Conception Arts Founder, Rachel Wilkins, takes us on a curated view of the diverse arts scene in Houston, Texas.
BY RACHEL WILKINS
After a four-hour flight from a bitterly cold NYC, it was a welcome surprise to find that it was t-shirt weather in Houston. A picture-perfect day to explore what the city had to offer. I was in town to attend a Conception Art Show and found myself with some free time on my hands. I had heard rumors about this city and its flowering art scene, so I welcomed the opportunity to see what it had to offer.
In a city that boasts over 19 Museums and over 60 art galleries, I had to make my short trip count. First stop was The Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH). The oldest art museum in Texas was stacked with contemporary, and pre and post-war big-hitters. I particularly enjoyed the collection of De Koonings and Franz Klein works. The highlight of my visit, however, was the solo exhibition of Ron Mueck’s awe-inspiring, hyperrealist sculptures. Mueck’s painstaking works capture the human experience in such intimate detail. As a viewer, Mueck takes you through emotions varied and jolting. One sculpture appears to be a young couple depicting a romantic scene, but further investigation reveals a darker narrative: the male figure gripping the arm of his female companion from behind her back in a domineering and aggressive gesture. Mueck’s use of scale is remarkable; the vast rendering of a newborn child fills an exhibit room while his depiction of a Mother with her groceries is small and quiet. An overall ethereal and otherworldly exhibit by one of the masters of modern-day sculpture.
My next stop was at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC): “A nonprofit arts organization founded to advance education about the process, product, and history of craft.” This multi-faceted oasis is a combination of artists’ studios, exhibit spaces and a store filled with unique works of art created by the Center’s resident artists. The stores’ inventory is created from such craft materials as clay, fiber, glass, metal, wood and found/recycled materials. One particularly captivating item, named “Fallen Soldiers” was created by Alicia Dietz’s. “Fallen Soldier” Pays tribute to Dietz’s fellow servicemen and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the number of known casualties grows Dietz continues to add names to this heart-wrenching memorial. Since Oct 10, 2011 there have been 6,866 casualties.
After my earlier stops, I took a stroll down Main Street. The first thing that struck me was how quiet it was for a Friday evening, especially for a city with a population of 2.2 million people. While the downtown area is compact, the city itself is a sprawling metropolis. A metropolis, I discovered, with hidden gems, and bold public art in every nook and cranny.
One such hidden gem is ‘Art Blocks’: “a year-long public art project where colorful and compelling art infuses the three-block promenade of Main Street Square.” The exhibit occupied various corporate and retail buildings and included a large-scale functional sculpture entitled “Trumpet Flowers” by Patrick Renner. The 3D work creates a shaded area beneath its colorful, organic forms, where viewers can reflect. The various pop-up exhibits were playful, and invited interaction: I was a willing participant.
A few blocks away from another gem, Miro’s “Personage and Birds” caught my eye. It’s bold, primary colors were a stark contrast to the surrounding grey of the concrete jungle that the sculpture inhabits. Nestled at the entrance of JP Morgan Chase Tower Plaza, the towering, thirty-five foot, steel, and bronze work is Joan Miro’s largest commission.
My next and final stop for the evening was at the Conception Art Show, where 40 local artists were putting up the final touches for an evening event. KaDavien Baylor’s “Hope” caught my eye as soon as I arrived. The bold, charcoal and pastel portrait entitled “Hope” was intended to bring attention to the devastating food crisis in Southern Sudan. I had the privilege of chatting with this young artist who not only shows great practical promise but also a firm dedication to his subject matter: the social challenges faced by the people of this particular corner of the world. The evening was filled with so many talented local artists and guests and was the perfect end to a full day of art-centric exploration.
With an early flight the next morning I used the short time I had to take in as much as this great artistic city had to offer. Houston is a city with a colorful heart, one whose natives have an unquantifiable pride in their Southern metropolis. One that I found to be as rich in cultural creativity as it is in personality.