Glasstire’s staff and contributors share which Texas-based shows, events, and works made their personal “best” lists for 2021.
The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (through February 6, 2022).
The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse is an overwhelming show. The stated mission of the show is only partially achieved: “The Dirty South makes visible the roots of Southern hip hop culture.” The way the exhibit successfully “makes visible the roots” is if you consider African American fine art culture as a component of the loam from which it grew. Valerie Cassel Oliver mixes mid-career Texas artists (Jamal Cyrus, Deborah Roberts, and many others) with current art stars (Kara Walker, Nick Cave, etc.) and historically important artists (Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, etc.). One thing I had never seen before was the inclusion of “outsider” artists in the mix. I have often wondered why artists like Mose Tolliver and Thornton Dial should be considered separately from artists who’ve had art educations. Their work here is just another ingredient in a delicious gumbo.
Gabriel Martinez: Desire Lines, at Anya Tish Gallery, Houston. Watch the Five-Minute Tour here.
Desire Lines was an exhibit of Gabriel Martinez’s most recent work at Anya Tish Gallery. It was an unexpected pairing, but this body of work was surprisingly perfect for a white cube space. All but one of the pieces were quilts sewn in abstract patterns from discarded clothes that Martinez found wandering in his neighborhood. The pieces are beautiful to look at, but what really makes them powerful is the unknowable history of the garments Martinez used. The works seemed like a nod to the history of assemblage art (Rauschenberg or George Herms, who Martinez met during a residency), but it also emerges out of a family tradition of quilt-making. And then one piece called back to Martinez’s artistic roots — he asked viewers to look at the tags on their own clothes and to write their country of origin on the wall of the gallery.
My favorite Houston show of the year, from a formidable roster of contenders, is The End of My Beginning by Jamal Cyrus. From found object sculptures, like a bust of Martin Luther King on a balance beam in Misconstrued Rap Lyric #1 (2019) to quilted denim facsimiles of FBI-redacted documents pulled from Black Panther archives, Cyrus’s art proposes a new historiography for writing African American narratives and recording Black excellence.
Dawolu Jabari: Lessons From Above: Constellation Quilts at the Galveston Artist Residency. Read our review here.
In Lesson from Above: Constellation Quilts, Dawolu Jabari’s quilted drawings, canopied with shotgun house-style roofs, reflected both the artist’s draughtsmanship in charting new constellations to record Black heroes, and his comic book connoisseurship in accessorizing his legends with weapons and shields from issues of 1960 publications by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Kevin Christopher Clay: HOTDOG! at The Art Studio, Inc., Beaumont. Read our review here.
Undoubtedly, one of my favorites shows to write about was Kevin Christopher Clay’s HOTDOG! both because of the quality of the work, and the opportunity to compare hot dogs to Rococo nues allongées.
Iranian-American artist Shirin Neshat’s exhibit I Will Greet The Sun Again featured her photography, film and video works from the past 30 years, including her most recent series shot in New Mexico, Land of Dreams. This is the first series she shot in the U.S., and features portraits of Americans from diverse cultural perspectives. Her poetic work seamlessly blends documentary photography with conceptual, magical realism. She is one of my biggest art heroes and I had the great honor of interviewing her for Glasstire.
Sherry Owens: Promise Me the Earth at the Grace Museum, Abilene. Read our interview with Owens here.
Texas powerhouse artist Sherry Owens’ retrospective Promise Me The Earth featured 30 years of her sculptures and installations addressing environmental themes, as well as one’s connection to place, land and sustainability. The show was beautifully curated by Judy Tedford Deaton, and the Grace Museum’s architecture was the perfect space to show the evolution of Owens’ practice, and her process of working with crepe myrtles.
here.Icons and Symbols of the Borderland at the Carlsbad Museum, Carlsbad, New Mexico. Read our review
This exhibition stands out because it was at a unique campus — also because the themes of thefelt so relevant in a town that is directly housing (and detaining) immigrants. The varied work itself, highlighting a roster of many of my favorite Texas contemporary artists, was lush with materiality, biting humor, pain, and hope. You’d be hard-pressed to find more relevant work at a biennial.
