Jordan Breal’s recent article in Texas Monthly, cleverly titled “Straight From the Art”, takes the reader across the rugged Texas landscape to devise a list of the top ten must-see works within our Texas borders. After interviewing more than sixty experts, including gallery owners, curators, collectors, critics and other in-the-know art enthusiasts, Breal compiled a diverse and wonderful collection highlighting the very best art Texas has to offer. . . well, at least the top ten of the very best.
The Lone Star State has been riding an impressive art boom for the past several years, pointing to renowned exhibitions, rare acquisitions and flourishing new talent progressively becoming more desired. Breal notes the most significant, “. . . factor in solidifying our artistic standing has been the commitment of our museums and galleries to acquiring and preserving a vast cache of masterpieces,” much like the Kimbell’s Michelangelo; that is, the earliest known painting of Michelangelo.
Since any ‘best of’ list is likely to leave off a few favorite pieces, Breal gives a few parameters for her choices in the forward to her article. A quote by Alison de Lima Greene, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston since 1984, seems to set the appropriate stage. “Some of the works that stay with you the most powerfully are those that you don’t grasp immediately but that nag you and take time to unroll in your mind. Good art isn’t always about instant gratification.”
So, the top ten:
“The Icebergs” by Frederic Edwin Church, Dallas Museum of Art.
This five by nine feet canvas was gifted to the Dallas Museum of Art in 1979 just days after it was purchased for the landmark price tag of $2.5 million; an unheard of, and prior to then, unattainable amount for an American painting.
“100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum” by Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa.
With his one hundred aluminum boxes fabricated in his Connecticut workshop, Judd has, “. . .totally changed the relationship of humans and art in the third dimension,” according to the director of the Chinati Foundation, Thomas Kellein.
“Vortex” by Richard Serra, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
The 67-foot tall sculpture is made up of seven sheets of Cor-ten steel, weighing in at 233 tons. The piece demands interaction as it pulls the viewer into one of its two openings at the base. Inside the human element becomes the catalyst for experiencing the art, just as Serra said himself, “The content is you.”
“Ladder for Booker T. Washington” by Martin Puryear, Modern art Museum of Fort Worth.
The 36-foot ladder was hand carved by Puryear in 1996 from a long ash sapling found at his Hudson Valley home. The rungs begin at 11 ¼ inches wide at the bottom and the distance between them slowly diminishes as they climb upward, finally narrowing to only 1 ¼ inches at the top, giving the illusion of a much greater height.
“Swimming” by Thomas Eakins, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth.
Purchased from Eakins’s widow for $700 in 1925 for the Fort Worth Art Association (now the Modern Art Museum), the oil on canvas later sold for $10 million to the Amon Carter. The piece is an iconic snapshot of the harsh realism that made Eakins an icon.
“The Cardsharps” by Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.
Though the painting went missing for over ninety years, only to later be discovered in a private European collection, this genre scene is a milestone in Caravaggio’s career as it brought him his first significant patron. This beautiful portrayal of realism is widely accepted as one of his firsts masterpieces.
“Untitled (Say Goodbye Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor)” by Cy Twombly, Menil Collection Houston.
This piece, which has been getting much more attention due to Twombly’s recent passing in July at the age of 83, stretches fifty-three feet wide and over thirteen feet tall and was done very late in the artist’s career, displaying several of his recognizable trademarks. His poetic quotations, his use of the monumental to convey space and the fleeting, his sporadic bursts of color and wild scribblings can all be found in this all-encompassing piece.
“Rothko Chapel” by Mark Rothko, Houston.
Initially to be designed by architect Philip Johnson and built at the University of St. John campus, the fourteen huge monochromatic canvases were commissioned specifically for the Catholic chapel. However, after Rothko and Johnson disagreed on plans, Johnson threw in the towel. The patrons, John and Dominique de Menil, built the chapel on land they owned in Montrose and the sanctuary is one of the most frequented sites in the state.
“Tending, (Blue)” by James Turrell, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas.
Hidden within a hill in the Nasher’s Sculpture garden, this 2003 piece is a color-rich treat to the optics. Programmed colors of yellow, blue, green and red spread across the smooth ceiling, which has a nine and a half foot square opening, playing tricks on the viewer by making the sky seem closer and the colors appear richer.
“Portrait of a Young Woman” by Rembrandt Van Rijn, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
This Jane Doe portrait is to Rembrandt what the “Mona Lisa” is to da Vinci. Painted on an oval wood panel, in an exquisite octagonal frame, the portrait is testament to the artistic and technical genius for which Rembrandt is remembered and renowned. Purchased in 2004 for approximately $14 million, the piece is only one of two paintings by the artist on permanent view in the state.
There they are.
From the classic and traditional to the contemporary and modern, these ten are some of the very best art Texas has to offer. Each of them warrants a visit in their own right, each, no doubt, being straight from the art. Now that Breal has thrown down the gauntlet, it’s time to get out and start compiling your own personal “Top Ten” list.