Arts / Museums

MFAH’s Blockbuster Season — the Spectacular New Houston Art Exhibitions You Need to See

From a Haunting Art Pioneer to Powerful Photos to The Obamas

BY // 02.23.22

Dare to create mind-bending, hypnotic art that’s imbued with a mathematical playfulness — and it might just show up in an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Case in point? The most comprehensive collection of 400 works of M.C. Escher will soon be on view in full bloom at MFAH. And that’s just one of a quartet of blockbuster spring exhibitions.

Four imaginative exhibitions will usher in a luminous new spring at MFAH, featuring the works of M.C. Escher, Dawoud Bey, Shahzia Sikander, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald. This series of exhibitions embraces the expansion of ethereal ideas that shape the evolution of an artist, but it is not a theme. Instead, it’s more or less a happy coincidence, according to Museum of Fine Arts, Houston director Gary Tinterow.

“All of these exhibits come together for different reasons at the same time,” Tinterow tells PaperCity. “Escher’s exhibition will really show his evolution as an artist. How he thinks. How he conceives works of art. How he works out his visual and mental puzzles. And how he fabricates these actual physical works of art.”

MFAH Spring Exhibition 2022
In the haunting lithograph, Relativity, Escher presented a tridimensional optical illusion where faceless people are venturing up and down staircases, seemingly defying the laws of gravity.

The unprecedented exhibition of 400 Escher prints, watercolors, drawings, printed fabrics and constructed objects is the most comprehensive collection ever of his work. The Escher exhibition was made possible by the extraordinary collection of Michael S. Sachs who gathered Escher’s works for more than 50 years. Cerebral, mind-expanding Escher works such as Drawing Hands, Eye, Relativity, and Metamorphosis II have a haunting sensibility. These images stay with you.

“I just think people will be inspired by this exhibition,” MFAH curator Dena M. Woodall says. “I think it’ll take them out of the everyday and that’s what we hope to do. Whether it’s connecting them to an Italian landscape or to the mastery of printmaking.”

Virtual Realties: The Art of M.C. Escher

March 13 through September 5

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When Escher was a child, his father noted that his introspective son would retreat to his inner world and calm himself by “drawing and making a linocut of a sunflower.” Celebrated by psychedelic creatives, Escher’s world of “inner visions” and labyrinth realms resonated deeply with the counterculture.

In Escher’s woodcut, Bond of Union, 1956, two spirals converge in a futuristic realm, depicting a bond of souls through the representation of a woman and man’s head floating amid a sea of spheres.

“I think M.C. Escher is an artist who transcends art movements and boundaries but also has a wide generational appeal,” Tinterow says. “Those who were born in the digital era will find his art compelling. Then aficionados of printmaking in old master European art will find much to love in Escher. Not to mention fans of surrealism in Houston.”

Offering a rare visual feast of the labyrinthe realms of Escher, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston  has been the only museum selected to host the M.C. Escher exhibition at present. Organized by the MFAH, the show was curated by Dena M. Woodall, Ph.D., the museum’s curator of Prints & Drawings.

Escher’s “Hand with Reflecting Sphere” is one of his most famous lithographs, depicting a hand holding a reflective sphere where the artist and his surroundings are on full view.

Tinterow notes that there are many similarities between Escher and Vincent van Gogh’s singular and uncompromising approach to artistic inventiveness.

“I think there are parallels with Van Gogh,” he says. “Not in Van Gogh’s struggles, but more in the obdurate quest, a stubborn quest to pursue his own independent path. This reminds me of Vincent.”

Dawoud Bey: An American Project

March 6 through May 30

MFAH Spring Exhibition 2022
Dawoud Bey’s poignant images of African-Americans delicately convey a tenderness, strength and vulnerability, as seen in “A Girl with a Knife Nosepin.”

Houston marks the final stop on the traveling tour of influential photographer the “Dawoud Bey: An American Project” exhibition. Featuring an evocative retrospective of  Bey’s  career, the show was co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The show made its New York debut at the Whitney Museum of American Art before traveling to Houston.

