Exclusive: Franklin Sirmans Offers a Virtual Tour of the Menil Collection

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Franklin Sirmans is the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Menil Collection in Houston. The 2007 recipient of the David C. Driskell Prize, awarded to honor and celebrate contributions to the field of African American art and art history, Sirmans was also named “Best Curator” by the Houston Press in its “Best of 2008” issue. After the jump, Artkrush editor Paul Laster catches up with Sirmans to get his views on the Houston art scene after nearly three years of living and working in the city.

Artkrush: After being in or around New York all of your life, what was the most daunting thing about moving to Houston?

Franklin Sirmans: The lack of everyday public spaces. That’s why it’s great to work in a museum that provides that as its mission on its campus — especially one inclined toward a dialogue on public space — but there is very little public interaction that is not stratified by class here.

AK: What was it about the Houston art scene that you found most welcoming after you had settled there?

FS: Everybody is friendly and all that good stuff, as I’m sure you have heard.

AK: Do you travel to art events in Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Marfa, or is Texas so big that they’re just too far away?

FS: Texas is way too big. I go to these places as much as I would go to places of an equivalent distance from New York, about once a year.

AK: Who are some of the artists in Texas that you think deserve better national and international attention?

FS: In my humble opinion — and realizing that I work with a lot of artists, so this may be slanted away from there — David McGee, Joe Havel, Katrina Moorhead, Robyn O’Neil, Seth Alverson, Darryl Lauster, Floyd Newsum, and Carl Suddath come to mind.

AK: Are there any artists from the region’s past that you think are underrated?

FS: There are some interesting artists like Jesse Lott, Bert Long, and Delilah Montoya that could be better known here and elsewhere.

AK: What do you think Houston has to offer artists that other places don’t?

FS: I’m not going to say it’s cheap and thus fertile territory for artists to afford to have a good studio, etc. Who cares at a certain point? Are you stimulated to make good work? Houston has amazing museums, residencies, and alternative art spaces, and amazing curators and directors, and gallerists.

AK: What do you think the city needs to do to establish itself as a destination for contemporary art in the way that other American cities, such as New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, and Miami, have?

FS: Houston has better institutions than Miami already. They have more visible collectors in Miami and Houston doesn’t have a fair — but it doesn’t need one. We have similar weather, which is nice. That’s what makes it cool here; you can do things as if you aren’t live on stage, yet the stage is still big enough to shine a spotlight on the many good things that are happening.

Watch a video tour of the Menil Collection with Franklin Sirmans.

Image: Delilah Montoya, Pink, 2005