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 to catch this gem of local history before it heads to New York and then on to Europe. Feb 1—4. Margaret and Al Hill Lecture Hall, Hall of State at Fair Park, 3939 Grand Ave; 214-823-8955; docarts.com
Don’t Mess With Texas
If there’s anything that Texans like more than their beloved football, it’s a good rivalry. This month kicks off the brand-new Texas vs. the Nation collegiate all-star game, which satisfies both obsessions. The premise for this postseason matchup is exactly what the name suggests: Top-rated college seniors who either play for a Texas team or who played high school ball in the state will be on one side of the pigskin, and those who hail from anywhere else in the U.S. will be on the other. That former Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals head coach Buddy Ryan (a sworn enemy to any Dallas Cowboys fan) will be pacing the sidelines for the Nation team will further intensify the us-versus-them enmity. Of course, a lot of pressure is riding on the University of Texas at El Paso’s Mike Price—who’ll be coaching the Lone Star squad—to prove the state’s assertion that it produces the best football players in the country. In short, it’s time for Texas to back up the braggadocio and let the final score do the talking. Feb 2. Sun Bowl Stadium, Glory Rd & Sun Bowl Dr; 210-745-1094; texasvsthenation.com
Sounds of Music
The craze for all things organic leaps from the grocery store to the concert hall this month with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s performance of composer Tan Dun’s Paper Concerto. This four-part opus is au naturel, with the orchestra’s string section eschewed for simple contraptions crafted from little more than pulped wood and fiber. A tribute to Cai Lun, the Chinese eunuch credited with inventing fine paper in A.D. 105, Paper Concerto is part of Tan’s Organic Music series (his Water Concerto was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in 1999). Nature and creativity certainly commune here, though the instrumentation list reads like a tree conservationist’s worst nightmare: large paper screens, paper cymbals, cardboard thunder sheets, waxed-paper bags, a paper umbrella, paper box drums, a Chinese folding paper fan, and so on. Three wide sails will hang from the concert hall’s domed ceiling and be “played” by soloist David Cossin along with two orchestra percussionists. As it turns out, a thin sheet of tracing paper or a cardboard tube can be just as acoustically dynamic as a flute or a tuba, at least in the hands of these skilled musicians. Feb 2—4. Bass Performance Hall, 4th & Calhoun; 817-665-6000; fwsymphony.org
House of Style
If you think The Devil Wears Prada is a horror flick, you’re probably equally unfamiliar with the name Cristóbal Balenciaga. A grand master of haute couture, the Spanish designer was known in his heyday (the very stylish fifties and sixties) as “fashion’s Picasso,” and his sculptural creations graced the enviable wardrobes of society’s grandes dames, both here and abroad. One of his principal devotees was a Texan: Claudia Heard de Osborne, an oil heiress who married into the sherry dynasty of Jerez, Spain, was so enamored of Balenciaga’s work that she once announced that she’d rather lose her husband than her beloved designer, or so the story goes. Upon her death, in 1988, Osborne bequeathed hundreds of her gowns to the Texas Fashion Collection, the state’s largest such archive, which is housed at the University of North Texas. Several of her prized possessions (and those of legendary Neiman Marcus buyer Bert de Winter) will be showcased this month in “Balenciaga and His Legacy: Haute Couture From the Texas Fashion Collection,” a comprehensive retrospective opening at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Museum. Seventy of the late designer’s garments, including the “baby doll” and the “sack” dresses that were his trademark, will be shown alongside pieces crafted by his protégés Oscar de la Renta, Emanuel Ungaro, and Hubert de Givenchy, among others (cinema buffs will want to see the black Givenchy suit that Audrey Hepburn wore in Charade). Additionally, Texas Fashion Collection director Myra Walker has just published a book, also titled Balenciaga and His Legacy, which serves as an illustrated complement to the exhibit and includes an insightful series of essays. It’s a must-read for the uninitiated. Osborne herself would certainly have recommended it. Feb 4—May 27. 5900 Bishop Blvd, 214-768-2516, meadowsmuseumdallas.org
Run for Your Life
Austin, Fort Worth
