Glasstire staff and contributors share which Texas-based shows, events, and works made their personal “best” lists for this incredibly weird and worrisome year. As you may imagine, most of us stuck pretty close to home for much of it, but there was great art happening all across the state and beyond, both online and in person.
Although I’ve been to a handful of museum and gallery exhibitions since the initial mid-March lockdown of 2020, the last two exhibitions I visited pre-lockdown are the ones that I will most remember. The hybrid world that has followed, like my Dallas Cowboys season, has to be marked with a giant Covid asterisk.
Mark Bradford: End Papers at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth opened on March 8, exactly one week before I started working from home. The exhibition of the artist’s early works details the beauty salon origins of his technique of applying the fragile, less-than-wafer-thin protective hair papers to canvas. Although his compositions give solid nods to abstraction, Bradford’s paintings are more situated in his L.A. roots and the kind of community and culture that forms around Black hair culture. End Papers continues through January 10 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
I drove from the press preview of Bradford’s show directly to the opening reception of Slowed and Throwed: Records of the City Through Mutated Lenses at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. It was the last opening I attended, with the biggest crowd, in what we now know to have been the dangerous first phase of the pandemic. The show largely revolved around the influence of legendary Houston artist DJ Screw on H-town culture. CAMH curator Patricia Restrepo, along with guest curators Big Bubb and ESG, put together a solid group show with artists whose works chopped and screwed their materials and processes much like Screw did with music samples. It was one of the most Houston of Houston shows.
And while I do believe we are on a slow tick back up to being comfortable going to see art in person again, I wish I could say the same about the comeback trail for my Cowboys.
Hillerbrand + Magsamen: Devices: Then And Now at Heidi Vaughan Fine Art, Houston: The Fluxus-inspired, interdisciplinary work of Houston’s Hillerbrand + Magsamen includes sculpture, photography, video, textiles, sound and performance. For the past two years, the collaborative artistic family of four created worked on 147 Devices for Integrated Principles, which culminated in the exhibit at Heidi Vaughn, as well as a beautifully designed book. The project is rooted in society’s desire to control our lives through various devices. Employing everyday objects and a healthy dose of subversive humor, the work asks us to think beyond hyper-consumerism and how we as a community respond to complex life issues, both personal and societal. I interviewed them in April, asking them which devices would help us survive the pandemic. Their responses are here.
Deborah Butterfield: Three Sorrows at the Old Jail Art Center, Albany: It’s rare that an artwork affects me profoundly on an emotional and spiritual level. Deborah Butterfield’s Three Sorrows is a response and reflection upon the 2011 earthquake in Japan that triggered the tsunami, followed by the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. A bronze horse serves as the lone witness to the global impact of the devastation, surrounded by collected marine debris, fused with memory, that washed ashore after the disasters. The work speaks to the interconnectedness of all life — human, animal, flora and fauna — and to the destruction caused by an apathetic humanity. I had the pleasure of interviewing Butterfield last month.
Come & See at Austin Film Society (AFS): I didn’t know that this would be the last film I would see in a theater in 2020, but it’s awfully fitting for this awful year. Elem Klimov’s 1985 masterpiece about the Nazi invasion and destruction of Belarus is so intense and nightmarish it makes Apocalypse Now seem like The Parent Trap. But there’s also an aching lyricism and beauty to the film: the tracers of airplane fire over a dewy meadow; the unforgettable horror of a stack of bodies by a cabin. This is cinema, and I’m grateful I got to see it on the big screen — who knows how much longer that will be a thing.The Avant-garde Networks of Amauta: Argentina, Mexico, and Peru in the 1920s at the Blanton Museum of Art, UT Austin: I saw this dazzling show three times in less than a month, all in the halcyon pre-Covid days when I didn’t time myself to not spend more than 30 minutes in any indoor space. Amauta chronicles the wondrous and vast latticework of South American artists in the 1920s and 1930s through the connections of a short-lived but tremendously influential Peruvian avant garde magazine. Thrilling, surprising, and deeply inspiring, Amauta is a sterling example of how a museum exhibition can be a window to a world.
Entre Todas Las Mujeres at Chicho Boys Fruit Market, San Antonio: The image that has stuck with me most in 2020 is a portrait of Vanessa Guillén, the 20-year-old soldier whose disappearance and murder prompted a recently concluded sexual assault investigation at Fort Hood. The discovery of Guillén’s body in June garnered national attention as much of the country was protesting the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, but her story hit especially hard in Military City. I saw her everywhere, including on a neighbor’s Día de Muertos altar that stayed up until December. Her image was most poignantly and viscerally recreated as part of a striking mural on the wall of a westside San Antonio produce shop, painted by local artists Adriana M. Garcia and Ana Laura Hernández. Entre Todas Las Mujeres doubles as a public memorial and an educational resource: a QR code painted in a corner points viewers to a curriculum on muralism and social justice, a reminder of the deep relationship between art and activism in the city.
