Arts / Museums / Galleries

A Texan’s Summer Art Pilgrimage — 8 Must-See Destinations Just a Day’s Drive Away

From Marfa to Tulsa to Crystal Bridges

BY Catherine D. Anspon, Billy Fong, and Alison Medley // 07.03.23

If wanderlust has struck, might we suggest one of the most American of adventures: a summer road trip. We’ve mapped out seven must-see off-the-grid art destinations, cities, or hamlets within a day’s drive of Austin, Dallas, and Houston. So, gas up, enlist a friend or two, and hit your ignition button. We suggest you do as Frost did and take the road less traveled.

 

Bear’s Heart’s Warrior Society, 1875-1878, at The Old Jail Art Center, Albany, Texas (courtesy of The Arthur and Shifra Silberman Collection, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum)

ALBANY, TEXAS

From Dallas: 2 hours, 30 minutes

From Austin: 3 hours, 30 minutes

From Houston: 5 hours, 30 minutes

The Old Jail Art Center

Albany is likely the smallest city on our list, but it’s nonetheless home to an arts organization with an impressive roster of past exhibitions. It was indeed the first permanent jail built in Shackelford County, which opened in 1878 and was abandoned in 1929 for a new jail around the corner. The Old Jail Art Center, an art-world insider destination, debuted as a shrine for culture in 1980. On view is “Cheyenne Ledger Drawings: Stories of Warrior Artists” (through August 26), with works by Cheyenne artists who were part of the forced assimilation project (which included 72 prisoners of war — Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, Caddo, and Arapaho warriors) following the Red River War in 1875. It’s a poignant narrative from a dark chapter
of American history that must be brought forward.

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The 52 deeply personal works depicting these Native Americans’ lives before and after captivity were drawn with colored pencils on Army ledger paper.

 

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Haroon Mirza’s stone circle, 2018, at Ballroom Marfa (photo by Rowdy Lee Dugan)

MARFA, TEXAS

From Dallas: 7 hours, 30 minutes

From Austin: 6 hours, 30 minutes

From Houston: 8 hours, 30 minutes

The Chinati Foundation, Judd Foundation, Ballroom Marfa

Donald Judd (1928 – 1994)  remains one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. The remote Trans-Pecos outpost of Marfa sprawls across a decommissioned 1919-1920 army base, which Judd transformed into the world’s most improbable, yet ultimate art town. As such, Marfa and its two Judd-focused foundations continue to lure collectors, curators, writers, and cultural cognoscenti.

At The Chinati Foundation, founded 1987, Judd’s own rigorous works join commissions by other artists dedicated to mirroring his staunch minimalist aesthetic, with installations by Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Roni Horn, Ilya Kabakov, Richard Long, Robert Irwin, and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen deployed in buildings and grounds of the former Fort D.A. Russell.

The Judd Foundation, founded in 1994, preserves his former architecture and art studios, which occupy downtown buildings, a princely surfeit of space in an exquisitely beautiful and isolated pilgrimage site. Judd’s residence, La Mansana de Chinati/The Block, is an adobe wall-enclosed city block consisting of living space, a quartermaster’s office, hangars displaying work, his 13,000-volume library, and an expansive courtyard.chinati.org, juddfoundation.org.

Another reason to voyage to West Texas is Ballroom Marfa, the nonprofit that commissioned Elmgreen + Dragset’s 2005 Prada Marfa. Visit Ballroom Marfa’s mystical installment of a more recent public art piece, 2018’s stone circle by Haroon Mirza.

Our top two spots in Marfa and environs for acquisitions and discoveries are Garza Marfa and the recently inaugurated Webb’s Fair & Square (worth the 21-mile drive to Fort Davis). Garza Marfa husband-and-wife design team Jamey Garza and Constance Holt-Garza relocated to Marfa from the California coast, crossbreeding the effortlessness of the West Coast with the materials and simplicity of the Trans-Pecos desert. They offer fresh takes on Bauhaus furnishings, carefully sourced textiles and ceramics, and Khadi desert blankets hand-dyed and woven to Garza Marfa designs.

Webb’s Fair & Square reflects the outsider-art and enchantingly odd vision of Julie and Bruce Lee Webb of Webb Gallery of Waxahachie renown. The Webbs’ latest endeavor adds a Fort Davis storefront housed in a 1906 Masonic lodge with a trove of the couple’s collection of Masonic artifacts.

