best February Art
February brings an impressive collage of new and blockbuster exhibitions to Houston. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is the place to be each weekend as they open three exhibitions, but the Menil Collection, Houston Museum of African American Culture, and Asia Society Texas each have their own impressive early spring openings.
Meanwhile, we take a trip down the rabbit hole at Buffalo Bayou’s underground Cistern and view some art as classic television at Lawndale.
“Pervs, Peppers, and the High Chaparral: Michael Abramson’s Chicago South Side Photographs” at Houston Museum of African American Culture (now through March 30)
Take a walk on the wild side of Chicago’s South Side during the mid-1970s with this exhibition of acclaimed American photographer. Best known for his black and white photos of Chicago nightlife, Abramson was also a renowned freelance photographer for national magazines, whose photo portraits of celebrities sand newsmakers told their own stories.
This exhibition focuses on Abramson’s early and lasting depiction Black culture in Chicago through the lens of night clubs.
“The white male gaze can be implied in these images of black bodies in their cultural spaces, but it would ignore the relationships that Abramson built in earnest over the weeks, months and years he spent with the patrons of these clubs who granted him access,” describes HMAAC chief curator, Christopher Blay, who goes on to explain, “The result is an invaluable legacy of black joy expressed in images of people in black and queer spaces in the mid-70s.”
"High-Speed Channel Surfing” at Lawndale Art Center (now through April 6)
This show of Houston-based artist Deangelo McMahon Jr.’s latest work explores themes of mass media, shared memory, and censorship through still images that emulate classic television. In the featured paintings, McMahon creates visual white noise with gestures such as cross-hatching and pointillism.
These artworks carefully attend to color and scale, bordering trompe-l’œil. In the words of McMahon, this exhibition reflects “the ever-increasing role of technology in present-day life, and seeks to remind the viewer of one’s own humanity amidst it all.”
“Crowning the North: Silver Treasures from Bergen, Norway” at Museum of Fine Arts (now through May 5)
A trip to the MFAH always means taking an journey across time and cultures, and this new exhibition organized by the museum in collaboration Kode Bergen Art Museum, Norway becomes the latest art exploration. This journey takes us through centuries of art and craft created by gold and silversmiths of Bergen, Norway.
Featuring 200 objects from spoons, tankards, sugar bowls and salt cellars to elaborate ceremonial wedding crowns and fantastical vessels, the exhibition traces the evolution of the craft in context with Nordic cultural and political history from the 16th to the early 20th century.
“This presentation of objects from three prestigious Norwegian collections of art, craft and design is an exceptional opportunity to discover Nordic history and esthetics across centuries and across the intersecting forces of global trade, taste and fashion,” noted MFAH director Gary Tinterow, in an announcement of the exhibition. “We are pleased to collaborate with the Kode Bergen Art Mu,seum in bringing these remarkable objects to Houston, where they will be seen by U.S. audiences for the first time.”
“Haha Real” at the Buffalo Bayou Cistern (now through November 10)
Buffalo Bayou Park recently unveiled a newly commissioned installation for one of Houston’s most unusual art spaces, the Cistern. The work by always-innovative multidisciplinary artist Rachel Rossin crosses art medium boundaries to fully immerse Cistern visitors into a visual and audio narrative. (Read our preview here.)
Inspired by The Velveteen Rabbit, Rossin creates a light and sound world of wonder that explores themes of metamorphosis, love, and loneliness as it questions what is real and imaginary in the cavernous, echoing space of the Cistern. The 20-minute piece uses LED hologram screens to give the appearance that light, images and hand-drawn animation are floating above the water and within the pillared space.
A high-fidelity score by native Houstonian musician and sound artist, Frewuhn, along with Rossin’s childhood voice taken from family video completes the work across sensory dimensions.
