Welcome to the wildest gathering in Houston.
The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) by its very nature and founding documents, is committed to bringing to the community an international panoply of the arts. These endeavors have a few overriding goals—to be stimulating, provocative and induce heated discussion. In a city which has access to a lot of widely ratified artworks whose importance have been given the consensus of teachers, historians, curators and collectors—CAMH gets to take chances in ways that true mavens of edgy art cherish. It is understandable that some art viewers will leave in horror. Long-term board members have told me of friends and relatives who came to visit at their invitation once and have still not been forgiven. In 1972, the legendary opening exhibition of CAMH’s current building sparked outrage amongst donors. Today, that same exhibition enjoys renown status among scholars of the avant-garde.
The job of overseeing an institution with anarchic tendencies is something I welcomed when offered the job of Executive Director in late 2008. I arrived to find a board with a long history of valuing and nurturing the Museum. Nine years later, the Board of Trustees are over 90 percent relative newcomers to an institution with a 69-year history. However, I feel confident that we are generally aligned in believing that the core value of bringing the new in arts, culture and discourse holds true today.
The thorny questions of where and in what ways we need to grow and where we need to reinvest in infrastructure to maintain or current successes will be up to us to debate over the next few years. But even in those debates, as complex as the issues raised in a changing city and country, it’s still a fascinating never-ending meditation on the functions of art beyond decoration and investment. We see the positive effects of our Teen Council program on the future lives of Houston’s youth. We see how investing time in museum-level scholarship on under-known artists has rewritten the art historical canon.
It is worth pausing and listening to many voices, our own and those within our communities, as to what CAMH needs to become. As I told one of the Museum’s longest-term benefactors when I arrived—keeping the CAMH “wild” is a task I cherish, and that still rings true today.
-Bill Arning, Director