Best of Houston, 2015

Anila Quayyum Agha: Intersections, laser-cut wood, 2013, 6 1/2 feet to a side; at Rice Gallery, Houston, Tex.



Valerie Cassel Oliver is the senior curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. She recently opened an 11-year survey of work by conceptual painter and sound artist Jennie C. Jones. Here, she recalls her top exhibitions and events of 2015 in the Space City.


“For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography,” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Curator Yasufumi Nakamori has once again organized a thought-provoking and insightful exhibition. “For a New World to Come” included more than 250 works from artists working in Japan from 1968-1979. This decade generated seismic shifts in social thought and cultural production worldwide, and Japan was no exception as it emerged from the devastation of World War II. Created more than 20 years after the horrid events of the war, the works in the exhibition reveal the rich experimentation of a younger generation. While photography figured prominently, the arresting installation also featured video, sculpture, artists’ books and paintings.

“Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: The Infinity Machine,” at the Byzantine Fresco Chapel

After the deconsecration of the Byzantine Fresco Chapel in 2012, following the return of its sacred relics to Cyprus, the Menil Collection wrestled with how best to make use of the building and grounds left behind. The resounding answer is the installation of The Infinity Machine by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller—a dazzling visual and aural experience that enhances the meditative quality of the space while recalling the relics of the past. 

“Mel Chin: Rematch,” multiple venues

The Mel Chin retrospective organized for the New Orleans Museum of Art by then-curator Miranda Lash (she has since left for the Speed Museum in Louisville, Ky.) was hosted in Houston by a consortium of five venues. Chin, a native son of Space City, responded with a Mel-a-thon—a 12-hour progressive opening.

“Oliver Herring: Areas for Action,” at DiverseWorks

DiverseWorks billed Herring’s project as an “exhibition concept of participatory performances, improvisatory sculptures and real-time collaborative artworks.” Herring did not disappoint those in the arts community who came out to take part in the series of performance collaborations. The installation was nothing short of a spectacle, in the best sense of the word.

Anila Quayyum Agha’s Intersections, at Rice Gallery

Drawing upon art and architecture, Agha used light and cast shadow to transform the gallery into an Islamic sacred space. Inspired by a visit to a fortress in Alhambra, Spain, Agha recreated the beauty of the UNESCO World Heritage site for Houstonians. It was not hard to be transported to another century worlds away as the cast light projected the complex, interlacing designs of Islamic art onto every surface.