Dario Bucheli: a kind of orienting strategy at The Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts, Lubbock. Watch the Five-Minute Tour here.
These paintings were SO juicy. The source materials for Bucheli (a TCU MFA graduate) were screenshots of online museum photos and magazines. The pieces rode the painting line between photo-real and human-foible and drew the audience in for a closer look. Details like a floor reflection, a zoom-in overlay, or a clever crop of words move these paintings beyond documentation. This was one of my first post-2020shows to see, and it had to be seen in person (which was Bucheli’s point, I think.)
Later, Longer, Fewer: The Work of Jennifer Ling Datchuk at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (through January 8, 2022).
The title of the exhibition Later, Longer, Fewer: The Work of Jennifer Ling Datchuk at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft comes from a 1974 Chinese propaganda poster encouraging women to marry later and have fewer children. A more personal fixation on women’s bodies, wills, and time pervades Datchuk’s hard-hitting, heartfelt show, which gracefully moves between materials like porcelain, cement, rope, and hair. In her video Tame (2021), the artist’s head is yanked backwards by her braid, on loop. In this and other pieces, Datchuk doesn’t just remind us of the endless obstacles women face through lifetimes, centuries, and millennia; she inspires us to want to do something about it, too.
Quanah Parker: One Man Two Worlds at Barnard’s Mill and Art Museum, Glen Rose.
Some of my most memorable 2021 aesthetic experiences took place on blue highways and in small towns. A trip to the fairytale village of Glen Rose offered both a Quanah Parker photo show (slated for Southlake this summer!) and a revisit to Texas’ best petrified wood and rock roadside ruin.
The Frontier Times Museum in Bandera.
I thought I’d seen it all in earlier visits to the Frontier Times Museum in Bandera. But this early conceptual project by founder J. Marvin Hunter had eluded me. Hunter asked ladies visiting the museum to don a specific hat and photographed each of them, all wearing the same hat.
Tales N’ Trails Museum, Nocona.
I also visited the Tales N’ Trails Museum in Nocona, a town famed for leather arts. There I beheld the oddly compelling animatronic form of Miss Enid Justin, the late founder of Nocona Boot Company. Masked for COVID, she told her story with a recording of her own voice.
An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth.
An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain at the Amon Carter was the museum’s first major show of a woman of color, and this traveling exhibition, organized by the Carnegie Museum of Art, was the first survey of Lê’s work in American institutions. The exhibition was beautifully curated and presented five series by the artist, organized chronologically, each examining the complexity of American engagement in various conflicts. It was powerful to walk through the artist’s conceptual developments, starting with her revisiting her homeland 15 years after the Vietnam War, and ending with the timely topics of immigration and the removal of Confederate statues.
New Meanings: A Solo Exhibition by Austin Uzor at Fort Works Art, Fort Worth.
I first saw Uzor’s work in 2019 at 500X Gallery, and was immediately taken with his dreamy, nostalgic, painterly aesthetic, which he combined with sculptural elements. Uzor draws on memories of people and places from his past as he navigates between cultural experiences and identities related to his home of Imo State, Nigeria and his current home in Texas. In this show, it was exciting to see his work fill larger spaces in unexpected ways, like the tall, thin panels he assembled to create a three-dimensional spiral painting in which viewers could immerse themselves. This show was proof that, given the opportunity, Texas artists can go big and stand up with the best of them.
Nomin Bold at Liliana Bloch Gallery, Dallas (through December 30, 2021). Read our review here.
As a small example of what Mongolian artist Nomin Bold’s goddesses and fairies could do to wreak havoc if they weren’t confined to her multidisciplinary works, examine the gas masks and ghouls on the walls of Lilana Bloch Gallery. Bold’s work is the story of what happens when a nomadic culture begins to disappear while waiting in line for modernity to strike, but nothing can really prepare you for the deathly pirate ship which is suspended mid-gallery.
