In the Auping

What sounds like self-doubt from Michael Auping is really a bad case of overanalysis. The chief curator of Fort Worth's Modern Art Museum, known for his irreverent wit and self-deprecating humor, is second-guessing his idea for a groundbreaking exhibition of local and regional contemporary artists at the Modern this summer. The May 14-September 5 exhibition, titled Natural Deceits, hasn't even been formally announced, but Auping is saying he's "not even sure it's such a good idea." It's not that he isn't confident of the quality of the show, he says; he just never wanted to do an all-Texas art show. "I think it's pandering," he says.

Auping's track record for curatorial skill and art-scene leadership has been praised more than debated. Fort Worth's museums were criticized for turning away from even an occasional token local, contemporary show, although the Modern had some success with focused shows featuring the likes of Vernon Fisher, Jim Woodson, and Terry Allen until 1995. But the museum abandoned the concept in favor of national and international artists. When the nonprofit Contemporary Art Center of Fort Worth opened in December 1996, Fort Worth's museums supported it as the more appropriate venue to showcase homegrown talent. Auping's new show isn't so much an effort to take up the slack caused by the death of the CAC as it is a testament to his newfound respect for the quality of art he discovered during his quest for submissions to New York's Whitney Biennial. Auping was one of six curators for the prestigious exhibition, to open in March 2000, who scoured the U.S. for a broad range of artists with interesting new work.

"It was a real eye-opener," Auping says of his travels. "Being a Whitney curator forced me more than usual to go many more places in a condensed period of time. It became very clear to me that there really is right now a kind of critical mass of very good artists working here. I'm not so sure it will be true 10 years from now." So Auping's helping the Modern put a toe back into the Texas contemporary-art pond with an exhibition featuring Helen Altman (Fort Worth), Julie Bozzi (Fort Worth), Leandro Erlich (Houston), Vernon Fisher (Fort Worth), Kirk Hayes (Dallas), Nic Nicosia (Dallas), and Erick Swenson (Denton). Nicosia and Fisher were two of Auping's picks for the Whitney. As part of the Modern's winter-spring series of free Tuesday-evening lectures, Auping will preview the Whitney Biennial for local art lovers with slides, videotape, and snappy commentary during an hour-long presentation on March 7. "People can virtually see the Whitney Biennial right here before it opens in New York," Auping promises.

Annabelle Massey Helber

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