Arts / Galleries

Modernist Houston Art Gallery Celebrates a Milestone With Haunting Cuban Power

Nancy Littlejohn's Turned One

BY // 01.31.20
photography Chris P. Bachman

Polymath Enrique Martínez Celaya — a Cuban-born artist who’s also a poet, former scientist and provost professor at USC — came to town to make his Texas debut at Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art.

Opening night of Celaya’s show entitled “The Sword of The Road” also marked another auspicious occasion — serving as the first anniversary celebration of Nancy Littlejohn gallery’s new space in a restored modernist building along the West Alabama design corridor bordering River Oaks and Upper Kirby.

More than 100 art savvy guests turned out to take in Celaya’s canvases that depict flora, fauna, landscapes and portraits — often paired with talismanic sculptural objets.

The works on view, equal parts powerful, haunting and lyrical, were described in art historian/University of Houston professor of critical studies Raphael Rubinstein‘s critical essay, “In the Forest of Symbols” that accompanied the exhibition as “paintings [that] posit a universe governed by tutelary spirits and superstitions, a realm where the natural world is full of signs and symbols, where offerings must be made to appease the gods …”

Rubinstein was in attendance to congratulate the artist as were a flock of collectors, curators, museum directors and power players from across the state.

The evening wrapped with a chic dinner party at casa Littlejohn hosted by the gallerist and husband Erik Littlejohn. At the end of the evening, guitarist/vocalist J.B. Baladad gave an impromptu performance in honor of the occasion.

PC Seen: Gallerist and founder Nancy Littlejohn with colleagues Emily Griffith, Cody Fitzsimmons, and Mary Montenegro; Blaffer Art Museum director Steven Matijcio and curatorial fellow Tyler Blackwell; collectors Leigh and Reggie Smith (host of a private dinner the night before that brought in Mary Sabbatino of Galerie Lelong), William Hanhausen, Tatiana and Craig Massey, Lisa Sherrill, and Kimberly and Scott Bayley, acquiring the jewel-like watercolor The Remoteness of Promise; the University of Houston honchos Rebecca Gentry and Eloise Dunn Brice, with husband Steve Brice; The University of Texas System Chancellor James B. Milliken with wife Nana Smith, the couple Celaya collectors; and Blanton Museum of Art curator Carter E. Foster.

Also on the scene: Betty and Stephen Newton; NLFA artists including San Antonio activist Cruz Ortiz, New York-based Samuel Jablon, McKay Otto in from Wimberley, UT at Austin professor Margo Sawyer, William Anzalone of Round Top, and Houston talents Libbie Masterson and Kristen Cliburn; Angelica and Bo Vela, in from Corpus Christi; jewelry lady Liz Glanville; designer Paula Fyhr; Vallette Windham; independent curator Aaron Levi Garvey in from Florida; and the gallerist’s family including mother Evelyn Worthington and daughter Isabella Littlejohn, with beau Sam Smith.

“Enrique Martínez Celaya: The Sword or the Road,” at Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art runs through February 22; learn more here. 

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