Houston, infamous city of freeways......
(from April 01).......oil money, zoning freedom….and also it turns out gorgeous live oak boulevards and famous art institutions …. An hour stopover on my way to Austin from Berkeley turned into a two day stay when I decided to miss my flight, rent a car and meet Robie instead, who was on a trip with his boss to visit petrochemical plants outside the city. This also made possible a visit to Project Row Houses and the famed Menil Collection by Renzo Piano, which are in turn symbolic really of the incredible wealth and poverty that exist in the city. They are both centrally located, but divided by the I-10 freeway. On one side you enjoy the handsome live oaks, museums, chic antique stores and the Rice university campus. Across the other side I drove slightly self-consciously around a neighbourhood of dilapidated houses, vacant lots filled with wild flowers and boarded up bars and storefronts.
Project Row Houses was ‘open’, meaning that I could wander in and out of the eight renovated shotgun houses, each of which housed a fairly unremarkable installation tackling themes of race, poverty and social justice. The shotgun houses are complimented by a two story brick building at one end of the street, which houses a gallery, administration, a free bread counter and shelves of art magazines. The walls are filled with ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs of the renovation process which was instigated by a group of young African-American artists with a vision to integrate the arts with grassroots community revitalisation. Another row of shotgun houses behind the galleries have been renovated for single mothers to live in rent-free while they pursue an education and I recognised four bigger houses behind those designed and built by Rice students as affordable housing prototypes for the area. Also on the 'campus' were the headquarters of the Row House CDC and the skeleton of a building which I found out later will become the on-site workshop and headquarters of the Rice Building Workshop.
Meanwhile over the other side of the freeway I enjoyed an unexpected William Christenberry exhibition at the Menil, including a photograph of downtown Greensboro in the thirties and a startling Dan Flavin installation in an auxiliary building. And then I had the pleasure of driving 45 minutes ‘out of’ the city, through miles of strip malls, to the Holiday Inn in Bayview, home to the most oil processing plants per square mile in the world…..or something reassuring like that.