East Meets West

July 2007By Comments

Houston As the market for contemporary Asian art enjoys an unprecedented boom—$190 million worth was auctioned off at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in 2006, compared with $22 million in 2004—museums around the country are devoting more gallery space to the genre that everyone is talking about. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston adds to the dialogue this month with “Red Hot: Asian Art Today From the Chaney Family Collection,” a survey of about a hundred works from 66 artists who hail from Japan, China, Vietnam, and beyond. Loosely organized by theme and by country, it offers a comprehensive introduction to the major players and movements of the past decade. And it starts off strong with established fan favorites: colorful Pop Art—inspired pieces like Takashi Murakami’s larger-than-life Tongari-kun (Mr. Pointy) Costume, which looks like the mascot for some intergalactic sports team; Feng Zhengjie’s Chinese Portrait L Series no. 1, an oil painting of a woman who evokes the kitschy glamour of Warhol’s celebrities; and Yue Minjun’s Postmodern Garden, a depiction of his signature laughing men (here they’re wearing Speedos and have horns coming out of their heads). As you make your way farther into the galleries, you’ll be pleasantly shocked to see Korean artist Do-Ho Suh’s Karma installation: two enormous legs coming out of the ceiling with small armies of black figures literally underfoot. Alison de Lima Greene, the MFAH’s curator of contemporary art, rattles off a list of other highlights: a new sculpture from Fang Lijun titled 2005-2006 that is “a truly scary political allegory”; several outdoor installations, like Sui Jianguo’s Jurassic Age, a big, red T. rex in a giant cage; and psychedelic offerings from the Luo Brothers, three siblings from Beijing whose sculptures and lacquer-on-wood paintings commingle traditional Chinese symbols and cherubic babies with famous U.S. products. What’s most striking is the plurality of the offerings that have been streaming out of the world’s largest continent. And it’s because of prolific private collectors like Robert and Jereann Chaney that contemporary Asian art is flourishing in the U.S. The Houston couple, along with their eleven-year-old daughter, Holland, have acquired more than 170 works in the past year alone. (Interestingly, they’ve developed an elaborate evaluation system based on Warren Buffet’s investment strategies, as well as their own five-part analysis, to guide their collecting decisions, and they make many of their purchases via the Internet.) For those who don’t know a Murakami from an Aoshima, taking in all the Chaneys’ generous loans will be a rousing education. “When describing a show, we tend to stick to the old-fashioned rhetoric of ‘It’s educational’ or ‘It’s profound,’” says Greene. “All of those things are here, but there’s an immediacy, an energy to this exhibit. It’s really going to jazz people up.” And as the contemporary Asian art market continues to sizzle, it comes not a moment too soon. (Read an interview with Alison de Lima Greene, the MFAH’s curator of contemporary art.) Jul 22–Oct 21. 5601 Main, 713-639-7300, mfah.org

Bright Lights, Big Lake

Graham Fourth of July get-togethers run the gamut from intimate family barbecues to citywide celebrations. Somewhere in the middle is the Night of Music and Fire, a medium-sized shindig on scenic Possum Kingdom Lake that is as refreshingly simple as its name implies. Held the Sunday before Independence Day at Possum Hollow Camp, a cabin-rental property and RV park, the evening’s concerts—this year starring the Randy Rogers Band, the Eli Young Band, and Southern Heritage—will set a raucous yet informal mood. (The music doesn’t start till five o’clock, but you should come early to take advantage of the lake’s pristine blue waters and go boating and scuba diving.) Of the grand finale fireworks display, organizers say it “will give you a goose bump where you have never, ever had one.” We’ll just take their word for it. Of course, this is the sort of event that regulars probably don’t want publicized, lest it be overrun by the masses. But we can’t help it. This picturesque gathering is exactly where we’d want to be. Jul 1. Head south from Graham on FM 1287 for 15 miles, then turn right on FM 1148 and travel 3 miles; 940-549-1873; possumhollowcamp.com

