Glasstire staff and contributors share which Texas-based shows, events, and works made their personal “best” lists for 2019.
Focus: Njideka Akunyili Crosby at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
This was a gem of a show. Following blockbuster shows of other artists of Nigerian descent — Yinka Shonibare in the spring of 2013 and Kehinde Wiley in the fall of 2015 — Crosby’s work mines some of that same bi-continental history, illuminating the legacy of post-colonial Africa through a pop-culture lens. The works incorporated fabric, solvent transfers, and paintings that also referenced Crosby’s personal narratives of Nigerian culture.
Latino Hustle: Aquí Ahora went up in April; it was curated by the artists of the Fort Worth-based Latino Hustle collective: Raul Rodriguez, Jessika Guillen and Gerardo Contreras. The show featured works by Sara Cardona, Francisco Josue Alvarado Arajuo, Melissa Gamez-Herrera, Jeffry Valadez, Fabiola Valenzuela, and Giovanni Valderas — artists whose works address socio-political issues from Latino/Latinx perspectives. Two works in this show really did it for me: Cardona’s Gone with the Wind, a collage depicting multi-colored serape blankets with two tires contorted and flailing within their frame, and Valadez’s Limite de Seguridad, which loosely translates to “Fail Safe.” The piece is a mix of silk-screen on paper, oil on canvas and photo collage; it depicts a blindfolded kid with a gilded halo, with three armed men in hats with ammo belts criss-crossed over their torsos behind him.
Nari Ward: We The People at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
The first museum survey of the Jamaican-born artist’s work in Texas spanned 25 years and featured a recreation of his 1993 work Amazing Grace, a somber and foreboding work in which the artist creates a pathway made of fire hoses surrounded by rows of discarded baby strollers and pipes, backgrounded by Mahalia Jackson’s version of the hymn Amazing Grace. His piece Iron Heavens, with wooden bats, used oven pans, and ironed cotton balls is a massive tarnished sculpture that towers 12 feet high and forms Ward’s version of a night sky, with punched holes and stains forming constellations that hover over a ground of burned bats patched with the cotton. There is an implied violence in this work that feels like impending or just-realized mob injustice.
Sean J Patrick Carney
Janet40: Li Po at the Museum of Human Achievement, Austin
Mexico City-based Patricia Siller and Luis Nava collaborate as Janet40, an itinerant curatorial platform and URL-to-IRL production house. In April, they conquered Austin, employing an unholy trifecta of our most experimental institutions: the Museum of Human Achievement, Fusebox Festival, and the Unlisted Projects residency. At MoHA, Janet40 produced two separate exhibitions in a month’s time. Mexico City-based Canek Zapata’s Li Po: Rice for the People was a black-lit, neon plexi admonition about “alien capitalism.” As a sort of temporary antidote, Dubbe’s Nubes, a peaceful installation from Austin-based Hannah Dubbe, offered whispering pillows — a fleeting but cozy reprieve from late-capitalist anxieties.
Kenneth Tam: Details at UT’s Visual Arts Center, Austin
Equal parts uncomfortable, heartwarming, funny, and mournful, New York artist Kenneth Tam’s Details has stuck with me. Across three video works produced between 2016 and 2018, Tam documents structured and improvised interactions between men — strangers to one another — whom he’s hired off Craigslist and Reddit. A summer camp, an ersatz fraternal clubhouse, and a prom tableau provide charged sites where Tam’s participants explore gender and masculinity through performative rituals and collaborative play. Murmuring throughout is a disquiet around contemporary labor economics as we discover that several of Tam’s participants responded to his ads not only for the promise of an unorthodox experience, but also for the stipend.
Partial Shade and Co-Lab Projects: A Pit Fire for East Austin Studio Tour
In two pits dug into an empty field off Airport Boulevard one November weekend, burning sawdust, compost, copper, newsprint, and manure cooked (and cracked) scores of ceramic works by a veritable who’s-who of Texas artists. The following weekend, the fired wares were laid out ceremonially on a wooden platform. All charcoal and chalk, and looking like Xeroxed utilitarian vessels, they amounted to one of the punkest pre-holiday pottery sales I’ve ever seen. While Rachael Starbuck, Michael Muelhaupt, and Jesse Cline bring nearly unparalleled fabrication and design chops to everything they organize under the Partial Shade banner, A Pit Fire felt particularly ambitious and environmentally-responsive.
