Arts / Performing Arts

Taking a Virtual Road Trip Through Texas’ Online Arts Scene — It’s a Wild World Out There

As Museums and Theater Groups Adapt, Real Treasures Pop Up

BY // 04.24.20

In these COVID-19 times, we all try to cope from our homes in our own way. Finding art and beauty isn’t always easy. It’s hard to have your favorite museums temporarily closed. But there’s plenty of reason for hope — and many more art opportunities available than you might think.

As both a travel and arts lover, I’ve been using these last several week to don my exploring pajamas for virtual Texas road trips, journeying down those online highways and byways in search of some great Lone Star State art. Outstanding online art excursions are available — one just needs to know where to look.

These virtual art attractions are definitely worth a pitstop.

YouTube Museum Stars

Like many, I knew in the abstract that pretty much every art museum in Texas has its own YouTube channel. But I never took time to see what’s on them until now. If I thought it was easy to lose hours gazing into the abyss of YouTube skin-regimen tutorials and cooking hack shows, the breadth of beautiful, informative and genuinely fun videos on the YouTube channels of major Texas art museum has became a revelation.

From fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of installations, curator talks and artist interviews to a few exhibition preview peeks that put blockbuster trailers to shame, the amount of insider art fun available is an eclectic wonder. It’s easy to get lost for hours inside the virtual galleries of Texas best art collections, but it’s the unexpected offerings that truly delight.

Three weeks in, and I’ve watched DJ Spooky hold forth on Duchamp’s influence on his music at the Dallas Museum of Art, distance-meditated in the Nasher Sculpture Center garden, ridden in a Ruckus Rodeo at the Modern, and experienced some fabulous musical performances at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

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Catastrophic’s Absurdist Fun

While some of Texas’ larger theaters offered limited-time and ticketed streaming versions of their last shows after dimming the lights, many mid-size and smaller Texas theaters companies have reached into the archives to find past gems to feature.

My favorite so far has been Houston’s Catastrophic Theatre’s production of Mickle Maher’s two-actor, one act play from 2015, The Hunchback Variations. Staged as a panel discussion given by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s Quasimodo, this historic/imaginary deaf duo discuss their friendship and collaborative quest to create the impossible sound described in a stage direction from Anton Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard (first performed in 1904). It only gets stranger and more hilarious from there.

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Catastrophic Theatre released a recording of the masterful absurdist comedy The Hunchback Variations. (Photo by Anthony Rathbun)

Even if you know nothing about Beethoven, literature’s most famous bell ringer, or the theater of Russian ennui, and if you’ve ever had to sit through a dreaded panel discussion on anything, this piece should resonate like a cathedral bell ringing in one of the most funniest bits of contemporary absurdism to grace a Texas stage.

For Dreamers

PaperCity previously detailed some of the terrific virtual tours and activities from Dallas museums now available. The Dallas Museum of Art’s For a Dreamer of Houses is especially noteworthy. This virtual replication of the immersive exhibition from select works from DMA’s collection hits. . . well. . . home right now.

Focused on identity and how our domestic spheres define that identity and vice-versa, it would be difficult to find a more timely exhibition to explore from your house.

For a Dreamer of Houses
You can now take a virtual tour of the Dallas Museum of Art’s “For a Dreamer of Houses.”

MFAH Movie Nights

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Brown Theater has always been one of the best places in Texas to catch classic, international and award-winning movies, thanks to the museum’s superb film department. With MFAH’s buildings closed, those movie offerings have moved online.

Running the film gamut from Romanian thrillers to an evening of cat video shorts, the MFAH hosts new selections each week. Purchasing a ticket through the MFAH site supports the museum and provides access to the film for three days.

Coming Attractions: Russia’s entry for the 2020 Academy Award, Beanpole, which follows two young women in postwar Leningrad, and Ballon, the story of a family’s escape from East Germany in 1979 in a homemade hot air ballon. And don’t worry, there’s still a little time to catch CatVideoFest. It runs until April 29.

Ten Tiny Dances

The always new and innovative staple of the annual CounterCurrent interdisciplinary festival from University of Houston’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, Ten Tiny Dances features 10 dances in a small space. The lineup and dance genres changed every year, but the core idea remains the same: ask choreographers and dancers to create and perform a short piece within a very small stage.

The 2020 festival has been cancelled, but if any program seems predestined for our new home-performances reality, it’s Ten Tiny. With the choreographers all in to work within a four-by-four space wherever they’re residing, CounterCurrent is releasing a new and archival dance performances every 24 hours from April 20 through May 1.

The lineup already revealed new works from Houston Ballet’s Connor Walsh, acclaimed Houston choreographer Laura Gutierrez, and contemporary artists Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin.

Fusebox Goes Virtual

While the whole world understandably loves South By Southwest, my heart has always belonged to its avant-garde Austin cousin, the cross-disciplinary performing and visual arts festival Fusebox. Every April, the fest gets together a collection of innovative local, Texan, national and international artists, then sets them loose to wander Austin doing their sometimes very weird and often indescribable thing. Meanwhile, art lovers get to watch — for free.

Back in March, when Fusebox curators and organizer saw that all of Austin would likely shut down, they managed to regroup and move the festival online to broadcast from around the world in only a month. From a social-distancing sing-along from Toronto’s Choir! Choir! Choir! to a Brooklyn dance party virtually hosted by the self-described Neo-Afro-Futuristic-Psychedelic-Surrealistic-Hippies, the Illustrious Blacks, to an Indonesian cooking class from the Javanese folk dance master Rianto, this festival couldn’t be more in the Austin spirit of keeping it globally, wonderfully weird.

For a Texas focus, look for online performance pieces from acclaimed Houston artists Hillerbrand+Magsamen, as well as one-on-one Zoom interview sessions from the nationally renowned Austin theatre collective the Rude Mechs. who are looking for virtual festival-goers to interview for their latest in-progress work.

With apologies to the Texas patron saint of good traveling, Willie Nelson, now I’ve got to get going, because I can’t wait to get on the virtual art road again.

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