Although many perceive Houston in terms of its oil industry or NASA — or even its urban cowboys — the city has a long-established, internationally recognized art scene. With its museums and galleries, alternative spaces, and community of practicing artists, Houston’s scene is as vibrant as it is diverse. One of the city’s mainstay institutions, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is a large art complex with an encyclopedic collection and a strong track record of organizing ground-breaking exhibitions, such as 2007’s Helio Oiticica: The Body of Color. Tucked away on a quiet neighborhood campus, the Menil Collection, along with its distinctive Cy Twombly Gallery and enigmatic Rothko Chapel, is known for its depth and diversity of holdings. And the Contemporary Arts Museum is the leading non-collecting institution for contemporary art in Houston. The recent appointment of Bill Arning as CAM director promises to add a dynamic new voice to the art community.
The Core Artist Residency Program has long attracted emerging talent to the city. The 27-year-old program offers one-to-two-year residencies to postgraduate artists and critical-studies students. The artists refine and exhibit their work, while students work on independent projects, curate exhibitions, and write essays. Visiting artists and scholars interact with the Core Fellows and with the public through a lecture series. The Core program provides the space, and most importantly, time, for the artists’ professional development. Alumni include Leandro Erlich, Julie Mehretu, Aaron Parazette, Shahzia Sikander, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Mequitta Ahuja, and Francesca Fuchs.
The Aurora Picture Show, founded by Core alumnus Andrea Grover, is one of the nation’s premier microcinemas, showcasing non-commercial film, video, and new media in a renovated Houston church. Other alternative art spaces include DiverseWorks, a multi-disciplinary arena where artists are encouraged to test new ideas, and Lawndale Arts Center, with an emphasis on contemporary local artists. A multi-faceted gallery scene, which includes the Barbara Davis, Inman, and Texas galleries, sports a strong roster of local, national and international artists. The Blaffer Gallery, an exhibition space at the University of Houston, provides a venue for both students and established artists, while the Rice Art Gallery on the Rice University campus has the singular mission of commissioning and presenting installation art.
Community involvement exemplifies the energetic spirit of Houston’s art scene. Glasstire is an online resource for news, reviews, and blogs covering visual art in the city and throughout the state. Each fall, the Houston Art Crawl invites the public to visit over 150 artist studio spaces in the downtown warehouse district. FotoFest is a biennial festival of photography and photo-related art held at over 100 venues across the city, and is considered one of the most important photography festivals in the world. Perhaps the most irreverent and wildly popular event, the Art Car Parade features more than 200 extravagantly decorated automobiles rolling through the streets of the city. Indeed, an enthusiastic public, amid dynamic organizations cultivating and presenting a wealth of talent, make Houston’s art scene soar.
Image: Aaron Parazette, Frothing, 2007