Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
In 1836, America was in the throes of a national frenzy of Manifest Destiny. In support of their brethren fighting Santa Anna in Texas, the citizens of Cincinnati forged two small cannons. The guns were shipped on steamboats down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and then out of New Orleans to Galveston, where they were officially presented to the Texian army by twins Elizabeth and Eleanor Rice. Thereafter the cannons were known as the Twin Sisters. The guns served the Texans well at San Jacinto and were fired again to celebrate Sam Houston's swearing-in as the first president of the Republic of Texas. When Texas became a state in 1845, the guns were ceded to the federal government, which placed them in a Baton Rouge arsenal for 15 years. Just after the election of Abraham Lincoln and the secessions of Louisiana and Texas, the guns were returned to Texas. They were next employed against the Federal army at the Battle of Galveston on New Year's Day in 1863, but after that, nobody knows what happened to the Twin Sisters. An occupying soldier in the Federal army claimed, 44-years after the war ended, to have seen the guns near the Kennedy building, where he was lodging in August of 1865. Just after that, the story goes, a cabal of Confederates took the guns in order to stop them from falling into the hands of the Federal government, and buried them in a field near Harrisburg, where they remain to this day.
Intense and passionate, Luther Chakurian, a mainstay of Masquerade Theatre for nearly a decade, embodies this multitalented musical company with highly stylized, brooding performances that grab you by the throat and take your breath away. Starring in three of the group's most intriguing recent shows, Jane Eyre, Sweeney Todd and Parade, he emitted dark sexiness as troubled Victorian Rochester, scared the bejesus out of us as avenging demon barber Todd and personified the terrified, yet innocent, accused child molester Leo Franks. Chakurian has a softer side, too. Witness this year's dance-happy Cornelius in Hello, Dolly and his knuckle-dragging, gnat-picking Wickersham Brother in Seussical. Blessed with a most idiosyncratic singing voice, edgy and coarse as if his tonsils have been dipped in sulfuric acid, he soars in the contemporary pop anthems that the current crop of composers is so fond of (like Wildhorn's Jekyll and Hyde). Yet, he also brings a refreshingly different, masculine sound to romantic ballads. Chakurian's superb Sweeney, vengeful, full of wrath, as focused as a heat-seeking ICBM, was Houston's most distinctive portrayal of 2007 — beautifully sung, impeccably acted, wicked as hell.
There are numerous actresses who gave radiant performances this year, all of them at least a generation, if not two, younger than our winning pick. But our heart goes out to theater veteran, and consummate pro, Jeannette Clift George. Playing obsessed, drab Carrie Watts in Horton Foote's masterpiece The Trip to Bountiful, George oozed humanity, compassion and humility as she fought her doughy son and unsympathetic daughter-in-law to realize her dream of visiting her family's Gulf Coast farm. Wily trooper that she is — and has been for decades — George ran with Foote's overflowing, impressionistic drama as if an Olympian; she didn't even get winded. What Foote didn't supply, George showed. A mesmerizing, distinctive stage presence, always vividly alive on stage, she brightens the theater and gives tasty lessons to all her younger colleagues, as she so bountifully demonstrates for those lucky spectators in the audience.
Texas Gallery manages to be both blue-chip and hip. Opening in 1971, they were the first to show artists like Chuck Close, Brice Marden, Ed Rusche and William Wegman in Houston. They've shown Lynda Benglis since 1972. Some 30 years ago, they exhibited her bronze cast of a double-headed dildo and put an image of it on the postcards they mailed out for the show, a pretty ballsy (so to speak) move at the time. Today they show legends like Robert Rauschenberg, as well as Houston artists like Francesca Fuchs, Rachel Hecker and David McGee. Outside of the business, Texas Gallery owner Fredericka Hunter and director Ian Glennie founded ArtPix, a nonprofit established to present and archive contemporary art in a digital format. DVDs and CD- and DVD-ROMs from their series present everything from contemporary art from New Zealand to performance art from the '60s to an interactive tour of the Edward James surrealist garden in Mexico.
Clint Willour is everywhere — but quietly. His intense involvement in the Houston art scene is about the art rather than his ego. Curator of the Galveston Arts Center, Willour not only puts together great shows at his own institution, he has curated and juried hundreds of exhibitions all over Houston, Texas, and the world. Willour is at every art opening worth seeing. He visits studios and volunteers his time for myriad committees and boards. Noted for his keen eye and dry sense of humor, Willour is a trusted advisor to all kinds of people in the art world. He's also an enthusiastic advocate for young and emerging artists, giving thoughtful, insightful portfolio reviews everywhere, from FotoFest's biennial "Meeting Place" to the People's Republic of China. Willour, who was named Texas Patron of the Year in 2006 by the Art League Houston, is also an astute collector — operating on a budget. Nevertheless, he generously donates to institutions. Over the years Willour has given more that 1,000 artworks to the MFAH; bought for modest amounts of money at the time, they're now valued at $1.2 million.
Pipilotti Rist's video work is lush, elegant, absurd — and hard to sum up. But "Wishing for Synchronicity," organized by the CAMH's Paola Morsiani, created a riveting and fabulous retrospective of the Swiss artist's work. While most video art ends up being shown in or on a black box, Rist's show took over the entire main floor of the CAMH, creating a city-like environment filled with video. There were sprawling video projections and small, intimate works. Hypnotic footage shot in sunlit ocean spread across the corner of a carpeted space; a video projector rotated, spilling images over walls and ceiling and through lace curtains; a miniature video screen inset in the floor showed a tiny woman yelling "I am a worm and you are a flower" in four languages. Fans of video art and the newly converted came in droves, over and over again.