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Museum With a View

By October 2007Comments

Courtesy of Sprint Art Collection

Corpus Christi “The Sparkling City by the Sea might just deserve a big colored thumbtack on the state’s cultural map after all.” That was our assessment last October as the Art Museum of South Texas unveiled its new 28,000-square-foot wing. In the year since, the expanded digs have ushered in an increased number of visitors and played host to several top-notch exhibits. Though the bright-pink entrance and thirteen shimmer-ing, pyramid-shaped skylights of the Ricardo Legorreta–designed addition have garnered the most attention, the museum is also to be lauded for its curatorial range. Knowing that it will never be as encyclopedic as larger, more-well-endowed institutions, the AMST’s humble repository has done well to focus on art that reflects the region’s cultural makeup (the city is nearly 60 percent Latino). Since the opening, it has featured shows by the late Houston Modernist Dorothy Hood and the Brownsville-born Surrealist painter and sculptor Ray Smith, as well as a presentation of prints by artists from Oaxaca, Mexico. (There have also been several exhibits with an international scope, such as a showcase of Australian artist Kate Breakey’s painted photographs of dead birds—which are not as morbid as they sound—and an overview of prints by masters Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt van Rijn.) Opening this month is “Cardinal Points/Puntos Cardinales: A Survey of Contemporary Latino and Latin American Art From the Sprint Nextel Art Collection,” a grouping of 56 photographs, prints, paintings, and mixed-media works created over the past twenty years in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the United States. Though organized into four sections—“Figure as Symbol,” “Nature, Seen and Transformed,” “Mapping the Real Imaginary,” and “Narratives”—the offerings here are extremely diverse, both in execution and subject matter. Cuban-born José Bedia’s interest in the history of Afro-Cuban religions—he’s an initiate of Palo Monte, which believes in powers found in nature—clearly guides his work. Constellations are a recurring theme of his, as in the moody blue De aqui pa’ alla’ (From Here to There), which features an elongated outlined figure whose stance reaches from one edge of the roughly seven-foot-long canvas to the other. You can identify Freddy Rodriguez’s creations, on the other hand, by the vibrant colors and signature flourishes (butterflies, flowers, leafy branches) he uses in his newspaper collages, like Together At Last?. You’ll also see Salomón Huerta’s coolly precise series of what he describes as generic houses that you might find in a wealthy neighborhood (just try finding the brush strokes on his glossy canvases); soulful photographic portraits of indigenous Mexican cultures by Graciela Iturbide and Mariana Yampolsky; and Patssi Valdez’s bold paintings of metaphorical—and inhabitant-less—domestic interiors. The works on display in “Cardinal Points” might draw you in with their eye-catching qualities, but they deserve a much closer look, as does the museum itself. Oct 27–Jan 7. 1902 N. Shoreline Blvd, 361-825-3500, artmuseumofsouthtexas.org

Go West, Young Hipster

Marfa Let’s get one thing straight: The Chinati Open House is not new (it dates back to 1986). But we’d be remiss not to remind you that the festivities are striking up once again. This year’s week-end of all things minimalist features two exhibitions by Canadian David Rabinowitch: For one, he’s re-creating about a dozen pieces of his Field Phalanx (four-by-eight-foot sheets of galvanized steel that he bends and bolts together to form various shapes), and for the other, he’s bringing out sketches and models of a never-realized project to build a doorless structure on Pinto Canyon Road, a few miles south of town. There will also, of course, be plenty of opportunities to probe the oeuvre—and, if you dare, the psyche—of the late Donald Judd (he was, after all, the force behind the Chinati Foundation), including a spotlight on works he crafted in Brooklyn in 1989 called the Lascaux Series. And architect David Adjaye, curator Trevor Smith, and installation artist Andrea Zittel will present a discussion about Judd’s influence and give their personal interpretations of his legacy. On Saturday, after the free dinner on Highland Avenue, the überchic will rendezvous at the Thunderbird Hotel and rock out to the ever-experimental sounds of Sonic Youth. And then on Sunday it’ll be breakfast at the Chinati Foundation and lunch at Casa Perez, Judd’s ranch home (all gratis), before the cognoscenti begin to go back from whence they came and tell all their friends about this hip little happening in West Texas. Oct 6 & 7. The Chinati Foundation, 1 Cavalry Row; 432-729-4362; chinati.org

Talk to Me

Austin, Galveston Celebrity interviews are often nothing more than canned photo ops, but two of this generation’s most prolific actors will be sitting down for some legit face time with Texas audiences this month. Shirley MacLaine, who has made more than fifty films, will be stopping by the Paramount Theatre in Austin to discuss her spiritual journey, among other topics, and take questions from the audience. The equally inimitable James Earl Jones will be addressing his fans later in the month. That instantly recognizable baritone of his (“I am your father”) will no doubt hypnotize those who come to hear him read some of his favorite poems at the Grand 1894 Opera House, in Galveston. He’ll also entertain questions from those assembled, but do try and keep your Darth Vader impressions to a minimum; he’s heard them all before. MacLaine: Oct 7. 713 Congress Ave, 512-472-5470, austintheatre.org. Jones: Oct 20. 2020 Postoffice, 800-821-1894, thegrand.com

