Ruth Pershing Uhler's The First Subscription Committee in the Julia Ideson Building. Photograph by Allyn West.
On the same morning that the Houston History Conference was to be held at the Julia Ideson Building, the NRA was in the midst of a three-day rally at the George R. Brown Convention Center just a 20-minute walk away. This would be the most well-attended convention ever at the GRB — almost 90,000 people went, and the Chronicle reported that more than $1 million in merchandise was sold.
The History Conference was more modestly attended. Walking across Lamar Street toward the Ideson Building, which was recently rehabilitated, I noticed one of those concrete sidewalk inlays that are scattered throughout Downtown; this one quotes the Telegraph and Texas Register, from 1837:
We frequently notice on our way to breakfast a quantity of lumber thrown carelessly in a heap, and upon returning in the evening, are greeted with the surprising appearance of a house.
Visual Art Gallery at the old 1117 East Freeway location of Diverseworks. All black and white photos courtesy Bob Warren/rj warren photography
“Closing Time” was the last record played as the party wound down at DiverseWorks last week. Over one hundred people came out on Wednesday, October 24, to say goodbye to DiverseWorks’ second home, at “The Docks” (1117 East Freeway), where it lived from 1989 to 2012. (The first home, from its founding in 1982 until it caught fire in 1989, was at 214 Travis on Market Square.) The goodbye party was a bittersweet experience for many, as former executive directors, curators, interns, artists, board members, and audience members came out to connect with the space and institution which has nurtured much of Houston’s most radical, experimental expression for the past 30 years.
The Menil has planned some great events to celebrate their 25th anniversary. At OffCite, we are marking the occasion by posting articles from our archives about the Menils and the Menil collection. The following book review by John Pluecker appeared last year in the Fall 2011 issue Cite (87).
A small wave of books is coming, all attempting to document the historical contributions of John and Dominique de Menil. Art and Activism: The Projects of John and Dominique de Menil was ﬁrst and subsequently followed by Sacred Modern: Faith, Activism, and Aesthetics in the Menil Collection by anthropologist and art historian Pamela Smart. In the coming year, Knopf/Random House is planning to publish a biography of the Menils by journalist William Middleton and funded with almost $400,000 from the Houston Artists Fund.
Without a doubt, these publications are a sign of a deepening interest in the histories of artistic communities of Houston. These books posit a history for Houston’s strange mix of progressive arts activism and oil-fueled capitalism. Art and Activism also ends up being a veritable canonization of the Menils through a series of essays by various scholars, artists and arts workers, most of them previously associated with the Menils on some level as students, employees, or fellow travelers.
Dominique speaks with Mickey Leland at the opening of Some American History. All images from the Menil archives.
On Saturday, September 22, the Menil will celebrate its 25th anniversary with performances by the Kashmere Reunion Stage Band and the TSU Jazz Ensemblethat, as well as ice cream, cake, and a treasure hunt. All the activities are free and open to the public. At OffCite, we are marking the occasion by posting an article about the Menils’ support of counterculture arts and politics before the Menil Collection was built. This piece about a remarkable period in Houston’s history was contributed by Miah Arnold to Cite 82.
It was 1971 and Dominique de Menil was at it again. The show she had curated at the Rice Museum was called “Some American History,” but it was not the kind of history many of Mrs. de Menil’s River Oaks peers much appreciated. The most prominent piece—one by co-curator Larry Rivers—featured four life-size plywood cutouts of African American men dangling by nooses above a grotesquely rendered sculpture of a blond, buxom woman with her legs spread wide open. It was called “Lynching.” As Jane Blaffer Owen relayed to Dominique Browning for an article in the April 1983 Texas Monthly, “The de Menils were sympathetic with the poor blacks, but so were we. I was a Southerner, but my family fought the KKK. My daddy’s family had slaves, but he was kind and wonderful to them. That show was terrible.”
The Karenni people originate from the mountainous border region of the embattled country previously known as Burma. On a Saturday afternoon, at the Alliance Gallery, I stand and watch as Karenni women spin, warp, and weave thread imported from Thailand into tight vibrant swaths of cloth. This is just one of the groups of refugee women that The Community Cloth has gathered to produce and sell their traditional textile. The Community Cloth’s mission is to empower immigrant communities in Houston by investing in a refugee-led, refugee-owned microenterprise run under the umbrella of Our Global Village. In collaboration with Houston Arts Alliance Folklife program, the Karenni woven works are displayed on the walls through July 6.
