Monday, December 19, 2011

The Best (and Worst) of 2011 -- The Houston Art Community Fails to Reach a Consensus (part 1)

by Robert Boyd

Last year, I wrote my first "top exhibits of the year" post, and I will again this year (later this week), but I thought it would be nice to see what other people in Houston thought. I sent out a request for people to tell me what they considered the best (and worst) art things of the year. I wanted to hear about the best exhibits, of course, but also the best events, performances, trends, whatever. Fourteen people replied from all strata of the Houston art world (except gallery owners, for some reason--the gallery owners I emailed have chosen to keep their favorites close to the vest). Three of the respondents requested anonymity--they are all artists, but that's all I'll say about them. (I asked for "worst show," and everyone who replied to that question requested that I keep them anonymous. I understand. It's a small art community. I'll write about those responses in a future post.)

To understand what they were saying, I gridded out their replies. The left-hand column was their choices, and the top row was their names. What I hoped was that by doing this, a consensus choice would become evident. No such luck.

In all, my 13 respondents picked 36 art things in Houston that they really liked. But only six got more than one vote! So that's where I'm going to start--all the art exhibits that got two votes from my poll.

Liberty, 2011
Andrei Molodkin, Liberty, acrylic block and plastic hoses filled with crude oil, pump, compressor, Dedolight, video camera, projector, 2011

Andrei Molodkin: Crude at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art. This show got props from both Howard Sherman and Devon Britt-Darby. And I have to add that it's a show that comes up a lot in casual conversation.

Barry Stone
from left to right: Arturo Palacio, Barry Stone, Barry Stone's wife whose name I am blanking on

Barry Stone,  Dark Side of the Rainbow at Art Palace. The Austin-based photographer Barry Stone has had a good year. He was the subject of the first Pastelegram print issue, and his show at Art Palace was pretty great. I liked it so much that I bought a piece on lay-away. One of my anonymous respondents described Stone's photography as "fucking awesome," and another anonymous respondent called it "really good."

John Wood and Paul Harrison installation
Answers to Questions installation view

John Wood and Paul Harrison, Answers to Questions at CAMH. One anonymous respondent loved this show, but wasn't sure whether is was the staging of the show or the videos themselves that he liked most. I agree--whatever you thought of the videos (which I personally loved), it was extremely well staged. Michael Galbreth of the Art Guys also listed it as one of his favorites of the year.

burning circus
Mary McCleary, not sure about the title...

Mary McCleary: A Survey 1996 - 2011 at the Art League. About Mary McCleary's show, Emily Sloan wrote, "Her work had a profound affect on people. They were touched! ([You] don't see that all the time.)" That's true. We so seldom see people visibly moved by artwork these days that we are slightly suspicious of it. Howard Sherman also noted it as one of the best of the year.

hole in a hole
Seth Alverson, can't remember the title...

Seth Alverson at Art Palace. This was the intriguing show where Alverson repainted all the canvases that didn't sell from his last show. The result, according to one anonymous respondent, was "double awesome." Artist Brett Hollis also included it as one of the best shows of the year.

Arctic Realities
Arctic Realities installation view, photo by Paul Hester (via)

Upside Down: Arctic Realities at the Menil. This show was listed as one of the best of 2011 by Artforum, but even more important was that Mark Flood liked it: "Upside Down: Arctic Realities at the Menil was just awesome." Devon Britt-Darby also included it on his best-of list.

By virtue of getting more than one mention by my distinguished respondents, this heterogeneous list is the closest we have to a consensus of Houston's art world. Let's call it a six-way tie for #1. The rest of the shows/events mentioned are tied for 2nd place, and I'll cover them in part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.



  1. I have to say that the Paul Harrison and John Wood was a personal highlight for me. Sure the work is aesthetically formal (which soothes me) but bring me childlike delight and all the world becomes good.

  2. I thought about doing a little research to jog my memory about the year's shows but then decided that if a show was truly memorable...well.
    But now that you mention the John Wood & Paul Harrison show I have to agree that it was a high point. Also, many of the artists represented by Arturo's Art Palace Gallery usually have stand out shows--Barry Stone, Seth Alverson, Jonathan Marshall, Sterling Allen, Nathan Green etc.