Art experts come out of the shadows: Houston curators reveal their insider fallpicks
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder. But long before any has the chance to stand in front of a work of art determining if it is beautiful, strange, funny or surprising, the tireless and mostly invisible work of curators makes our moments of decision possible.
For the August editorial special series State of the Arts, CultureMap asked four visual arts curators in town to step out of the shadows and tell us their favorite places to see art in town and what their own personal “must-see shows” are this fall.
Kristina Van Dyke, Curator for Collections and Research at the Menil Collection and a specialist in African art, is certainly no stranger to CultureMap, which reported of her award from the Andy Warhol Foundation of the Visual Arts to support her work on an upcoming exhibition of contemporary African art organized around varieties of love.
Van Dyke, the author of African Art at the Menil, named the Rice University Art Gallery a favorite Houston venue.
“Kim Davenport always brings something fresh and original to Houston,” Van Dyke said, “her program is remarkable for being focused on site-specific installation and broad in terms of the of artists it features — an international mix of young to established.”
Davenport runs the glassed in gallery in Sewall Hall on the Rice campus, a space that never seems to be the same thing twice. Most recently, the gallery featured Andrea Dezsö’s “In My Dreams I Fly,” an eerily wonderful set of tunnel books evocative of the imaginative travels we all take in our minds.
It’s nice to know that the Houston arts scene can surprise even a seasoned expert like Van Dyke, whose pick of exhibitions for the fall is “Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria” at the MFAH Sept. 29 -Jan.9, 2011. According to Van Dyke, "Dynasty and Divinity" features, “masterpieces of African art from Nigerian museum collections that I have long studied but never seen in person.
"It is rare that we have the opportunity to see African art from the 11th to 15th centuries and this exhibition should not be missed by experts and novices alike.”
Linda Shearer, executive director since September 2009 of one Houston’s most unique of venues Project Row Houses, is no stranger to the world of museums or the world of Houston arts. The former interim director of the CAMH, Shearer has spent four decades curating at impressive venues such as the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Mass. and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The innovative work of Project Row Houses, which has recently “incubated” a new arts space, LaBotanica, must keep Shearer busy, but she’s not too busy to stop at a favorite arts space, The Station Museum of Contemporary Art.
“Jim Harithas is remarkable in his vision, independence and activist politics; I love going there,” Shearer enthused. Viewers can still see “Because We Are” at the Station, which brings together 10 artists whose work looks at civil rights issues for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities.
She was equally enthusiastic at an autumn event at Project Row Houses, Round 33, which kicks off with an opening on Oct. 9 from 4-7 p.m. The show features Los Angeles based artists who share the experience of having gone to CalArts and is organized by Edgar Arceneux and Nery Gabriel Lemus.
Diane Barber, Visual Arts Curator of DiverseWorks ArtSpace since 1997 and Co-Executive Director there since 2006, has been no less busy preparing the fall season one of Houston’s most important interdisciplinary arts venues. But Barber tells us she eagerly anticipates “the re-opening of James Turrell's Skyspace at the Live Oak Friends Meeting House,” which she describes as “one of Houston's best kept secrets.”
Houston art lovers will known Turrell’s penchant for sculpting with light from his installation “The Light Inside,” the underground corridor of shifting colors that links the two buildings of the MFAH. The Quaker meeting house Turrell designed features a retractable roof that opens to make the spare white hall glow with a light that reminds viewers of the spiritual intent of the space.
Access to the space is limited to Friday evenings one before and one hour after sunset. According to Barber, “it is worth the extra planning necessary to see it. It is truly magical.”
Barber anticipates a season full of events integrating the visual and performing arts. But she’s “most looking forward to Brent Green's "Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then" in November.” This maker of quirky, animated films will install an ambitious stop-motion film with live actors. “The film tells the story of Leonard Wood, an eccentric hardware store clerk who built a strange and wonderful house that he hoped would cure his wife's cancer,” Barber said.
Alison Greene, a curator of contemporary art, joined the MFAH in 1984 after a stint at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where she also lectured at Cooper Union. It’s not just Houston but also Galveston that draws her attention, specifically the Galveston Arts Center. “For years,” she said, “this profoundly beautiful space has been the vessel for one brilliant show after another, most of which have been shepherded into place by the ever-generous and far-sighted Clint Willour.”
She notes the “lofty and graceful Victorian architecture of the main gallery” and the “incredible range of programming.”
But the Galveston Arts Center's struggles in the wake of Hurricane Ike forced the gallery into exile from its space at 2127 on the Strand. Willour is currently raising funds for repairs. While programs still take place elsewhere on the island, considerable effort will be needed to revive this venue.
Greene finds herself most drawn to a few unfamiliar faces upcoming this fall at the MFAH. “I must admit that I cannot wait to see two exhibitions that introduce artists largely unknown in the United States: German Impressionist Landscape Painting: Liebermann–Corinth–Slevogt,curated by Dr. Helga Aurisch, and Drawing from Nature: Landscapes by Liebermann–Corinth–Slevogt, curated by Dr. Dena Woodall.”
Greene has long “loved German 19th-century art” and relishes the opportunity to see the works of artists generally known only to scholars, at least outside of Germany.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the diverse tastes of these experts. And it’s even nicer to know that, in spite or because of their many years of service in the visual arts, even Houston’s expert curators can still be delighted and surprised.