The Contemporary Art Scene in Houston, 1972–1985
Art - Texana - Texas History
8.5 x 11, 480 pp.
181 color, 212 b&w photos. Appendix. Bib. Index.
Pub Date: 09/13/2018
Sara and John Lindsey Series in the Arts and Humanities
Price:        $65.00

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The Contemporary Art Scene in Houston, 1972–1985

Pete Gershon

In this expansive and vigorous survey of the Houston art scene of the 1970s and 1980s, author Pete Gershon describes the city’s emergence as a locus for the arts, fueled by a boom in oil prices and by the arrival of several catalyzing figures, including museum director James Harithas and sculptor James Surls. Harithas was a fierce champion for Texan artists during his tenure as the director of the Contemporary Arts Museum–Houston (CAM). He put Texas artists on the map, but his renegade style proved too confrontational for the museum’s benefactors, and after four years, he wore out his welcome.

After Harithas’s departure from the CAM, the chainsaw-wielding Surls established the Lawndale Annex as a largely unsupervised outpost of the University of Houston art department. Inside this dirty, cavernous warehouse, a new generation of Houston artists discovered their identities and began to flourish. Both the CAM and the Lawndale Annex set the scene for the emergence of small, downtown, artist-run spaces, including Studio One, the Center for Art and Performance, Midtown Arts Center, and DiverseWorks.

Finally, in 1985, the Museum of Fine Arts presented Fresh Paint: The Houston School, a nationally publicized survey of work by Houston painters. The exhibition capped an era of intensive artistic development and suggested that the city was about to be recognized, along with New York and Los Angeles, as a major center for art-making activity.

Drawing upon primary archival materials, contemporary newspaper and magazine accounts, and over sixty interviews with significant figures, Gershon presents a narrative that preserves and interweaves the stories and insights of those who transformed the Houston art scene into the vibrant community that it is today.


PETE GERSHON is the program coordinator for the Core Residency Program at the Glassell School of Art of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the author of Painting the Town Orange: Houston’s Visionary Art Environments. He resides in Houston.

What Readers Are Saying:

“For any reader interested in the history of Houston during the final quarter of the 20th century, and most particularly in the intersection between the arts, general culture, higher education, and the startling evolution of this remarkable city’s success, Pete Gershon’s latest contribution is invaluable.  Thoughtfully written, clearly stated, and full of wonderful anecdotes, it is a luxurious reading adventure through some of the Southwest’s most intriguing decades.” —Chancellor, University of Houston, Retired, Chancellor Emeritus - California State University System, Former President & CEO J Paul Getty Trust

“You don't have to be from Houston to enjoy this uniquely Texan tale, a microcosm of the trials and tribulations of any ambitious city's art scene. Part regional history, part institutional critique, always sympathetic to artists, Collision is a well written, fast moving, and entertaining fusion of archival detail and artworld expose.” —Lucy R. Lippard, art critic

“Pete Gershon is clearly not afraid of big personalities and their grand personal mythologies. In tackling the history of art, artists, and nascent institutions in Houston, Gershon has found clear narrative lines in the cast of thousands that built the culture here. . . .The scene kings, like James Surls, Jim Harithas, and John Alexander share the pages with grassroots organizers who built support structures that continue to make this a great city to make art in. . . . Collision also functions as a case study and how-to guide for building sustainable cultures outside the glare of New York.”— Bill Arning, Director, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

“Pete Gershon puts you in the middle of this wild, dynamic scene, which is exactly what you want from this kind of book.” —Cheech Marin, entertainer and Chicano art advocate


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