Ashley Perez: Prey For Us at Presa House, San Antonio. The recently closed solo exhibition for San Antonio artist Ashley Perez was a resonant encapsulation of 2020’s uprootings, and a high point in an already strong year for independent Southtown gallery Presa House. The receipt of a NALAC grant enabled Perez to work in a larger format and in media outside her established painting and drawing practice, and a sense of formal and thematic exploration from a solid base of experience characterized the flow of the show. The motif of snipped, gnarled purple heart plants recurred across several beautifully colored, exquisitely textured acrylic paintings and a hanging installation of miniature potted sprigs, an effective metaphor for translocation and resilience.
Lauren Moya Ford
Mario Perez: DIY at Devin Borden Gallery, Houston: Family vacations to Mexico in the 1970s exposed the Texan painter Mario Perez to rótulos, hand-painted commercial signs that unwittingly bridge the gap between fine art and local vernacular. Rendered in concise, uncomplicated detail, Perez’s oil paintings depict tools from household chores and daily maintenance — mops, shovels, and saws — artfully arranged over washy backgrounds. Implicit in these subdued canvases is a heartfelt tribute to labor and to the people who do the work. In this region, that mostly means Mexican Americans and immigrants. And so Perez’s modest paintings contain a political comment that, though subtle, is like the rótulos: we can’t help noticing.
Chuck Ramirez: Metaphorical Portraits at Ruiz-Healy Art, San Antonio: November marked the 10-year anniversary of the untimely death of Chuck Ramirez, the beloved and acclaimed San Antonio artist best known for his glossy photographic portraits of everyday disposables and unloved trinkets. An HIV diagnosis in his early 30s propelled Ramirez toward artmaking. His Mexican-American heritage and graphic design background inspired work that critiques culture and commercialism with a fond wink. Ramirez ‘s warm spirit and sharp wit put him at the center of San Antonio’s vibrant arts community in the 1990s and early 2000s. This retrospective keeps Ramirez in the spotlight where he belongs, and introduces him to a new generation of viewers.
The Art Guys’ Goodbye: The final Art Guy’s studio soiree in late-January turned out to be the largest public gathering I attended in 2020, and the exhibition at its center provided some necessary inspiration during a tough year. Celebrating Michael Galbreth, who’d died a few months prior, his creative partner Jack Massing assembled a “topical” show of death-related work the duo had made over the years. Their installation Forever Yours was given added weight now that Galbreth’s ashes were held in it. The show included Last Laugh, featuring a painted human skull with a clown nose; the large drawing 101 of the World’s Greatest Ideas for Headstones; an early series of cut found photos; and Galbreth’s recent painting Tomb of the Unknown Artist. This bold mini-retrospective and its timely, one-day-and-gone presentation was the ultimate (in both senses of the word) Art Guys experience, fearlessly entangling the playful and serious, shallow and deep, big and small, absurd and profound. That event and show stayed with me over the ensuing months of my own quarantine “endurance action,” and amidst so much passing of life to the other side.
Diedrick Brackens: darling divined at UT Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art: In his first solo exhibition, organized by New York’s New Museum (on view in Austin through May 16, 2021), the LA-based, Texas-born Brackens has woven Black identity, history, and mythology into nine exquisite large-scale textiles to further the American narrative. darling divined delineates humanity through materiality — cotton which has been hand-dyed by the artist himself, to create an unforgettable richness of color in tribute to his ancestors. Says Brackens: “I get to use this material in a way they did not.”
Nicole Eisenman: Sturm und Drang at The Contemporary Austin: This show had a little bit of everything, starting with a trudging procession of sculptural giants (part of the 2019 Whitney Biennial) and ending with the artist’s earliest figural paintings. Eisenman’s prescience alone could have clinched the award for this year’s Suzanne Deal Booth/FLAG Art Foundation prize: Sturm und Drang opened just weeks before the Covid shutdown, summing up 2020 before it began. One sculpture in particular — a sad sap on his hands and knees — bears a bumper sticker slapped on the ass of his trolley: HOW’S MY SCULPTING? CALL 1-800-EAT-SHIT.
Think what you will about me banging Glasstire’s drum here, but let me tell you: I saw more Texas art shows this year than ever. Why? Because we launched our Five-Minute Tours series.
