects. Leaving South Flores after eight years, FL!GHT Gallery has just moved to the Blue Star Arts Complex, hoping to benefit from the Blue Star Museum’s immediate proximity.
With locations in New York and San Antonio, Ruiz-Healy Art specializes in contemporary and modern art with a focus on Latin American and Texas-connected artists. Ruiz-Healy Art is a member of the International Fine Print Dealers Association. One of only three such dealers in the state of Texas, the gallery demonstrates its commitment to the highest standards of quality, ethics, connoisseur-ship, and promotion of fine-art printmakers. In addition to representing a range of acclaimed artists – such as the estate of Chuck Ramirez – and compiling knowledgeable exhibition catalogs, Ruiz-Healy Art is one of the few galleries in the area with a license to distribute limited editions and prints. Representing artists such as Mexican painter Pedro Diego Alvarado-Rivera and Peruvian Cecilia Paredes, known for her stunning camouflage photography, this is a gallery to watch for cutting-edge contemporary art from the USA’s southern neighbors.
A relative newcomer to San Antonio’s art scene – it was founded in 2013 – Cinnabar is quickly finding its place among the city’s more experienced galleries, and its location in the Blue Star Art Complex is certainly a draw. In fact, the gallery opened with a bang, putting up an exhibition of nude photographs of ordinary folks by George Krause; the shows that followed have focused on painting and jewelry, with the latter being the owner’s personal favorite. Artist talks and performances cross paths with highly original shows such as Professors’ Picks – an exhibition of works by local art professors, complemented by the exhibitors’ own pick of their students’ best work.
Last but not least, the Southwest School of Art represents the younger generation of up-and-coming artists; a nationally acclaimed educational institution, it also boasts an excellent exhibition space that showcases local talent to the public. Recent shows have the graffito drawings of Alice Leora Briggs, or the intricate sculptures and installations by Adriana Cristina Corral, which question Latino-American identity. Situated in a historical 19th century building tucked away amid lush greenery near the River Walk, the Southwest School of Art is a beautiful sight in itself. Stop by for a show representative of the local art scene, and make sure you take away a souvenir from the Art-o-Mat, an innovative vending machine selling real, local art for $5 apiece.