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Arts / Galleries

New River Oaks Art Gallery’s “Reopening” Party Draws an Electric Crowd of Movers and Shakers

A Big Art Return Shakes Up the Houston Scene

BY // 01.25.19
photography Chris P. Bachman

Not every art exhibition coincides with the reopening of an avant-garde gallery, but that was the case when Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art re-entered the Texas art world after a hiatus of more than a decade.

While the original NLFA was at edgy downtown venue Vine Street Studios, this new iteration resides in River Oaks — in a historic modernist building at 3465 B W. Alabama, which rumor has it was designed by iconic Houston architects Morris Aubrey. (Founder, S.I. Morris, was among the partners in the firm that designed and built the Astrodome.)

Back to this big art night. For her grand debut, Littlejohn curated a Houston talent who is on the national and international circuit with recent exhibitions in Marfa, Brussels, and this past summer, at Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco.

That would be Paul Kremer, whose color-field abstractions have been praised by none other than UH professor/painting critic Raphael Rubinstein. Rubenstein’s famous and respected byline has informed coverage of the New York painting world for decades. Fittingly, Littlejohn tapped Rubinstein for the essay published in the catalogue that documents Kremer’s inaugural exhibition at the new gallery.

Clever details added to the cool vibe of this grand debut — Armados Taco Truck with its fine Tex-Mex fare, cocktails fueled by Snow Leopard Vodka, and a custom DJ play list  — turntable manned by DJ Nathan Looney — who pumped up Kremer’s personal Spotify list crafted for this show, featuring late ’70s/early ’80s punk and post-punk NYC selects.

The fourth element was supplied by the crowd — everyone, and we mean everyone was there. An influencer described the scene the following Monday as:

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“A perfect mix of the best of Houston … old and new guard, the stylish, the aspirational, art-lovers and artists, designers, fashion icons, socialites, tastemakers, philanthropists, influencers  — it was the party to be at.”

Artist and art dealer Dan Allison shouted in our ear mid-opening: “This is the most excitement we’ve had at an opening since the 1980s. Tonight reminds me of DuBose Gallery on Kirby Drive, Saturday night, back in the day.”

Painting the Social Canvas: The gallerist Nancy Littlejohn joined by husband Erik Littlejohn, daughter Isabella, mom Evelyn Worthington, and her team, gallery director Emily Griffith, assistant director Cody Fitzsimmons, and Bill Arning, former top man at the CAMH/now curator and artist liaison for special projects at NLFA; collector/patron types Mary CullenLeigh and Reggie Smith, Lester Marks, Tatiana and Craig Massey, Poppi Massey, Lisa Sherrill, in from Wimberley Keith Coffee, Ken Christie, and Shelley and Alex Kaplan (who can boast multiple canvases by Kremer in their collection); and museum folks including Houston Museum of African American Culture CEO John Guess Jr. and from the Menil senior curator Michelle White with colleagues Karen Sumner and Tommy Napier.

Also making the scene: A bevy of swell socials in black tie on their way to Winter Ball who stopped by to wish Littlejohn well including Cindi and Franklin Rose, Susie and Sanford Criner, and Duyen and Marc Nguyen; designers Brandon Fontenot and Catherine Giuffre; news lady Dominique Sachse; Jana Arnoldy; Steve WyattStacey and James Thompson; photographer Libbie Masterson with photo pals Bryn Larsen and Karen Chiao, West Alabama retail neighbors Found’s Ruth Davis, Retorra’s Ryan Reitmeyer, and Tribute Goods’ Karen Pulaski and Molly Jodeit; Glasstire founder Rainey Knudson; Jennifer GilliamRenée Lewis Cary; artist Christy Karll McWhorter and Hal McWhorter; art consultant Liz Anders and husband David Anders; Michael Mandola; Stuart Rosenberg; consultant Jana Cothren in from San Antonio; and a full representation of the gallery’s stable, artists Cruz Ortiz in from San Antonio, Austin-area based UT professor Margo Sawyer, Paul Weiner traveling from Denver, Chris Trueman and Kysa Johnson in from L.A., Houston painter Kristen Cliburn, and McKay Otto of Wimberley whose portal canvases headline the gallery’s next show, opening Saturday, March 2.

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