Arts / Museums

Houston’s Most Daring Museum Transforms Into a Basketball Court With the Final Four Almost Here — Your First Look at CAMH COURT

Celebrated Texas Artist Trenton Doyle Hancock Makes Play Creative — Here's How You Can Get on the Court For Free

BY // 03.20.23

The most innovative museum in Texas is. . . well, that would be the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Case in point: Timed to Houston hosting the Final Four, Saturday, April 1 through Monday, April 3 at NRG Stadium, the CAMH is rolling out CAMH COURT, the most novel exhibition on record since this writer has been covering the art scene.

The only thing that might remotely equal this sports-centric debut would be Robert Rauschenberg’s mud bath, Mud Muse, 1968-1971, exhibited at the CAMH in 1998 as part of the artist’s tri-museum retrospective staged in Houston, co-organized by The Menil Collection and the Guggenheim.

For the grand basketball spectacle, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is being transformed into a basketball court. One with an artistic spin thanks to the vision of internationally exhibited Houston-based artist Trenton Doyle Hancock.

An Art League Houston Texas Artist of the Year (2017), Hancock has a long history with the CAMH, beginning more than 20 years ago. The artist’s appearances and solo/group exhibitions encompass “Trenton Doyle Hancock: The Life and Death of #1” (2001); the group show “Splat, Boom Pow! The Influence of Comics in Contemporary Art” (2003); and his acclaimed retrospective “Trenton Doyle Hancock: Skin and Bones, 20 Years of Drawing” (2014), curated by then senior CAMH curator Valerie Cassel Oliver, one of Hancock’s longstanding champions. (Cassel Oliver is now the Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and curator of the acclaimed recently touring exhibition “The Dirty South.”)

Hancock’s “Skin and Bones” traveled to three other United States venues and got singled out by influential art critic Karen Wilkin as one of 2014’s exhibitions of the year in The Wall Street Journal.

Beyond the CAMH, Hancock is one of the rare Texas artists that we can think of who has also shown at the MFAH (his Core Fellow exhibitions in 2001, 2002) and The Menil Collection (2019), aa well as being anointed by Art League Houston as Texas Artist of the Year (2017). All of this in addition to two unprecedented turns at the Whitney Biennial (2000, 2002) as one of the youngest artists to make this prestigious national survey.

Trenton Doyle Hancock & JooYoung Choi make the scene at a past CAMH Gala
Trenton Doyle Hancock & JooYoung Choi make the scene at a past CAMH Gala

Additionally, Hanock has a long and extensive history with PaperCity Magazine — our first article that mentions him dates back to a February 2002 Art Notes column. PaperCity later photographed Hancock for features in May 2013, November 2014 and May 2019.

This writer most recently visited the studio of Hancock in January 2019, weeks prior to his epic takeover of MASS MoCA, which you can read about here.

Internationally exhibited Trenton Doyle Hancock is the Texas talent whose tapestry will grace the new MFAH Kinder, where it will receive top wall treatment in the restaurant. (Photo by Kaelan Burkett, courtesy MASS MoCA)
Internationally exhibited Trenton Doyle Hancock who creates CAMH Court, shown at his 2019 MASS MoCA installation (Photo by Kaelan Burkett, courtesy MASS MoCA)

So much of this, over the course of 20 years, has become personal too, a friendship forged with a talent whose been a constant presence on the Texas art scene, and a regular often at gatherings that Houston’s art prince, aka Lester Marks — one of Hancock’s greatest patrons — has hosted throughout the past two decades.

Host Lester Marks, Catherine D. Anspon, Trenton Doyle Hancock (Photo by Johnny Than)
Host Lester Marks, Catherine D. Anspon, honoree Trenton Doyle Hancock at Community Artists Collective “Celebrating the Art of Collecting” (Photo by Johnny Than)

And like few of those who really make it in the art world, Hancock — raised in Paris, Texas,  who received his BFA far from the echelons of museum and media power at Texas A&M University, Commerce — has remained loyal to his small-town roots. This is a humble, unique artist who loves to draw and has brought forth an entire cartoon-fueled cosmology that also addresses issues of race in America.

Back in 2014, my late father, plastics pioneer Dr. Harry D. Anspon, and I had a visit to the house and toy museum Hancock shares with his wife, artist JooYoung Choi, topped off by a dinner at a Korean barbecue spot the couple favors. (Hancock and Choi were eager to meet my dad, since their floor-to-ceiling collection is comprised of action figures, most in the plastic material that my father holds patents for).

So for all these reasons, when a call came in about Hancock and CAMH COURT and a real basketball court being created for a museum, PaperCity was one of the first on the scene.

A Preview Peek at CAMH Court

CAMH’s press release points out that there are precedents in art history as related to art and sports: “CAMH COURT builds upon the deep history of artist-designed sporting environments — Robert Indiana’s MECCA Arena floor in Milwaukee (1977), Simparch’s free basin skate bowl (2000), the famed Pigalle court in Paris (2017) and most recently, Project Backboard’s revitalized community courts.”

But CAMH COURT falls into its own category. Featuring the same dimensions as a real NBA or NCAA basketball court — but canted to align with the museum’s parallelogram configuration — make this the first ever instance where museum goers will be able to shoot hoops and play an authentic game of basketball.

