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“Hamlet on Bourbon” by David McGee


Art & Soul

By Ray Dennison and Mellanie Perez

Aimée Froom photo by Phoebe Rourke-Ghabriel


Nowhere is Houston’s boundless energy and sense of possibility more on display than in our visual arts community. From thought-provoking exhibitions and forward-thinking artists to venerable institutions and anniversary celebrations, here’s a curated sampling of what’s happening in H-Town’s art world now.

A prolific painter looks to the most diverse city in the nation for inspiration.

Houston artist David McGee’s works have been displayed at The Menil, the MFAH, Dallas Museum of Art and Harvard University, and his narrative paintings in particular are known for exploring society, class and race. “I don’t think you can get away from the power of literature or film in my work,” he says. “I’m also interested in the labeling system. When we get abstract or confused, we put labels on things, and that ultimately affects systems of class, race and sex.” Earlier this year, he moved to the Bolivar Peninsula to study water and prepare for a solo show at Texas Gallery inspired by Moby Dick and the Middle Passage. Now, the Houston Museum of African American Culture presents a retrospective on his works through Jan. 12. “When people go to museums, they often think they have to be told what to think, but I just want people to look. Some of these things will make people uncomfortable, but they are part of our world. That’s what art does. It enlightens—and sometimes agitates. But if you get a small percentage of people thinking differently, then you’re doing it right.”

One of the country’s largest private art collections turns 30.

Founded in 1987 by art patrons John and Dominique de Menil, The Menil Collection today stands as one of the city’s most unique attractions. The Renzo Piano-designed main building offers iconic works by Magritte and Warhol, while the nearby Cy Twombly Gallery and Rothko Chapel add to the allure of the area and provide a full day of exploration. This winter, and on display through Feb. 25, contemporary London-based artist Mona Hatoum presents her first major solo exhibition in the United States in more than 20 years. In the show is a set of larger-than-life kitchen utensils, as well as a suspended installation of black steel and fishing wire titled “Impenetrable” (shown above). The works are provocative and meant to make viewers question an ever-evolving and violent world, so relaxing under the oak trees on the property afterward is a great way to balance out the experience. The anniversary celebrations culminate this month with a black-tie ball Dec. 2, but prepare for more fun when the new Menil Drawing Institute opens in 2018. 

“Quills #3, Evanesance” by Edward Lane McCartney

An interior designer-turned-artist opens a bright gallery show.

Growing up with parents in the oil industry often leads to grand adventures. Born in Pittsburgh, Edward Lane McCartney lived in Houston, Louisiana, San Francisco, Toronto and Europe. “As a kid, I remember buying prints of John Constable at the Tate gallery in London,” the artist, now 53, says. “How many 11-year-olds did that?” Nowhere is his love for the aesthetic more on display than in his show at Hooks-Epstein Galleries this month. An interior designer by profession, McCartney actually didn’t dive into fine art until well into adulthood, after an impromptu night class in jewelry making. Since then, he’s taken a class at The Museum of Fine Arts’ Glassell School every semester for the past 17 years. His latest works explore texture and color studies that use a variety of materials, including cardboard, plastic army men and puzzle pieces. They’re dynamic, changing based on the viewer’s position. McCartney says it doesn’t have to be gold or silver to be beautiful. “You make something precious by how you use it.” 

Pop icons and visual art installations collide at this weekend fest.

The eclectic Day For Night music and arts festival goes into its third year Dec. 15 to 17, blurring the lines between audio and visual with a diverse offering of musicians and site-specific art installations. All the action takes place at Post HTX (401 Franklin St.), the historic Downtown landmark that used to house the Barbara Jordan Post Office. The 1.5 million-square-foot indoor-outdoor space houses four stages for musicians and then extra gallery areas for visual installations. Music headliners include Solange, Nine Inch Nails, James Blake and Jamie XX. On the visual side, Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda uses electronic music frequencies to create light shows; New York’s AV&C creates digital holograms and projections; and Conditional Studio and Processing Foundation uses software and computer coding to interact with viewers. VIP tickets go for $750 and include rapid entry, lounge access and swag bags, while a portion of this year’s proceeds benefits the Greater Houston Community Foundation in light of Hurricane Harvey.

A world-class curator celebrates a major milestone at the MFAH.

Last month The Museum of Fine Arts Houston celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Art of the Islamic Worlds initiative with a black-tie gala, but the festivities continue into the new year with two major exhibitions: Bestowing Beauty: Masterpieces From Persian Lands and Arts of Islamic Lands: Selections From The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait. Since arriving in 2014, curator Aimée Froom has grown the department’s collection to include some 300 treasures that cover nearly 1,300 years of history. “It’s really a tapestry of worlds,” Froom says, noting that pieces come from a vast range of places, including Moorish Spain and South Asia. In addition expanding the collection, Froom also teaches courses at Rice University and has started an interdisciplinary lecture series at the museum that brings experts in different fields—think science and medicine—in to discuss art. “I hope visitors are inspired to think differently about art, cultural connections and shared cultural heritage.”