For this month’s “Straight From the Art,” associate editor Jordan Breal spent weeks surveying museum directors, curators, critics, and historians across the state to compile a definitive list of the most significant works of art on view in Texas. Breal, who has covered arts and culture for TEXAS MONTHLY since she joined the magazine in 2005, details each of the ten pieces, which range from Donald Judd’s striking aluminum boxes to one of Rembrandt’s detailed portraits. Here’s the story behind the story.
What inspired you to look further into the Texas art scene? Was it a conversation with a friend, an exhibit you went to see?
It was an idea that had been marinating for a while. Ever since I started at the magazine, I’ve always been involved with our arts and culture coverage, and over the years I’ve become familiar with the state’s arts institutions as well as with the movers and shakers in the Texas art scene. I’ve also been able to visit a number of museums and galleries around the state, and my friends and coworkers often ask me which ones I recommend they go to, which works of art they should see, etc. I quickly realized that a guide to the best Texas museums would be far too broad in scope to include in the magazine so I decided to focus the project on specific works of art instead.
One of the most astounding facts from your article was the statistic on art funding. Texas appropriates almost the least amount of money of any state in the country. How did you discover that? I am sure you were just as stunned as readers.
The topic first came up during a conversation I had with Alison de Lima Greene, a longtime curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, so afterward I did a little digging to see how we measured up relative to the rest of the country. Honestly, I wasn’t too surprised at what I found: that Texas ranks forty-sixth in state funding for the arts. In April, the Legislature voted to halt all state money to the Texas Commission on the Arts, which awards about 1,500 grants each year to numerous cultural groups around the state and was already operating on a slashed budget. But luckily, as Alison emphasized, Texans are very good to Texas artists and are committed to supporting the arts through private funding.
You describe the stereotype of Texas art as “cowboys and cacti.” That’s pretty spot-on. Which artists do you think resemble these themes best, in your opinion? I am sure you looked at a plethora of these works during reporting for your piece.
There’s a reason most people think of cowboys and cacti when they think about Texas art. From Frank Reaugh’s oil paintings and pastels of herds of Longhorns to Julian Onderdonk’s bucolic landscapes of a certain cobalt bloom, the state’s earliest artists were masters of capturing our (once) untamed frontier. Although they may seem trite today, those rustic scenes will always be evocative of our rural roots. One of the state’s foremost historians on Texas art, Michael R. Grauer, who is the curator of art at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, in Canyon, has been kind enough to share with us his list of Texas artists’ greatest hits.
Did you dance in front of Cy Twombly’s Say Goodbye? And if so, please describe.
I didn’t, but it’s easy to see why some people are moved to do so. The painting, which is the only thing in the room (save for two benches along the opposite wall), is so massive—it’s 13 feet high and 53 feet wide—that it requires a sort of physical engagement. You feel compelled to walk from one end of the painting to the other to “read” the linear narrative that unfolds. There was a quote from my interview with Josef Helfenstein, the director of the Menil Collection, that ended up on the cutting-room floor that I think really speaks to encountering a work like Say Goodbye: “Art is very personal,” he said. “It’s different for each person and it’s different each time you see a particular work.” That’s how I feel about many of Twombly’s paintings. I see something new every time I stand in front of them. (An interesting side note: During my reporting, I also came across an anecdote—unverified—about a visitor who removed all of her clothing and stood naked in front of Say Goodbye before being discovered by a guard. For the record, I did not do that either!)
You suggest that Caravaggio’s life needs to be made into a movie. Who should play him, who would direct? And would you actually pay money to see it?
According to IMDB, someone did make a movie about him, in 1986, with Tilda Swinton playing his girlfriend! As for a modern-day adaptation, I think James Franco should serve as screenwriter, lead actor, and director—naturally. And Tilda should reprise her role as Lena. I would pay money to see that, wouldn’t you?
Have you learned any new updates on James Turrell’s Tending, (Blue)? Will it be getting a new location?
Although Turrell is already devising a new concept for the piece—which is one of my personal favorites—it’s still too early to tell what the revamped design will look like, but it seems likely that the skyspace will just be altered, not moved. I’m anxious for it to reopen though.
If you could recommend one art museum out of all the ones you visited, which would it be? And of course, why?
That’s a tough question. There are so many great museums in Texas and they have such diverse collections that it’s impossible to single out just one. Plus, I’m still scratching places off of my museum bucket list. But there are a few that I visit fairly regularly: Whenever I’m back home in Fort Worth, I try to squeeze in a trip to the Kimbell Art Museum or the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth or the Amon Carter Museum of American Art—or all three since they’re within walking distance of each other! The Nasher Sculpture Center, in Dallas, the McNay Art Museum, in San Antonio, and the Menil Collection, in Houston, are frequent haunts as well.