Arts / Galleries

Civil Rights Lawyer Turned Houston Gallery Owner Takes on Coronavirus With an Art Show That Will Go On No Matter What

Randall Kallinen Covers Every Possible Contingency Plan, Including His Own Death

BY // 05.14.20

Coronavirus may have put the mainstream museum and gallery world on pause — at the moment, all major Texas museums remain shuttered, and a few galleries are open only by appointment  —  but one scrappy dealer is determined to make sure the virus does not get the best of his gallery.

The show must go on. And it will if gallerist Randall Kallinen of Houston’s Kallinen Contemporary Art Gallery has anything to do with it.

Fittingly, “The Show Must Go On” is the title of the open-call juried exhibition that the intrepid dealer plans to open mid-summer — one that enjoins artists to weigh in on their responses to COVID-19. Any and all media are welcome.

Randall Kallinen called this reporter up and detailed his plans, advising us to save this date: Saturday, July 11 from 7 to 10 pm, at his storefront gallery — which also doubles as a law office; more on that in a minute — at 511 Broadway Street in Houston’s East End.

Kallinen relayed to PaperCity via email his reasons for organizing this show and the response he hopes to generate: “The psychology of the epidemic is pervasive and deep. It brings about thoughts of one’s own existence.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. There is much hope, blame, fear, sadness, helplessness — the whole gamut of human emotions. The artists can and will use these emotions to produce works reflective of these times.

“Jurors [yet to be named] will choose 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. There is no fee to enter.”

Kallinen’s openings are notorious for being jam-packed free-for-alls. They’re exciting places to be and quite a scene — but maybe not ideal for safe social distancing.

But Kallinen has thought of that, as relayed in the advance release he shared with PaperCity: “Should the state of the nation be such that a gathering of an art show crowd is not warranted on July 11, 2020, the show shall be moved to the following 2nd Saturday of the month until the show does go on and the potential that shall apply: August 8, 2020, September 13, 2020, October 16, 2020, November 14, 2020, December 12, 2020, January 9, 2021, or until such time as the epidemic has abated.”

The gallerist also has an online Plan B, explained in his press release: “Furthermore, should the original July 11, 2020, date need to be rescheduled, there shall be a virtual online show posted July 11, 2020. That is, all the art produced will be displayed online on the original date and subsequent produced art on the next scheduled date, ad infinitum.”

To allay health concerns, Kallinen adds, “Hand sanitizer, tissue and hand washing will be available at the show. BYOFM (Bring Your Own Face Mask).”

Gallerist as Barrister

What if the dealer himself is stricken with the new coronavirus? Kallinen has prepared contingency plans in case of his demise, outlined in the official press release he provided in advance to PaperCity.

“Curator/producer Randall Kallinen has made arrangements that in the event of his death artist/curator John Paul Hartman will ensure the show will go on. In the event of John Paul Harmon’s demise, artist Solomon Kane will take up the reins. Both Hartman and Kane have been instructed that they shall name successors, should it be necessary in order that the show go on. Kallinen has made arrangements in his Last Will and Testament to this effect.”

If this all sounds very legal — how many art shows make it into a last will and testament? — it’s due to the gallerist’s day job.

Kallinen is one of Texas’ most respected civil rights attorneys — a legal eagle unafraid to take on city and county governments, and win substantial verdicts for his clients. His résume boasts impressive credentials: past president of the American Civil Liberties Union-Houston Chapter, and director of Civil Nation Project, a civil rights organization dedicated to stopping police and prison abuses throughout the United States.”

See Kallinen in action in the legal field here and at a happening at his gallery here.

As a dealer and artist (specializing in ab-ex paintings and Pop art-type sculpture), the Midwest-born protagonist is given to threads during openings you normally wouldn’t see in a courtroom, including paint-spattered suits, wild hair colors and outlandish headgear (down to donning a hat shaped like a sweet roll).

As such, he’s one of Houston’s most original and fearless art figures.

Jumper Maybach, Randall Kallinen at a fundraiser for Houston’s Fire Museum. The attorney/gallerist Kallinen definitely stands out in a crowd.
Jumper Maybach, Randall Kallinen at a fundraiser for Houston’s Fire Museum. The attorney/gallerist Kallinen definitely stands out in a crowd.

His themed shows can draw an A-list of jurors including Artnews Top Collector Lester Marks, PaperCity‘s Georgie Farrell, your truly, and, as evidence of his legal clout, DA Kim Ogg and legendary Texas trial attorney Dick DeGuerin.

The topics have been (ahem) rowdy, imaginative and attention getting, beginning with the gallery’s official launch on March 3o, 2012, with “Space Zombie Mayan Apocalyptic Human Sacrifice Uplift Mofo Party Plan Spring Break,” involving the catalytic Paul Horn joining forces with Solomon Kane and John Paul Hartman (the latter two, both participants in the upcoming “The Show Must Go On!”)

Other topics Kallinen has boldly taken on include the food world in “Cornucopia I and II” (2012 and 2019); the news media (2013); race (2013); addiction (2014); “Trump: The Art Show” (2017); and the world of beauty (2018).

Kallinen is also one of this writer’s faves for breaking down the highbrow art world and bringing back the underground energy and fun. Will this scribe be there for “The Show Must Go On!”? Do not doubt it.

Just in: Kallinen shared his list of participating artists to date, and it’s nearing 20, including emerging artists not known to this writer.

To submit images (no fee required), email Randall Kallinen at

To get exhibition updates, go here.

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