The lobby of One Allen Center, in downtown Houston, is ordinarily just a simple sterile passageway for corporate suits to get to and from important meetings. But starting this weekend through the beginning of May, it will become an opportunity for amorous encounters thanks to the installation of “The Tunnel of Love,” a new exhibit by Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing, the Houston conceptual-art duo known as the Art Guys. The lobby will feature the portal to a huge tunnel measuring more than 60 feet long and 25 feet wide, luring passersby to enter. “In some small way, it’s transformative,” Galbreth said. “It’s the same thing as circus sideshows and things like that. It’s a special world with special people. It’s formatted that way. You go behind the curtain. The lights are different. It has an otherworldliness to it. But that’s where, I would like to think, the similarities end.” The Art Guys, whose eccentric projects have included marrying a live oak tree, don’t want to give too much away about the exhibit. They prefer instead for it to be experienced organically, although Galbreth revealed that the immersive space is mostly dark and what can be seen is mostly red. He added that what goes on in the Tunnel of Love should stay in the Tunnel of Love. The fact that the exhibit is opening Valentine’s Day weekend is a matter of coincidence, Galbreth insisted, but the timing invites a particularly thoughtful discussion on the meaning of love. “What is love?” Galbreth asked. “You’ve got an idea in your head; I have an idea in my head. And love of what? Love of grass? Love of your cousin? Love of a color? It’s pretty broad, right? What is love? It’s not a thing. You can’t pick it up, right? So what is it? Is it a feeling? ‘The Tunnel of Love’ is a fun armature with which to start.”
One Allen Center, Feb. 13 to May 9, theartguys.com
Black Lives Matter
In 1964, in response to the murder a year earlier of Medgar Evers, the African American civil rights activist, the singer Nina Simone debuted her song “Mississippi Goddam,” singing, “Hound dogs on my trail / School children sitting in jail / Black cat cross my path / I think every day’s gonna be my last.” At the touring exhibit “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties”—focusing on black power, not flower power—visitors can watch a video of Simone performing the song live. Despite fifty years of progress in race relations, catalyzed by President Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act, Simone’s words will still ring true for some. There are several other button-pushing pieces among the collection of one hundred paintings, sculptures, collages, and photographs created by a racially diverse spectrum of artists, including marquee names like Richard Avedon, Norman Rockwell, and Andy Warhol. Consider Birmingham 1964, by Jack Whitten, an abstract painting torn open at its surface, revealing a photograph of police dogs attacking a black man during the Birmingham Race Riots, or Lawdy Mama, by Barkley L. Hendricks, which Evan Garza, assistant curator at the Blanton Museum of Art, counts among his favorites. “It’s a truly iconic portrait of a strong, resolute, beautiful black woman, complete with a voluminous afro against a lustrous background of gold leaf,” he said. “The artist uses the language of religious iconography to emphasize the beauty and spirit of black womanhood and black pride.”
Blanton Museum of Art, Feb. 15 to May 10, blantonmuseum.org
Oxytocin increases intimacy between humans and some experts say the most effective way for releasing this feel-good hormone is a hug. Embraces of this nature will likely be abundant at the fortieth annual Hug-In and Valentine Ball in Luckenbach, the ghost town purchased in 1971 by the Texas folklorist Hondo Crouch and converted into a haven for cosmic cowboys and outlaws the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson. The two-day affair was spawned by F.L.U.C.K., or Federated Luckenbach Urban Cleanup Kommittee, a group of regulars who organized in the early seventies to deal with the trash mounds that would routinely pile up after a spell of partying. They first met around Valentine’s Day and concluded their efforts with a group hug, thus the Hug-In and Valentine Ball. It is still one of the few times of the year that camping is allowed on the grounds. That area is bound to be hopping after each night of live music, highlighted by the Austin western swing band Asleep at the Wheel and the Austin honky-tonker Dale Watson, whose song “Give Me More Kisses” is known to get the oxytocin flowing.
Luckenbach, Feb. 13 & 14, luckenbachtexas.com
Cupid’s Stomping Grounds
Some claim that Valentine, the tiny West Texas town just outside of Marfa, got its name because the Southern Pacific Railroad founded it on Valentine’s Day, in 1882, as the company expanded its tracks eastward. For the past two years that association has made the locale an especially popular draw on February 14, when the population of two hundred has ballooned for the Valentine’s in Valentine shindig. This third iteration is expected to bring around two thousand people to the Valentine Mercantile, the old Johnson Grocery building that was established in 1907. An afternoon and evening of musical acts headlined by Joe Ely will complement the consumption of beer from Alpine’s Big Bend Brewing Co., the only craft brewer in far West Texas, which will debut its seasonal Pasión Peppermint Porter.
Valentine Mercantile, Feb. 14, 3 p.m., valentinemercantile.com
At the “International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes,” fans of CBS’s Elementary and the BBC’s Sherlock can expand their knowledge of the sleuth that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created in 1886 with displays including film and television props and costumes, a period depiction of the Baker Street office where Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, worked on their investigations, and an interactive whodunnit in which museumgoers are challenged to solve a mystery concocted by Daniel Stashower, author of Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle.
Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Feb. 14 to May 10, perotmuseum.org
Kat Edmonson’s pop-inflected The Big Picture and Robert Ellis’s Americana-inspired The Lights From the Chemical Plant were albums of critical renown in 2014. As a sort of victory lap, the two native Houston singer-songwriters are touring together and will conclude their string of Texas shows with Saturday’s Valentine’s Day gig.
Charline McCombs Empire Theatre, Feb. 14, 8 p.m., majesticempire.com