Oil, Art, and Football

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November 11th 2011
Published: January 18th 2013
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Friday Night LightsFriday Night LightsFriday Night Lights

Playoff football in Houston

Houston Museum of Fine Arts

Today, I dove into the Houston art scene, starting at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.

It consists of two modernist buildings across the street from each other.

Since this is Houston, that ‘street’ was four lanes wide.

To prevent people getting killed, the museum built a tunnel between the buildings.

It holds one of the museum’s most remarkable artworks, The Light Inside from Texas artist James Turell.

He builds installations that manipulate the viewer’s perception of light.

Walking through the tunnel, it looks like a long blue narrow tube, through a pink area of indefinite size.

Careful close up study shows that the actual corridor is shaped like an oval.

Pink lights on the curved walls create the light field, and two strips of bright blue LEDs create the illusion of the blue tube walls.

What a work.

Unfortunately, the rest of the permanent collection underwhelms by comparison.

Houston is one of the ten largest cities in the United States, so I expected a collection to match.

Instead, I got one on par with a good regional museum, like
Houston Lamar introHouston Lamar introHouston Lamar intro

The hosts prepare to take the field
Seattle .

All the big names are represented, but usually with only one painting each.

European work included Madame Cezanne in Blue by Paul Cezanne, one of Claude Monet’s many Water Lilies paintings, and The Rocks, a lesser known painting by Vincent Van Gogh.

American artists included one of John Singer Sargent’s portraits, Evening in New York by Childe Hassam, and stained glass from Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The modern art was better, but very little was on display.

They had a single Piet Mondrian, Composition with Grey and Light Brown; a surrealist nightmare from Arshile Gorky, Nighttime Enigma and Nostalgia; and a hard edge geometric abstraction from Frank Stella, Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation Three).

Jackson Pollock’s Number 6 appeared, along with Roy Litchtenstein’s Still Life With Pitcher.

The museum also had a room of abstract sculpture.

Thinking about it, the museum collection makes sense.

It’s due to Houston’s relative youth as a major metropolis.

Like most museums in the US, the core of the collection came from major donors.

City residents could only afford to buy art once the area had an economic boom, which only happened in Houston after the discovery of oil in the early 1900s.

Houston collectors could not get the

The visitors take the field
best older work because other collectors and museums already had it.

This is the same situation faced by most regional museums, except that this one is now in a major city.

I also suspect I saw only a portion of the permanent collection because the museum was hosting a major temporary show while I was there.

Multiple galleries were cleared to make room.

It’s a collection of Egyptian antiquities from the tomb of King Tut, organized by National Geographic.

This type of show is almost the definition of a block buster, and they know it.

In case anyone misses the hype, a Texas sized banner proclaiming “Artifacts shown in the US for the first time in twenty years!” hangs across the museum entrance.

Naturally, a ticket to this show more than doubles the cost of museum admission.

I skipped it.

Surprisingly, a second temporary show was included with museum admission.

This one presented life in Paris during the mid nineteenth century.

Every art lover knows about the glorious art created during this period, including impressionism and art nouveau.

Fewer know about the society that made these grand experiments

The stadium. The home side (where I am) is nearly sold out

The show explores the lives of the French aristocracy and bourgeois.

The show was organized thematically, based on the activities someone typically did through a day.

Each room held a brief discussion of the rituals involved in a particular activity, followed by paintings, decorative arts, and artifacts related to it.

I found some of the artifacts amazing, because they rarely appear outside history museums.

The first thing people did after getting up was wash and get dressed.

Unlike the utilitarian version people now practice, this elaborate ritual required the assistance of dozens of servants and typically took hours.

All those paintings of women washing and dressing make more sense now.

The display also had silver makeup sets, highly decorated brushes, and elaborate clothes.

People ate breakfast next.

This too was long and elaborate, involving dozens of silver items each of which had a specific purpose.

The display had many examples, all finely crafted.

I’m beginning to wonder how people accomplished anything with all this social custom to attend to (supposedly, Louis XIV make his court incredibly elaborate in part so his courtiers would

Houston Lamar scores late in the second quarter
have no time to conspire against him!)

After breakfast, the day’s activities could begin.

Women mostly spent the day socializing (chores, after all, were for servants) while men attended to the family business.

Unlike today, most men worked at home.

Accordingly, visiting someone’s house to do business was a sign of respect.

The displays have elaborately carved desks and more paintings.

Many portraits showed papers and props to illustrate the source of the sitter’s wealth.

Elaborate social ritual continued long after the sun set.

Nearly every night, the wealthy attended society balls and other elaborate parties.

Every single one had elaborate rituals to both dress and get ready beforehand, and to unwind afterwards.

One patron commissioned a pair of paintings showing him and his wife preparing for a masked ball, and returning home afterward.

The paintings eventually were split up, and the museum acquired one.

The show has them together for the first time in decades.

Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston

The Houston Museum of Fine Arts sits in the middle of an area called the Museum District.
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A small sampling of the cheerleader routines along the sidelines

Since the city actively disdains planning, the district happened due to museum directors deciding to site their buildings near already existing museums.

A block of minimalist concrete sits across a side street from the art museum, which holds the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston.

My guidebook states that they show some of the most boundary pushing art in Texas.

It can be hit or miss depending on the show, but usually has far more of the former.

That minimalist architecture made getting in difficult.

The museum has no obvious entrance!

After walking around for five minutes, I found a narrow crack in the concrete which lead to the entrance door.

The only clue is the sign for the museum itself nearby.

Inside, the entire building is one large room, with a second one in the basement.

The main room held a survey show of artist Donald Moffett.

He has experimented with different media throughout his career.

He created a series of painting/sculpture hybrids where he painted a canvas with a primary color, cut it with long knife strokes, and then folded the resulting strips onto
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Lamar marching band at halftime
a wall.

The results look very interesting when done well.

He did a series of works projecting videos onto canvases.

These were highly political.

He edited footage of the Watergate Congressional hearings to emphasize that the committee contained only one African American, Barbara Jordan from Texas.

He also produced a series of sketches while observing the trial of Ronald Edward Gay, accused of murdering a gay man in rural Virginia.

The downstairs room contained the type of highly conceptual show I really hate, With Me…You by Glen Fogel.

Large projections of engagement ring ads taken from the QVC shopping network played on the walls.

These were next to large copies of breakup letters former girlfriends sent the artist.

I believe the message of the installation is that the popular media version of romantic love is cheap and fraudulent, but I couldn’t tell from the work.

Friday Night Lights

Tonight, I saw an important slice of Texas culture.

Today is Friday, and a fall Friday night in Texas means a state obsession: high school football .

Schools are divided by size into five classes, with 5A having the largest.

Lamar Dance SquadLamar Dance SquadLamar Dance Squad

Lamar dance squad during halftime
schools tend to have the most competitive games, simply because these schools have the widest pool of players to draw from.

Fans take these games incredibly seriously; websites analyze matchups with all the detail usually found for big college games.

One site just covers the stadiums!

The state playoffs are well underway by this point, which means games are even more intense than normal.

A Houston team had a game tonight, so I went to see the spectacle.

I got the ticket pretty easily.

In rural areas, every resident goes to the game; in urban ones with many schools, most of the fans are parents, students, or graduates.

This still meant an audience of over a thousand people!

The game was an experience.

The stadium was absolutely huge, on par with a medium sized college.

It had video scoreboards on either end.

People screamed and cheered, and they knew the game well.

Like good college games, both schools had pep bands who played after memorable touchdowns.

In Texas, cheerleading is something like a cult.

This is the state where

Opposing school's squads during halftime
the mother of a cheerleading hopeful, Wanda Holloway, really did hire a hit man to kill the mother of a potential rival in 1991.

It’s also the state where lewd pictures of five cheerleaders in a sex shop caused a major scandal in 2007.

Both schools had dozens upon dozens of them, covering the entire sidelines.

The play on the field matched a good college game.

Houston Lamar, the hosts, featured a mobile quarterback with a cannon arm combined with a hard hitting defense.

Their opponents featured a brutal rushing attack, an incredible return unit, and a ball hawking defense.

For the first half, both held the other in check.

The Lamar quarterback ran for multiple first downs and threw long bombs, but was also an interception machine.

He threw interceptions on three consecutive drives.

The Lamar defense saved his bacon by holding their opponents to a single field goal on the subsequent drives.

At half-time, the score was very close.

The half-time pageantry was memorable.

Both teams had elaborately choreographed marching band concerts at half time.

Of course, the bands spelled out their school’s names during the concerts.

Run gameRun gameRun game

Lamar tries to stop their opponent's run game in the fourth quarter
ended with their respective fight songs, and the people near me knew the words.

Both schools also had dance squads that dressed like cowgirls and did elaborate jazz routines.

I found out later that dance squads are a recent addition to football games, based on the success of a single Texas college dance team in the early 1980s.

In the second half, Houston Lamar appeared to figure out their opponents.

The quarterback finally connected with long passes, and they built a huge lead.

He then started throwing interceptions again.

Unlike last time, the Houston defense could not contain their opponent’s rushing attack, and they slowly whittled down that lead.

Houston Lamar won as their opponents ran out of time.

It was a fun game to watch, and hard to believe it was high school football.

My old high school won the state football championship for its class this year, for the first time in over a decade.

Except for current students and their parents, nobody really noticed.

In Texas, the entire town would have partied for at least a week.


Players shake hands after the end of the game

I had dinner after the game at Whataburger.

They are a Texas based burger chain that is something of a Houston institution.

The place was filled with teenagers that clearly came here from the stadium.

They had a wide variety of burgers and the prices were very low.

The quality was far above the average McDonalds but can’t compare to In ’N Out Burger .

Service was painfully slow for a fast food place.


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