- The Art of Texas: 250 Years ed. by Ron Tyler
The Art of Texas: 250 Years is an ambitious survey of artists who have lived and worked in the state now known as Texas, including Spanish colonial portraitists, Minimalist sculptors, and everyone in between. The project is both an exhibition of more than one hundred paintings and sculptures at the Witte Museum in San Antonio as well as a ten-by-twelve-inch hardcover book with more than 350 full-color illustrations and fourteen essays by preeminent scholars of Texas art. The editor, Ron Tyler, also edited The New Handbook of Texas (Austin, 1996), and The Art of Texas has a similar encyclopedic feel. It is broad in scope and well researched, and it will be a useful resource for both experts and newcomers to the unique visual culture of the region.
The hefty book joins a number of recently published works that celebrate Texas as a significant incubator for the arts: Pete Gershon’s groundbreaking Collision: The Contemporary Art Scene in Houston, 1972–1985 (College Station, Tex., 2018), William Middleton’s meticulously researched Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil (New York, 2018), Jay Wehnert’s reflections in Outsider Art in Texas: Lone Stars (College Station, Tex., 2018), and Katie Robinson Edwards’s award-winning Midcentury Modern Art in Texas (Austin, 2014). Whereas other books focus on art historical questions of originality and patronage, most essays in The Art of Texas situate artworks in the context of social history and a uniquely Texan culture that was formed over the centuries by a mix of indigenous, immigrant, and enslaved peoples. Half of the authors hold Ph.D.s in history or American studies, and this training gives them useful methodologies for studying regional art history. Texas may not be recognized as a major art center in most art historical texts, but The Art of Texas makes a compelling argument that culture in the state was built from the ground up by a myriad of artists who were taken with the beauty of the landscape and were strongly supported by their communities.
The essays are arranged chronologically by subject, starting with Tyler’s history of Texas art from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and [End Page 461] concluding with an essay by K. Robinson Edwards on “Liberty and Lone Star Modernism” in the twentieth century. Many of the authors, including Susie Kalil, Sam DeShong Ratcliffe, William E. Reaves Jr., Francine Carraro, and Michael R. Grauer wrote influential books in the 1990s on Texas art, and their essays in The Art of Texas are updated summaries and revisions of subjects in which they have substantial expertise. Kalil writes on landscape paintings, Ratcliffe on nineteenth-century history painting, Reaves on the 1920s wild-flower painting contests known as the Davis Competitions, Carraro on Depression-era regionalism, and Grauer on western art. Kenneth Hafertepe and Light Townsend Cummins have recently published books on Texas architecture and material culture and bring their knowledge to bear on paintings and sculptures for this volume. Hafertepe considers work by artists who emigrated from Germany, and Cummins writes on sculpture. Curators Rebecca Lawton and Jay Wehnert also offer insights on Texas Impressionism and Outsider Art, respectively. A highlight of the book is Richard B. McCaslin’s text on the sculptor Pompeo Luigi Coppini, which is an exciting preview of his forthcoming biography of the artist.
The roster of established scholars who have contributed to The Art of Texas is impressive. However, there are some notable omissions. Texas is home to two world-renowned scholars of Latinx art, Tomás Ybarra-Frausto and Mari Carmen Ramírez. Neither are included as authors in this volume or cited in Ricardo Romo’s essay on “Hispanic Art in Texas.” Texas is also home to legendary curator and scholar Alvia Wardlaw, and Houston is the subject of a revelatory book by Darby English about a racially integrated exhibition of abstract art, 1971: A Year...