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Art & Dialogue: Houston Summary by Anne Ellegood

Art & Dialogue: Houston summary by Anne Ellegood

I always enjoy visiting Houston, so when Artadia invited me to do studio visit and give a public lecture, I jumped at the chance. As is well known, Houston is a city with several great museums, nationally respected galleries, top-notch curatorial talent, and fantastic food and music scenes to boot. What became much more apparent to me during this visit, however, is that Houston is also a city with a very active and impressive community of artists. In addition to visiting artists who had received the Artadia award at some point in the past, I was also able to do a number of studio visits with artists in the CORE Residency Program at the Glassell School of Art. Artadia has been giving grants to artists in Houston since 2003, so there are numerous alumni of the program; indeed far more than I could visit in a short trip. But the combination of Artadia artists and CORE artists, most of whom are recent MFA graduates, meant that I was able to visit with artists at various points in their careers and with very different approaches to their practices. Visiting artists in their studios is a great honor, and the opportunity to see how artists remain committed to making work—amidst other daily responsibilities and sometimes despite very real challenges—is always inspiring and illuminating.

My first visit was with Jamal Cyrus, whose work I have known for several years, since seeing it in the 2006 Whitney Biennial and in subsequent exhibitions. Having just returned from Miami where he had a successful solo presentation in the Positions section of the fair with Kerry Inman Gallery, and for which he was shortlisted for the BMW Art Journey award, we talked about the work on view there. A centerpiece of the presentation was a sculptural installation featuring an imaginary record label he calls “Pride Records,” inspired by his interest in the history of black music and its connections to civil rights struggles. Also included in the booth—with a couple of new works from the series underway in the studio as well—were collages integrating images and text from his archive of Jet Magazine. Densely layered and visually energetic, these modest works perfectly encapsulate Jamal’s ability to call attention to how material culture is saturated with specific histories and how information gets obscured and interpreted in myriad of ways over time, a web of material to be untangled.

I then met with Katrina Moorhead at Inman Gallery to see her work in the group show I Won’t Let You Say Goodbye This Time. I was familiar with Katrina’s work from many years ago, and believe I may have even met her once before in Houston. I liked her work very much when I first saw it and felt she was someone to watch, but it had been several years since I’d seen it, so it was great to reconnect and see the latest pieces. Taking up abstract subjects that are almost unwieldy in their scope (how knowledge is obtained, for example), through her precise choice of materials or images, she distills her ideas into gorgeously elegant and conceptually rich objects. There is a meticulousness to her work that reveals an astute understanding of her subject, yet a refreshing openness that leaves much room for interpretation, as well as the simple pleasures of observing a well-made object.

I also visited with Augusto Di Stefano and got to see his labor-intensive drawings and paintings, many of simple architectural forms that in their austerity suggest nearly surreal spaces full of intrigue. That evening I gave a lecture on the work of Jimmie Durham—whose retrospective I organized for the Hammer was currently on view in New York at the Whitney Museum—to a group at the MFAH, and was happy to see a few familiar faces in the crowd, including a grad school friend, Xandra Eden, the director of DiverseWorks, who I was able to spend some time with over the weekend and hear more about her prorgram. This was followed by a lovely dinner at the home of Kerry Inman where I got to meet a number of other artists, writers, and curators in the community, including two of the critics-in-residence at the CORE program, Kate Green (whom I’d met briefly previously, as fellow Bard alumni) and Laura Wellen. This was a real pleasure, as I greatly admire both of their work. I got to spend more time with Laura the following day, as she graciously took me around town to see some museum and gallery exhibitions.

Over the next two days, I did several more studio visits with Artadia alumni. I was charmed by Rachel Hecker’s shrewdly funny work. Francesca Fuchs and I talked about the power of objects, the entwining and life and work, and the imperative to slow down and observe in a chaotic world. Jeff Shore shared with me the installation he made with Jon Fisher in the enormous silo spaces of Site Gallery. Having seen their work years before in New York, I was reminded of their ability to use technology in ways that are alluring and surprisingly approachable. I was impressed with the sheer pleasure and levity of David Aylsworth’s engrossing paintings, and enjoyed talking to him about the color pink. And lastly, I really appreciated speaking with Katy Heinlein about her sculptures: the interplay of soft and hard forms, the emotional resonances of color, and the ongoing investigations into gravity, tension, and balance in her seductively absorbing works. No trip to Houston would be complete without visiting the city’s incredible museums, and although I didn’t have time to see everything I wanted to, I was able to see the stellar exhibition of Mona Hatoum’s work at the Menil and to visit the Christopher Knowles survey and project by Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz at the CAM with my dear colleague Dean Daderko. It was a wonderful visit overall, and I remain impressed with Houston as one of the most vibrant cities for art in the country where artists are able to find support, community, and space to make their work.

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Anne Ellegood is Senior Curator at the Hammer Museum. She was Curator of Contemporary Art at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC from 2005-2009. Previously, she was the New York-based Curator for Peter Norton’s collection, and from 1998-2003, she was the Associate Curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Since joining the Hammer in May 2009, Ellegood has organized solo projects with Claude Collins-Stracensky, Rob Fischer, Keren Cytter, Friedrich Kunath, Diana-Al Hadid, Eric Baudelaire, and Tom Marioni.Ellegood has contributed to a number of publications including Artforum, Mousse, and Tate, Etc. Recent writings include the introduction for Phaidon’s Vitamin 3D, a survey of contemporary sculpture; an interview with Haim Steinbach for MATRIX/Berkeley: A Changing Exhibition of Contemporary Art; a catalogue essay for Iván Navarro for the Chilean Pavilion for the 2009 Venice Biennale; a catalogue essay on the work of Sara VanDerBeek for the Tang Museum at Skidmore; a catalogue essay on Bjorn Dahlem for his Quadriennale show in Düsseldorf; and a catalogue essay on Kerry Tribe for her show at the Arnolfini.