 

Photo courtesy of Price Tower Arts Center
The Inn at Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma (photo by Martha Ambler, courtesy of Price Tower)

BARTLESVILLE, OKLAHOMA

From Dallas: 5 hours

From Austin: 7 hours, 30 minutes

From Houston: 8 hours

Price Tower

An hour north of Tulsa and looming tall in the middle of an Oklahoma prairie sits the 221-foot Price Tower, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956. Wright nicknamed the building “The Tree that Escaped the Crowded Forest” since it was not built in Manhattan as originally planned but instead in Bartlesville, Oklahoma’s first oil boomtown. Price Tower is the architectural visionary’s only fully realized skyscraper with interiors he designed, including furniture, fabrics, fixtures, and murals. Go for the architectural masterpiece but don’t miss the art gallery and inn (the restaurant is temporarily closed for remodeling), making this reinforced concrete-and-copper building a must for acolytes of architecture. Book ahead for a special tour of the handsomely restored top three floors, including the 19th-floor suite of H.C. Price, the pipeline czar who commissioned Wright to build the tower. (Wright also designed H.C.’s son Harold Jr.’s home, Hillside.)

On view at the Price Tower Gallery is “The Rogue Lens” by local newspaper photog Andy Dossett, featuring evocative photographs capturing the “flow” in the creative process among eight artists of different disciplines including a baker, glassblower, and florist (through August 6).

Woolaroc

Don’t forget Woolaroc. Bartlesville’s history is intrinsically linked with Frank Phillips, legendary oilman and founder of Phillips Petroleum. Take in his 1925-era ranch retreat, Woolaroc, in the Osage Hills outside of town, now a museum and 3,700-acre wildlife preserve. (The estate’s name is taken from the woods, lakes, and rocks that comprise the natural beauty of this part of Oklahoma.) The museum features a trove of the greatest hits of historic Western art including Remington, Russell, and Moran, as well as contemporary talents, eccentricities and artifacts, Native American artworks, antique Colt firearms, and more. This collection reflects its founder’s unique vision, including his friendship with the Osage tribe.

 

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Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Bentonville, Arkansas (photo by Stephen Ironside)

BENTONVILLE, ARKANSAS

From Dallas: 5 hours, 30 minutes

From Austin: 8 hours, 30 minutes

From Houston: 9 hours

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Since its opening in November 2011, the museum that Walmart scion Alice Walton built has welcomed more than five million visitors. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, its expansive grounds are capped by a 120-acre sculpture garden (pack sneakers for a hike), a glorious testament to what a sizable Walmart inheritance can achieve. Safdie, known for his mod Habitat 67 in Montreal, has created an architectural tour de force, comparable to Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao, albeit a building forged from wood that pays homage to its stunning natural setting. Crystal Bridges’ architecture alone calls for a trip; then there’s the museum’s permanent collection — a veritable history lesson spanning centuries of American art. The temporary exhibitions are lagniappe, as is a visit to the museum’s sister annex, The Momentary.

The Momentary

Crystal Bridges’ sister property is an industrial and edgy space in a former cheesemaking plant that is all about the now. At CB, don’t miss the new permanent Infinity Mirrored Room by Yayoi Kusama; blockbuster “Diego Rivera’s America” (through July 31); and, in time for the Fourth, “Flagged for Discussion” (through September 25). At The Momentary, check out the confectionary canvases of Chicago artist Yvette Mayorga (through October 15), and Firelei Báez’s immersive and vast sculptural time-travel installation (through September 24).

The Walmart Museum Heritage Lab

See how it all began. For fans of Americana, visit The Walmart Museum Heritage Lab to delve into the history of the behemoth that arose from modest dime-store beginnings to forever alter retail around the world. Rest and recharge after your art trek at the 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville.

