Museum Of Fine Arts
IMAGINE THAT SOCIALITE Anne Bass is remodeling her closet, and instead of putting her couture dresses in storage, she’s sending them to you for safekeeping. If that seems far-fetched, consider a comparably extravagant loan happening in the art world this month: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, is bravely shipping 132 of its prized nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century paintings to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston while it gets a face-lift. The resulting exhibition, “The Masterpieces of French Painting From The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920,” is not only a curatorial coup but also a once-in-a-lifetime treat for Texans, who get to see the best collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works out- side Paris, no frequent-flier miles necessary.
As the MFAH’s coordinating curator, Helga Aurisch, says of the collection’s pieces, “There isn’t a bad painting amongst them.” Of course, like children, presumably all loved, some are more loved than others: Gustave Courbet’s sensuous Woman With a Parrot, for one, or the original of your favorite college dorm poster, Claude Monet’s Bridge Over a Pool of Water Lilies. There’s also Edouard Manet’s Boating, with its avant-garde cropping and vibrant cerulean, and Edgar Degas’ The Dancing Class, an exceptionally detailed gem that is one of his earliest ballerina paintings. But then there are also the luminous Renoirs, the stunning Cézannes, the melancholic Corots, and the signature works of lesser-known artists such as Jules Bastien-Lepage, whose oversized Joan of Arc draws a crowd every day at the Met. Whether you’re seeing these pieces for the first or hundredth time, they’ll all leave you impressed.
Now, if your knowledge of Impressionist art is limited to that Vincent van Gogh mug in your cupboard, don’t be intimidated: “Masterpieces” has been arranged in such a way (chronologically and by painter) as to be a sort of “Nineteenth-Century French Art for Dummies.” (Not all the show’s painters, it should be noted, hail from France or were strictly Impressionist; three of Picasso’s pre-Cubism portraits are on view, for example.) What’s more, the second-floor galleries of the Audrey Jones Beck building are strategically awash in natural light, so you’ll get a true sense of how important illumination was to the genre. Don’t say it too loudly, but these art history icons may look just as good here as they do at the Met.
And to what does the MFAH owe this grand coup? Most likely its track record: Met officials have been impressed by its ability to attract significant crowds, specifically the 350,000 who came in 2003 to see works on loan from New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The MFAH’s curators were also nimble enough to accommodate “Masterpieces” when it came together in a lightning-fast ten months, and it didn’t hurt that Gary Tinterow, the Met curator overseeing “Masterpieces,” once worked for the MFAH, as did Philippe de Montebello, the Met’s current director. Connections aside, it’s tremendously flattering to be trusted with one of the world’s preeminent collections. And with record attendance expected, there’s a compliment to Texans in all this, namely that our appreciation of fine art is of the highest caliber. Perhaps Anne Bass won’t be so hesitant to lend you her Christian Dior after all. Feb 4– May 6. 5601 Main, 713-639-7300, mfah.org
The Filter: Events
In 1985 millionaire and native son George P. Mitchell resurrected for good the city’s historic on-again, off-again love affair with the pre-Lenten bacchanalia now known in these parts as Mardi Gras! Galveston. Long considered one of the largest outside New Orleans, the twelve-day, eleven-night, eighteen-krewe festival stretches back to 1867, when Galvestonians gathered for a masked ball and a performance of Shakespeare’s King Henry IV. A more extravagant affair in 1871, which included the debut of two rival krewes and a torch-lit night parade, reinforced the Island’s reputation as Mardi Gras’ epicenter (in this state, at least). Today, the event attracts more than a quarter of a million revelers annually, come rain, shine, or hurricane (the tradition continued without a hitch last year despite the devastation of Katrina and Rita). And it’s still growing in scope, scale, and gaudiness. This month’s fete will include two new parades: one put on by Krewe du Vroom, the country’s first and only motorcycle krewe, and the other presented by Galveston County firefighters. The children’s parade and pet parade are perpetual favorites, but it will be the climactic Fat Tuesday Parade, with its bedecked floats and pounds of beads, that will confirm, yet again, Galveston’s allegiance to this no-holds-barred holiday. Feb 9—20. Various locations, 888-425-4753, mardigrasgalveston.com
As an actor and a director, Sidney Poitier has certainly been memorable, but he’s perhaps most impressive in person. The leading man comes to Texas this month as the second speaker of the Brilliant Lecture Series (Queen Noor of Jordan was the inaugural guest last October). The Academy Award winner will likely regale his audience with tales from his groundbreaking career as well as with stories from the lesser-known hardships of his youth. The series, which aims to serve a diverse crowd with its inspirational speakers, couldn’t have picked a better time to host Poitier: The ever-elegant gentleman (who turns eighty the week before his appearance) will be on hand to celebrate Black History Month. Feb 26. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Sarofim Hall, 800 Bagby; 713-315-2525; thehobbycenter.org
He’s Got the Blues
In more than sixty songs, the musical “Blind Lemon Blues” examines the life of twenties bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson, who played on the street corners of Dallas’s Deep Ellum before being discovered by a Paramount Records scout, making some seventy recordings, and inspiring the likes of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. It seems fitting that a University of Texas at Dallas graduate (Alan Govenar) co-created this award-winning production (now in its eighth year), which pays homage to the musical legend (played by co-creator Akin Babatunde) while educating audiences all over the world about the blues. Be sure