“Multiplicity: Blackness in Contemporary American Collage” at the Museum of Fine Arts (through nMay 12)
We think this might be the most literally and metaphorically layered of the shows, which just opened on February 19. This exhibition explores how contemporary American Black artists use this art form with ancient roots to depict the depth and breadth of Black identity and experience.
The exhibit itself becomes a collage of 80 works from 52 living artists, from eminent artists to early- and mid-career figures who all use a diversity of salvaged or repurposed material to create new images, forms, and visual stories.
The show also features several acclaimed Houston artists, including Tay Butler, Jamal Cyrus, Rick Lowe, and Lovie Olivia. Originally organized by the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, “Multiplicity” will feature thematic galleries that explore ideas of beauty, identity, history and power and heritage.
“Multiplicity” will also examine how artists choose a layer their collage material from historical photographs to the latest movements taking the form into the digital age and beyond.
“Xu Bing: Word Alchemy” at Asia Society (February 22-July 14)
This exhibition survey of the internationally acclaimed Chinese artist work assembles more than 50 of Xu Bing’s most important woodcut prints, videos, drawings, installations, and other ephemera representing almost 50 years of the artist’s creative output. With approximately a third of the exhibition featuring work new to the U.S., “Word Alchemy” focuses on the artist’s continuing exploration of words and language as art.
Highlights of the exhibition include Xu Bing’s early works, never-before-exhibited notebooks, and landmark prints, including the “Series of Repetitions” handscroll. More works include a new “Background Story,” with a connection to Zhao Mengfu’s famous “Autumn Colors on the Qiao,” and “Hua Mountains” handscroll.
Houston art lovers will also not want to miss the artist’s Texas-themed Square Word Calligraphy, and a new installation of “Monkeys Grasp for the Moon” in Asia Society Texas' Fayez Sarofim Grand Hall.
“Janet Sobel: All-Over” at the Menil Collection (February 23-August 11)
We’re all over this new exhibition produced by the Menil that explores the work of pioneering Abstract Expressionist painter, Janet Sobel. Her “all-over” approach to painting ushered in a new form of modern abstraction that covered a canvas – and nontraditional supports such as glass, cardboard, and book covers – from edge to edge without an apparent center.
Featuring 30 vibrant paintings and drawings of layered and dense colors and images, the exhibition strives to bring Sobel back into the art history spotlight that she disappeared from after her astonishing rise to prominence in the mid-20th century.
“We are delighted to present the vibrant and innovative works of Janet Sobel. In late 2020, the Menil received the gift of four drawings and one painting from the artist’s grandson, Len Sobel, which became the impetus to create an exhibition dedicated to her abstract art,” explains Menil director, Rebecca Rabinow. “Over the course of our research, we became fascinated by the impact she made during her brief career, and we are glad that her artwork will once again receive the recognition it deserves.”
“Vertigo of Color: Matisse, Derain, and the Origins of Fauvism” at Museum of Fine Arts (February 25-May 27)
In a beautiful “beast of an exhibition, the MFAH takes us back to 1905 France and a summer that art into the modernist period, as the creative partnership between Henri Matisse and André Derain and their experimentation with form and structure, bold colors and brushwork brought forth Fauvism (from the French fauve, or “wild beast”).
This exhibition, co-organized by the MFAH and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, features 65 of Matisse’s and Derain’s paintings, drawings, and watercolors from this period, on loan from national and international museums and private collections.
Working side by side in the fishing village of Collioure the summer of 1905, Matisse and Derain used their surroundings as inspiration to create a new language of color. The exhibition chronicles that color story with some of those foundational works of Fauvism, including some paintings that haven’t traveled to the U.S in decades, such as Derain’s portrait of Matisse and Matisse’s portrait of Derain, both from London’s Tate.
“The work that Matisse and Derain created over the summer they spent experimenting together, in 1905, liberated color from its traditional, representational role. This innovation freed them, and the artists who followed, to use color as color, radically changing modernist painting,” describes Gary Tinterow of the significance of this creative summer.