Ken Havis: EVERYTHING IS GETTING OBSCENE EXCEPT OBSCENITY at Webb Gallery, Waxahachie. Read our review here.
With the jubilant estate of Ken Havis on display as a shrine, of sorts, to the late great North Texas State professor of art, Webb Gallery examined the counterculture of a younger Denton and a younger America, finding a depth of influence among a generation of Texas artists. Havis produced a body of work unlimited by his objects’ original functions, if they had one. But a previous existence wasn’t required, either. Whether with stuff that wasn’t art before, or stuff that always was, Havis turned everything he touched into playful chaos.
Kaboom Books Re-Opens Full Time
The rigorous covid safety plan at this Houston used bookstore included buying $1 squirt guns at Arne’s to shoot hand sanitizer at customers. Inside, one may find a small skeleton, a needy Vizsla, or a cat who has a different name on the other side of the street. They also happen to have the most exciting selection of used books in the region.
While some beloved Texas businesses sadly folded during lockdown, John and Dee Dillman’s Kaboom Books sustained and reopened full-time in May. The recent shuttering of all of Houston’s inner-loop Half Price Books outlets should only bolster Kaboom’s already incredible inventory. This all reads like an advertisement, but the Dillmans are always eager to foster connections between community weirdos. Nodding in their direction is my pleasure.
Erin Miller and Annie May Johnston: MiamMiam at BOX13 ArtSpace, Houston.
I am fearful of illness, and this spring 2021 show was the first art excursion I made out of my bubble. Granted — Erin and Annie are my friends; friendship boosts any art experience; who else should we even make stuff for? But the dread I felt as I walked into MiamMiam was soon replaced by a familiar joy.
The two printmakers have been in conversation for years, and entering the gallery was stumbling into the middle of a heated yet sympathetic exchange. Johnston’s monochromatic hallucinations patched the holes left by Miller’s mad dance through a deeply personal colorscape. And there were so many teeth! It’s sometimes good when things are strange.
Isaac Julien’s Western Union: Small Boats at Ruby City, San Antonio (through spring 2022).
Isaac Julien’s 18-minute film will haunt you with its cinematic beauty and sense of urgency. The large-scale multiscreen installation, which has been on view since October 2020 and runs through spring 2022, most memorably presents discordant images of lifeless bodies and carefree beachgoers on the sands of Southern Italy. By sharply juxtaposing the experiences of African migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean with the European population that lives/vacations along its picturesque coastline, Julien hits on issues of scarcity and displacement that reach far beyond the shores of Sicily. Though it premiered in 2007, Western Union amplifies the plight of the migrant even more so today.
Ben Durham: Six Stories at Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin. Read our interview with Durham here.
Ben Durham’s text portraits of former friends and classmates from his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky reveal the kinds of details that images — even photo-realistic images — alone cannot convey. The artist’s graphite-on-paper drawings are meticulously made up of language; recollections of the individuals he once knew, or vaguely knew, forever stored in his memory one way, while forever exposed on the internet in another. (Each portrait is based on a mugshot that he culled from an online database). Six Stories, which opened in April and ran through June, featured six faces, their physical details painstakingly made up of faint wording difficult to fully grasp even up close: a testament to how early ties keep us connected long after fragile trajectories take us elsewhere.
Andie Flores at Presa House, San Antonio and Welcome to My Homepage, Austin.
The theater of reality has been hard to top for a couple years, but a few artists in 2021 gave it their best shot. Andie Flores opened Presa House’s exhibition calendar for 2021 with her show, but always near poets, and then she performed her costume-absurdism for the rest of the year on Instagram, @bidibidibummer. The ribaldry took place at various sites: Coconut Club, a shopping mall, and even a funeral services center. For her Welcome to My Homepage digital residency, Anti-Tourism Manifesto, scrolling text asks of Austin partygoers, “How are you participating in the very limiting illusion?” Flores’ output during 2021 was full of ecstatic performance and outrageous costuming. Her ability to blend the two into a visual art practice that is fascinating to watch and contemplate was among my favorite art viewing experiences this year.
