To see what the Texas art scene of tomorrow looks like, head to Inman Gallery, in Houston. Find your way to the north gallery. Look for bulbous, yellow papier-mâché sculptures dangling from the ceiling. The three meticulously handcrafted strands, made to look like unexploded firework shells, are moody and evocative, meant as a metaphor for the indeterminable trajectory of romantic relationships. But it’s what the piece represents for the promising artist who crafted it that makes it a harbinger of hope for our collective creative future.
You see, Rising Attachments was a winning selection for the 2007 Arthouse Texas Prize, and when Houston’s Katrina Moorhead claimed the honor last November, she received not only a hefty $30,000 but also the exposure—and professional affirmation—that can elevate an artist above the make-or-break point. The biennial prize, which was founded by Arthouse, a contemporary visual art nonprofit in Austin, in 2005, acts on a significant, if obvious, truth: By encouraging underrecognized and emerging talent to stay and work here, the state’s artistic community will grow exponentially—and earn the international attention of the sort garnered by Tate Britain’s Turner Prize and the Guggenheim Museum’s Hugo Boss Prize.
Even better, Arthouse is not alone in its thinking. There’s the $50,000 Hunting Art Prize, formerly based in the United Kingdom, which came onto the Texas scene in 2006 and has sparked some controversy for how it’s conducted (the jury looks at only one image from each applicant). And for Houston artists, there’s funding from Artadia, a private foundation based in New York, which will give out three $15,000 grants and seven $1,500 grants this year. All this moola is giving way to a little more name recognition for the recipients, like Francesca Fuchs, a Houston-based painter who had her first museum exhibition a year after winning the Hunting prize in 2006, and video artist Eileen Maxson, who took home the first Arthouse Texas Prize in 2005 and is now wrapping up a fine-arts degree at Carnegie Mellon University.
For an artist who has been working for years but is still on the cusp of a breakout, such no-strings-attached cash can also mean things like getting out of debt, buying a truck to haul work to galleries, or investing in better materials. Or, for the 36-year-old Moorhead, who’s been assembling her complex works in her home for the past nine years, it can mean finally affording a studio. Such tangible benefits are vital, but there’s a more important advantage: “There is suddenly the potential for more-ambitious artworks to be created in this state,” she says. Ask her what Texas has to offer artists of her caliber—who might easily skip off to New York or Los Angeles—and her answer is simple: “Space, in the mental sense.” In Houston through February 23 at Inman Gallery; 713-526-7800, inmangallery.com
The future is happening now. Or, rather, it’s being designed now, by creative upstarts and tech geeks eager to alter the way we experience the world. Bold? To say the least. Successful? Judge for yourself. The works of more than eighty innovative minds—in fields as varied as architecture, fashion, animation, medicine, and technology—are currently at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in “Design Life Now: National Design Triennial,” the latest in an ongoing series from the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (the next is slated for 2009). The exhibit’s guiding themes recall chapter titles in a bad home-ec textbook (“Emulating Life” and “Hand-Crafted and Do-it-Yourself Design,” for instance), and some of the offerings, which were all created between 2003 and 2006, are, like, so yesterday (Google Earth, anyone?). But there’s still a palpable wow factor. Surprising juxtapositions—like Nike’s next-best-thing-to-barefoot Free 5.0 athletic shoe and Joseph Ayers’s underwater data-gathering Robolobster, both examples of biomimicry—add depth to a hodgepodge of nearly seven hundred doodads. Some works provoke, like Tobias Wong’s quilted bulletproof duvet. Others, like Hunter Hoffman’s SnowWorld, a virtual game intended to lessen burn victims’ pain perception, are soberingly pragmatic. The show, which happens to be the largest in scope ever staged by the sixty-year-old CAMH, is like snorkeling in the slipstream of American culture: There’s an inundation of things to take in—and no dearth of promising currents. Through April 20 at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; 713-284-8250, camh.org
Sí Se Puede
Teatro Dallas, one of the state’s most sophisticated independent theater companies, has been churning out provocative plays since 1985. And on a shoestring budget, no less, which has been a source of drama in itself: Recently the company’s most ambitious undertaking, the International Theater Festival, came close to being axed because of a lack of staff and overstretched directors. Luckily, the South Dallas Cultural Center swooped in as a co-organizer, and this month the show—now in its thirteenth incarnation—goes on.
This recovery holds particular promise because, as the world gets smaller, Teatro Dallas is providing a glimpse of a new international Texas culture. Troupes from Venezuela, Spain, Africa, and the U.S. will offer a wide-ranging bill of fare: You can see a Catalan political satire set in a bathroom one weekend, then come back the next to watch the countrymen of Wole Soyinka, one of Nigeria’s most distinguished playwrights, acting out his tale of war. “It’s the idea of being in touch with the world that is so important,” says co-founder and artistic director Cora Cardona, who’s from Mexico City. “Not everyone can travel, so we bring these experiences to Dallas.” Including exposure to Spanish (spoken in at least two of the festival’s four plays), which Cardona sees as an added dimension rather than a hindrance: “You understand and appreciate an opera even though it’s sung in Italian or French,” she says. (English librettos will also help.)
As for possible shortfalls going forward, there’s the chance Teatro Dallas will be further overlooked amid buzz for the shiny new Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, a $275 million project slated to open in 2009. It’s hard enough as it is for a stir-the-pot venture like Cardona’s to persuade corporate sponsors to invest (a recent $20,000 gift