The Big H
A candid editorial on Houston’s art scene over the last decade
By Buffalo Sean
Ten years ago, I worked in a bookstore and thought I was a graphic designer. Today, I work at a crepe stand and I know I am a cook. In the meantime, there has been a massive amount of artwork coursing through the veins of this town and I was glad I was there to see it. Houston’s art scene has matured and grown over the last decade, eating up local airtime and social media with exhibits, events, a party scene, nationally-recognized artists, and respected alternative spaces. The small clique of ‘usual suspects’ that dominated the gallery scene 10 years ago has grown with the expanding experimentation of Houston’s museums and international attention for Texas and its status as a crossroads of cultures and intellectual memes. Beginning far before the ‘oughts, the denizens of our art world have nurtured young artists and new mediums through mentorship and collaboration. Where before there was a small pie with just enough servings to satisfy the main players, today there is an accepting majority of gallerists and curators who regularly mine the homegrown talent to complement national and international artists. The grant pool has grown tenfold, allowing artists to rely on the steadiness of sponsorship while finding their critical voices in their work.
From a traditional burg to today’s globetrotter class of art collectors, the vaults of Houston’s elite are open to new ideas and investments. From the peanut gallery of living room exhibitions to the Mies van der Rohe halls of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, art has grown by leaps and bounds. Art journalism has been gutted but partisan academia is flowing freely in this town. The fracturing of the East End scene has destroyed the community of artists ‘across the tracks’ but has sparked innovation and a burgeoning new crop of Millenials coming at the art world from all angles. Interdisciplinary art is now the norm, not the exception. Houston has contributed to art in Los Angeles, New York, and across the world. At the same time, art professionals and artists from across the globe have enriched this city immeasurably.
The distinctive thing about the last decade in Houston’s art scene is the loss of a certain defensiveness that goes with a regional mentality. Today’s art world is more jaded, less optimistic, and fully committed to not apologizing for success. Guidebooks and boosters have long touted our art scene at every turn but instead of sneering at the notion, Houston artists today shrug off the glossy perceptions of highfalutin artístes as another blip on a bumpy trajectory that has experienced its booms and busts in rollicking bursts of expansion and contraction.
In celebrating the last 10 years of Houston art, we are merely building on the solid foundation given by the many artists and professionals who have maintained the Lawndale for over 30 years, the Contemporary Arts Museum for nearly 60 years, the Glassell School’s CORE program for nearly 30 years, and innumerable institutions that have come and gone but contributed to the whole as they ran their course.
CSAW is dead, the East End has dissipated, Montrose is twice as dense, the Heights has been swept of ramshackle homes and Acres Homes has been ‘discovered.’ Good riddance. All good stories must come to an end, whether comic or tragic. Such experiences enhance the lives of those who were there and deliver lessons and references for those who come after them to tease into new artworks and write into historical precedent. For every decade the Free Press Houston is in publication, another generation will take over forging ahead and fretting over making it. All our lives are pressed into the pages of time- documented on the webpages of time, too. Whatever truths can be made of it make the art world of Houston that much richer.