Sometimes if there's a book you really want to read, you have to write it yourself.
One of my greatest pleasures in life is looking at art, whether revisiting a favorite fifteenth-century painting or encountering new and challenging contemporary work. The museums and art centers in Texas, my home for more than thirty-five years, offer a rich assortment of changing exhibitions and art collections, from the Kimbell Museum's European masterpieces to the Chinati Foundation's cache of Minimalist sculptures. But despite the fact that there are more than a hundred museums and nonprofit galleries within Texas' borders, there has never been a guidebook dedicated exclusively to visual arts institutions. Not until now.
This guide describes the collections and exhibition history of each institution, as well as its origin and architecture. It also provides readers with Web sites and phone numbers so they can keep abreast of current exhibitions, holiday closings, and changes in admission fees and hours.
As a means of organizing this information, I have divided the state into seven regions based on my own travel strategies. Within these boundaries, it is possible to make reasonable, albeit Texas-size, forays from one museum to the next. Brief essays at the beginning of each chapter examine the common threads that bind these institutions.
The shared purpose of these museums and galleries is to exhibit art and to create and educate audiences. Most museums take on the additional responsibility of procuring and caring for artworks. Museums and art centers alike serve their respective communities by providing cultural opportunities, education, and, in many cases, economic benefit, attracting tourists and helping to revitalize surrounding neighborhoods, even, on occasion, the entire city or town. All listed facilities are wheelchair accessible unless otherwise noted. Many also offer significant literary, musical, and performing arts programs. And while admission is free at many of these museums and art centers, donations are welcomed, and even suggested in a number of cases. Visitors who wish to further support individual venues should have no trouble finding membership information in the galleries.
Quotations about art and architecture are interspersed throughout to provide an additional layer of texture. At the end of each chapter, the guide lists galleries that are not discussed in depth but may be of interest to readers with the time and inclination to explore a broader range of aesthetic experiences. Commercial galleries do not appear in this guide, although there are a number of good ones throughout the state.
Finally, for those who want additional insight into the Texas art scene, the following introduction attempts to distinguish among various types of visual arts institutions and includes personal observations about the history, role, and status of art museums, art centers, alternative spaces, and nonprofit galleries in the state today.
"Nature made Texas rich. Time will make her powerful. Only the Arts can make her great." These words, paraphrased here to include the entire state, have been attributed to both John Ankeney, director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, and James Chillman, Jr., director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. They were spoken roughly eighty years ago, and the sentiment was prescient. They anticipated a time when Texas museums and art centers would enjoy international prominence. And now that time has come.
Visitors from all over the world flock to Marfa to see Donald Judd's Minimalist sculptures posed across the West Texas landscape and Dan Flavin's last-realized light installation in a series of old army barracks. They fly to Fort Worth to ogle Louis Kahn's Kimbell Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Tadao Ando's larger and no less impressive homage to Kahn. They gather in droves at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas to see one of the most impressive private collections of Modern and contemporary sculpture ever assembled. At the Menil Collection in Houston they seek out, in particular, the Surrealist works displayed in a magnificently modest building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, they meander through James Turrell's light tunnel, a visual sorbet separating the experience of architect Raphael Moneo's Beck building from that of the Mies van der Rohe-designed edifice next door. Texas has become a truly great destination for those who want to look at art. This achievement is all the more laudable given the relative youth of the state's cultural institutions.
All of Texas' major museums and art centers were either created or substantially upgraded within the last thirty-five years. The Kimbell Art Museum, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Menil Collection, and Chinati did not exist before 1970. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Meadows Museum, and the El Paso Museum of Art occupy facilities that were built in the last two decades. The Amon Carter Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum have been substantially enlarged and their collections expanded during the same period. Museums in smaller cities, such as the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts and the South Texas Institute for the Arts, have experienced similar growth and change.
Some in the art world speculate that Texas' shift from a rural to an urban economy set the stage for these very recent developments. It has taken time for the personal wealth accumulated by Texans in the late nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries from oil, cattle, land development, banking, and insurance to be converted into cultural institutions benefiting the public. Entire museums have been built around artworks accumulated by Amon Carter, John and Dominique de Menil, Ima Hogg, Kay and Velma Kimbell, Algur Meadows, Sid Richardson, and Lutcher Stark, among others. More recently the private collections of Margaret and Trammell S. Crow, Harris and Carroll Masterson, and Raymond and Patsy Nasher have been shared with the public.
Texas artists have also played a part in the rapid growth of nonprofit galleries. They followed the lead of colleagues throughout the country who, beginning in the late sixties, created alternative exhibition venues where artists could exert authority. Their interest was in expanding the audience for new art in a way that museums had traditionally been unwilling to do, and they were abetted in their efforts by government funding made available to the arts during this period. Art spaces such as Lawndale Art Center and DiverseWorks in Houston, the Center for Contemporary Art in Dallas, Women and Their Work in Austin, and the Bridge Center for Contemporary Art in El Paso began as artist-run organizations. Unlike most museums, alternative spaces and art centers tend to focus their efforts on presenting changing exhibitions rather than on collecting and preserving works of art.
In small towns, the effort to create museums and art centers derives from civic pride and a desire to provide communities with big city-style cultural amenities, albeit on a smaller scale. In places like Albany, Laredo, Longview, Lufkin, McAllen, Midland, Tyler, museums and art centers pay particular attention to educating young audiences, even, on occasion, exhibiting their work in the galleries.
This urge to provide art education for children and adults is also evident in museums and art centers located in large metropolitan areas. "If a museum doesn't do that, I don't think it should be a tax-exempt institution," says Peter Marzio, longtime director of the MFAH, which runs a nationally recognized educational outreach program.
And finally, in the last thirty-five years, art departments within the state's colleges and universities have established exhibition galleries and, in a few cases, museums to complement classroom instruction and to exhibit student and faculty work. The quality of exhibitions relies heavily on the creativity of the gallery director and how far tight budgets can be stretched. Some of these galleries are mentioned in detail in the following pages. Others are described briefly at the end of each chapter. No doubt I have missed some. Sadly, too many are hidden away in poorly identified buildings on campus. Convenient parking is rare, as are easily accessible, up-to-date Web sites and direct lines to galleries to call for information. You have to work hard to discover these arts venues and experience what they have to offer.
But experiencing art often requires work. It is as likely to confound, irritate, and challenge those who seek it out as it is to delight and intrigue. This, I believe, is its role. The enjoyment of art is only tangentially connected with an artist's facility with a brush or a chisel. Rather, art should make the observer think and, at its best, should stir up emotions and creative instincts. The ability to enter into a relationship with art completes us as human beings. On the most profound level it offers comfort and inordinate pleasure to those who are open to that possibility. Texas towns and cities have done their part by providing a plethora of museums, art centers, alternative spaces, and university galleries where such revelations may take place. Individuals attuned to the visual arts would do well to explore the nonprofit galleries in the great state of Texas.