The holidays are fast upon us with all the frivolity and stir-crazy that comes from spending so much time with your immediate and extended family. Instead of keeping score every time your in-law makes a pointed jab or bribing your nephew with unlimited screen time, only to find your Apple ID was charged with $50 worth of Fortnite loot, there’s an art alternative.
Houston is rife with art year round but the season truly picks up in the fall, with new exhibitions extending beyond the new year. With recent openings at the Museum of Fine Arts-Houston, the Blaffer Museum of Art, and the Menil Collection, you can devote an afternoon, or more, to getting out of the house.
“Mapa Wiya (Your Map’s Not Needed): Australian Aboriginal Art from the Fondation Opale”
Menil Collection, through Feb. 2, menil.org
Who it’s best for: The budding artists who may also sit at the kid’s table
“Mapa Wiya (Your Map’s Not Needed): Australian Aboriginal Art from the Fondation Opale” is an expansive exhibition that brings work from Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities to the forefront with over 100 pieces spread between galleries. The exhibition is comprised of contemporary work from the 1950s on, and tackles topics such as colonialism and land ownership among native peoples. What makes the work stand out for younger audiences is the sense of shared imagery and motifs that can expand, and contract, based on their understanding of art. Coffins are intricately dotted with a paint brush — lean in a little closer to see how those patterns bring new focus to the work. Paintings take on a geometric, almost hypnotic tone with intricate linework — in that, we sense a maze that tells a story. It’s art that showcases the deep expression of personhood and identity while also drawing out deeply political themes in a climate struck by conflict. And what could be better to teach young artists than that?
Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall
Menil Collection, permanent installation, menil.org
Who it’s best for: Your Facebook-dependent parent who really needs to get off their phone
Good news for anyone who would like to talk to their relatives sans-screen. The Dan Flavin installation does not allow photos. You will have to wander the gallery without posting anything of substance to social media — and even though you can find people who snuck photos on Instagram, don’t be one of those people. Instead, experience a sense of light mastery that only Flavin can capture, elevated by the stark cavernous space of Richmond Hall, a 1930 former dance hall. Recently reopened, this is a great, quick art stop that forces the tech-laden folks in your lives to momentarily swap out one light source for another. We’d argue this one is considerably better — and it’s certainly not recording you on the sly, which is more than we can say for your smart phone.
“A History of Photography: Selections from the Museum’s Collection”
Museum of Fine Arts-Houston, through May 3. mfah.org
Who it’s best for: Your tech-savvy youth who want some Instagram pointers
The Museum of Fine Arts-Houston is an undeniable stalwart of the city’s art community. And yet sometimes, my favorite exhibitions there often fall beyond the blockbuster shows.
Currently, nestled alongside the MFAH café on the ground level of the Audrey Jones Beck Building, “A History” draws from the MFAH’s rich photography archives and showcases work throughout photography’s history. With early daguerreotypes giving way to work shot on the aforementioned smart phones, the MFAH smartly curated photos that tell as much about their subjects as they do about our cultural acceptance and eventual dependence on the medium. And for the tech-savvy youth who have a predilection to selfies over still-lifes, here might be an opportunity to showcase what the lenses in their pockets are really capable of.
“Beatriz González: A Retrospective”
Museum of Fine Arts-Houston, through Jan. 20, mfah.org
Who it’s best for: Those who appreciate the collision of art and politics — and perhaps most especially, for those who need to.
To love pop culture is to love Beatriz González, and vice versa. As the first large-scale U.S. exhibition of González’s work, this retrospective includes pieces across the entirety of González’s career, from her early forays into pop reproductions, like the “The Suicide of the Sisga” (c. 1965), to her bold and loudly political work, like “Interior Decoration” (1981). González’s art is playful and sarcastic, pulling images that have become so engrained into our pop collective that they shed any meaning, and reconstituting them in a way that requires a second glance. While González did not consider herself a pop artist, the themes come across vibrantly in her work — making this an exhibition for those who find depth in the intersections of art and politics, or for those who could be done some good by spending time with work that seeks to change the world for the better.
“Paul Mpagi Sepuya”
Blaffer Art Museum, through March 14, blafferartmuseum.org/
Who it’s best for: The contemporary art enthusiasts, in from out of town
Houston has been very lucky to have two instances of Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s work shown in 2019 — earlier at the Contemporary Art Museum’s “Stonewall 50” and now, with his solo show at the Blaffer Art Museum. Sepuya brings a wholly new perspective to the study of photography, by embracing the camera as not only a medium but a character all unto its own within his portraiture. The effect creates disorienting images of queer, brown bodies juxtaposed against the blanched sterility of the artist’s studio space.
Sepuya not only elevates the image and identities of individuals largely omitted from the larger cultural conversation, but also plays with ideas of loneliness, connection, and community in his intimate photographs. The exhibition is exhaustive with work made across the last thirteen years, not limited to photos, but also ephemera and print materials that help give greater scope to an artist who is changing the face of contemporary photography.