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On Houston’s NYT No-Show

Houston got the big old shaft in a recent New York Times article on Texas art style. Did it deserve it?

To know the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie is to love it.

One upshot of the recent article in the New York Times about Texas art was a piece in the Houston Chronicle (accompanied by similar discussions at recent Houston art events) about the lack of coverage for Houston in the Times piece. Austin, San Antonio Dallas and Marfa all got airtime in Cathy Horyn's article 'Lone Star Style,' but Houston, typically thought of as the largest art community in Texas in terms of sheer numbers, got nothing beyond a mention that the founder of this website lives there. Said Chronicle writer Clifford Pugh:

Come back, Cathy. We'll show you the Orange Show, the Aurora Picture Show, DiverseWorks, Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex, Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre, Infernal Bridegroom Productions, the H-Town rap scene and other incubators of energetic Texas style.

It's a praiseworthy list, but we can omit the performing arts groups mentioned, as the point of the article was to explore visual art (the Houston rap scene, arguably the most compelling thing Pugh mentions, has had two features about it in the NYT, most recently in April 2005).

Art Prostitute recently moved from Denton...to a new space in Deep Ellum.

Pugh might also have mentioned Blaffer Gallery, Lawndale, The Menil Collection, Project Row Houses, I Love You Baby, Domy bookstore, Rice Art Gallery, Buffalo Bayou Art Park, the Core fellows and the Knittas as Houston visual art spaces/"scenes' that were passed over.

So. Did Houston unfairly get the shaft?

Well, for starters, Houston culture gets a fair amount of press already in the Times. Recent articles have discussed Brazos Bookstore, the effort to save the River Oaks Theater, the de Menil house, Houston Grand Opera, the big bucks received last year by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Houston It's Worth It campaign by production company Ttweak. Houston has twice been featured in the travel section in the last two years. There have been reviews of the MFAH's Inverted Utopias, the Peter Blum show of prints, Best in Show (opening at the MFAH this fall)… Statewide, there have been features on the new Blanton Museum building, Lynn and Tim Crowley's house in Marfa, and bipolar, Austin-area artist Daniel Johnston. Dallas, too, has had a travel piece, and the museum there has been mentioned (as have Houston institutions) several times in 'coming attractions'-type list pieces. But in recent years, Houston's gotten as much cultural coverage as the rest of the state combined.

While we agree that Horyn's article only scratched the surface of the interesting spaces in Houston and elsewhere in Texas (Webb Gallery in Waxahachie would have been high on our list for piece about interesting Texas art-style), the fact remains that right now, Houston simply doesn't have much that's exciting and new to report. Houston is in a lull, people.

For one thing, Houston doesn't have any compelling new artist-run spaces. You look at the energy being generated in Dallas by and/or Gallery, Art Prostitute's new space, and Road Agent's Summer Ambush series; in Austin by Art Palace, The Donkey Show, and Okay Mountain; in San Antonio by Fl!ght Gallery, i2i Gallery, Unit B and Triangle Project Space — and Houston doesn't have anything to compare. Sure, Houston has some outstanding commercial galleries, and a greater number of them than any other city in Texas. Sure, it's got strong institutions. Sure it has the largest community of working artists. But the grassroots community isn't coalescing into anything that interesting, with the exception of I Love You Baby's painting nights @ CSAW and perhaps the Knittas knitted graffiti going up around town.

San Antonio's Triangle Project Space,...which recently showed some terrific ceramic works...made by famous artists in a Mexican talavera plant.

The NYT article also mentioned the wealth of new buildings going up in Dallas right now:

Dallas, for years locked in a Sodom-and-Gomorrah war with Houston, will get a new opera house by Sir Norman Foster, a theater by Rem Koolhaas and bridges by Santiago Calatrava.

OK, the Old Testament metaphor is a tad theatrical. But it's true that not only is there more interesting grassroots stuff going on outside of Houston, but the civic activity at a higher level is more active in the Metroplex than it is in Houston. If you take DFW as a whole, it blows away the rest of the state for cool public buildings (other than skyscrapers) designed by cool architects. Where is Houston's city-level art vision? Why doesn't Houston have something in the works as grand (or even half as grand) as Chicago's Millennium Park? The current mayor of Houston may be way more art-friendly than past administrations, but the fact remains that, on the civic level as well as the grassroots, Houston doesn't have much to report at the moment beyond a steady-as-she-goes continuation of many fine shows at many fine spaces.

So we would argue that, for one thing, young Houston artists need to get in the game. We'd also argue that people in positions of authority (and people with the resources to support those in positions of authority) should ratchet up their vision for the city — not because of a three-page article tucked in the back of the Sunday Times fashion magazine, but because Houston is the largest city, and art scene, in Texas.

Start dreaming, Houston. Big.

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