 

Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, Little Rock, Arkansas (photo by Tim Hursley)

LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS

From Dallas: 4 hours, 30 minutes

From Austin: 7 hours, 30 minutes

From Houston: 7 hours

Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts

One of America’s newest museum expansions, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts’ eagerly watched addition ups the art game for the state’s capital. The architect — Chicago-based Studio Gang, directed by principal Jeanne Gang — is everywhere in the news this year for the extraordinary Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation at Manhattan’s century-old American Museum of Natural History. While Studio Gang’s new museum in Arkansas lacks the earth-centric drama of the Gilder, it makes up for it in a sculptural, light-filled structure that appears to levitate.

Like the Gilder, an innovative use of concrete comes into play. The roofline appears to billow, while the expansive glass façade, supported by V-shaped concrete pillars, introduces geometric notes that harken back to temples of modernism. For art seekers, the inaugural exhibition, “Together,” meditates on family, community, and connections to nature, with works from Little Rock artists as well as those with a global imprint, such as Anila Quayyum Agha and Jim Hodges, as well as Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ stack of paper prints (which visitors may take), photog Julie Blackmon, and the Pop Art Nun, aka Corita Kent (through September 10).

William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Consider our 42nd President. With its dramatic view of the Arkansas River, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum boasts an insider view of American history culling documents, ephemera, and recreations of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room. Wrap your visit with lunch, weekend brunch, or dinner at the on-site farm-to-market 42 Bar and Table, with al fresco seating looking out upon the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge.

 

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Eduardo Sarabia’s Green Vines, 2022, at Oklahoma Contemporary (photo by Alex Marks)

OKLAHOMA CITY

From Dallas: 3 hours, 30 minutes

From Austin: 5 hours, 30 minutes

From Houston: 6 hours, 30 minutes

OKCMOA

Begin in OKC with the Arts District’s prime institution, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. OKCMOA’s dazzling Donald W. Reynolds Visual Arts Center, unveiled in 2002, boasts a collection encompassing American, European, post-war and contemporary, photography, prints and drawings, decorative arts, and design. Up now is a traveling blockbuster organized by LACMA, “True Nature: Rodin and the Age of Impressionism,” culling 100 sculptures, paintings, prints, and photographs (through October 22). After basking in Rodin, check out the museum’s design exhibition, “Chihuly Then and Now: The Collection at Twenty,” spanning the glass maestro’s five decades of innovation (through June 2024).

Oklahoma Contemporary

An art crawl through Oklahoma wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Oklahoma Contemporary, situated on a 4.6-acre campus in the heart of Oklahoma City. The stunning building, designed by architect Rand Elliott, is devoted to the celebration of living artists. “Patterns of Knowing,” currently on view, explores how patterns from Indigenous cultures are embraced and reinterpreted, with works by three Native American artists, Benjamin Harjo Jr., Jeri Redcorn, and Jordan Ann Craig (through October 23).

Catch a dynamic mural informed by Mesoamerican iconography, “Eduardo Sarabia: Green Vines,” with L.A./Guadalajara/Berlin-based Sarabia in collaboration with OKC street talent TANK (through August 2024).

Frida Southwest

For sustenance. OKC insiders head to the chef-driven and hip Frida Southwest, with toque Quinn Carroll in the kitchen. End your journey by checking into the 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City.

 

Woody Guthrie Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Woody Guthrie Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma (Courtesy Woody Guthrie Center)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA

From Dallas: 4 hours

From Austin: 7 hours

From Houston: 7 hours, 30 minutes

The Bob Dylan Center and Woody Guthrie Center

Once a bustling oil boomtown set against the backdrop of the rolling Osage Hills, Tulsa is amidst a cultural efflorescence, one that attracts national and international devotees of two of the 20th century’s iconic balladeers. That would be Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, thanks to each singer’s eponymous museum. (Curiously, the first song Dylan ever wrote was “A Song for Woody Guthrie.”)

A cultural gem designed by Olson Kundig and located on Tulsa’s Guthrie Green, the Bob Dylan Center offers a treasure trove of its namesake’s extensive archives and music. This enigmatic Midwestern poet with a guitar won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. Down the street sits the Woody Guthrie Center, home to comprehensive archives of Oklahoma’s legendary Dust Bowl storyteller. This collection is comprised of more than 100 notebooks of correspondence from this American activist, who spoke up for those who have no voice. Also at the Guthrie, catch the groovy exhibit “Love Saves the Day: The Subterranean History of American Disco” (through October 8).

