Arts / Galleries

Game Changing Houston Gallery Relaunches in River Oaks: Why Nancy Littlejohn’s New Space is Guaranteed to Make Major Art Noise

BY // 11.12.18

A game-changing gallery that was part of the downtown revival in the late 1990s and early 2000s is relaunching in River Oaks. Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art has been on hiatus for more than a decade and is now set to reopen in a prime spot at 3465 B West Alabama, around the block from Found.

The inaugural exhibition, set for Saturday, January 19, presents a solo for Houston painter Paul Kremer (who has his own buzz going with recent shows in San Francisco, Detroit, Brussels, Marfa, and Los Angeles).

The gallery’s 5,000-square-foot space has a modernist vibe, and its proximity to the River Oaks art collecting crowd promises to make it a player in the Houston gallery

Littlejohn has tapped Emily Griffith, formerly of Lynn Goode Vintage, as gallery director. Her art chops include a stint at Manhattan dealer Marian Goodman Gallery.

Who’s In the Stable

Littlejohn shared her roster with PaperCity: Besides Mark Flood bestie Kremer, it includes well known, and well collected, talents like Wimberley-based McKay Otto, University of Texas at Austin professor Margo Sawyer, and Sara Carter of the commanding Color Field canvases, who has just returned to Texas after a stint in the Bay Area.

San Antonio graphics-master, artist Cruz Ortiz, who had his museum debut at CAMH in 2010, is also a coup for Littlejohn’s lineup.

Introducing Pêche

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Cruz Ortiz’s “This Charming Hombre,” 2018, coming to Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, opening Friday, April 5, 2019.

National painters in the NLFA stable include L.A.-based abstractionist Chris Trueman, Paul Weiner of the brutalist black-and-white canvases that reference current events, and Old Master/modern master-inspired painter Todd Stilson.

High on the list is Kysa Johnson, currently in Los Angeles, who is known for her lyrical work that conjures the subatomic world.

“The gallery will also present curated exhibitions of historic works by Color Field artists such as Kenneth Noland, Milton Resnick, Friedel Dzubas, and Jules Olitski,” Littlejohn says.

The gallerist shared her story: “I started in the art business 30 years ago in Santa Fe. I moved there to become the director of a gallery while I was still in college. I went to The Santa Fe University of Art and Design. When I moved back to Houston, my hometown, I got my degree in Art History from the University of St. Thomas. The art department at the University of St. Thomas was founded by Dominique de Menil, who has since become a larger than life influence in my career. I worked for several galleries in Houston before opening my own art consulting business and eventually the gallery, Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art.

“I had the most cutting-edge gallery in Texas during the late ’90s and gave many well established artists today their first solo shows. I had, successively, two very experimental spaces in warehouses downtown and offered young artists free reign.”

Flash Back to the 1990s

This writer remembers some of those days — including 1990s-era Core Fellow Brad Tucker at Littlejohn’s first space, the Wagon Works building on Crawford, followed by additional Core Fellows from that decade, Mailena Braun and Todd Brandt, both at Vine Street.

I still have my little plastic creamer filled with pigment from Brandt’s show back in the day, although during a move the chunk of wall from Braun’s installation got tossed away. Twenty years later, I can still recall “TV Sea,” where Braun transformed NLFA at Vine Street Studios into an installation where large, silvery tarps evoked the gigantic boulders of a seacoast. Television screens lined the floor, transmitting white sound that mimicked crashing waves.

The Early Years of NLFA

Littlejohn notes personal high points from her past programming, which foretells that gallery goers to her new space will be in for fare that is high-octane and socially conscious.

“I gave the photographer Jack Thompson, his first solo show, “10 Seconds,” referring to a statistic that someone is a victim of domestic violence every 10 seconds,” she says. “It was a benefit for the ESCAPE Family Resource Center and we had the Romeo Dogs, a Rockabilly band playing, and served beer and champagne out of metal tubs! We must have had 400 people in the gallery that night and it was a small space! At the time, I had no idea this kind of response wasn’t normal. I was just doing my thing.

“Dawn Laurel Jones, a one-person photography show, featured images from a recent trip to Morocco. The wife of the actor Tommy Lee Jones, her works definitely were another high point.”

Littlejohn however, is perhaps most proud of her gallery work as an AIDS activist. She singles out her AREA show, Artists Reaching for an End to AIDS as a highlight.

“It was a benefit for the AIDS Foundation Houston,” she notes. “I curated a multidisciplinary show and brought in artists works from all over the country. I remember walking into Baldwin Gallery in Aspen and asking Harley Baldwin if he would donate a piece of art for the auction. He said, ‘Absolutely,’ and called Jennifer Bartlett right then. She sent me a beautiful work on paper!

“So many incredible artists contributed to that evening and nothing like it had ever been done in Houston. We had The Illuminators gospel choir from True Light Missionary Baptist Church in the Heights sing a song called Joy and the Reverend John William Bowie giving a sermon on his God being a tolerant God. Spoken word and slam poetry were also a part of the event, organized by Liz Belile. John Axelrod, founder of Orchestra X, conducted an amazing dinner cabaret written about AIDS. The night was an absolute tour de force!”

Littlejohn continues reminiscing, “I curated a Tattoo Show with works created by gallery and visiting artists, did many conceptual shows, and performance pieces.”

“At one point my husband, Erik said, ‘Is anything in this place ever for sale?!’ I could write a book!”

What’s Next

Now Littlejohn will be starting a new chapter — or curating a new volume — when she reopens come January.

Here’s the gallery’s confirmed spring 2019 lineup of opening nights:

Paul Kremer, Saturday, January 19

McKay Otto, Friday, March 1

Cruz Ortiz, Friday, April 5

Margo Sawyer, Friday, May 17

Gallery updates coming soon here.

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