•  Bill Arning, Director of the CAMH in Texas in an interview with Zip Magazine about the new art wave.
  • Director Of The CAMH Bill Arning and Richard Butler.
  • Marilyn Minter Wangechi Gold.
  • Joseph Havel, Endless Installation View 2013.
  • Jason Middlebrook´s artwork Breakthrough-2012 included in the up coming exhibition Outside The Lines at CAMH.
Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. Mel Chin palm tree view. Courtesy Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo: Rick Gardner
Bill Arning and Richard Butler, the lead singer of the Psychedelic Furs. Photo: Max Fields
Marilyn Minter Wangechi Gold 2, 2009 C Print 86 x 60 inches Courtesy the Artist, Salon 94, New York, and Regen Projects Los Angeles.
Joseph Havel, Endless (installation view), 2013. Bronze and polyurethane resin. 130 x 16 x 16 in. Courtesy the artist and Hiram Butler Gallery. Photo: Max Fields.
Jason Middlebrook-Breakthrough-2012. This work will be included in the upcoming exhibition Outside the Lines which includes curatorial contributions by Bill Arning.

    Interview; Bill Arning Director Of The CAMH HOUSTON the `New Berlin`

    28 August 2013

    By Maria Chavez

    Bringing edgy art work to Texas. Spotlight on Houston & the Contemporary Arts Museum (CAMH)

    Houston-- In 1965, European collectors, John and Dominique de Menil took painter René Magritte to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, a Texas tradition of bull riding, livestock auctions and country music. The French collectors, with fortunes in the textile and oil field markets and who Dash and Max Snow are the great-grandsons, had been calling Houston home since 1941. The de Menil’s chose Houston to become the location of the Menil Collection in 1974 housing one of the world's largest private art collections with important works by Magritte, Léger, Matisse, Cézanne, Braque and Picasso. The Renzo Piano designed museum holds the de Menil’s Surrealism, African sculpture, Mediterranean antiquities and contemporary works.

    Alongside their impressive collection, the de Menil’s also commissioned one of a kind galleries separate from the museum; the Cy Twombley Gallery (the only one of it’s kind in the world), the Rothko Chapel, an intimate sanctuary to people of every religious belief (out front sits a Barnett Newman sculpture, Broken Obelisk, in dedication to Dr. Martin Luther King) and the Dan Flavin installation at Richmond Hall which the contemporary music organization, Nameless Sound sometimes presents the best of avant-garde contemporary music; all within a few blocks of each other!

    People are often surprised when they hear that a city like Houston would have world-class arts institutions. While the Guggenheim Museum has their current James Turrell exhibition this summer in NYC, the city of Houston has been no stranger to Turrells installations, with permanent works and a retrospective in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and a permanent installation on the campus of Rice University.

    The expansive campus of Rice University, nicknamed the “Harvard of the South” is home to James Turrell's Twilight Epiphany Skyspace in the Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion. The pyramidal structure accommodates 120 people between two levels. Twilight Epiphany is acoustically engineered to host musical performances and to act as a laboratory for music school students.

    Since 1999 the eerie tunnel of light installation by Turrell entitled The Light Inside connects the Mies van der Rohe designed Museum of Fine Arts Houston building to a monumental stone addition by Rafael Moneo. With 6,000 years of history with approximately 64,000 works from six continents the MFAH is considered one of the largest museums in the United States. Across the street is the Cullen Sculpture Garden, designed by Isamu Noguchi.

    In the heart of the Houston Museum District, which boasts 19 museums in a 1.5 mile radius, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) has been the leading destination to experience innovative art in the Houston contemporary art scene. The CAMH’s highly recognizable stainless-steel building was designed by the award winning architect Gunnar Birkerts, opening its doors in 1970. This 2 story triangular metal structure has hosted some of the contemporary art worlds most prolific artists like Maya Lin, Roxy Paine, Ann Hamilton, Nan Goldin & Vito Acconci.

    In 2009, Bill Arning was appointed director of the CAMH. After arriving in Texas in 2009 Arning organized solo exhibitions of Marc Swanson, Matthew Day Jackson and the late Stan VanDerBeek. Jackson and VanDerBeek were jointly organized with the MIT List Visual Arts Center where Arning was exhibitions curator from 2000-2009.  At MIT he organized shows of AA Bronson, Cerith Wyn Evans and a retrospective of the Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler. 

    No stranger to the contemporary arts, Arning was director of White Columns in New York City from 1985 to 1996 where he organized groundbreaking first solo shows for many of the best known artists of his generation including John Currin, Marilyn Minter, Andres Serrano, Richard Phillips, Cady Noland and Jim Hodges among many others. 

    Since Bill is an East Coast transplant to the Houston arts scene, I asked him a few questions about Houston, the museum and what the CAMH will be showing in the future:
    Maria Chavez: Working as a director of a prominent arts institution like the CAMH must require you to wear many hats. What do you appreciate most about your position at the CAMH?

    Bill Arning: I have worked in the non-profit arts sector since getting out of school and I find that the job of helping artists connect to a public is always satisfying. Being a museum director requires being able to shift persona often, from discussing business and its practicalities to then talking to artists about their dreams and visions and then contextualizing it using theory for the academic view.

    M.C.: Is there a medium that you have an affinity to? If so, is this something that is influencing the programming at the CAMH?
    B. A.: I have no particular medium affinity. While I was at MIT there was a focus on "Globalism and Technology," so we had a lot of video installations but at CAMH that is no longer the focus. We do have a year of expanded visions of abstract painting starting in the fall, and last year there was a focus on performance-based practices. But those will always shift.
    M.C.: Many people in the NYC art world are always surprised when I tell them how active the Houston art scene is. Since being appointed director for the CAMH, what are your observations about Houston and its patrons in the art world? What would you tell people about Houston if they were to come and visit?
    First off I tell artists it's the new Berlin: cheap rent, a global audience, scores of supportive venues. It's an amazing life for art makers.  I tell visitors, you will need more time; the galleries are a solid day, the museums take two days, and you’ll need another day for folk art sites like the Orange Show.
    M.C.: What exhibitions will the CAMH be showing in the near future? Is there an exhibition you are most looking forward to and if so, why?

    B.A.: I am in the middle of planning Marilyn Minter's first full scale museum survey, which will be on view in early 2015. I did Marilyn’s first major solo show at White Columns in the ’80s, and I am thrilled to be a curator on her museum survey a few decades later, working with the brilliant feminist art historian Elissa Auther and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver to bring another perspective to her feminist painting. I am also looking forward to Trenton Doyle Hancock's survey which focuses on his drawings as drawing is central to all his practice. He is one of the great Texas artists, and as I look at our senior curator Valerie Cassel Oliver form a narrative out of his work, I am learning so much more about his art.

    M.C.: As the director, what is your vision for the future of the CAMH? How do you think it will coincide with the CAMH's history?

    B.A.: CAMH has always been the prime source for information on the new and fresh in today's art making world. We are not scared of bringing edgy work to Texas as you need courage to make history, and CAMH has been writing art history for 65 years. The vibrancy of our community is based on the broad visions of all the museums, established alternative spaces, and funkier artist run spaces working together to bring to the public the full range of current art practice. And you see everyone out and about, all the museum curators will be at Box 13 and Project Row Houses, and their principals will be at lectures at the Menil. I love that, and it is a rare treat to be in a city this well served for art.

    M.C.: Thanks for the interview.

    On View: Jason Middlebrook´s: `Outside The Lines`October 31, 2013 – March 23, 2014

    Marilyn Minter – Pretty/Dirty ; on view March to June 2015 at CAMH and August to November 2015 at Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.




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