If It’s Not Baroque, Fix It

Houston Eight years ago Montreal transplant Antoine Plante founded Mercury Baroque with friends at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, and the unassuming ensemble has been gaining momentum ever since. Though it is still striving to make a statewide impact, the orchestral group has been applauded by local critics for the range and ambition of its programming, strengths that will be on view as Mercury launches its seventh full season this month. First up for the musicians, who play only period instruments (all the strings, for instance, are made of lamb intestine instead of metal), is Water Music, one of George Frideric Handel’s most famous works. Though beloved for its flute lines and dramatic use of horns, the three-suite piece is best known for the legend behind it: Handel composed Water Music to get back in the good graces of King George I (his former boss), and it was first performed at a party held on a barge that floated along the River Thames. Or so the story goes. It will be complemented by Jean-Féry Rebel’s Les Elements, which begins with a striking overture (appropriately known as “Chaos”) and is meant to represent the elements with its distinct sounds—bass notes signify earth, flute cascades depict water, trilling piccolos stand in for air, and violin passages portray fire. As opening nights go, this one should be especially refreshing. Oct 20. Wortham Theater Center, Cullen Theater, 501 Texas; 713-533-0080; mercurybaroque.org

Things That Make You Go Hmm

Houston Among Bruce Nauman’s best-known works is a curving neon sign that is titled (and reads) The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths. Like nearly all of his highly conceptual sculptures, photographs, and performance pieces, it invokes deep contemplation—or at least a sincere “Huh?” Nauman’s reputation as one of the foremost (and most provocative) contemporary American artists was cemented decades ago, but his innovative creations have retained their shock value. His latest retrospective, “A Rose Has No Teeth: Bruce Nauman in the 1960’s,” opening at the Menil Collection this month, pays specific attention to his early years, particularly the period (1964 to 1969) he spent in Northern California, first as an MFA student at the University of California—Davis and then as a young artist coming into his signature style. But it’s his ability to make viewers feel as if they can’t look away fast enough and as if they can’t stop staring that defines his output. Looking at Nauman’s handiwork is slightly maddening. (He has notoriously described his intended effect as such: “Like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat. Or better, like getting hit in the back of the neck. You never see it coming; it just knocks you down.”) Take, for instance, Get Out of My Mind, Get Out of This Room. You enter a small space, and instead of seeing an object, you hear only a recording of Nauman saying—no, growling—the titular phrase over and over until it sounds as if his voice is coming from inside your head. As for visual offerings, those also rack one’s nerves, like the video Wall-Floor Positions, in which you see him pressing his hands and feet against a bare wall for an entire hour (if, that is, you last that long). In fact, you’ll get to see a lot of Nauman’s various body parts, including his neck in the photograph “Neck Pull,” which depicts him doing exactly that, and impressions of his knee in the fiberglass sculpture Six Inches of My Knee Extended to Six Feet. Wordplay is another of his favorite subjects. RAW/WAR, a sketch of those two words intertwined (which would eventually become another of his neon signs), comes with instructions: “Sign to hang when there is a war on.” Consider also the two-ton metal slab that has the word “dark” written on its underside—you’ll never see it, but you know it must be there (at least the curators have verified its existence). With about a hundred pieces on view, this exhibit will likely leave you feeling bemused, infuriated, or something in between. Oct 25—Jan 13. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400, menil.org

The Stars at Night Are Big and Bright

Fort Davis It’s one thing to lie in your backyard, look up, and find the Big Dipper. It’s quite another to look into a telescope and see galaxies that are millions of light-years away. And there’s no better place to do the latter than at the McDonald Observatory, in the Davis Mountains. This University of Texas at Austin research unit boasts several long-range telescopes, including the Hobby-Eberly, one of the largest and most powerful in the world. The ninety-minute guided tours are more than worth the price of admission, but the stars, as they say, come out at night, so you’ll want to hang around for the Star Party (on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings), at which the guests of honor are the moon, various planets, star clusters, and nebulae. But the biggest draws are the special dinner-and-a-viewing nights, typically held once a month on the Wednesday nearest the full moon and often booked months in advance. You can take your turn peering into the 107-inch Harlan J. Smith, the 82-inch Otto Struve (known as the Grand Old Lady), or a 36-inch (unnamed) telescope as staff members teach you infinite tidbits about space’s celestial bodies. The downside to gazing at these unparalleled wonders, however, is that the Big Dipper will seem small by comparison. Open daily 10—5:30. Frank N. Bash Visitors Center, Tx Hwy 118N; 432-426-3640; mcdonaldobservatory.org

See Ya Later . . .

Beaumont In August Gary Saurage drove fourteen straight hours from Orlando, Florida, with some precious cargo in the back of his minivan: a ten-foot-two, 400-pound Australian saltwater crocodile named Gwendolyn. But the trip didn’t go as smoothly as one would hope a croc relocation would. Once they got to their destination—Saurage, you see, is the owner of Gator Country, an alligator theme park just west of Beaumont—Gwennie slipped out a cracked passenger-side window when no one was looking, which made for several anxious minutes before Saurage and his assistants wrestled the ol’ gal into her new digs. The park is home to more than 130 gators and six crocodiles (and counting), which you can learn all about in the daily educational shows. The main attraction, though, is Big Al, Texas’s largest alligator (in captivity, at least), which is more than thirteen feet long and weighs nearly 1,000 pounds. Brave visitors can hold the babies, feed hot dogs to the larger ones, and watch as handlers take a ride on the Redneck Roller Coaster, a zip line that skims the surface of gator-infested waters. Next spring the park will open a restaurant, surrounded by a moat full of the grinning beauties, that serves Cajun delicacies, including—you guessed it—fried alligator. Open Fri—Sun 10—6. 21159 FM 365, 409-794-9453, gatorcountrytx.com

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