Art in America: “Up Close 2016: Around Houston”

By December 27, 2016 Art in America

Trey Duvall, Passage, 2015-16, 4,100 pounds unfired porcelain clay, steel, water. Photo Trey Duvall.

Houston’s art mavens have to pay close attention. New venues and artist-run spaces pop up and disband at a rapid rate. Meanwhile, three highly anticipated additions at big institutions are still months or years away. The Menil Drawing Institute, a freestanding exhibition and storage space at the Menil, is set to open next year, as are some of Stephen Holl’s new plazas and buildings for the Museum of Fine Arts and the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University. The latter, designed by Michael Maltzan, is an art-and-technology initiative that will bring superstars like Olafur Eliasson and Diana Thater to interact with Rice’s students.

Sometimes America’s second-fastest growing city pauses long enough to notice abandoned structures that can be creatively reused for installations. The Silos at Sawyer Yard, once used to store rice, have been cleared out and given over to artists. Many terrific artists fail to account for the effects of the terrifying scale, but when projects succeed—like Janice Freeman’s hyper-femme floral swings, David Waddell’s projected collages that turned the damp silo into the backdrop for Boschian hallucinations, and Trey Duvall’s 4,100-pound clay sarcophagus slowly eroded by dripping water—it is marvelous. Even more overpowering sights are found in the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, a long-abandoned water-storage facility dating to the city’s early days. Magdalena Fernández is currently showing the immersive video piece 2iPM009 (2009), which—with its animation of multiplying grids suggesting cyber-Mondrian lattices—beautifully fills the space.

Just a five-hour drive away, New Orleans is always part of Houston’s consciousness, and many Houstonians keep apartments in the Faubourg Marigny for the food and wild festivities. I was thrilled to jury the Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s Louisiana Contemporary exhibition. I always love the Ogden’s unique focus on what “Southernness” means in art and culture. Given the amount of great eccentric characters the populate the New Orleans scene, I was not surprised when the museum’s head curator told me I had picked a half dozen artists—including Paul Rizzo and Chris Bernstein—who were better known as colorful community bartenders. The opening took place on White Linen Night, a summer ritual common to many cities in the South. But even having seen Houston’s parade of white linen, I was not ready for the huge New Orleans version, where art patrons become a white surging mass filling the city’s central business district. Viewed from the Ogden’s roof, it looked as if a strange cult of Tennessee Williams impersonators had taken over the city.

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