When lockdown commenced, we couldn’t see all the shows that were up, and so we asked commercial galleries, museums, nonprofits and artist-run spaces across the state to send us video walk-throughs of their current exhibitions. As of this writing, there are more than 220 video tours on our site, of every conceivable kind of art exhibition from every kind of artist and venue across Texas — and they keep coming in. We have been “walked through” a staggering variety of shows — by the artists, gallerists, curators… . The tech prowess behind the videos is all over the place — from gratuitously slick to comically off-the-cuff. I love it. But mostly I’m just looking at the art.
A few favorites of mine over the past… gah! nine months? Hillerbrand+Magsamen at Heidi Vaughan Fine Art in Houston; Jessica Ninci at the Galveston Artist Residency; a video walkthrough of three exhibitions at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft; Caroline Doherty at CO-OPt Research + Projects, Lubbock; Jade Walker at The Museum of Pocket Art, Austin; Virginia Lee Montgomery at Lawndale Art Center, Houston; Chris Sauter at Dock Space Gallery, San Antonio; Allyson Packer at the Hamon Arts Library Hawn Gallery at SMU, Dallas; Gil Rocha at Presa House Gallery, San Antonio; and Angel Cabrales at Nancy Fyfe Cardozier Gallery at UT Permian Basin, Odessa. In person, road-tripping across Texas, I may have caught only a handful of these. The tours got me there as best they could.
There is an ongoing discussion amongst staff about whether we’ll continue to ask for and run them after this Covid mess finally recedes. As with many “habits” that have formed over quarantine that turned out to be surprisingly useful, if not reassuring, we’d like to think art venues across Texas will continue sending us video files, and we’ll keep the tours coming. It’s a giant state! It’s hard to see everything in person even in the best of times.
Naked, with Fur at University of Texas at Dallas’s SP/N Gallery: SP/N Gallery’s group exhibitions are focused on the community surrounding North Dallas’s UTD, which means you get a different sense of the art scene than the multitude of galleries which are peppered more centrally in city. UTD’s gallery space always hosts a healthy variety of artistic output, often with works by current students and faculty interspersed in the programming. This is the type of show I didn’t know I couldn’t live without until the usually stacked exhibition schedule of Dallas became unpredictable in 2020. Stepping into SP/N Gallery once again reminded me of previous openings, packed and vibrating with exchange and discussion.
Yasuyo Maruyama: Mind’s Eye at Ro2 Gallery, Dallas: Wichita Falls-based Maruyama puts stars in the eyes of her sitting models. This is one of the most comforting shows of this year, perhaps because of the confidence that each portrait displays. Casual, ebullient sincerity. Maruyama’s figures are serious but nonthreatening; they are soft without fakeness. The paintings are impeccably precise — and reproduce well, to boot.
The Resilience of Our Art Community — Artists, Institutions & Supporters Included: I hate to use this expression — especially because over the past nine months it has been beaten to death, relentlessly mocked and coopted, and seems to have lost all meaning — but when thinking of how to recap this year, the most accurate term is “unprecedented.” Even though art wasn’t at the forefront of everyone’s minds this year (and definitely wasn’t the most important thing of the year), 2020 has taught us that a few facts ring true: artists will always make art; galleries, museums, and nonprofits will always do their damndest to help sustain us in times of trouble; and people will step up to make sure both of those things can continue into perpetuity.
The Explosion of Video Tours & Art from a Distance: This year I toured Sol Lweitt’s studio, floated through the Hermitage, clicked through the Rijksmuseum, browsed the Louvre, and revisited myriad NYC exhibitions, all from the comfort of my couch. Similarly, I saw shows in Lubbock, Houston, Dallas, Marfa, Amarillo, San Antonio, Austin, and beyond thanks to our Five-Minute Tours. While we at Glasstire always say that seeing art through a screen is no substitute for the real experience (something I still firmly believe), this year has been remarkable in terms of the sheer online accessibility of art. I’m excited to see how this year continues to shape how exhibitions and museums are experienced.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton & David Byrne’s American Utopia: I am drastically late to the game — I hadn’t seen or even listened to Hamilton since it came out, with the hope that I’d be able to catch the show in person and experience it fresh — but watching it on Disney+ may have very well been the highlight of my year. Even five years after its premiere, it is still a tour de force of what a Broadway show should be. Similarly, David Byrne’s American Utopia, the Spike Lee-directed concert film released a month ago, captures our nation at its best: working together to burn down the house.
Love this so much! It is an honor and a privilege to represent Hillerbrand +Magsamen and 20 Texas artists at Heidi Vaughan Fine Art. Our sincerest thanks to Glasstire for your love and support in 2020. It sustained us all. Bring on 2021 though!
Christina, thank you for listing my exhibition on yer best of list. Glasstire’s support of my work means a great deal to me. And, of course, your championing of Texas art and artists is irreplaceable.