If cinema magic can put Forrest Gump in the same frame as JFK then there's no reason that museum curators can't put pioneering Houston artists Dorothy Hood and Louise Nevelson in the same room. They certainly were active during the same period, had similar influences and — maybe, just maybe — did dish at some point about the challenges of being beautiful, talented and independent women in a male-dominated society.
For those who missed "The Color of Being / El Color de Ser," a retrospective of Hood's work that closed at the Art Museum of South Texas (AMST) last year, or the teaser preview at 2015's Houston Fine Art Fair, then worry not because the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is giving us a look at a curated sampling of four decades of Hood's work in "Kindred Spirits: Louise Nevelson & Dorothy Hood."
Conceived in cooperation with AMST, curator Alison de Lima Greene toyed with a few ideas for pairing the Hood objects when she had her eureka moment. The perfect foil to Hood's bold colors was Nevelson, who favorited a monochromatic palette. Hood (1918-2000) started her career early on and returned to Houston in 1961. Nevelson (1899-1988) was a late bloomer — she first wanted to become an opera singer — and a retrospective of her work was exhibited at MFAH in 1969: a show that surely was viewed by Hood who, by then, was on the faculty at the MFAH Museum School.
The exhibit opens on Nevelson's massive painted wood sculpture, Mirror Image I, a piece that she created for that 1969 exhibit to match the architecture of the original venue, the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed Cullinan Hall. Only after taking in the geometric black sculpture and how it plays with shadows and space can visitors appreciate the other objects in the show: collages, ink on paper, oil paintings and sculpture.
The exhibit includes a white, totemic sculpture by Nevelson, Floating Cloud IV. Its sister piece is just down the road at the newly revamped The Menil Collection, which is showcasing works from its permanent collection in this first year after remodeling.
The most interesting corner of the gallery space features a quartet of works that have a very dynamic interaction. Hood's large scale Untitled from the late 1980s (shown above) is hung next to a similar piece done around the same time and with the same colors, but with a completely different feel. Adjacent are two of Nevelson's powerful relief sculptures, created while in her 80s, the silence of their black monochromatism the perfect dance to Hood's vivid oils. Discover the musical references in the sculpture on the left then look closely at Nevelson's Mirror Shadow XII and you'll see the mystical eye, a symbol that ties viewers right back to the beginning of the exhibit with Hood's Warrior's Plumage, a 1957 ink drawing that alludes to Quetzalcoatl and centers on the same mystical eye.
The artists were certainly aware of each other, both having received important public commissions in Houston and drawing inspiration from Cubism, Surrealism and even pre-Columbian art. So we wouldn't be surprised if somewhere there just might be a photograph of the two of them in deep conversation. Until then, their combined works will have to do the talking.
"Kindred Spirits: Louise Nevelson & Dorothy Hood" continues through February 3, 2019; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 12:15 to 7 p.m. Sundays, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Audrey Jones Beck Building, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300, mfah.org, free to $15.