Greenwood Rising

Paying tribute to victims and survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Greenwood Rising was recently unveiled to explore Black history and the resilience of Tulsa’s Greenwood community. The massacre was one of the most horrific incidents of racial violence in American history, leaving a haunting, brutal mark on the town.

On Memorial Day weekend in 1921, a white mob destroyed one of the wealthiest Black communities in the U.S., known as Black Wall Street, in a racist rampage that killed hundreds of people. The massacre was shrouded in silence for decades. This museum now stands as a testament to hope and racial reconciliation, as well as a reminder of the vibrant, wealthy community that existed before the race massacre.

Philbrook Museum of Art

Then there’s the fabulous Philbrook Museum of Art. Tucked amid 25 acres of verdant gardens rests Philbrook’s Italian Renaissance villa, once the storied home of Waite and Genevieve Phillips, converted in 1939 into a world-class museum. This 72-room mansion features more than 16,000 objects with a focus on American, Native American, and European art. This summer, Philbrook opens “Wyeth: Textured Visions of Nature,” tracing the influence of the rural Northeast, its flora and fauna, on three Wyeth generations: N. C. Wyeth (1882–1945), son Andrew (1917–2009), and grandson Jamie (born 1946) (through June 9, 2024).

Also recommended… In a town renowned for its Deco edifices is Decopolis, Tulsa’s Art Deco museum, and Flagship, the Boston Avenue downtown exhibition space for the acclaimed Tulsa Artist Fellowship program.

William Eggleston’s “Memphis (Woman with an Ankle Bracelet),” 1971, at Ogden Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana (Courtesy Roger Houston Ogden Collection)

NEW ORLEANS

From Dallas: 7 hours, 30 minutes

From Austin: 8 hours

From Houston: 6 hours

New Orleans Museum of Art 

The Crescent City makes the ideal road-trip destination — a mythic metropolis defined by its enticing gilded griot of multiculturalism, where the perfume of the past is reinvigorated by fresh, creative energy. We recommend three not-to-be-missed museums, as well as some must-shop stops. Begin at City Park’s New Orleans Museum of Art. This old-school encyclopedic museum, founded 1911, is housed in a grand Beaux Arts structure. Take in the acclaimed 12-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, with 90 modern and contemporary masterworks surrounded by live oaks and lagoons. Get your dose of fashion with a heralded traveling exhibition organized by Crystal Bridges, if you didn’t catch it in Bentonville: “Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour” (July 21 – November 26). More than a century is surveyed, with a focus on Indigenous, Black, immigrant, and women designers who often are forgotten in the male-dominated fashion biz. From high-heeled, beaded sneakers to an opulent mid-19th-century ballgown by New Orleans’ Madame Olympe Boisse and a rhinestone Nudie suit, there’s social history sewn into all these garments. noma.org.

Ogden Museum of Southern Art

At the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, art of the American South, from the historic to cutting-edge contemporary, is celebrated. Housed in a Henry Hobson Richardson edifice from 1889 married to a dramatic contemporary soaring glass-and-stone building, the Ogden marks its 20th anniversary with “Knowing Who We Are: The Rise of Abstraction, Vernacular Art and Photography,” a group show that summarizes important moments in art of the new South. Sam Gilliam, William Eggleston, William Christenberry, Clementine Hunter, and Reverend Howard Finster are among the talents showcased in this sweeping survey (through March 3, 2024).

Minutes from the Ogden, The National WWII Museum’s five pavilions and 250,000 artifacts convey the epic war that changed the world. 

Acquire: Recommended retail includes Arthur Roger Gallery, the most important of the Julia Street dealers, with an acclaimed stable including Texas greats David Bates and Joe Havel; Crescent City Books, for New Orleans literature, historical volumes, books and prints from the last 500 years; Faulkner House Books, a haven for literature by and about William Faulkner, known for rare, signed, and out-of-print editions;  Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, with its avant-garde, activist roster; Leontine Linens, founded 1996 by Jane Scott Hodges as a haven for handcrafted linens melding tradition, beauty, and modernity; M.S. Rau, a century-old treasure house of rare and exemplary fine art, antiques, and jewelry; and New Orleans Auction Galleries, an important auction house with a quarter century of record-setting sales of significant estates, housed in a historic building in the Arts District

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