Houston might be his hometown, but that doesn't mean that Gary Tinterow, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, doesn't get turned around every once in a while. Tinterow left Houston in 1972 to attend first Brandeis University and then Harvard and Columbia University. He went on to work in Jerusalem and London before settling in New York, where he joined the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1983. Houston, circa 1972 and Houston, circa 2012 are very different animals and Tinterow admits he finds the terrain a little confusing from time to time. "I'm still looking for the Bank of the Southwest and Texas Commerce Bank, for the Tenneco Building," he laughs. "[Coming back], it's an odd feeling of familiarity and wonderful new discovery. I've changed; Houston has changed."
And the MFAH has certainly changed. "The museum has grown tremendously, all for the better. It was an elegant and intelligent institution when I was growing up, but now it's one of the great museums of the country. When I left, we didn't have the Beck building, we didn't have the Sculpture Garden. We have so much more on display now."
What he does: Tinterow was the Engelhard Chairman of the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern and Contemporary Art at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art when he was tapped to head the MFAH after previous director Peter C. Marzio's death in late 2010. "I'm a museum directer," he says simply. He goes on, "It's not that different from what I was doing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had a very large staff there and a very big budget and was programming a big section of the museum's exhibition, so it's not very different for me in terms of my daily life. My scope is larger and my schedule is much more dense, but the actual range of activities are very similar."
Why he likes it: "It's very exciting working on projects, whether that project is arranging for food trucks to be in our parking lot and getting electricity to them, or initiating exchanges with foreign countries, like the Kuwaiti exchange that's about to occur; it's just marvelous to initiate projects and see them come to fruition. I love all of the different parts of my job. There's almost no downside...well, not being able to answer all of my e-mails is the downside."
What inspires him: "It's difficult to explain. I love working in museums and I can't imagine any other life. Since I was 20 I've been living in a museum, it's really the only life I know now. I love the people who inhabit this world, curators, collectors, philanthropists. I enjoy interacting with the public who come to the museum to learn and to wonder, to awe. I find all of that very inspiring."
If not this, then what: Except for being flooded with e-mail, Tinterow tells us he enjoys every aspect of his job; still, there's one other gig he says he would enjoy. "Probably my unfulfilled ambition would be to be a classical musician. I do play, but just for myself. I would love to have the time to devote to really improve. I regret that I don't have the talent that my brother [Houston musician Chaya Tinterow] has. I'm not a natural-born musician, but I love it and I wish I could play better."
If not here, then where: "I'm so happy right now in Houston that I really can't imagine being happier anywhere else. Frankly, and I don't mean this just to be obsequious, but all of my friends from New York say that they have never seen me happier. So I'd just like to stay here, please, for now."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
What's next: There's plenty on his plate already. "We have [a] Picasso [exhibit] opening up in February; we have the [James] Turrell exhibition opening up later in the spring." There are more exhibits and programs in the works, but he declines to discuss them because "they aren't cooked quite yet."
As for a little further down the road, Tinterow has very ambitious plans for the museum. "I hope we have a marvelous new building for modern and contemporary art. I fully expect that in ten years we will. Then the whole world will be able to see our extraordinary collection of European, American and Latin American 20th and 21st century art. We'll get much more of our phenomenal photography collection on view. And I hope that we're able to create a new and rich way in which to display the art of our time...in a way that's meaningful and accessible to our public."
More Creatives for 2012 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Raúl Orlando Edwards, opera singer and salsa dancer Jeremy P. Kelley, kids' pop artist Bear Wilder, Filmmaker, Jewelry Artist, DJ, VJ Antoine Plante, conductor Chuy Benitez, photographer and arts organizer Robin Kachantones, illustrator Libbie J. Masterson, artist, curator and creator Leighza Walker, theater owner, actress, writer, theatrical everywoman Macy Perrone, costume designer Elsa Briggs, Painter, jewelry maker Baldemar Rodriguez, film director/producer and actor Linarejos Moreno, photographer Heather Rainwater, artist, jewelry maker Detria Ward, actress and entrepreneur Justin Cronin, book author Mark Ivy, actor Lauren Luna, painter and shoe designer Sarah Cortez, writer Kent Dorn, drawer, painter, artist Lillian Warren, painter Carl Lindahl, folklorist, UH professor Sutapa Ghosh, film producer and Indian Film Festival of Houston organizer Tom Stell, actor, writer, director Gregory Oaks, teacher and Poison Pen co-founder Oliver Halkowich, dancer and performer Lupe Mendez, poet and poem pusher Jason Nodler, artistic director, playwright, director Ana Treviño-Godfrey, musician Matthew Detrick, classical musician Travis Ammons, filmmaker Florence Garvey, actress Julia Gabriel, artist, designer and backpack maker Rebecca French, choreographer and FrenetiCore co-founder Kiki Neumann, found object folk artist Flynn Prejean, Poster Artist JoDee Engle, dancer David Rainey, actor, artistic director and teacher Geoff Hippenstiel, painter, art instructor Jessica Janes, actress and musician Dennis Draper, actor and director Mat Johnson, novelist and tweeter Orna Feinstein, printmaker and installation artist Adriana Soto, jewelry designer Domokos Benczédi, Noise and Collage Artist Robert Boswell, Book Author, UH Prof Patrick Turk, visual artist Elizabeth Keel, playwright Bob Martin, designer Mary Lampe, short film promoter and developer Nisha Gosar, Indian classical dancer Jeremy Wells, painter George Brock, theater teacher Radu Runcanu, painter Ariane Roesch, Mixed-Media Sandie Zilker, art jewelry maker Philip Hayes, actor Patrick Palmer, painter Ana Mae Holmes, Jewelry Designer John Tyson, actor Jerry Ochoa, violinist and filmmaker Raul Gonzalez, painter, sculptor, photographer Roy Williams, DJ of medieval music Laura Burlton, photographer David Peck, fashion designer Rebecca Udden, theater director Donae Cangelosi Chramosta, vintage designer handbag dealer Paul Fredric, author John Sparagana, photographer Damon Smith, musician and visual artist Geoff Winningham, photographer Johnathon Michael Espinoza, visual artist Jaemi Blair Loeb, conductor Katya Horner, photographer Johnathan Felton, artist Nicoletta Maranos, cosplayer Carol Simmons, hair stylist Joseph "JoeP" Palmore, actor, poet Greg Carter, director Kenn McLaughlin, theater director Justin Whitney, musician Antone Pham, tattoo artist Susie Silbert, crafts Lauralee Capelo, hair designer Marisol Monasterio, flamenco dancer Carmina Bell, promoter and DJ ReShonda Tate Billingsley, writer Kiki Lucas, choreographer and director J.J. Johnston, theater director Mary Margaret Hansen, artist Richard Tallent, photographer Viswa Subbaraman, opera director Emily Sloan, sculptor and performance artist Sonja Roesch, gallery owner Enrique Carreón-Robledo, conductor Sandy Ewen, musician Camella Clements, puppeteer Wade Wilson, gallery owner Magid Salmi, photographer Carl Williams, playwright