Art criticism and reporting
From 2008 to 2011 I was the visual-arts writer for the Houston Chronicle, doing both criticism and reporting. I also did freelance art writing for the Chronicle in 2007; from December 2009 to November 2011 I also had to do society “reporting” as the paper joined the nationwide trend of gutting arts journalism in order to save it.
Here are links to some of my favorite clips over the years. Except as noted, all were written for the Houston Chronicle, though some appeared on the various incarnations of the paper’s online arts presence, including the now-defunct Arts in Houston blog, the now-defunct Peep entertainment blog and 29-95.com, which is named for Houston’s lattitude and longitude.
Reviews and commentary
Egyptian’s art in Houston: It’s good to be the minister. In which I pan the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s brown-nosing exhibition of mediocre abstract paintings by Egypt’s minister of culture.
Artist leaves intimate legacy. The late Houston artist Virgil Grotfeldt saved his best for last. His final paintings on X-ray cans of his cancer-afflicted brain were as powerful a statement as you could ask for.
The Art Guys’ big, fat not-so-gay wedding. This bashing of The Art Guys’ mock wedding, which they idiotically insisted was “the real thing,” to a live-oak sapling should have been the end of the matter; instead, two years later the Menil Collection chose to tarnish its standards and its civil-rights legacy two years later by quietly acquiring the tree.
Houston can take cues from Seattle exhibit: My response to Target Practice: Painting Under Attack, 1949-78. Vivid writing about this show by Jen Graves and Regina Hackett, whose critical rivalry — fighting like cats and dogs one day, paying each other due respects the next — was a never-ending source of inspiration, lured me to Seattle on my own dime to see a show I’ll never forget. My video of the exhibition is here, here and here. The MFAH was one of many museums that passed on this show, which should have traveled; instead, it ran a lackluster exhibition on how artists have depicted the moon over the years to mark the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. Sigh.
Alias Man Ray rethinks a multimedia pioneer. My take on another show I wish traveled — the revelatory Man Ray exhibition at the Jewish Museum, New York.
Barkley L. Hendricks’ work captures essence of his era. A look at how the overdue Hendricks survey, which made its final stop at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, suggested parallels between his work and that of John Singer Sargent and Alice Neel, both of whom had shows at the MFAH at the time.
New book shows de Menils’ work as catalysts for art and change. This largely glowing review of Art and Activism: Projects of John and Dominique de Menil, which ran as the cover to the Chronicle’s Sunday arts supplement, included a generously illustrated multipage spread. The Menil Collection responded by demanding an editorial-board meeting because near the end of the piece I made two blindingly obvious points: that “the Menil’s collecting heyday is behind it” and that “the more time passes, the more its international prestige eclipses its local significance.” Mustn’t criticize the Menil! Ever!
Carlos Cruz-Diez projects color into space. This exhibition exemplifies why the MFAH’s Latin American department is one of its bright spots.
Non-Western, modern art in dialogue at the Menil: Review of Upside Down: Arctic Realities and Ancestors of the Lake: Art of Lake Sentani and Humboldt Bay, New Guinea
Stan VanDerBeek survey a major achievement for CAMH. Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen nearly yanked this review from the cover of the Sunday arts section, but put it back after, at my suggestion, he actually read the damn thing.
New Orleans’ art scene recovers. A look at the heady days leading up to the Prospect.1 Biennial in 2008, when New Orleans was experiencing an influx of artistic talent. I’m not sure how sustaninable it turned out to be but would love to find out. Some terrific anecdotes flesh out this piece.
Blockbuster exhibits are wooing art tourists. A look at how Dallas and New Orleans took wildly different approaches to attracting cultural touri$m in 2008 — Dallas with a King Tut exhibit and New Orleans with a new contemporary-art biennial. In the end, both fell far short of their goals, but Prospect New Orleans is back, albeit scaled down.
Masterpiece’s dismantling has a silver lining. The strange tale of how an ambitious St. Paul, Minn., public-art installation by sculptor George Sugarman wound up scattered around Texas. More about Sugarman’s vision here.
Loaned pieces keep MFAH new. My attempt to discover why the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has thousands of borrowed artworks — most not on view — in its custody. The late director Peter C. Marzio told me he thought there was a book in this.
Percussionist Max Neuhaus who revolutionized sound art dies. Every time I pass through Neuhaus’ permanent installation at the Menil Collection, it gets better. The Chronicle was the first U.S. newspaper to give Neuhaus his due.
CAMH director Bill Arning’s leaked email sparks conflict over rival art fairs. Oy, all the cloak and dagger involved in actually getting hold of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston chief’s email, which went viral Houston-style — many people saw it and would discuss it off the record, but almost nobody would actually show it to a reporter. In the end, lancing the boil early turned out to be the best for everyone involved; both fairs said they met what they said were their goals; and Arning kept right on proving himself to be the best thing that’s happened to CAMH in ages. Which goes to show that getting things out in the open is a good thing, people.
Profiles and interviews
Inventive designer stops by CAMH: Avant-garde artist Vito Acconci wants architecture to serve the people. A terrific conversation with a legend.
Portrait of an artist in demand: Profile of Dario Robleto. Instead of flying to New York for the Gustave Courbet retrospective, which I desperately wanted to see, I traveled to San Antonio and Seattle on my own dime to do this story, because something told me this guy’s work was that important. I’m glad I did.
Pa. museum chief knows challenges awaiting Marzio’s successor. My interview with Philadelphia Museum of Art director Timothy Rub, who walked into a situation eerily similar to that faced by the late MFAH boss Peter C. Marzio’s successor. We now know that person is Gary Tinterow, who’s leaving the Metropolitan Museum of Art to head the MFAH.