This article was originally published in the University of Texas at Arlington’s Art & Art History Department annual newsletter. It has been lightly edited.
After twenty-five years, Professor Benito Huerta will retire in June 2022 from his position as the Director and Curator of The Gallery at UTA, at the University of Texas at Arlington. By far the longest-serving director in the gallery’s nearly 40-year history, Huerta has created an enduring legacy that will be hard to match. Though he is stepping down from his gallery position, Mr. Huerta will continue to teach studio art classes part-time in the Department of Art and Art History as part of a phased retirement program.
Upon his arrival in 1997, the Center for Research in Contemporary Art (CRCA), as The Gallery at UTA was then known, challenged Mr. Huerta to create exhibitions of contemporary art covering a wide variety of mediums to support the curricular range of a large university art department. His curatorial philosophy coming in was to showcase the work of exemplary artists, emphasizing diversity in race, gender, and ethnicity to better reflect the world and its cultures. To accomplish these goals, Mr. Huerta subsequently created a long roster of evocative curated exhibitions for the 4,100-square-foot gallery space – usually formatted as in-depth two-person exhibitions, or occasional group exhibitions based on a thematic or media-driven components.
Thematic exhibitions curated by Mr. Huerta for The Gallery at UTA include, On Death Row, Public Art for Arlington, Texas Paper, Black White (& Gray), Points of Convergence: Masters of Fine Arts for the national College Art Association conference, Impressions: Prints Made in Texas, The Medium is the Message, Flight Deck: Public Art at DFW and Love Field, The State of Drawing, Contemporary Portraiture, and Private Collections I and II.
The impressive assortment of Texas artists he has presented in two and three-person exhibitions at UTA over the past twenty five years includes, among many others, Tracy Hicks, César Martínez, Joe Mancuso, Rachel Hecker, Vincent Falsetta, Kaneem Smith, Annette Lawrence, Sydney Yeager, Linda Ridgway, Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher, Dornith Doherty, Beverly Penn, Margarita Cabrera, Billy Hassell, Joe Havel, Al Souza, Cam Schoepp, Vincent Valdez, Allison Hunter, Tommy Fitzpatrick, Margo Sawyer, Sedrick Huckaby, Barbra Riley, Kana Harada, Harry Geffert, Kim Cadmus Owens, Allison V. Smith, Chuck Ramirez, Amy Blakemore, Alice Leora Briggs, Mary McCleary, Liz Ward, Robert Pruitt, Adriana Corral, Leigh Merrill, Richard Armendariz, Matthew Bourbon, Debra Barrera, Angela Kallus, Alicia Eggert, Robert Hodge, Sherry Owens, Jill Bedgood, Celia Eberle, Hillerbrand+Magsamen, Nic Nicosia, Simeen Farhat, and Ambreen Butt.
Mr. Huerta has also mounted major monographic exhibitions of artists such as Celia Munoz in 2002, John Hernandez in 2016, David McGee in 2018, and most recently, Mel Chin in 2022. Catalogs were published in conjunction with each of these exhibitions.
Other initiatives Mr. Huerta was instrumental in establishing include a cooperative project for which exhibiting artists produce editions of prints with students in the UTA Printmaking Program studios; a publication program of brochures printed for each curated exhibition with installation images, bios, and an essay written about the work by a local art historian or arts writer; an extensive series of lectures and gallery talks open to both members of the university and the local community, in which nearly 100 exhibiting artists have given public talks about their work; and recently, the production of YouTube video recordings of artist talks and the creation of virtual 3D tours of exhibitions posted on the gallery’s website, to create greater accessibility for those who can’t attend events in person.
In addition, in 2019 he was invited to begin a collaboration with the Art Bridges Foundation to bring museum-quality art to the UTA campus. As part of that program, The Gallery has been able to borrow works by renowned artists from the foundation’s collection, including works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Senga Nengudi in spring 2020 and spring 2021, and a projected video installation work by Bill Viola.
Grants he has been awarded for exhibitions and publications at UTA over the years include funding from donors such ArtPace, the Wishful Wings Foundation, the Barrett Foundation, the Hanley Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the Firestone Foundation, the Belo Corporation, Arlington Camera, the City of Arlington, the College Art Association, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Mr. Huerta earned his BFA from the University of Houston and his MA from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. As an undergraduate studying commercial design, he discovered his talent for painting in his last year before graduation, and was encouraged to continue his studies by mentors such as artist Gael Stack. Once he earned his MA in 1978, his artistic career blossomed, and he has been a prolific studio artist ever since, exhibiting extensively both nationally and internationally.
Prior to coming to Arlington in 1997, Mr. Huerta’s work was shown in 22 solo exhibitions and 137 group exhibitions. From 1997 to the present, his art has been featured in an additional 41 solo exhibitions and 188 group exhibitions – all while working full-time as a professor and director/curator of The Gallery at UTA.
Part of Mr. Huerta’s decision to step back from his gallery duties is a desire to spend more time in his own studio. He looks forward to emphasizing his own already successful studio practice, painting large-scale oil and acrylic works on canvas, and creating a variety of works on paper, from drawings to watercolors to prints.
Mr. Huerta has stated, “My artwork is a crucial part of my life. I still have a lot of ideas that I want to realize. I also want to have more time to read, travel, and work in my yard, believe it or not.”
Asked to reflect on his time as the longest-serving curator of The Gallery at UTA, Mr. Huerta said “Getting to meet and work with the wide variety of artists we have shown over the years has enriched my life, and I hope seeing their work has enriched others. One of the things I tried to achieve was the goal of exhibiting a diversity of ideas and artists. I also have tried to emphasize the artists and art of Texas, which I feel was overlooked for a long time. Fortunately, that is changing. I guess my hope is that the exhibitions I have organized had some sort of positive impact on both the artists and the community.”
Fortunately for the university, Mr. Huerta will not only continue to work part-time teaching, but also has pre-planned the next two years of gallery programming. He has been working with guest faculty curators on exhibitions organized for fall 2022 and fall 2023. He also is collaborating on a co-curated exhibition of artist Luis Jimenez for spring 2023. As a final farewell, Art and Art History Department Chair, Dr. August Jordan Davis, has asked Mr. Huerta to organize a mini-retrospective of his own work for his last semester at UTA in spring 2024, which will also include a section of collaborative works with his wife, artist Janet Chaffee.
Mr. Huerta’s influence on the gallery will continue, despite not being involved in its day-to-day operations over the next two years, and his legacy will undoubtedly endure well beyond that. As Dr. Davis stated, “UTA has been enormously lucky to have benefitted from the artistic direction of a curator and artist of Benito Huerta’s stature for a quarter of a century. His generous nature, keen aesthetic sensibility, and inclusive spirit have established The Gallery at UTA as a center for bringing exciting contemporary art to our students, faculty and staff, and the wider North Texas community.”
She continued, “The recent Mel Chin exhibition is but one example in a long career of engaging curation that Professor Huerta has developed, and we are so fortunate that UTA was his home for this outstanding output for so many years. We are thrilled that our students will continue to learn from his insights over the next couple of years. Professor Huerta’s role as Gallery Director leaves big shoes to fill as we prepare for the next twenty-five years and beyond for The Gallery at UTA.”
To see images of Benito Huerta’s artwork and read more about his accomplishments, including awards, public art commissions, curatorial history, collections, and bibliography included in his extensive resume, visit his website.