Janine Antoni and Anna Halprin: Paper Dance at The Contemporary Austin
I admit to a strong bias, since Antoni is one of my all-time favorite artists and I had the great pleasure of interviewing her earlier this year. Several aspects distinguished this exhibition from a typical artist retrospective. Over a period of two months, Antoni performed a series of dance movements developed with pioneering dancer and choreographer Anna Halprin that responded to Antoni’s sculptural and photographic works. The exhibit was a constantly changing and living environment for both the viewers and artist. Rather than freezing work in a historical framework, the malleability of the interactions allowed for reflecting not only on the past, but also going forward in Antoni’s practice, perhaps bringing new meanings into the work. I also appreciated the use of the artworks’ shipping crates as part of the show’s architecture, providing seating for the audience, as well as demystifying what goes on “behind the scenes” in a museum.
Robyn O’Neil: WE THE MASSES at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
The exhibition is a 20-year survey of O’Neil’s graphite drawings, collage and a collaborative animation. Her technical proficiency including the insane detail in her drawings, combined with prolific output and many layers of social, environmental, literary and art historical references, provide a lot for viewers to unpack and decode. I appreciate her subversive humor in presenting an apocalyptic world that features men but no women or children. This is an exhibit that requires multiple visits. Her three-panel tour de force Hell is not to be missed. Luckily, there are still six weeks left to see the show.
Focus On: Ragnar Kjartansson at the Dallas Museum of Art
The Visitors is Ragnar Kjartansson’s floor-ceiling nine-channel video installation that features eight musicians each playing a different instrument, performing and singing the same fragmented lyric/phrase from a poem Feminine Ways. Each screen/channel was filmed in a separate room in a large historic house in the Hudson Valley, New York. At 64 minutes, it is well worth the time. The visuals are lush, but the power is in the mesmerizing music as each musician performs with complexity and intensity. Prepare for an emotional rollercoaster. The Guardian aptly named it the maddest house party ever.
Jose Villalobos at the Luna Ranch, San Antonio
Jose Villalobos’ performance art is rigorous and densely coiled with ideas and symbols. Early this year he performed at the family ranch of Presa House founder Rigoberto Luna, just south of San Antonio on a perfect, golden spring day. Villalobos’ work often concerns effort, restraint, and catharsis. At the ranch he was dragged by a horse, donned high heels, hoisted bales of hay, stacked them and knocked them over. It was mesmerizing, beautiful, and resolutely non-didactic experience meditating on gender, colonialism, and the icons that uphold them. The best performance art can achieve moments that feel instantaneously cinematic. On this day, Villalobos singlehandedly unfurled an entire film.
Sátántangó at Austin Film Society
The white whale of slow cinema, Bela Tarr’s seven-hour-and-fifteen-minute epic from 1994 (restored for its 25th anniversary) demands to be seen with an audience to steel each other for the journey. Once you surrender to the long tracking shots, haunting soundstage and minimal editing, the film becomes a transcendent, three-dimensional experience. Despite it being almost ludicrously bleak, the film is filled with beauty, humor, and moments of true cosmic heft. It is probably the greatest filmgoing experience I’ve ever had. It’s playing again at Rice Cinema in Houston on January 18. See you there.
Éliane Radigue: tape music Vice-Versa, etc…+ Kyema from Trilogie de la Mort at Live Oak Friends Meeting House, Houston (organized by Nameless Sound)
The French composer Éliane Radigue isn’t as famous as some ambient, slow-music legends like Morton Feldman or Brian Eno, but she may be the greatest. Her works range from microphone and reel-to-reel tape to the ARP 2600 synthesizer to later works for cello, harp, tuba, and bassoon — and all are slow, meditative, and quietly rapturous. Like Bela Tarr’s movies, Radigue’s music feels absolutely radical in our modern, rapid-fire culture. These works do not beg for your attention through a desperate attempt at being entertaining. They require patience and respect. The two performances — one of tape works at a James Turrell-designed Quaker church, and one of the chamber works at a cathedral downtown — were the best music experiences of the year. It was truly a spiritual; at the end of each performance the audience sat in silence for several moments, reveling in the sense that we had journeyed somewhere together, and truly shared something.
The Art of Texas: 250 Years at the Witte Museum, San Antonio
Thinking about the extensive lassoing required to round up the 130 works from 89 different lenders in this show, a sumptuous assemblage of greatest hits and sleeper-surprises from Texas art history, makes me wanna take a nap. Then get up, slam some jo, and go see the exhibition again. Except I cain’t. The caravan has packed and traveled on, dispersed to mysterious, myriad niches and nooks. Fortunately, one may still hoist and savor the exhibition’s excellent catalog, edited by Ron Tyler.
Ghostly Moan: Texas Artists on the Blues (blowing in the lonesome Texas prairie wind)
I loved exploring how Bruce Lee Webb, Andy Don Emmons, Dan Williams, Tim Kerr, and other Texas visual artists respond to the music and mystique of Blind Lemon Jefferson and other blues and gospel artists. Shortly after Webb’s exhibition at Yard Dog Gallery in Austin, which sparked Ghostly Moan, the gallery featured work by Belgian artist Jo Clauwaert, including a primordial, urban ‘hood dreamscape of Blind Willie Johnson’s head looming with giant tortoises beneath the darkest of skies and the brightest of stars.
Destino San Antonio at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio
San Antonio artist Anne Wallace curated this much-loved exhibition of 19th- and early-20th-century stereograph and cabinet card scenes of the Alamo City. Serving her artist statement mission of examining “issues of representation, authenticity, and myth” in the American West, Destino depicted San Antonio lifeways as they were presented to the traveling public in souvenir images. On one of the small video screens looping commentary by scholars, Kiowa-Apache historian Jackie Dale Tointigh talked about a traditional aversion to being photographed that was maintained by some Native peoples … .
And amongst 2019 spirit-catcher faves, I must also shout-up to Paul Hester’s fine, half-century retrospective at Rice Media Center in Houston.
Even with the attention it has gotten, it’s easy to under-appreciate the importance of When I Get Home — the 33-minute film created to accompany Solange’s 2019 album of the same name — as a unique work of Texas-made, African American cinema. Directed and edited largely by Solange, shot in Houston and a variety of locations across Texas, and incorporating pieces by Houston artists Robert Pruitt and Autumn Knight, this imaginative homage is at once fantastical and intimate, urban and rural, regional and cosmic, aggressive and meditative. When I Get Home was surprise-released in March with premiere screenings held in Houston’s Third Ward, and an extended version premiered later at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It has gone on to reach audiences far and wide via screenings and online streaming. It’s all too rare to see genuine, contemporary Houston sensibility in a film, and to see Black vision featured both behind and in front of the camera. And, in a year in which the Rothko Chapel has been closed for renovations, it’s also nice to see the film bookended by vignettes filmed inside that beloved, dark, meditative space.
Ray Madison: Eddie Leon Returns at the Reading Room, Dallas
The married couple Linda and Ed Blackburn are respected artists individually, and together they produce work under the name of Ray Madison. Who is this fictional hydra artist? An exhibition pamphlet details that the project was intended to be a pen-name though which a fictional comic strip could be syndicated, which didn’t come to fruition. Rather, the story has grown through the decades into a body of paintings, drawings, and even a film.
Caleb Bell of the Tyler Museum of Art curated this show. The large colored-pencil drawings of individual panels lend weight to momentary conversational passages and meetings wrought with sinister speculation. Some sketchbook samples and pencil tests are shuffled in a vitrine for reference. The Reading Room is a cubicle of a space, not quite prepared for an honest retrospective. Comics as a serial art form aren’t meant to go on forever, but there is always the implication that there will be another strip next week. Curating a show of individual comic strips is like telling people which episode of your favorite TV show to watch; can you get the full experience when you’re cherry-picking? Trying to interpret what is happening one panel at a time adds to the mystery. The video work, Lonesome Utrillo (2007), is the most complete piece in the show at 28 minutes, with a discrete beginning and end.
Rachel Hecker: Masks at Texas Gallery, Houston
Rachel Hecker’s paintings in this show are so breathy, so soft, that you will be absolutely surprised to learn that they are acrylic paintings on custom panels. This is a collection of ten head-shaped, masked portraits that never reveal their subjects. Skin, the organ wrapped around our bodily features, doesn’t get much runtime either. The unidentified faces looking back into the gallery: are they known by the artist? Their eyes express relative ambivalence, though they are wearing headpieces that would certainly be conspicuous to wear in most public spaces. Put these over your door; you’ll sleep safely.