Factory Settings at The Power Station, Dallas. Read our review here.
SooMi Han’s exhibition Factory Settings at the Power Station in Dallas this summer cemented her status as a top-notch curator who is at the very outset of her career (she just finished her undergraduate degree at SMU). Her decision to reproduce works submitted by the show’s artists via Risograph meant that the pieces would be much more accessible to purchase, without compromising the breadth or quality of the works exhibited. The metal filing cabinets in which the prints were displayed were both playfully experimental and stylistically sophisticated in execution. Even by organizing one exhibition per year, Han shows strategic prowess and great promise as a curator.
Luke Harnden: New Work at Barry Whistler Gallery, Dallas.
It’s hard to put a new spin on the medium of painting. Kandinsky did it, Caravaggio did it, and so on. Many other artists have tried (zombie formalism, anyone?) and failed along the way. It’s unfortunate that the mastery of the paintings in Luke Harnden: New Work, which was a back room installation on view at Barry Whistler Gallery in Dallas, can’t be communicated through photographs. Harnden has managed to rip the medium of painting apart to create these works. They’re painted — but they’re machine-made. They’re monochromatic (from afar) — but get up close and they break down into red, green, and blue lines. Physically, the pieces are literally hard to look at — they tire your eyes out. But that’s also part of what makes them interesting. This was, perhaps, 2021’s most under the radar show. If you’re in Dallas, go see these paintings. They’re worth it.
It’s good whenever a museum organizes an exhibition of a deserving hometown artist; it’s even better when the show lives up to its hype. Deborah Roberts: I’m was that show in 2021. Roberts’ larger-scale canvases, which she only began making consistently over the last few years, occupied the museum well. Her figures sung in the the space and brought out narratives around Blackness; her work did what it was meant to do.
I remember seeing Roberts’ 2014 and 2016 shows at Art Palace in Houston, well before she blew up. I remember hearing that the gallery’s booth at the 2017 Volta NY fair had sold out of her work. While it was clear that Roberts’ star was rising then, we didn’t know how high it would ascend. This show was the culmination of a hardworking, stalwart Texas artist finally getting her due. It was a pleasure to see.
Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings at the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio (through January 16, 2022). Read our review here.
Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio is chock-a-block with some of the slickest paintings I’ve ever seen. It has the Thiebaud staples — cakes and pies abound — but it also includes some of his lesser-known series. Striking portraits, rendered impeccably in oil, convey his sitters’ unique character and warmth, even though their settings could not be more austere. His landscapes — steep California street views — are ruddy and dirty compared to his normally straight, clean lines and bright colors.
Even the “lesser” works throughout the show — the pastels, watercolors and etchings — demonstrate some of the most exquisite and dynamic material, compositional, and color choices I saw this year. This exhibition is gluttonous; its overstimulation at its best — a literal and metaphorical feast for the eyes.
A selection of very honorable mentions, in no particular order: the rise of the NFT; Houston’s efforts toward a Latinx cultural arts complex; James Drake’s monumental show and Ellen Tanner’s small but mighty show, both at Moody Gallery in Houston; museums’ efforts to skirt nude art bans on social media + the rebounding of the auction market; Emily Peacock’s shows at Jonathan Hopson Gallery and Lawndale Art Center in Houston; Lisette Chavez’s show at Palo Alto College of Fine Arts in San Antonio; Mark Menjivar’s Glasstire residency project (which you can still view and participate in!); the 2021, five-venue Texas Biennial; Bucky Miller’s photos at grayDUCK Gallery in Austin; Jennifer May Reiland’s pandemic-delayed show at Lawndale Art Center in Houston; artists take over small town Texas with The Bartlett Project; Virginia Jaramillo at The Menil Collection in Houston; Margaret Meehan’s ceramics at Conduit Gallery in Dallas; the Bernie Sanders mitten meme takeover; and Diedrick Brackens at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin.