Not often that two tip-top Austin parties take place atop two downtown buildings. Even less often when those buildings rise side-by-side across a narrow alley.
First off was a salute to Capt. Scott Kelly, the retired astronaut who spent a 520 days, 10 hours and 33 minutes in space, including almost a year during one stay on the Space Station. He appeared to be acclimatized to Earth again and introduced me to his fiancé, Amiko Kauderer, a former NASA public affairs officer who helped shape his Twitter presence.
This reception took place at Luci Johnson and Ian Turpin‘s penthouse in the Norwood Building, which overlooks the Paramount Theatre, where Kelly is to speak tonight about his memoir “The Sky Is Not the Limit: Lessons from a Year in Space.”
Johnson was her usual gracious self. Yet introducing Jim Ritts, president and CEO of the Austin Theatre Alliance, she reminded us that she can be among the best public speakers in town, her cadences recalling the finest traditions of American oratory.
Now a little joke on me. Upon meeting Amiko, I was confused. I thought Kelly was married to former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, and that I had met the couple during an Austin party at the Highball. Oh no! That was Scott Kelly’s identical twin brother Mark Kelly, another retired astronaut. The pair were part of NASA’s twins research. Luckily, I learned this before going to press.
Booth Art Prize Party
There’s probably never been a month when Austin produced more major art news stories. Recently, Landmarks unveiled José Parlá‘s mammoth mural, “Amistad América,” at UT’s Rowling Hall. On Feb. 10, Pease Park Conservancy officially opens Stickwork sculptor Patrick Dougherty‘s utterly charming “Yippy Ki Yay” in said park. Feb. 18, in the biggest reveal of all, the Blanton Museum of Art invites the public into late artist Ellsworth Kelly‘s only designed structure, “Austin,” which will inevitably change the way the world sees the city and its art.
Meanwhile, the Suzanne Deal Booth Art Prize produced its first visible fruits. Right away, it figured to be one of the biggest such awards in the country with a $100,000 unrestricted purse. The inaugural honor, announced in 2016, went to Rodney McMillian and includes a full exhibition, catalogue and other supporting activity at the Contemporary Austin. So, all told, a $400,000 project.
Last night, the museum previewed the immersive installation, “Against a Civic Death,” with a party at its downtown Jones Center. Since I had dropped by the Johnson reception first, I missed seeing McMillian’s hard-hitting video on the first floor, but I’ll spend an afternoon soon downstairs and upstairs, where the mood is more celebratory and includes the voice of 1972 presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm.
On the rooftop over a three-course dinner, a few hundred guests gathered to lionize McMillian, as well as Booth, who made the transformative gift to endow this prize. Among those front and center were the Contemporary’s Louis Grachos, Landmarks’ Andrée Bober, Blanton Museum’s Simone Wicha, art super-collectors Michael and Jeanne Klein, and civic trailblazers Melba and Ted Whatley.