The extremely rainy first Saturday of SXSW 2012 was not the ideal day to open an art gallery, especially one from which every nerd in town was going to walk away with at least one large piece of screenprinted paper.
You see it wasn’t just raining, it was still raining. From the day before. Consider that this is a town that likely hadn’t seen more than five minutes of rain in the last year, and at this point it had been outright storming for hours at a time over the last two days. Mondo can’t control the weather though, so there we were slopping through the gravely mud towards the back entrance of their brand new gallery space. As we approached we were were passed by folks under umbrellas or with ponchos, proudly and nervously carrying their rectangular treasures — some big, some small — all contained in large, transparent plastic bags.
Reaching the back door there was a sizeable line, even though this was a limited press preview of the gallery before the public opening a few hours later. A few not-so-humble brag tweets from throughout the day also made it clear that special people had also been previewing the gallery long before the press opening. But arriving at the back entrance we huddled under a white tent that was already sporting a few dangerous looking reservoirs of water, while we watched people (whose twitter handles and online monikers you’d likely recognize) trickle out of the building, often toting a few hundred bucks worth of limited-edition posters. I could already tell a Star Trek II poster was popular, and there seemed to be a Forbidden Planet print that I was seeing in a lot of bags, but I was just eager to see all the art for myself and tried no to peek too much.
Eventually I was able to slide through the door into a dry hallway packed with wet people. Grabbing my name tag and bypassing the free drink counter I immediately dove right into the gallery to see everything for myself.
What one first notices is that the space is small, humble, and detached from the usual Mondo audaciousness that characterizes the Mondo storefront and the Drafthouse theaters. This is an art gallery in the most traditional sense, set-apart perhaps only by the Medusa chandelier that subtly adds a touch of flair to the space and, of course, the art being displayed. There’s also a sizeable amount of the building given over to the purchasing counter and stock-room- a big open space where posters lay in large stacks or arranged in red, steel flat-cabinets. Several of the Mondo team scurry about behind the counter, quickly morphing the nerd dollar into all manner of artifacts. Here is the place where a film geek can make manifest his enthusiasm for movies with an object that isn’t another DVD case, cheesy toy, or corporate one-sheet with thumbtack holes perforating the corners. No, here you’re buying art by the strictest definition, and art that not only pays tribute to the film, but legitimizes one’s geeky enthusiasm for it.
If that sounds a little detached and clinical, don’t worry- I’d be back to that counter myself later on.
Moving on to the fun of actually looking at the art on display was largely a process of worming through the should-to-shoulder mingling of bloggers and Austinites, to get close to the white walls. As I did I quickly took notice that these were the Mondo deep cuts, and the ratio of art was heavily weighted to one-of-a-kind pieces rather than the popular screenprints that have become so beloved — and so infamously impossible to acquire — online. So while prints like Tyler Stout’s new Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Kahn are proudly on display, this is not just a wanking space for Mondo to hang up all their commissioned screenprints and call them high art. Instead the walls were lined with sketches, illustrations, and paintings framed beautifully and ranging from very large to very small (with price-tags in the hundreds to the thousands accordingly) with all of them leaning towards a sci-fi theme. Highlights included portraits of Jeff Goldblum and Donald Sutherland in two of their famous roles, an adorably child-like piece of Apes partying beneath Lady Liberty, and a melancholy Man Who Fell To Earth portrait. Classic sci-fi was well represented with screenprints for Fantastic Planet, Forbidden Planet, and War of the Worlds, and the crown jewel of the gallery was a large-format, vividly colorful portrait of Max von Sydow as Emperor Ming.
While beloved geek properties of all sorts — Donnie Darko, Akira, The Fly, Star Trek, Iron Giant — were represented, there was still a sense that the erection-inducing nerd pandering was muted in some sense. It’s an odd thing to say, considering the most flashy, attention-grabbing piece in the whole place was from Flash Gordon of all things, but you still got the sense that this was curated to present the best possible art and widest range of talent rather than be a greatest hits collection. In any event, whatever the agenda it seemed to have worked, as Harry Knowles and Robert Rodriguez — two unmistakable Austin icons –were chatting away in full view and yet were completely ignored as every eye in the room was on one work of art of another.
I do have to say I was a little bummed not to see much in the way of mixed-media or sculptural pieces. While the focus wasn’t just on screenprints, it was still resolutely fixated on the two-dimensional and the illustrative. That said, this is just the beginning for the Mondo Gallery on Guadalupe and 42nd Street, and I can only imagine the themed programming and interesting pieces of all sorts that will eventually be displayed inside those walls.
As I became satisfied that I’d soaked in all there was to be soaked, I had two missions remaining: meet the man in charge, and get a copy of my favorite piece in the entire gallery. The first was not difficult to accomplish as Justin Ishmael is an unmissably tall, bearded fellow, and as welcoming as you could ever imagine. I met and spoke with Justin a bit and was impressed with how sweet he managed to be in just a few minutes. Humble guy though he is, it’s not hard to pick up on the passion that has driven Mondo’s path to being a geek household name and shorthand for “good ass art.” The gallery is in great hands and, from what I was teased, there are some super cool things on the horizon (Adventure Time gallery next month!).
When it was time to go, I completed my last task: acquire one of the absolutely gorgeous Phantom City screenprints for A Trip To The Moon. I was happy to see the first science fiction film — which in one way or another inspired or led to every other film represented in this gallery — was gorgeously honored with a classy, simple print that would make Scorsese’s eyebrows twitch with joy.
Perhaps one of my favorite Mondo posters ever, this was the jewel of the new screenprints as far as I was concerned and fortunately for me it was reasonably priced (and sized) for me to manage. With that I exited through the back (where one of those bulges in the tent had grown disturbingly pregnant with water and seemed on track to pull the whole thing down!) and became another happy, wet nerd trotting through the mud with a plastic-shielded prize.
Facebook is a great place to follow Mondo and find out about Gallery goings on.
I’d like to thank the Drafthouse/Mondo team for having me at their fancy shindig.
A few photos from /Film