Reading List / Heather Pesanti

Heather Pesanti is the senior curator at The Contemporary Austin.

Strange Pilgrims will be on view September 27, 2015 – January 24, 2016. Strange Pilgrims is The Contemporary Austin’s first large-scale, thematic group exhibition, and represents the museum’s most expansive gesture into the city of Austin, spanning multiple venues: The Contemporary’s two sites, the downtown Jones Center and Laguna Gloria (including the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park, the historic Driscoll Villa, and the Gatehouse Gallery), and a third venue, the Visual Arts Center in the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 250-page, full-color catalogue, packaged and distributed by the University of Texas Press, with a curatorial essay by Senior Curator Heather Pesanti; a scholarly essay by University of Texas at Austin Art History Professor Ann Reynolds; a conversation between philosopher Alva Noë and writer and critic Lawrence Weschler; and original artist’s contributions by Trisha Baga and Jessie Stead, Roger Hiorns, and Lakes Were Rivers. The catalogue also includes short texts and biographies for each artist, authored by Tatiana Reinoza and Robin Williams, as well as full-color plate spreads.


Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel García Márquez

Given the imminent opening of the exhibition Strange Pilgrims, how could I not list this book first? The book is a collection of twelve short stories first published as a collection in 1992 (in the original Spanish as Doce cuentos peregrinos). García Márquez’s narrative began nearly twenty years earlier with an unfinished story based on a dream of the artist’s own death that never made it into print. The existing twelve stories in his Strange Pilgrims collection offer dark and surreal meditations on memory, mortality, and the passage of time. Of course, with the publishing of the catalogue around the exhibition Strange Pilgrims, there will now be two books with that title.


Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, 2000 ed. by Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson

This is a great introduction to conceptual art. I first read it in graduate school, but have consistently returned to its pages to read first-hand snippets of artists’ writings. It’s an effective lead-in to more in-depth research on a particular artist or subject matter.


Participation, 2006, edited by Claire Bishop

Moving viewers from passive to active and engaging time, chance, and the environment around works of art is the historical and theoretical framework for this collection of writings. I used the book to structure a class at the University at Buffalo in 2010.


The Writings of Robert Smithson, 1979 edition, edited by Nancy Holt

My father purchased this book for me as a gift fifteen years ago. Though I was able to go back and get my belongings later, it was one of few objects I rescued from my Battery City apartment during the immediate afermath of 9/11 in New York City. That and my cat Petulia. The book is a tactile, beautiful, amateur-feeling collection of essays by the late, great Land Artist and Minimalist, edited by his wife, a major artist in her own right. Jack Flam’s later edition is excellent too, but this original one has the feel of an artist’s book.


Earthworks by Brian Aldiss

Speaking of Smithson, the artist talked about carrying around this book on his scavenging, investigative trips to the “ruins in reverse” of New Jersey. So of course I purchased it, and read it, and loved it. A classic early sci-fi novel.


Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney

Clearly, I am a sci-fi book fan. I’m also a horror fan, but usually movies, not books. Dhalgren is a bit of both. A city that’s come alive in a dark, apocryphal way after some unknown catastrophe. It has a waking dream/nightmarish quality about it, where trees transform into women, gangs roam the street, and big red suns take over the sky. Meandering, strange, and very cool.


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

The last sci-fi novel on this list, I promise.  Since one of my movie favs is Blade Runner, I couldn’t leave it off.


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I just read this novel about three generations of Greek immigrants, whose protagonist is a hermaphrodite.  It’s a beautiful story, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, and, of course, made it onto Oprah’s Book List in 2007, so who wouldn’t want to read it?


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