February brings us a moment of Zen and the art of, well ... art with a new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts.
Also on our must-see art list: shows that illustrate Houston’s strong art ties to cultures and traditions around the world, the city’s teen artists see their future, and blockbuster spring exhibitions blooming early.
“Alexis Pye: You really livin: A world that was always full of yellow sun, green trees, a blue sea and black people” at Lawndale (now through March 11)
Inspired by the writings of Jamaica Kincaid, Pye’s painting for this show reflect on people from her community, using images of lush greenery in place of relationship and gender. Communities depicted in vibrant paintings include where the acclaimed artist lived and grew up, with works depicting the people and landscapes of Detroit’s suburbs, the Midwest, California – and Houston, where Pye has spent her early adulthood.
"Ellsworth Ausby: Odyssey” at Houston Museum of African American Culture (now through April 8)
With Ausby’s death in 2011, the art world lost an artist and teacher dedicated to reflecting a deeply rooted African aesthetic and cultural heritage. Now this posthumous exhibition gives Houstonians a chance to explore one of the Afrofuturist, abstract and experimental artist’s most important periods.
The show primarily focuses on his 1970s work on cut canvas that embody his vibrant geometric forms. Featuring 18 works that Ausby created between 1970 -1976, along with his acclaimed “Space Odyssey” from 1980, these paints reflect Ausby’s achievement of liberating the canvas from rigid structures, allowing them to float freely on the walls and spaces they occupy.
"The Life and Art of Alice Lok Cahana” at Holocaust Museum Houston (now through April 9)
Though artist and Holocaust survivor Alice Lok Cahana, passed away in 2017, HMH celebrates her life, artwork and Houston ties in this retrospective featuring 15 mixed-media works including two large pieces, “Have You Seen My Sister?” and “Bergen-Belsen,”on loan from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Her paintings and sculptures illustrates her experience during the Holocaust and memorializes the lives lost.
“Our first exhibition when the Museum opened in 1996 was a retrospective of Alice Lok Cahana’s works,” said Dr. Kelly J. Zuniga, CEO of Holocaust Museum Houston. “The 2023 show brings us full circle to honor her memory while introducing her prolific work to a whole new generation of art lovers.”
"Summoning Memories: Art Beyond Chinese Traditions” at Asia Society (February 10-July 2)
Featuring the work of 32 artists of Chinese descent, the exhibition definitely goes above and beyond to bring us a mix of well-known and emerging artists. Viewed together they create an intergenerational dialogue with diverse perspectives on the future and past.
Working in traditional materials and medium–painting, sculpture, and photography–in new ways the artists use experimentation to draw on both Eastern and Western art-making practices. Look also for new works created specifically for this exhibition by Zhang Jian-Jun and Yang Yongliang.
“Artists move ‘beyond the brush’ to create a dialogue — not only with different artistic, social, historical, and literary traditions, but also between some of the most important living artists of Chinese descent and the next generation of emerging talent,” describes the exhibition’s curator Dr. Susan L. Beningson.
“ReelArt” Exhibit and Art Crawl, part of the ReelAbilities Festival (February 17)
This exhibition of artworks by artists from Celebration Company, an entrepreneurial employment program for adults with disabilities at JFS Houston, will feature work from a variety of mediums, such as painting, photography, and glass fusion. During the art crawl, painter John Bramblitt will be working on a piece.
Bramblitt first picked up a paintbrush in 2001 after losing his sight. Now as a nationally renowned artist and the only blind muralist having completed projects in New York, Dallas, and Fort Worth, Bramblitt has received three presidential service awards for his innovative multi-sensory art workshops and has been named a Cultural Ambassador to the US.
“Where Do We Go From Here?” at Contemporary Art Museum Houston (February 17-July 2)
This 13th biannual exhibition of teen artists presented by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s (CAMH) Teen Council features a multitude of artworks from painted collage to abstract sculpture, but all from 25 Houston teens who created art in answer to the exhibition’s title question.
The CAMH asserts that those individual art answers to “where” disrupt societal norms and boldly confront challenging topics through the lens of change. From recent socio-political upheaval to personal rebirth, the teen artists have a great deal to express about the contemporary world. Throughout the show, viewers will likely see momentum and change as a communality among these artistic reflections on the journey from here.
“Art of the Cameroon Grassfields, A Living Heritage in Houston” at Menil Collection (February 17-July 19)
Celebrating the enduring artistic traditions from Cameroon and its diaspora, the exhibition will present more than twenty historical works, including headdresses, masks, prestige hats, royal stools and figural sculptures, and palace architectural elements from several of the Grassfields kingdoms. The artwork comes from Houston-based collections, including the Menil, MFAH and local private collections.
Major highlights of the show will be two tsesah—rare examples of a type of headdress historically associated with Bandjoun, Batcham, and other kingdoms in the central Grassfield and two installations by Douala-based artist Hervé Youmbi, who created and exhibited as contemporary art. Then the pieces were later, activated through ritual ceremonies or integrated into the royal courts of the Grassfields.
“Philippine-Made: The Work of Matt Manalo” at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (February 18-May 13)
This exhibition of work by the Houston-based multidisciplinary artist, showcases self-reflective sculptures made from air-dry clay, bamboo, and plant materials with cultural ties to Manalo’s home country of the Philippines, yet also encapsulates his time living in the United States after immigrating with his family to Houston.
As a part of his artistic practice, Manalo asks friends and family to donate materials and handmade souvenirs from the Philippines and then incorporates these pieces into the artwork. Taking inspiration from Filipinx craft traditions like weaving, embroidery, and woodcarving, Manalo demonstrates how the knowledge of one’s own history can serve as a path to liberation.
“Tg: Transitions in Kiln-Glass” at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (February 18-May 13)
The second of HCCC’s spring shows opening this month, this biennial exhibition features the best of contemporary kiln-glass design, architecture, and art. The juried competition and resulting exhibition reflects the expansion and evolution of the kiln-glass medium and its community.
In contrast to glassblowing, which uses a pipe, kilnforming uses a kiln to bind and shape layers or particles of glass, known as frit. Tg refers to the temperature at which glass transitions from behaving like a solid to behaving like a liquid. Including contemporary national and international artists, the show surveys the aesthetic, conceptual frameworks, and latest technical innovation possibilities of the art form.
“None Whatsoever: Zen Paintings from the Gitter-Yelen Collection” at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (February 19-May 14)
This exhibition from New Orleans- based collectors Kurt Gitter and Alice Yelen, gives us a chance to contemplate the history of Zen Buddhism and its inspiration for artists. The show focuses on the origins of Zen Buddhism in Japanese painting through ink paintings and calligraphies by 18th-century Buddhist master Hakuin Ekaku, and other painter-monks who expressed Zen Buddhism through their art.
Focusing on Hakuin’s experiments in calligraphy and abstracted iconography, the exhibition proves his place in art history as a revolutionary artist. “None Whatsoever” then moves into the 20th and 21st centuries with a selection of modern contemporary art, including work by Robert Motherwell, John Cage, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Ad Reinhardt, Takahiro Kondo, and Franz Kline, among others.
These works from the MFAH’s permanent collection, the Menil Collection, and private Houston collections, highlight the ritual and spiritual components of Zen in relation to philosophy and thought of the 20th century.
Photo courtesy the artist and James Cohan Gallery
Yun-Fei Ji, ‘The Three Gorges Dam Migration’ (detail), 2008, Ink and watercolor on xuan paper mounted on silk, Courtesy the artist and James Cohan Gallery