Fly the Friendly Skies

Colorado City The Texas Fly-In Breakfast takes place on the Fourth of July, but that has less to do with patriotism than it does with the elements. In 1962 a volunteer group started the event as a way to promote the town’s new landing strip; to reduce the chances that the Fly-In would be derailed by rocky weather, Independence Day was chosen as the permanent date because of its generally favorable conditions. Today, organizers serve up some 550 early-bird breakfasts—the $4 spread, which is free to pilots and their passengers, starts at seven o’clock—and host a whopping 1,500 spectators who come to ogle the hundred or so planes that line up at the airport. As per tradition, awards are given to the oldest and youngest pilots (the record ages so far are 88 and 15, respectively), as well as for the longest distance flown (no one’s beaten the pilot who came from Anchorage, Alaska … yet), the oldest aircraft (usually a plane that dates back to the forties), and the most unusual aircraft (such entries have included a Consolidated Catalina flying boat, an amphibious Grumman G-21 Goose, a Lockheed C-130 turboprop cargo plane, and several homemade contraptions). Mostly it’s a chance to meet and mingle and an excuse for aviation lovers to show off their winged babies. We end every Fourth of July by looking up at the wonders in the sky; there’s a beautiful symmetry in starting the day the same way. Jul 4. Colorado City Airport, about 3 miles west of Tx Hwy 208 off FM 1808; 325-728-2542

Novel Ideas

San Antonio, Grapevine If you’ve seen all the mindless blockbusters at the local multiplex and all your vapid beach reads are dog-eared, consider attending one of this month’s literary events to bolster your cultural repertoire. The Gemini Ink Summer Literary Festival, in San Antonio, offers a fortnight’s worth of classes for readers and writers alike (titles include “Fiction From Beginning to End” and “Literature of the World: A Reading Adventure”), as well as Young Writers Camps for students ages eight to eighteen. Its public conversations are always a popular draw too; Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, a former Stanford University professor, will moderate a discussion that will try to tease out the many meanings of home, going along with this year’s theme, “Where in the World Are We?” As for the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference of the Southwest, in Grapevine, it’s a more exclusive affair that consistently lands giants of the genre (this month’s lineup includes publisher Nan A. Talese, the New Yorker’s Burkhard Bilger, retired Sports Illustrated senior writer William Nack, and more). The workshops are invitation-only, though you, humble book clubber, can pony up to attend the various lectures. Also open to the general public are two of the keynote addresses, featuring the prolific Joyce Carol Oates (her latest novel was published in May) and humor writer Mary Roach (she’s written a page-turner on human cadavers, just to give you an idea of her wacky oeuvre). This may be your most erudite summer yet. (Full disclosure: Two of this magazine’s writers, Cecilia Ballí and Stephen Harrigan, are also participating in the weekend.) Gemini Ink: Jul 6—22. 513 S. Presa, San Antonio; 877-734-9673; geminiink.org. Mayborn: Jul 27—29. Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center, 1800 Tx Hwy 26E, Grapevine; 940-565-4564; mayborninstitute.unt.edu

