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Arts / Museums

The Weirdest Stories of the Year

A Look Inside Houston’s Odd and Surreal Art World

BY // 01.28.16

It’s a crazy (art) world out there! In lieu of a Top 10 list, we’re reporting on eight of the most unexpected, startling, or outright weird —in a good way — stories we covered in the Houston art scene over the past year. Enjoy this glance from the rearview mirror into the white cube.

The Rise of Independent Dealers: Our most notable new power duo both boast downtown addresses. With Paul Middendorf‘s hybrid space GalleryHomeland opening a second location (the edgy HomeCore), the amped-up square footage made a perfect foil for Houston artist Mark Ponder‘s solo this past winter. The show probed religion and belief systems, and included a beautiful video that subliminally addressing the rituals surrounding death.

And waiter-turned-gallerist Pablo Cardoza began repping the inimitable Mark Flood as well as serving as the HQ for talents such as Bret Shirley, a best-seller in Cardoza Fine Art‘s booth during fall’s Texas Contemporary Art Fair. Meanwhile, Cardoza’s sale of a Flood canvas financed his participation in the Miami Project art fair, which took place during this past December’s Art Basel Miami Beach fair week. There’s never been a better time to be an indie gallerist in Houston, especially for those like Middendorf and Cardoza who’ve got “the eye.”

Won Over by Horse Head: It’s good to occasionally step outside the visual arts —and enter a parallel universe. Thrills were provided by avant-garde thespian troupe Horse Head Theatre Co., by virtue of last summer’s production of The Whale; or Moby-Dick, a one-man show spearheaded by company director Jacey Little, penned by playwright Timothy N. Evers, and starring Shakespearean actor Phillip Hays.

The world premiere in a  geodesic dome designed by Houston artist Troy Stanley — improbably sited along the banks of Buffalo Bayou — marked a moment of theatrical power and enchantment. This was followed up months later by Horse Head’s annual benefit, Holiday Huzzah!, where for a modest price tag supporters egged each other on in a bad costume contest, partook of a classic cheeseball-and-cookies buffet, posed for party pics on Santa’s lap, and, above all, reveled in the poignant true tale of Abby Koenig‘s one-woman play, The Jew Who Loves Christmas.

Bayou Bend Busted Out: Then Alley cast member Todd Waite was tapped to re-imagine Bayou Bend, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston‘s venerable decorative arts museum. The results were surprising, bordering on shocking, featuring dramatic light projects across the facade of the 1920s-era John Staub-designed mansion, more light interventions in the azalea garden, and performances capped by an animatronic elf in the house museum’s historic interiors. Miss Hogg would have wildly approved.

Dueling Art Fairs and Talent in Texas: Sometimes you have to embrace the wildly ridiculous; case in point is Austin artist Carlo Zinzi, whose exploding hot dogs staged in hypereal gardens were among the highlight of the biennially curated “Talent in Texas,” co-presented by FotoFest and Houston Center for Photography. Also unique to the 2015 Houston scene was the continued role each art fair — Texas Contemporary and Houston Fine Art Fair — played in the dialogue of autumn, forging forward frissons of controversy and excitement even as HFAF announced its purchase by UK producer Clarion Events. (Stay tuned for 2016, when the fairs are a mere four days apart.)

Day For Night Indeed: Talk about spectacle — music impresario Free Press Houston and Summer Fest‘s Omar Afra curated an immersive music experience with Day For Night, which also encompassed art-world curatorial chops vis–à–vis light displays worthy of an international audience. Most impressive and captivating were Paris-based Nonotak as a headliner (the duo’s other commissions have included a project for Tate Britain‘s after-hours Late at Tate series).

Agri-Chic Rocks: One of the most successful preservation stories of the year involves the saving of the Riviana Success Rice silos — reborn as the Silos at Sawyer Yards in the Washington Avenue Arts District.

Who knew an agrarian ruin could be such a heroic art space? The silos’ coming-out party, tapping nearly 30 hometown talents to transform each stack, possessed a raw, eerie and compelling energy that rivaled many museum shows.

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