Arts / Museums

An Underrated Texas Art Gem — Rice University’s Moody Center Still Surprises With Arresting Exhibits, $30 Million Wonder Space

Always Free and Open to the Public, a Houston Staple Celebrates Five Years

BY // 03.27.22

Rice University’s Moody Center for the Arts is celebrating its five year anniversary this spring. Iconic installations defined the Moody Center’s inaugural years. Five years ago almost to the month, PaperCity first reported upon the $30-million think tank and installation space that we described as “a shining addition to Texas’ cultural landscape.”

That would be Rice University’s Moody Center for the Arts.

Moody Center Suzanne Deal Booth executive director Alison Weaver is the founding director of Rice’s innovative visual and performative think tank. Weaver also weighs in on the university’s public art program.
Moody Center Suzanne Deal Booth executive director Alison Weaver is the founding director of Rice’s innovative visual and performative think tank. Weaver also weighs in on the university’s public art program (Photo by Geoffrey Winningham)

Flash forward, and as a new decade advances, we consider some of the transformative exhibitions that the Moody staged — often paired with interdisciplinary, collaborative elements and happenings. Remarkably, thanks to the Moody, Rice has come full circle. The center has added vitality to the corner of the Rice campus that bears the de Menils’ footprint and back in the day, was the Art Barn, teaming with avant-garde activity.

Officially the Menil-founded Institute for the Arts, it captivated audiences by presenting shows like Andy Warhol’s “Raid the Icebox.” The metal-clad Art Barn was the forerunner to The Menil Collection.

The Moody, always free and open to the public and Rice’s student population, mirrors some of the Menil DNA, in the activist stance of its programming. Sited at the southern edge of the university, close to a leafy neighborhood bordering Rice Village (Stockton entrance, off University Boulevard), the Silver LEED-certified 50,000-square-foot structure was designed by Los Angeles-based architect Michael Maltzan (whose known for his elegant, sensitive projects that alleviate homelessness working with the Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles.).

The building appears to levitate. Its second-floor brick coursers nod to the architectural past of the university, hovering over the ground level’s floor-to-ceiling wall of glass. Three load-bearing stainless steel and glass lanterns evoke the abstracted oak trees that are the campus calling cards.

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Thomas Struth’s “Nature and Politics,” Spring 2017. (Photo by Nash Baker)
Thomas Struth’s “Nature and Politics,” Spring 2017. (Photo by Nash Baker)

It’s what happens inside that has made the Moody more than a work of architecture, but a place vital to Houston’s art ecosystem.

Two main gallery spaces along with an intimate gallery for viewing videos provide a mutable stage for presenting ambitious exhibitions — ones that vary between installation-oriented solos to group shows edged in prescience and provocation.

The curatorial honors have alternated among three brilliant women with art chops: Suzanne Deal Booth executive director Alison Weaver, curator Frauke Josenhans and associate curator Ylinka Barotto. Notwithstanding all of the above, the Moody, being on a university campus (yet easily accessible) is still not on every art acolyte’s radar.

But it deserves to be as you’ll see from all the notable art exhibitions it has put on.

Teamlab’s “Flowers and People Cannot be Controlled but Live Together – A Whole Year per Hour,” Spring 2017. (photo by Nash Baker)
Teamlab’s “Flowers and People Cannot be Controlled but Live Together – A Whole Year per Hour,” Spring 2017. (Photo by Nash Baker)

A Moody Top 10 — Unforgettable Exhibitions From The Center’s First 5 Years

“Thomas Struth: Nature & Politics,” Spring 2017

“Teamlab: Flowers & People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together – A Whole Year per Hour,” Spring 2017

“Mickalene Thomas: Waiting on A Prime-Time Star,” Fall 2017

“Josiah McElheny’s Island Universe,” Spring 2018

“Radical Revisionists: Contemporary African Artists Confronting Past and Present,” Spring 2020

“States of Mind: Art and American Democracy,” Fall 2020

“Artists and the Rothko Chapel: 50 Years of Inspiration,” Spring 2021

“Moody Project Wall: Gerardo Rosales,” Fall 2021

“Kapwani Kiwanga: The Sand Recalls the Moon’s Shadow,” Fall 2021

Now on view: “Soundwaves: Experiment Stategies in Art + Music,” showing through May 14.

For more on the Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University’s exhibition schedule, programming and special performances, click here.

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