From the moment his godmother gave him a camera at age 15, Dawoud Bey’s vision to create profound portraits of strength was ignited. When he first saw New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 1969 exhibition “Harlem on My Mind,” the visceral images made an indelible impression upon him. His nuanced, poignant images of African-Americans delicately convey a tenderness and vulnerability within his subjects. It’s unspoken, but palpable through Bey’s artistic eye.

MFAH Spring Exhibition 2022
Dawoud Bey’s artistic eye captured this image, “Three Women at a Parade, Harlem.”

This Bey exhibition features 90 significant works that span his career, from the 1970s to the present. Bey’s work stretches from early street portraits in Harlem to his recent historical explorations of the Underground Railroad.

“I think he’s a marvelous humanist, a fantastic practitioner of portraiture,” Tinterow says. “But it’s his empathy and sympathy with his subjects that make his photographs so rich and fulfilling.”

MFAH Spring Exhibition 2022
Photographer Dawoud Bey’s evocative retrospective begins March 6 at MFAH. This image is entitled, “A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY”

The MFAH curator of the “Dawoud Bey: An American Project” exhibition is Malcolm Daniel, the Gus and Lyndall Wortham curator of photography.

Shahzia Sikander: Extraordinary Realities

March 20 through June 5

MFAH Spring Exhibition 2022
Shazia Sikander’s intricate manuscript painting will be on view at MFAH, beginning March 20. This painting is entitled, “Eye-I-ing Those Armorial Bearings”

Pakistani-American artist Shahzia Sikander unveils the exquisitely detailed art of manuscript painting from South and Central Asia in the final stop of this traveling exhibition. Organized by The Rhode Island School of Design Museum, the exhibition showcases 60 works, exploring the first 15 years of Sikander’s journey as an artist.

“Sikander is a modern practitioner of the manuscript painting tradition,” Tinterow says. “She brings contemporary questions and issues in society to the forefront by using these delightful and intriguing stylistic traits of Mughal painting in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.”

Groundbreaking and inventive, Sikander’s work is internationally celebrated for weaving manuscript painting traditions into a deeper narrative with contemporary art. Sikander’s early explorations as an artist were nurtured while she was a Core Fellow at the MFAH Glassell School of Art from 1995 to 1997.

MFAH Spring Exhibition 2022
Delving into Indo-Persian miniature painting, Sikander then expanded her practice into drawing, animation, installations, video, and film. This piece is entitled, Uprooted Order, Series 3, No. 1.

“We love it that she was a Core Fellow, and there were some Houston collectors who got to know her when she was here in Houston, “ Tinterow says.

“Extraordinary Realities” is curated by Dena M. Woodall, curator of prints & drawings, MFAH.

The Obama Portraits Tour: Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald

April 3 through May 30

MFAH Spring Exhibition 2022
Presidential Discernment: Portrait of President Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley

Heralded as the quintessential show of spring, this MFAH exhibition offers a fresh glimpse at the iconic portraits of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald were the first African-American artists selected to do the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.’s official portraits of a president or first lady.

“What is distinctive about these portraits is that they are firmly rooted in our time,” Tinterow says. “They’re not trying to be an 18th or 19th century portrait. At the same time, they are resonant. These portraits are able to capture Barack’s and Michelle’s dignity and accomplishment.”

Wiley’s portrait captures President Obama’s discernment, wisdom and strength, holding the viewer’s attention with his direct gaze. Painter Amy Sherald depicts First Lady Michelle Obama in a realm of grace and elegance, against a light blue background.

MFAH Spring Exhibition 2022
Set against a light blue background, First Lady Michelle Obama is depicted in a realm of elegance by emerging painter Amy Sherald.

Both Sherald and Wiley were selected for their painterly style. Sherald is an emerging talent whose works are no stranger to the Smithsonian. Celebrated for his photo-realistic style and distinctive portraiture, Wiley captures the sublime beauty and strength of his subjects on large-scale canvases.

Houston is the final stop on the traveling tour which has been organized by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The Obama Portraits exhibition is curated by Dr. Anita Bateman, associate curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

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