Visual Vernacular: Volker Eisele
Site Gallery at Sawyer Yards. Photo: Wei Hong
Rounding out this bustling fall art season is Sculpture Month Houston, a celebration of sculpture and those who thrive off the creation of such three-dimensional pieces. The inaugural event has given galleries, artists, and audiences a chance to delve into the outstanding strides being taken in the field of sculpture including some intensive site-specific installations and exhibitions. The subtitle of the exhibition at Site Gallery at Sawyer Yards from organizer and director Volker Eisele is From Space To Field, a nod to the fluidity of such spatial concepts in today’s sculpture making. Co-Director Sean Rudolph and Manager Antarctica Black round out the creative team from Rudolph Blume Fine Art / ArtScan Gallery along with Tommy Gregory, artist and curator at the Houston Airport System.
Sculpture Month Houston presents an impressive list of over 35 participating venues: commercial galleries, non-profit spaces, along with educational facilities and museums. While these participating venues coordinated their own programming of sculptures and three-dimensional art, the organizers have curated exhibitions for special spaces to highlight a cross-section of Houston’s progressive sculpture scene. Decisive and delicate dialogue occurs in each presentation of sculpture, truly serving the concept of space and architecture along with the provocative thinking behind the manipulation of various materials. Eisele took the time to tell Free Press Houston about himself and how his interactions with sculpture lead to this momentous month.
Free Press Houston: Your background is a merging of two different fields. How did art become a part of your life and what role does it play today?
Volker Eisele: My professional life is bipolar. I have a medical career as an anesthesiologist in private practice in Houston. On the other hand, I find inspiration as a gallery owner organizing art exhibitions and events. Born in Germany, I settled in Houston in 1975. Art has always been my fascination. My first gallery was in Munich, Germany while still a medical student there. After I established a practice here and started raising kids, I became a partner of Bill Graham at the William Graham Gallery, at the time an influential contemporary art gallery. After Bill’s untimely death in 1992, I started my own gallery in 1998 called Art Scan Gallery at the Vine Street Studios in downtown Houston. Sean Rudolph joined me 2 years later and we have been partners since that time. We both were mainly interested in organizing conceptually oriented, thematic type exhibitions. In 2024 we moved the gallery to 1836 Richmond, a gallery established in an old neighborhood house with four exhibition spaces.
FPH: How did you become connected to large-scale work such as sculptures?
Eisele: We always have shown sculptures alongside paintings and other wall based work, or integrated them in thematic shows. We often featured installations as an extension of sculptures. Sculpture exhibitions are difficult to organize, not the least because of their weight, to move them around or store them. There are comparatively few sculptors as compared to painters or graphic artists or similar genres, since it takes lots of craft mastering and higher fabrication expenses.
I feel right now that the painting genre in Houston has become pretty unexciting with too many lyrical abstractionists working and too many up start galleries fighting over the few good ones. Besides I have grown to appreciate the trajectory of sculpture from volumetric object to installations with their often surprising and totally novel image making. I am craving strange imagery with a Surrealist bent. I feel that some of the most important art that is currently made is art that explores spatial concepts including installations.
The last sculpture event was “Sculpture 2024” 16 years ago. The Sculpture Month Houston project in a way is trying to present the evolution of sculpture since that time. Above all it is a celebration of the diversity of the medium and it is an effort to bring new sculptures to the attention of art aficionados and the general public alike in an organized way.
We have combined the master sculptors like Ed Wilson or Paul Kittelson with sometimes very young talent. Out of all the art that we have found, we have been surprised by the great pool of exciting and competent pieces. We would definitely like to create a new focus on this segment of the art scene and create a continuous “buzz” throughout the year about sculpture through exhibitions and sponsorship along with possibly establishing a biennial SMH event similar to FotoFest.
FPH: With this project, are you looking to uncover a new layer of work that’s already present in Houston or create a new focus on this type of art from scratch?
Eisele: Tommy Gregory, my co-organizer, and myself wanted to produce a curated show by invitation only — the same as for the gallery venues — not an open call for the simple reason of quality assurance and trust. Trust in this context means that the selection of venues and artists was guided primarily by artistic merit only, not by institutional bias, sponsorship preference, etc.
Both Tommy and myself have a broad knowledge of the art scene and we have consulted people in the know and often have chosen artists because of the strength of their proposals. Nevertheless those are personal choices and anybody can argue about the merits of individual choices. We also wanted to show the diversity of the sculpture scene in Houston and from some surrounding areas.
FPH: How did you go about selecting artists and galleries to be featured for Sculpture Month Houston? Tell me about a couple of the artists involved?
Eisele: When we invited artists to come visit the Silos for potential participation, there were two kinds of responses: One group recoiled and said, “That is not for me…”, while the other group said, “Yes, I know exactly what I want to do.” One of the artists who knew exactly what to do was Dylan Conner. He built a giant bulbous emanation made out of concrete and steel suspended at the conical end terminal of the rice silo, creating a perfect site specific installation.
Chris Sauter has been interested in the imagery of agri-business and astronomy for the past 10 years. He built a combination of telescope and satellite dish in order to send or receive signals. At random intervals the original rice dispenser terminal high above will release a stream of Success rice, perhaps tied to a signal emanating from the Milky Way.
FPH: What does sculpture in general have to offer the viewer in comparison to all the other forms of art in our city?
Eisele: The overarching theme of SMH and specifically the Silo exhibition is titled From Space to Field signifying the expansion of sculpture as a volumetric object into a multi- sensory experience with a multitude of different components. Architecture has been an important inclusion in that experience as exemplified by the many site-specific installations at the “Silos” and its unique structure. Also the viewer is substantially more involved in the art as he or she walks into the sculptural space and “activates” its aura.
Events and exhibitions for Sculpture Month Houston run through Saturday, November 19, 2024. A full list of events, participating spaces, and more, including the “From Space to Field” exhibition at Site Gallery at Sawyer Yards as part of the Washington Street Art District, can be found at the Sculpture Month Houston website.