When I arrived at the Gallery to see the demonstration and the exhibition Weaving Home, I was thinking of Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use.” In the story, a woman returns from college to her rural Southern home to visit her mother and sister. Though she once felt ashamed of her heritage, she now sees her family’s heirlooms as badges of authenticity. What I remember most about the story is the conflicting perspectives of the sisters toward a quilt. One thinks that it should be held and used, and the other that it should be protected as an object and hung on a wall. The implications of that story worry me as I watch the Karenni women’s deft fingers. What happens when objects embedded in communities become art commodities?
Interior of Antena Books / Libros Antena, photos by Allyn West unless noted
Antena Books / Libros Antena is John Pluecker’s installation open now at Project Row Houses through June 24. Inside, unfinished bookshelves teeter against the walls, where multilingual titles, translations, and experimental writing from small presses in the U.S. and Latin America are available for purchase and perusal. The walls are bare, save for two hanging T-shirts with the face of Trayvon Martin and a few penciled-in poems — a passage from Longfellow and a fragment of verse in Spanish. A reading couch slumps in the corner, draped in baggy fabric, near a computer programmed to create Oulipo-esque etrecissements, or cut-ups, of Shakespeare. Two vintage typewriters—bought for $5—are ready for anyone to come in and bang out something in whatever language she feels like using. Described as a “pop-up bookstore” and “a literary experimentation lab,” Antena Books / Libros Antena functions as both of these things. Though it seems to function best as a symbol.
“The A/C is on the fritz,” Pluecker warns me as I come in. He and his collaborator, Jen Hofer, are sewing on covers for a new anthology, En las maravillas / In Wonder. The row house reminds you of what it must have been like (and how it still is for some) to live in Houston without refrigerated air. Ten minutes go by, and I’m sweating, my jeans sticking to my knees, and I’m starting to smell. This space makes me think that this is good; I’ve been taken out of my comfort zone.
Detail from Ana Serrano's Salon of Beauty, all photos by Nash Baker
“Vibrancy” — the first and too often the last word that comes up when considering Ana Serrano’s Salon of Beauty, installed at Rice University Art Gallery. The brightly-colored buildings that make up the slightly-smaller-than-life-size cityscape are indeed at first glance “playfully vibrant” as one reviewer writes. The installation, a (re)created blue collar neighborhood from Los Angeles, is comprised of a flower shop, strip club, beauty salon, liquor store, bakery, and the like. Each building is made from wooden frames enclosed in painted cardboard that bring to mind a fantastical, “vibrant,” Disneyland-like aesthetic. It is in this contradiction, between the working class roots of this neighborhood and its aestheticization, that I am interested.
In this Hear Our Houston audio tour and contribution to Unexpected City, Daniel Anguilu, a prolific street artist responsible for some of Houston’s most compelling murals, and Alex Luster, documentary filmmaker of “Stick Em Up,” take us on this tour of art outdoors. Begin at Lawndale Art Center where you’ll see Anguilu’s latest work overtaking one of its walls. From there, both Anguilu and Luster shout out War’Haus at 4715 Main. From there, get the inside scoop on Houston’s street art scene from Luster as you take a light rail trip toward 2618 Main. For the past seven months, Anguilu has been overtaking this former Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center with his art. Walking around this building is like walking around inside the mind of the artist: see the evolutions of form, line, and color as you turn each corner, and imagine the layers of history between each coat of paint. Listen by clicking on the link below:
by Daniel Anguilu and Alex Luster
In this Hear Our Houston audio tour and contribution to Unexpected City, Musician Pete Gordon takes us on a looped walk around Midtown where he has owned and operated The Continental Club for ten years. 3700 Main used to be a general store in the 1920s and is now a thriving music venue and bar run by Pete, who loves preserving the old architecture while importing some of Austin’s quirkiness after the original Continental Club. I personally recommend stopping by on a Monday night to hear the masterful contemporary tango composer and piano man Glover Gill. Sink into a Southern pace and the pats of Pete’s cowboy boots while he recalls the area’s evolution over the past ten years, marvels at his favorite buildings, and hopes for preservation of historic architecture moving forward. Listen by clicking on the link below:
Midtown by Pete Gordon
George Greanias and Lillian Warren
We all are familiar with Houston’s no-zoning tradition and have been cautioned not to romanticize or over-estimate its beneficent influence on our chockablock city. Perhaps, though, we can successfully practice no-zoning for conversations and confrontations that otherwise languish in isolated “discourse communities.” That model seemed to be the impetus behind a series of three conversations hosted at Rudolph Blume Fine Art/ArtScan Gallery which had as their background an exhibit of paintings by Lillian Warren called “Urban Landscapes” (April 30 through June 4, 2011; 1836 Richmond Avenue).
Last Thursday, May 12, about a dozen people gathered to participate in the second of these discussions, called “At the Intersection of Art & Traffic.” Houston METRO President and CEO George Greanias and Warren led the dialogue.