The marathon is named for Pheidippides, a Greek soldier who ran roughly 25 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce his countrymen’s defeat of the Persians. Today, throngs of runners gather at races across the globe to run the modern-day equivalent, that 26.2-mile test of endurance, if for no other reason than to challenge themselves and say that they, like the adrenaline-fueled Greek, have done it. (Of course, legend also has it that he died on the spot once he delivered his news, but then again he didn’t have a stash of PowerBars or broken-in New Balance trainers to sustain him.) Running USA, a nonprofit devoted to supporting road racing and long-distance running in the United States, reports that in 2005 there were more people finishing marathons in this country—some 430,000—than ever before. This month, the gun will sound for two of Texas’s most well-attended footraces, the AT&T Austin Marathon (formerly the Free-scale) and the Cowtown Marathon, not to mention their corresponding half-marathons, which are also seeing record numbers of participants. The former is the state’s second largest, behind the Chevron Houston Marathon (in January), and one of the most scenic, with a course that loops through downtown and along placid Town Lake. The Fort Worth version passes by some of the city’s most iconic and historic landmarks. What was once a purist’s sport has, for better or worse, become a diversion for the masses. If only ol’ Pheidippides could know what he started. AT&T Austin Marathon: Feb 18. Race starts at the Congress Avenue Bridge and ends at Congress & 4th, 512-478-4265, attaustinmarathon.com. Cowtown Marathon: Feb 24. Race starts at 2nd & Houston and ends at 5th & Main, 817-735-2033, cowtownmarathon.org
Influential does not mean universally beloved. Consider Philip Glass, the prolific composer of operas, symphonies, string quartets, film scores, concertos, requiems, and … you get the picture. He’s been called a minimalist (which he discounts), a captain of industry (so dubbed by his own friends, who’ve seen his music business empire grow tenfold), and an acquired taste (his repetitive compositions aren’t for everyone). Though he’s had a steady stream of critics since he came on the scene in the late sixties, he has had no shortage of advocates. Case in point: Fine-arts groups across the country will celebrate his seventieth birthday (January 31) with concerts and retrospectives all year long. In fact, Houston’s Society for the Performing Arts is marking the occasion this month with a visit from the composer himself, as well as his eponymous ensemble. The program will feature a section of one of his most popular works, 1975’s opera Einstein on the Beach; a sampling of his score for Koyaanisqatsi, the unconventional, plotless art film that premiered in 1982; a complex and expressive segment of In the Upper Room, which was commissioned by the Twyla Tharp Dance Foundation; and a portion from Akhnaten, an orchestral piece with vocals sung in Akkadian, biblical Hebrew, and Egyptian. Whether or not you “get” his music, and whether or not you acknowledge his innovations, there is no denying that Glass’s many contributions will reverberate well past his seventieth year. Feb 23. Wortham Theater Center, Cullen Theater, 501 Texas; 713-227-4772; spahouston.org
Any event that’s as distinguished and as popular as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo doesn’t need much of an introduction. With upward of 1.6 million folks clogging Loop 610 every year to get to the auctions, the midway diversions, the fried-food stands, and the acres of farm animals, the HLSR is said to be the world’s largest. And even though it doesn’t lay claim to being the oldest of its sort in Texas (tip your hat to the elder Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, which closes its 111th edition on February 4), the HLSR celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. And there are a few changes afoot: The rodeo’s prize purse, at $1.275 million, will be the richest of any regular-season Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event ever, and there’s a new scoring system that will make it easier for fans to follow their favorite riders. King George himself (that’s Strait, for all you slowpokes) will perform on opening night, and ZZ Top, another native-Texan act, will do the tube snake boogie at the grand finale next month. We’d go into detail about all the stuff in between, but with so much packed into the three-week schedule, there’s not nearly enough space here to describe it. Feb 27—Mar 18. Reliant Park, Loop 610 between Kirby Dr & Fannin; 832-667-1000; hlsr.com
The Filter: Events by Jordan Breal and David A. Herron