As with each year, looking at art all over the state leads to both discoveries and confirmations. In the best-of discovery section of my 2019: the big, quiet-but-fierce show of Charles White’s work at the Blanton gave me a much better sense of how and why this artist influenced so many of my contemporary favorites (also the work is drop-dead gorgeous); my better-late-than-never introduction to the great Houston photographer Paul Hester (mentioned above by Gene Fowler, who wrote about Hester for us) came only months before my relocation to Houston. Also, not quite a discovery, but nonetheless a welcome reacquainting: Robyn O’Neil at the Modern in Fort Worth. I feel like I grew up with her work (more a feeling than a fact; I was in my 30s when I first saw her drawings), but O’Neil is still young, and clearly still blowin’ and goin’. (Also, we finally had a chat, and I fell for her as a person.)
In the confirmation category for me this year was Joey Fauerso’s solo show at Blue Star Contemporary in San Antonio. I knew she was good, but this show really drove home how limber, direct, and clever she is. And at the Modern in Fort Worth: Disappearing—California c. 1970: Bas Jan Ader, Chris Burden, Jack Goldstein featured enough work by Burden to do a real number on me, as my late, great art hero always manages to do.
Last but certainly not least in the confirmation section: John Currin at the Dallas Contemporary. When I found out these paintings were coming to Dallas of all places I did a spit-take. He is the best of the best of the best of his generation. Two long visits to this show validated every ounce of admiration I have for his work. Luckily, another great painter stepped up and wrote about the show for us, one day before it closes. Which is today. If you haven’t seen it: Go go go!
Honorable mentions: the reinstallation of the European galleries at the DMA was a very welcome distraction during a recent trip there (to finally catch Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors, that was, alas, closed that afternoon due to technical problems); I turned a corner on the third floor and came face-to-face with Courbet’s Fox in the Snow. I cried. And, like Colette above, I too was smitten with Janine Antoni’s Paper Dance at the Contemporary Austin. What a pleasure and honor to catch this superb artist live and at the top of her game.
Daniel Rios Rodriguez: Bruisers at Artpace, San Antonio
Daniel Rios Rodriguez was overdue for a hometown show. With the exception of a small presentation at the McNay in 2015 and only a handful of group shows otherwise, his rough-hewn, beautifully modernist paintings were somehow absent on San Antonio gallery and museum walls. Artpace changed this with Bruisers, Rios Rodriguez’s deserved first solo show in the region. Featuring drawings, sculptures, paintings, and works that were a combination of all three, the show was perfectly sited in the organization’s Hudson Showroom, which features windows that bathe the space in natural light.
Rios Rodriguez’s paintings, many of which are intimate in scale, are funny and serious, figurative and abstract. Some of his paintings reveal themselves immediately, while others take a slower burn, but the most important part is that they all truly work on some level; it doesn’t matter if he’s painting on a terracotta sun face or on a discarded scrap of wood. The cherry on top of Rios Rodriguez’s assemblages is his artist-made framing: Wood, rope, painted nails, and other elements combine to make his pieces unique through and through.
David Byrne: American Utopia, Broadway Original Cast Recording
Back in 2018, David Byrne came through Texas eight times on his American Utopia tour. Then, in October of this year, he took up residency on Broadway in New York City for a five-month run of the production. The album to come out of this tour and show, the American Utopia on Broadway Original Cast Recording (which is basically just a live album) is one of my favorite creations of the year. Featuring Byrne plus eleven other musicians, all of whom are, marching band-style, playing one instrument apiece, the album is apropos for our time. And though it sometimes sounds a bit bubblegum, it has a cutting sincerity. This is an album I’ve have on repeat, namely because I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.
Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Ragnar Kjartansson’s video is perhaps the best and most moving artwork I saw this year. Two years ago, Rainey Knudson wrote about The Visitors, calling it “profound and exquisite.” When I went to see the installation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston this year, I had forgotten about her review and essentially went in blind. Depending on when you enter the work, it might require patience. But once it swells (this is essentially an hour-long, one-song music video), it hooks into you and doesn’t let go. There seems to be no good way to describe the video that doesn’t risk sounding boring or trite: a semi-improvised performance recorded with stationary cameras set on musicians in a 43-room mansion in upstate New York. Luckily, the work is still on view at the Dallas Museum of Art through March of 2020. If you haven’t seen it yet, go. And budget two hours for the experience.
Honorable mentions: the reinstallation of works by John Wesley at the Chinati Foundation, Marfa; Matt Messinger: Bestiary at Devin Borden Gallery, Houston; Symphony of Color at the International Museum of Art and Science, McAllen; Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. at the Lawndale Art Center, Houston; the opening of Unveiling: 360 Degrees Vanishing by Selven O’Keef Jarmon at Art League Houston; and Diana Kersey: Good Natured at the Rockport Center for the Arts.