A three-museum Robert Rauschenberg retrospective in Houston. Plus: Garth Brooks plays Dallas and Fort Worth; mountain bikers converge on Big Bend; Goya’s prints on display in Dallas; and Ellen Burstyn onstage in Houston.

Edited by Quita McMath, Erin Gromen, and Katy Vine


The Rauschenbergs Are Coming! The Rauschenbergs Are Coming!

No active American artist has been as famous for as long as Port Arthur native Robert Rauschenberg. In the fifties, his celebrated “combine paintings” challenged the high seriousness of the Abstract Expressionists by deliberately polluting their impassioned brushwork with discards such as newspaper clips, pillows, and stuffed animals—in the process presaging practically everything that followed, from the pop art of the sixties to the postmodern multimedia of the present. As compulsive a creator as Picasso, the 72-year-old former enfant terrible is now the subject of a retrospective exhibition so sprawling that all three of Houston’s major museums—the Menil Collection, which organized the exhibit; the Museum of Fine Arts; and the Contemporary Arts Museum—are required to stage it. “Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective,” which runs February 13 through May 17, features nearly three hundred category-defying pieces that variously combine painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, and performance art (above, Able Was I Ere I Saw Elba II [Japanese Recreational Clayworks],  1985, photo transfer on ceramic). But if Rauschenberg’s celebration of the commonplace reprises the perennial modernist query What is art?, this show also invites the more trenchant question of how—or if—the artist has been able to maintain an iconoclast’s edge during almost half a century as an avant-garde icon. Michael Ennis


The Oklahoma Kid

It’s been said that they’ve got only two things in Oklahoma: steers and Hanson. But no matter how many teenage hearts the blond brothers set afire, they’re not the biggest act to come out of the Sooner State. That distinction goes to Garth Brooks, whom you may not have associated with Texas’ long-overshadowed rival to the north. As the best-selling solo artist in U.S. music history, Brooks is the biggest thing to have ever come out of anywhere. How big? More than three million fans went to his concerts in 1997—close to the entire population of his home state. And that does not include the estimated 250,000 who turned out for Brooks’ show in Central Park last August, nor the 14.6 million who tuned in to watch it on TV. Now last year’s Country Music Association entertainer of the year is bringing his act down the highway to Texas for arena shows in Dallas and Fort Worth this month and Houston in April (Hanson’s last Texas gig was at the Grapevine Mills Mall in Grapevine at eight in the morning). And so what if Oklahoma gets delusions of grandeur from having produced such chart-topping acts? It’ll never be more than just OK. Jordan Mackay


Pedal Pushers

If the idea of seven hundred bikers converging on the Big Bend conjures visions of roaring Harleys, Bandidos, and motorcycle mamas running amok among the lechuguilla, think again. The crowd showing up for the four-day Chihuahuan Desert Challenge Mountain Bike Race and Festival, beginning February 12 in Lajitas, is a whole ’nother breed, one that prefers pedal power and knobby tires for getting around and obsesses on Power Bars, not Pearl. The race, which kicks off the nine-event Texas State Championship Series and is one of the first national mountain-biking meets of the year, attracts competitors from all over the United States to vie for more than $10,000 in cash and prizes in several categories. The main feature is the three-stage Challenge—a circuit race, time trials, and a cross-country race on some of the most rugged terrain this side of Moab (the course is rated one of the top 25 in the world by VeloNews, a magazine for competitive cyclists). Come to think of it, the whole thing is so darn challenging, that other biker crowd is likely to get winded just thinking about it. Joe Nick Patoski


Of Vice and Men

To many people, nothing sets Goya apart from other great painters and printmakers so much as the wonderful caricatures of goblins, witches, and demons that he created in the latter part of his life. Previously known for his historical, religious, and portrait paintings, the artist began to show this nightmarish side of his imagination in his early fifties after recovering from a life-threatening illness. It was during this watershed time, between 1796 and 1799, that he created his first print series, Los Caprichos (roughly, “the fantastic or outrageous acts”), using exaggerated or grotesque characters to illustrate human vices and foibles (above is his satire of vanity, Until death). On January 30 SMU’s Meadows Museum, which boasts a trove of Goya prints, will exhibit the entire series of eighty prints—rarely seen together—in “The Sleep of Reason: Francisco Goya’s Los Caprichos.” It’s just possible that the museum’s founder, Algur H. Meadows, felt a kinship with Goya. Like the artist, the oilman also survived his own nightmare of sorts: In the early years of the museum, some of the works in his collection were discovered to be fakes. Undeterred, he went on to acquire the collection of great Spanish art—including this first edition of Los Caprichos—that remains with the museum today. Fantastic, indeed. Katy Vine


An American Tragedy

Good fortune shines upon Houston this month when one of today’s most respected actresses—five-time Academy award nominee (and one-time winner) Ellen Burstyn—appears in the Alley Theatre’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. And to what does the city owe such an honor? After all, until recently this star of stage and screen had not done much regional theater. The answer is simply that Houston is not New York. “One of the great joys for any actress is live theater,” says Burstyn, “and with the condition of Broadway what it is now—mostly musicals—you have to leave New York in order to find the audience for real plays.” Burstyn also wanted to work again with the Alley’s associate director, Michael Wilson, whom she met last year while working on a Horton Foote play in North Carolina. In O’Neill’s autobiographical drama, Burstyn will portray Mary Tyrone, a woman whose morphine addiction is at the heart of her family’s dysfunction. The choice of Long Day’s Journey Into Night was hers. “The writing is so wonderful,” she says, “and the role of Mary Tyrone is the part for any actress.” Erin Gromen