Modern Makeover

San Antonio In May 2006 the San Antonio Museum of Art hired David S. Rubin as its contemporary art curator (filling the position, which had been vacant for eight years, was made possible by a $2 million gift from the Houston-based Brown Foundation earlier that year). The former visual arts curator at the Contemporary Arts Center, in New Orleans, Rubin quickly set about assessing SAMA’s strengths and planning a complete reinstallation of the contemporary art galleries, which is finally being revealed this month. There’s been a spate of cosmetic improvements: Windows have been closed off to provide more hanging space, interior walls have been added, and the carpets have been removed in favor of sleeker flooring to give the modest rooms a, well, more contemporary feel. And it’s all the better to display a few new acquisitions, including a stunning sculptural work by San Antonio native Dario Robleto. The piece, titled The Pause Became Permanence, is a complicated display of ephemera—everything from the obituaries of the three last-known Civil War widows to hair lockets made from audiotape ribbons of Union and Confederate soldiers’ voices—situated within a vitrine and is meant to illuminate issues of loss as a result of war. Visitors will also be treated to rarely seen gems: an early sculpture by Donald Lipski and a major abstract painting by Irene Rice Pereira, among them. Luckily for viewers, more-user-friendly text labels have been installed that answer two all-important questions about each piece: What does this mean? And why is this in the museum? Another twist is that the galleries are now organized into specific sections (abstract paintings, portraiture, still life, storytelling, landscape, and others), so it will be much easier to compare pieces by San Antonio artists with those of their global counterparts. This revamping is a pivotal point in SAMA’s recent history (the opening of the $9.3 million Lenora and Walter F. Brown Asian Art Wing, in 2005, was another key moment), but Rubin is looking only to the future: “We still have a lot of growing to do,” he says. (One last highlight: Rubin will host public conversations with four of the artists represented in the collection—Robleto, Gregory Amenoff, Constance Lowe, and Rolando Briseño—throughout the month.) Jul 7. 200 W. Jones Ave, 210-978-8100, samuseum.org

Nether Worlds

Burnet Now, here’s a revolutionary idea: Skip the beach (or the river or the lake) this month and go spelunking instead. Texas’s many bodies of water may be this magazine’s favorite summer cover subject, but exploring the state’s seven show caves (there are a thousand more underground chambers not accessible to the public) is a cooler alternative—literally—to baking on sandy shores. Longhorn Cavern, a sublime 68 degrees or so year-round, is a good place to start: Its deep limestone recesses, which were etched out by underground streams millions of years ago, aren’t too claustrophobic (the larger rooms housed a dance hall, a nightclub, and a restaurant in the twenties and thirties), and they’re resplendent with natural formations. You’ll learn all about the Queen’s Watch Dog, the Frozen Waterfall, Sam Bass’ Bootprint, and other geological wonders on the ninety-minute daily tour. If you don’t mind small passageways, reserve a spot for the more exclusive Wild Cave Tour and get down and dirty as you squirm through parts rarely seen (fully equipped with helmet, elbow and knee pads, and headlamp, of course). No extra gear is required, however, for another of Longhorn Cavern’s offerings: the Simple Sounds concert series, which fills the hollows with the unplugged acoustics of Texas-based musicians. You don’t have to know a stalagmite from a stalactite to appreciate the beauty—and the natural AC—of these cool spots. Concerts Jul 7, 14, & 28. Six miles west of U.S. 281 on Park Road 4, 877-441-2283, longhorncaverns.com

Stomp the Yard

San Antonio If you wish football games were just one long halftime show—that is, less tackles, more tuba—then listen up: Twenty-two drum and bugle corps from around the country will take the field at the Alamodome this month to compete in the Drum Corps International’s Southwestern Championship. Most people are unfamiliar with the nonprofit DCI, which has been overseeing the world’s most elite marching ensembles since 1972, but its ranks are rapidly growing. As you’ve been whiling away the dog days, groups of musically inclined 14- to 21-year-olds have been enduring grueling marathon practice sessions in what can only be described as the ultimate band camp. Every summer, the chosen few who’ve earned a spot on one of the DCI’s regionally based Division I corps (which are composed of up to 135 students and, with few exceptions, are not affiliated with any school or university) gather for training and rehearsals, spending more than forty hours per week perfecting their eleven-minute show. By mid-June, each team loads up on buses and sets off on an eight-week national tour, logging upward of 12,000 miles and performing in a different city nearly every night. By the time the various corps, which hail from Sacramento to Boston, convene in Texas this month, they’ll be in the throes of competition, each hoping to make it to the World Championships in Pasadena this August 7 through 11. Which is why the day’s performances—prelims in the afternoon and finals in the evening—promise to be a rousing spectacle of pageantry and precision, with all the pomp of a halftime extravaganza and not a pigskin in sight. Jul 21. 100 Montana, 210-224-9600, dci.org

Related Content