Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Houston, TX



Crossing State Lines: Texas Art from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

September 23, 2000 - March 11, 2001


The many currents that have shaped the art of Texas are examined in Crossing State Lines: Texas Art from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, on view from September 23, 2000 -- March 11, 2001 in the Caroline Wiess Law Building of the MFAH. The exhibition challenges traditional assumptions about regional art and gives a fresh view of the art of Texas in a survey of 60 works from the museum's unparalleled collection. Spanning the 20th century, the installation includes a broad range of artists who cross state lines both conceptually and literally. Some have devoted the major part of their lives to this region, others have worked here for critical, if brief, periods. At one end of the continuum are such time-honored figures as Everett Spruce, Forrest Bess, and Dorothy Hood; at the other end are artists of the past decade who have redefined Texas art, including Celia Alavarez Muñoz, Julie Mehretu, and Jeff Elrod.(left: Everett Spruce, Catalpa Tree Landscape, 1929, oil on canvas, three panel screen, The Museum of FIne Arts, Houston, Museum purchase with funds provided by the Museum Collectors, 95.173)

"This exciting installation reaffirms the museum's commitment to collecting and exhibiting Texas art," said Peter C. Marzio, director of the MFAH. "The year 2000 marks the MFAH's centennial, and it is appropriate to survey the ways that art in Texas has matured over the past century. The diversity of the pieces reveals the importance of Texas art historically and its contributions to the contemporary scene."

Included in the installation in the grand-scale Ludwig Mies van der Rohe galleries are paintings, sculpture, video, and mixed media works. The show will introduce a selection of works donated to the MFAH by Dallas collectors Nona and Richard Barrett, as well as other recent acquisitions by such artists as Brian Fridge, Grace Spalding John, and Susie Rosmarin. Thematically, the exhibition follows four significant and often overlapping currents found in Texas art: the landscape; visionary responses to the landscape and the pursuit of the spiritual; the evolution of Modernism in Texas; and the advent of Post-modernism.

"In studying the collection it became apparent that no single style, school, or subject characterizes the breadth of Texas art," commented Alison de Lima Greene, MFAH curator of modern and contemporary art and curator of the exhibition. "Some artists chose to ally their work to regional themes, others looked far beyond our borders. Taken as a whole, their work reveals a remarkably complex and rich portrait of the state we're in." (left: Ann Stautberg, 10.2.95 A.M., Texas Coast, 1996. gelatin seilver photograph with applied oil, The Museum of FIne Arts, Houston, Partial gift of Claude Albritton and partial museum purchase with funds provided by Adre and Sylvia Crispin, Joan Morgenstern, and Clinton T. Willour, 97.63)

While the focus of the installation is the 20th century, two notable exceptions to that time frame are included. The show opens with Samuel Houston, an 1851 daguerreotype by the Meade Brothers. The brothers, Henry and Charles, lived and worked in New York, but helped to memorialize the famous Texan in the only full-length pose in daguerreotype known to exist. The other 19th -century work is Hill Country Landscape, 1862, by Herman Lungkwitz. The German-born Lungkwitz was among the first professional artists to settle in the newly incorporated state, and his work exemplifies the origins of landscape painting in Texas. (left: Meade Brothers (Charles Richard Meade and Henry William Matthew Meade), Samuel Houston, 1851, daguerreotype, The Museum of FIne Arts, Houston, Museum purchase with funds provided by Vinson & Elkins L.L.P. in honor of the firm's 75th anniversary, 92.444)

The opening segment of the exhibition is devoted to how artists have explored the sense of place characteristic to art of this region. The landscape inspired very different interpretations from such artists as Everett Spruce and Forrest Bess. Spruce's Green Hillside, 1842, is a prime example of the artist's chiseled landscapes, achieved by applying thick layers of paint. Bess expressed his response to the Texas landscape with an abstract simplicity, demonstrated in the bold colors and design of Untitled (11A), I958. The artist once stated that the painting had "something to do with a lonely beach.. .. The scene was very ancient, so old, so long before man's memory - very lonely - very desolate. Rather like a beginning - after an expulsion." Other artists featured in this section include Rackstraw Downes, Alexandre Hogue, Page Kempner, and Nic Nicosia.

Art infused with a visionary passion was among the strongest currents in Texas painting and sculpture to emerge in the 1970s. One example in this exhibition is Kermit Oliver's meditative K.J.'s Calf, 1975. Oliver combined elements of sacrifice and penitence in the unusual composition, which was inspired by the memory of seeing a friend's calf through the lunette window of a church. Lucas Johnson, Sharon Kopriva, Michael Tracy, and Danny Williams, among others, are also represented in this segment. (left: Kermit Oliver, K. J.'s Calf, 1975, acrylic on panel, The Museum of FIne Arts, Houston, Museum purchase with funds provided by an anonympos donor at "One Great Night in November, 1991," 91.1560)

Perhaps the least known aspect of Texas art is the evolution of Modernism and abstraction in the hands of Texas artists. Modernism first came to Texas through artists who had spent a portion of their careers developing their work in such places as Chicago, New York, and Europe. By the 1980s, however, a generation of artists came of age in Texas who struck out in fresh directions in abstraction independently. Notable examples of the evolution of abstraction in the exhibition are Dorothy Hood's Haiti, 1969, and Michael Miller's Untitled, I993. Haiti, one of Hood's most monumental canvases, captures the texture and color of vast geological spaces. In Untitled, Miller uses layering to create a dynamic interplay between decorative elements and formal rigor. Joseph Glasco, Aaron Parazette, Joe Mancuso, and Toni LaSelle are among the other abstract painters and sculptors featured.

Through the past two decades, Post-modernist currents became evident in Texas art as contemporary artists adopted a broad range of compositional strategies to question the nature of art, to reflect upon personal identity, and to analyze our larger culture. They reacted to contemporary life in America, with its emphasis on information dissemination and consumerism, by playing with the perception of reality and fiction. Featured in this segment is Helcn Altman's Signal, I992, 36 sets of electric fire logs stacked into a pyramid. Signal offers the light and crackle of real fire yet no heat emanates. The work is a monument to runaway consumerism and our fascination with the artificial. Also seen in this segment are works by Mark Flood, Rachel Hecker, Annette Lawrence, and Linda Ridgway .

Texas: 150 Works from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, written by Alison de Lima Greene, accompanies the exhibition. The book encompasses many of the works in Crossing State Lines and takes a broader look at the museum's collection of Texas art and its role in supporting Texas artists. This award-winning book is available at the MFAH book stores.

Texas: A Sense of Place, an installation of 21 photographs, will be on view in the Lower Brown Corridor of the Law Building through October 29, 2000. Most of the photographs were featured in Texas: 150 Works from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.. Works by Garry Winogrand, Keith Carter, Ann Stautberg, Earlie Hudnall, Lee Smith, Lit Ward, and Robert Ziebell are included .

Crossing State Lines: Texas Art from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Funding is generously provided by Philip Morris Companies Inc.

Rev. 10/8/00

Read more in Resource Library Magazine about the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/4/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.