Ringing in the new year is now our mission, with a year of the visual to build upon. And here in Houston we had a very successful year in art, which included another stellar Sculpture Month Houston, the return of the Texas Contemporary, the reopening of the Menil with the momentous Drawing Institute addition, and much more.
Instead of throwing out some of my own personal favorites for this list, I decided to call upon the trusted eyes of some tour de forces in the local art scene. There is a standout favorite between the three, which was to many a jarring exhibition (but much needed in the way of current cultural commentary). The others are stellar picks that include both local and state artists that are worth keeping an eye on in the new year.
Theresa Escobedo, Artist and Curator
As far as my number one pick from 2018, I would have to go with Vincent Valdez’s Dream Baby Dream, Part II of his allegorical trilogy Beginning is Near at David Shelton Gallery.
Part II of III, which began with Part I of The Beginning is Near, which I reviewed here, follows a progressive discourse on life as a modern American, which is, of course, confronting — still confronting, relentlessly confronting. Part I jarred his audience awake; Part II, almost tenderly, helped us settle into the discomfort inherent in our collective Human/American experience.
I have to believe that Valdez is a spiritual, soulful man — a shaman of sorts, leading us to the knowledge we need to know about ourselves in order to (potentially) decisively evolve. His paintings, masterfully executed, render for us the unavoidable pitfalls of the duplicitous American Dream. He has his finger on the bleeding pulse of the present, which for me is the quintessential mark of a true artist: an illuminator who perpetually responds to the context in which he exists by earnestly digging into his own emotional experience of the world. This show has been featured far and wide, from Texas Monthly to the New York Times. He’s making art in Texas look good. But more than that, his work deserves the recognition.
As for my second pick? One exhibition that I knew would find itself in Houston, if not how or when, is a museum exhibition of artworks from Dorothy Hood. And I’ve been waiting for it. In 2016, the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi mounted the first major retrospective of her work, The Color of Being/El Color del Ser: Dorothy Hood, 1918-2000, which featured 160 paintings, collages and works on paper. El Color del Ser brought Dorothy Hood to life for me, and I immediately recognized in her a pioneer in the arts — ahead of her time, unabashedly investigating through abstraction the deep well of her internal, emotional, psychological and spiritual existence.
A big question I had at the time, though, was, “Why not in Houston?” Why wasn’t this tremendous effort to restore her legacy and illuminate her career made and presented in the city in which she lived and worked? Cut to Nov. 3, 2018 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which saw the opening of Kindred Spirits: Louise Nevelson & Dorothy Hood (on view until Feb. 3, 2019 at the MFAH). I was so happy to see this come to our city.
Kindred Spirits is a teaching exhibition through and through, and I can appreciate about it that it marks the timeline of art history in Houston, juxtaposes the work of two tremendous American female artists digging into the material of the subconscious, and that it presents a beloved and well-collected Houston artist on an even keel with an artist contemporary who enjoyed career highlights in New York, Berlin, and the world-over. It grounds the work of Luise Nevelson, which can be found in some of the world’s premiere arts institutions (I saw her artwork for the first time at the Tate Modern), and elevates the work of often-overlooked Texas artist Dorothy Hood.
Jennie Ash, Executive Director of Art League Houston
The top pick for my favorite exhibition of 2018 is Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón at the Station Museum, which felt very timely given the re-opening of relations between Cuba and the USA. The exhibition featured a visually stunning selection of mostly black and white, heavily detailed and large-scale collograph prints by the late female Cuban artist, whose untimely death at age 32 cut short the life of an extremely talented artist. Her work drew inspiration from the Afro-Cuban mythology of an all-male secret society called Abakuá, which the artist used as both a catalyst and a vehicle to explore her own complex sense of humanity and spirituality within the context of growing up in Cuba, which at the time was going through an economic depression.
The works incorporate a mastery of the collograph printing technique, which utilizes a combination of additive and reductive processes with a variety of everyday materials to produce a dynamic spectrum of textures and tones, which are key to the artist’s deeply stylized visual vocabulary, producing epic and sinister multi-layered narratives that require multiple viewings, consistently asking more question then giving answers. Her work speaks genuinely and profoundly about loneliness, racial inequality and death, and challenges the traditional gender roles in Cuban society by re-focusing the traditional male-dominated narratives of both Christianity and Abakuá with a mythical women Sikán, who also serves as the artist’s self-portrait.
Her dramatic and mythic scenes are both compelling and unsettling, portraying a cast of silhouette figures with no mouths in order to represent the absence of women in the Abakuá religion, as if to be suffocated by one’s own history of silence. In the six months since I have seen the show, their eyes remain salient in my memory, communicating an unblinking sense of dystopia that is cold and piercing, mysterious and glaring, here and now.
My second favorite show of 2018 was a twofer between Trip Hardererrr by Patrick Turk at Cris Worley and Turk’s more recent installation as part of the group show Outta Space II at Rudolph Blume Fine Art/ArtScan Gallery. I have been a big fan of Turks work for years, and think he is one of the most under-represented artists in Houston. I love that he is a self-taught artist, especially in a time where people are now pushing back on the value of the MFA pipeline. His work is inspired by complex mythologies that are rooted in biology and science and manifested through dizzyingly detailed 3D collages. The artist’s collages configure a hyper sensory and color-saturated universe that transports the viewer into a hallucinogenic state that is both intimate and extravagant.
Chris Becker, Writer and Composer
Vincent Valdez’s Dream Baby Dream at David Shelton Gallery is one of my top picks of 2018. The rise of a reality-TV-star as president and the death of Muhammad Ali were catalysts for Vincent Valdez’s powerful show Dream Baby Dream. Taking its title from the song by electro-punk duo Suicide, Valdez’s black and white oil portraits of mourners at Ali’s funeral, each one silent despite the presence of microphones, challenged the viewer to contemplate our potential to transcend religious and political differences and dream a better future.
Another would be Francesca Fuchs’ Something at the Art League of Houston and How to Tell the Truth and Painting at Inman Gallery. 2018 Texas Artist of the Year Francesca Fuchs gives color to memory, imbuing such ordinary objects as a pair of scissors or a glass paperweight, items discovered in her father’s desk after he passed away, or a pantheon of misfit toys rescued from the proverbial trashcan of time, with an emotional ache that is more tender than sentimental. Fuchs’ dual shows, Something and How to Tell the Truth and Painting, were revelatory for me; her paintings seem to materialize and disappear before your eyes.