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An overview of the Houston arts scene of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

From 1950 to 1975, Houston underwent explosive change, growing from an incubator of yet-to-be-realized dreams into a renowned metropolis—a center not only of commerce and political power but also of the arts. During that time, a generation of important artists came of age in a rapidly changing milieu that could be uncomprehending, occasionally hostile, and sometimes enthusiastic when it came to their work.

Houston Reflections collects the thoughtful memories of Houston artists, patrons, collectors, and enthusiasts as they recall laboring to build a serious arts community and to find their place in it. These individuals brought the arts from an ambitious vision to a sustainable critical mass, out of which grew the vibrant arts community the city now enjoys. By looking back at those years of change through the eyes of these seminal figures, we can gain valuable perspective on Houston’s relationship with the arts today.

Cullinan Hall during construction, 1957-1958, RG5-408. Photo by Maurice Miller. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Archives.

The artists whose memories are captured in this volume were nurtured by some important Houston institutions and patrons dedicated to fostering the arts. In 1900, sowing the seeds of what would become the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, several civic-minded women organized the Houston Public School Art League. Designed to enrich the public-school system and its students in art and culture, the League within three decades would change its name and become the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The original site of the Museum was a gift from Joseph S. and Lucie Halm Cullinan and the George Hermann Estate.

The Museum’s first director, James H. Chillman, Jr., served until 1953, then returned in 1959 to serve two more years as interim director. Chillman oversaw construction of the Museum’s first building, designed by William Ward Watkin, in 1924. The new structure was the first art museum building in Texas, and two Watkin-designed wings were added two years later. The Robert Lee Blaffer Memorial Wing, designed by Kenneth Franzheim, was added in 1953, and shortly thereafter Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was commissioned to design a 25-year master plan for the Museum. The 1958 MFAH Annual Report quotes the architect as saying, “The first problem is to establish the museum as a center for the enjoyment, not the internment of art.”

After designing the Museum’s Cullinan Hall (Miss Nina Cullinan underwrote the new addition), which opened in 1958, Mies van der Rohe designed the installation of works selected by Museum director Lee Malone. Helping to put Houston on the national arts map, the inaugural exhibition was called The Human Image and included works from the Cleveland Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wildenstein, the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Wadsworth Atheneum.

The following year, responding to Miss Cullinan’s desire that the new wing be available to the fledgling Contemporary Arts Association from time to time, CAA director Dr. Jermayne MacAgy organized and installed Totems Not Taboo, long remembered as a remarkable and important exhibition.

Questions & Answers

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Bob Reply
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The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
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Source:  OpenStax, Houston reflections: art in the city, 1950s, 60s and 70s. OpenStax CNX. May 06, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10526/1.2
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