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Volume 69, Issue 148, Thursday, June 24, 2004


Blaffer builds on a Houston tradition

By Dusti Rhodes
The Daily Cougar

The Houston Area Exhibition has been a 30-year tradition at the Blaffer Gallery, but this year the gallery will defy tradition to bring Houston a show that embraces the history of the exhibition and represents the current state of the local art scene.

"We are taking a pulse of the Houston art community," Katherine Veneman, the gallery's curator of education, said.

The exhibit began in 1925 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and has been hosted at the Blaffer since 1974.

Dixie Ann Dalton/The Daily Cougar

"Inhabited," a work of art by Michele Grinstead and Nancy O'Connor featured in the 2004 Houston Area Exhibition at the Blaffer Gallery, offers a peek into a life forgotten. The exhibit opens Friday and runs through Aug. 29.

This year only 14 Houston artists were chosen to showcase their work in the exhibit that in the past has hosted up to 90 artists. Bill Arning from the MIT List Visual Arts Center was the sole selector of the artists this year; the Blaffer decided to change the process by choosing only one judge instead of the usual panel of judges. 

"We wanted there to be more interaction between the curator and the artist," Veneman said.

Veneman said that Arning went through a stack of 375 folders, compact discs, slides and résumés to find 26 finalists who he thought would best fit in this year's exhibition. After choosing the finalists, Arning made studio visits to select those who would appear in the exhibition, which opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday with a performance by Rachel Cook.

Cook combines photography and video to examine the roles of the public and the elite art world.

Private lives enter the art world with Nancy O'Connor and UH alumna Michele Grinstead's piece, "Inhabited," which explores a forgotten life. For the piece, the two women reconstructed a house that was marked for demolition. 

Grinstead said she found the house while on a walk and went inside only to discover a room left perfectly untouched, as if someone had just left. She returned with cameras to photograph the house as it was so that it could be set up again inside the Blaffer. The pair used letters and other records in the house to find out about the house's former inhabitants, the late Juanita and her son, who kept the house as it was before Juanita died.

Grinstead and O'Connor said the piece was intended to preserve the memory of Juanita, not intrude on her life.

"We have given it a new existence," Grinstead said.

Eric Schnell's work "Broken Park Fountain" is a sculpture that combines recovered objects and photographs to express ideas of nostalgia. Schnell was hard at work with his piece on Tuesday, but said that after completion some might not notice the difference.

"When it's done it won't look any more done that it does now," Schnell, who received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from UH, said.

Veneman said that, in the past, artists usually brought their works from their studios to install in the gallery, but this year many artists are creating their pieces on-site.

The exhibit is running concurrent with the Summer Arts Workshops' Exploring Houston, which began Wednesday and will end Tuesday. To sign up your 6- to 12-year-old, call the Blaffer at (713) 743-9526.

"It is exciting because we have so much going on and the event has been eagerly anticipated," Veneman said.

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