CAMH communications and marketing manager Michael Robinson met us at the museum entrance. We immediately asked how the unorthodox idea was hatched.

“Registrar Tim Barkley actually conceived of this idea in 1994. . . and he really took it across the finish line, really kept thinking about it when we did the Rockets poster project last year,” Robinson says. “And then when the Final Four was announced for Houston, it really started to get going.

“We were looking for the right artist, and Trenton was just the most obvious. As you can see, Trenton is always about play and creating these worlds that you can really get into. We’re thinking about what artist is going to create a space and also welcome players themselves being a part of the art and that is Trenton.”

Trenton Doyle Hancock's "Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass," at MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA; March 9–November 3, 2019. (Photo by Tony Luong. Image courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York)
Trenton Doyle Hancock’s “Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass,” at MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA; March 9–November 3, 2019. (Photo by Tony Luong. Image courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York)

Hancock and CAMH officials quickly connected on an idea. “He got so excited about bringing the (characters) the Bringbacks here,” Robinson tells PaperCity. “In their lore they are always about — you never know their intention — but they’re trying to bring back memories of childhood.

“So we’re going to have custom basketballs that people will play with that have these little bloodshot eyes that the Bringbacks have. And they are going to be for sale if anyone wants to buy a ball.”

The CAMH's entrance features a detail from Trenton Doyle Hancock's Bringback character. (Photo by CDA)
The CAMH’s entrance features a detail from Trenton Doyle Hancock’s Bringback character. (Photo by CDA)

Next, risk-taking museum director Hesse McGraw arrived, checking on the progress of the basketball court unfolding. McGraw, who serves as exhibition curator, was quick to reiterate that CAMH COURT represents a (pardon the pun) game changer. It’s the first time a museum has been turned into a basketball court.

McGraw reveals that the choice of the artist for CAMH COURT was not confirmed until January 26 of this year, via a text invitation. Then the exhibition came together in record time after adidas stepped up.

“The work is about play,” McGraw says. “Experimentation. You want people to be able to inhabit this world. This (exhibit) is really trying to figure out how do we merge basketball and art together and really have the basketball be given as much weight or more weight than, you know, just being in a museum.

“We’re not asking you to interpret it a certain way. We want you to be an active participant and actually play.

Behind the scenes readying for <em>CAMH COURT </em>(Photo by CDA)
Behind the scenes readying for CAMH COURT (Photo by CDA)

“It’s about, on the one hand, meeting audiences where they are, but on the other hand, really throwing the doors open and inviting people that may have never been to a museum before.”

McGraw notes that what amounts to a coup for CAMH was made possible by some unique museum partners.

As listed in the press release, “CAMH COURT is presented in collaboration with adidas basketball, and created in partnership with Creative Sports Concepts (the same folks that are responsible for producing the court for the Final Four at NRG Stadium. Additional partners and supporters include Grind Basketball, the Houston Rockets and Tradeblock.

After checking out the intensive process of constructing a regulati0n-size court atop a museum floor, with preparator/artist Iva Kinnaird meticulously touching up Hancock’s design, this reporter sat outside the CAMH for a moment to contemplate the artwork within before returning to file this story,

Museum preparator/Houston artist Iva Kinnaird wields a paintbrush for <em>CAMH Court </em>(Photo by CDA)
Museum preparator/Houston artist Iva Kinnaird wields a paintbrush for CAMH Court (Photo by CDA)

Around the corner comes McGraw again, who tells PaperCity: “I’m most excited about getting kids in who’ve never been to a museum, and seeing them play on CAMH Court.”

Trenton Doyle Hancock On CAMH Court

The story’s not complete without a word from the creator of CAMH Court. Reached via email, Trenton Doyle Hancock tells PaperCity about why this commission spoke to him.

CAMH COURT crosses the boundary of static experience and lands somewhere in the space of performance or social sculpture,” Hancock writes. “Being in a museum while forgetting that you’re actually IN a museum is a goal.”

On his interest in basketball, the artist emails: “The short answer is no (there’s not one). However, my 10-year-old niece is a terrific basketball player, and she inspired me to participate in the creation of CAMH COURT.”

On why he said, Yes,” Hancock notes: “I’d be a fool to say no, right? Also, I’ve been known to step on my artwork as part of the making process. CAMH COURT is no different. Hundreds of feet pounding my images will ultimately make the piece complete.”

A first with<em> CAMH Court</em>: a museum as basketball court.(Photo by CDA)
A first with CAMH Court: a museum as basketball court.(Photo by CDA)

Now, you can head on over to CAMH, and sign up for a game. It’s free with the court open on first come, first play basis. Players under 18 must have parent or guardian present. Rubber-soled shoes and signing a waiver is required. Those lacking sneakers will be given slipover show covers. You trade your ID to rent one of the distinctive basketballs to play with. A kids court is also available.

Scroll through the slideshow above this story for images from the CAMH Court exhibition, which opened on Saturday. (The photos are courtesy of collector Lester Marks.) CAMH Court will be open for play through Thursday, April 27. For more info and a schedule, go here.

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