Houston and Leipzig have been sister cities for more than ten years. In 1826, when historical Leipzig was over a thousand years old, the semi-tropical, mosquito-infested area now known as Houston was being founded by two New York City speculators who had never been to the place they were touting as a Shangri-La.
Houston is young, energetic, and important to the space, energy, and medical fields. It is also recognized as a major center of the visual arts on the third coast of the United States.
This exhibition was organized to present a small but important sampling of work by significant Houston artists to the historically vibrant art community of Leipzig. Its mission is to foster and promote understanding and goodwill between the population of the two cities. The exhibiting artists have strong ties to Houston through birth, education, university experience, or residence. Houston’s Redbud Gallery, in cooperation with The Houston – Leipzig Sister City Organization and ARTCO Gallery in Leipzig, organized the show.
We asked Walter Hopps, the founding director and current curator of twentieth century art at the Menil Collection in Houston, and curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, to share his thoughts on the current state of the visual arts in the United States. Gus Kopriva captured the following sentiments from a conversation with Mr. Hopps in June of 2002.
Mr Hopps reflected that there are three major imperatives in current and twentieth century art. These include Realists, like Edward Hopper and serious non-commercial photography, Modernists, including abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock, and Imagists, like Joseph Cornell. Based on artistic output, major museum presences, and the availability of gallery venues, Hopps affirmed that there are seven important vanguard art centers in the U.S. These include New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, Philadelphia, and Houston. Houston, Mr. Hopps said, is an important center for Imagist art.
The artists in this show are representative of the three principal art categories. The imagists include the fine graphic artist Dan Allison, who utilizes tour de force technology to produce works based on his writings juxtaposed with scenes from the American cinema. Angelbert Metoyer, a young neo-expressionist, employs a powerful and magical blend of African and American symbolism to depict the all-American city of icons, Hollywood. James Surls, a well-known sculptor and printmaker, has created a fine oversized linocut depicting a self-portrait that relates to shamanism and mysticism. Dee Wolff similarly explores powerful spiritual forces, but also feminist imagery in her piece titled “Spirit Tree”.
In the expressionist venue, Richard Stout’s lyrical painting of the Gulf of Mexico titled “Shoreline”, captures the essence and feel of Texas’s unique coastline. Another major Texas expressionist, Frank X Tolbert2, completed a piece entitled “Mercedes Benz” during a recent journey to Berlin. Michael Roque Collins’ fascinating wrapped tree piece depicts the wrapped trees located at ground zero in New York City, reminding us of the times that we live in. New York and Texas artist, John Alexander, is well known for his expressionist landscapes of the swamps of east Texas. His finely executed lithograph portrays one of our most loved wildlife, the Great Blue Heron.
Another of our internationally known artists, Luis Jimenez, produces large-scale fiberglass sculptures and fine graphics. His powerful color lithograph of gang life in the city of El Paso, Texas is typical of the social nature of his work. Controversial artist Wayne Gilbert’s colorful, triangular canvasses combine floral imagery with unusual mediums. The exciting Art Guys - Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing - have delighted international audiences with performance and conceptual art over the last decade. This drawing is a whimsical interpretation of the state of affairs in a typical American household. Houston sculptor Sharon Kopriva, whose art typically relies on wretched excess and reliance on gadgets, has created a small stylistic painting of a landscape blending Idaho and post 9/11 New York City imagery.
Long stays in neighboring Mexico heavily influenced well-known American painter Lucas Johnson’s intense yet sensitive still-life. Internationally recognized Nancy Kienholz’s well-executed collage offers stinging social commentary on American Northwest timber industry practices. Well -known in Europe and around the world, the late Edward Kienholz is represented by a watercolor piece that continues the series he created to print his own currency. This work is a barter for services document offered for the care of Ed and Nancy’s Golden Retriever, Smash.
Texas realism is well represented with works by John Bruce Berry, Mel Chin, Ed Wilson, Ann Stautberg, and Magdalena Boltz-Topp. Stautberg captures the Gulf Coast in her dream-like and soft color photographs of the coastline. Chin, typically a conceptualist, has produced a realistic and immediately recognizable “billy club”, or baton, used by the American police. Wilson’s carefully crafted aluminum casting of a Texas oak as a wall relief is a departure from his usual cast-iron medium. Boltz-Topp’s finely detailed and hand colored etching of an animal is enhanced by the steel bar cage frame. Berry, a well-known Texas painter, has created a piece that is reminiscent of the unique American genre of paintings on velvet. Berry’s striking and mysterious “Picassos Eyes” is an example of unusual realism.
The dark, hard-hitting and very symbolic works of Houston painter’s William Farr are remarkable examples of American Modernism. Internationally exhibited Virgil Grotfeld’s modernistic painting are intriguingly biomorphic in nature and tease the viewer with imaginative shapes that are vaguely familiar.
A well-deserved word of thanks is extended to the many who helped make this exhibition possible. These include Patricia C. Johnson, Dan Allison, Nancy Smith, Wayne Gilbert, Magdalena Boltz-Topp, Ed Wilson, Volker Eisele, Charlie Phillips of the Houston-Leipzig City Organization, Sharon Kopriva, and our gracious host in Leipzig, ARTCO Gallery’s, Helmut Stefan. A final appreciation and recognition to Walter Hopps and Caroline Huber for allowing me to visit and converse with them regarding their sentiments about the state of the arts in Houston.
Gus Kopriva, Curator
Redbud Gallery, Houston, Texas, USA
July 31, 2002