Various Venues

That there is strength in diversity even in times of academies and dominant artistic trends is demonstrated by the Houston Museum of Fine Arts’ first juried regional show, “The Southwest: Painting and Sculpture,” on view from December 7 to January 20.

Backed by Ford Foundation purchase awards, the exhibition drew many entries and wide attention. The region from which paintings and sculpture were eligible was Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and California (Los Angeles and south). 889 entries were submitted, of which a three-man jury, comprising the painter James Brooks of New York, the sculptor Alexander Calder of Connecticut and Houston Museum Director James Johnson Sweeney chose 83 for exhibition.

One sculpture and 13 pictures were purchased by the Ford Foundation on recommendation by the jury. Of these the sculpture by Joe Ferrel Hobbs and paintings by Edmond Kohn and Fritz Scholder were chosen by the Houston Museum of Fine Arts for its permanent collection. The other works purchased by the Ford Foundation will go to other public collections upon recommendation of the artists concerned.

The award-winning artists are Anthony Berlant, Steve Gilpin, John Bernhardt, Dick Wray, Ethel Spears, Jean Clad, V. Jaramillo, Elmer Schooley, Natalie Romera, Lamar Briggs, Dean Aydelott. Though assembler Berlant and abstract expressionist Dick Wray were among the prize winners, these nationally predominant trends did not dominate the Houston exhibition, and even these two artists displayed a laudable individuality in their creations. Wray is perhaps the most dynamic young artist working in the Houston area today, though in quite a different, more referential realm Guy Johnson is a painter whose shocking images must be reckoned with. All in all the show had a cheerful and affirmative air. The spectator, like the jury, is impressed by the variety of modes of expression embraced. Though there is no identifiable regionalism, the wide acquaintance with every possible contemporary style and medium of painting and sculpture which the exhibitors demonstrate, does not lead to a mere reflection of fashionable trends but to a considerable body of work distinguished by a personal character and a fresh inventiveness.

Among the prize winners, Lamar Briggs’ sumptuous interpretation of Venice, Jean Clad’s solid still life understatement, the discovery of the formidable talent of V. Jaramillo, the scholarly calm of Edmond Kohn, the submerged violence of Wray and the natural monumentality of Hobbs seemed most striking.

Among the other sculptors whose work was outstanding were Robert Bassler with his elegant wood piece; Russell Forester with his dynamic steel construction; Julia Routt with her whimsical machine-part padre and Jack Zajac with his familiar but continually impressive goat image. The frozen forms of Louis Ribak, the expressionistic mysticism of Fritz Schwaderer, the unexpected explosiveness of Sueo Serisawa, the anecdotal primitivism of Streeter Blair, the essential innocence of Wilbur Haynie, the ephemeral patterns of Agnes Kellogg and classical forms of Frederick Hammersley left lasting impressions after repeated viewing of this varied exhibition.

One cannot report on this important regional event without commenting on the absolute beauty of Mies Van Der Rohe’s Cullinan Hall in which the display has been mounted with the inimitable Sweeney touch.

Since this Houston experiment was highly successful, the Ford Foundation should be encouraged to back a similar effort there in two or three years. Meanwhile, the stretch in the geographical concept of “The Southwest” might stick where art exhibitions are concerned.

Henry J. Seldis