Natilee Harren

  • Jason Moran, Before the Downbeat, 2021, pigment on gampi paper, 42 1/2  x 78".
    picks May 03, 2023

    Jason Moran and John Cage

    Uniting prints and drawings by experimental composer John Cage as well as jazz pianist (and Houston native) Jason Moran, this cross-generational exhibition from two musical innovators-cum-visual artists is mutually enlightening, if counterintuitive. Cage, an influential proponent of chance and indeterminacy, was notoriously hostile to improvisational practices (e.g., jazz) for their tendency to fall back on inherently clichéd and ego-driven expressionist patterns. Yet his turn to printmaking in the late 1970s—on the urging of Kathan Brown, the founder of San Francisco’s Crown Point Press—began

  • Iva Kinnaird, There’s More Folks! (Evil Porky), 2022, acrylic on cockroach and cardboard, 4 × 4 × 3⁄4".

    Iva Kinnaird

    Elizabeth Warren’s Ear (all works cited, 2022), part of Iva Kinnaird’s solo debut at the house gallery associated with F magazine, initiated viewers into the Houston-based artist’s quirky mode of archaeological inspection. Earlobe-shaped stones scattered atop a plinth served as paperweights for a realistic painting on paper depicting the meaty, severed earlobe—punctured by a dull-gold stud—of the eponymous US senator and former Houstonian. You had to cast your eyes downward to puzzle over the work’s pathetic fragments, whose gathering seemed motivated by an impulse to treat the detritus of

  • View of “The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse,” 2021–22. Photo: Sean Flemming.

    “The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse”

    “The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse,” a sprawling survey that features the work of ninety artists, investigates what the exhibition’s curator, Valerie Cassel Oliver, calls the “philosophical landscape” of the Black American South through an intergenerational roster of figures working across art, music, and various other forms. The show debuted at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond before arriving in Houston (its current iteration was coordinated by the Contemporary Arts Museum’s Patricia Restrepo) and is organized under three themes, indicated

  • Maria Chávez performing at Marfa Myths, La Mansana de Chinati/The Block, Judd Foundation, Marfa, Texas, March 2016. Photo: Alex Marks.

    Matter of Record

    IN LIVE PERFORMANCE, Maria Chávez is a bricoleur of intricate, cerebral, capricious sonic landscapes constructed through improvised sampling. The Peruvian-born, New York–based sound artist uses one or more turntables (her typical setup these days includes four) and an evolving collection of scratched and broken records over which her needles glide, skitter, and pounce. Mesmerizing loops extracted from test tones, sound effects, spoken-word albums, and myriad other sources never build into hooks; rather, they stutter or disappear into worlds of static, a celebration of the aesthetics of chance

  • The Nancy and Rich Kinder Building at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Photo: Richard Barnes.
    architecture December 17, 2020

    Better, Faster, Stronger, Kinder

    THIS PAST MAY, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, was briefly in the public eye for being the first major American museum to reopen after the initial wave of coronavirus-related lockdowns. Come November, the debut of the final component of a $450 million expansion project—the Nancy and Rich Kinder building, which boasts 164,000 square feet of exhibition space dedicated to international modern and contemporary art—coincided with the onset of what promises to be the pandemic’s deadliest season yet. Despite the grim winter forecast, museum leadership, armed with the blessing of Governor Abbott’s “

  • Erin M. Riley, Those Girls, 2018, wool and cotton tapestry, 38 x 48".
    picks November 12, 2020

    Erin M. Riley

    While the Brooklyn-based artist Erin M. Riley is best known for hand-woven tapestries that depict sexy selfies of her own tatted-up body, her solo exhibition here offers a condensed meditation on more delicate and melancholic dimensions of her oeuvre. Seven works handloomed by the artist, often utilizing salvaged and hand-dyed yarn, are hung across two intimate spaces. The first presents forensic still lifes that suggest an ambivalent nostalgia for girlhood and the rites of adolescence. In Those Girls and Them, both 2018, the attributes of a sex-positive feminist—a totemic-looking dildo, baby-pink

  • Exterior view of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. All photos by the author.
    diary May 27, 2020

    Lights On

    FOR ALL ITS STRIVING, Houston has long struggled to make claims for art-world preeminence. That changed last Saturday, when the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, became the first major American museum to reopen its doors to the general public after closing in mid-March to help stem the spread of Covid-19. The MFAH was positioned to make this leap due to a combination—magical or nefarious, depending on one’s view—of the state’s gung ho Republican governor, the city’s hygiene-friendly sprawl and competent Democratic leadership, and museum director Gary Tinterow’s unflagging ambition to keep up

  • View of “50 States: Louisiana,” 2020. Photo: Paul Hester.
    picks April 02, 2020

    Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin

    An immersive, abstract video landscape shows droplets of indigo dye periodically dispersing in water, blossoming into hypnotically morphing, pendulous chandeliers. They model the osmotic way viewers absorb this exhibition’s central narrative, delivered by Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin via an audio recording that permeates the gallery, which is otherwise filled with additional aquatic vignettes filmed off the Gulf Coast of New Orleans and on Dauphin Island, Alabama. Throughout “50 States: Louisiana,” the sixth iteration of the artists’ ongoing endeavor to create multimedia installations that

  • Jamal Cyrus, Lights from the Garden, 2019, bentwood chairs, stainless steel rods, oak flooring, 74 x 87 1/2 x 31 3/4".
    picks December 20, 2019

    Jamal Cyrus

    In 2018, Jamal Cyrus embarked on an ambitious research trip to a number of culturally hybrid locales across Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The visually compelling works he made upon return to Houston, presented in this exhibition, pack dense knots of referents to multiple generations and geographies of black history into spare, carefully altered objects and materials. Often structured by vectorial lines and flows, Cyrus’s sculptures and textile-based works elevate scavenged materials into provisional memorials to diasporic lineages. The textiles in particular compellingly weave together the

  • View of “Katrina Moorhead: seapinksea,” 2019.
    picks March 29, 2019

    Katrina Moorhead

    Katrina Moorhead’s latest body of work employs the wayward range of materials and sensibilities that one might expect of a group show. Pleated Japanese paper blushing with pink dye hangs from a mason’s line slung across the room. A 3-D printed reconstruction of the floral still life by Henri Fantin-Latour that graces the cover of New Order’s 1983 album Power, Corruption & Lies is a twenty-first-century centerpiece. Standing guard nearby is a Twombly-esque sculpture—part maternal totem, part children’s craft project—built up from gypsum cement and chicken wire and adorned with showy feathers.

  • Jasper Johns, Flag on Orange Field, 1957, fluorescent  paint, watercolor, pastel, graphite on paper, 10 1/2 x 7 3/4".
    picks November 16, 2018

    Jasper Johns

    This tight survey of drawings by Jasper Johns, spanning from 1954 to 2016, handily overturns several longstanding presumptions about the relation of drawing to an artist’s broader practice. Curated by David Breslin with the assistance of Kelly Montana, the exhibition inaugurates the new Johnston Marklee designed Menil Drawing Institute and coincides with the publication of a six-volume catalogue raisonné of Johns’s drawings. Both are testaments to the significance of Johns’s works on paper, as much of his iconic subject matter—flags, targets, letters, numbers—is lifted from a two-dimensional,

  • Cover of Intermedia, Fluxus and the Something Else Press: Selected Writings by Dick Higgins, November 2018.
    books November 16, 2018

    No One Else


    DICK HIGGINS, Fluxus affiliate and founder of the Something Else Press, once described the books he published as a series of “love letters to the future.” A new volume of writings by the artist, composed between 1962 and 1997 and selected by Steve Clay and Ken Friedman, delivers on this promise, making Higgins’s underappreciated contributions as publisher, editor, patron, theorist, and historian of the 1960s neo-avant-gardes legible to today’s