Year in Art 2019

This year, I was lucky enough to travel all around the country seeing interesting and beautiful art…and call it work! Before I leave 2019 behind, I wanted to share my favorite art discoveries of the year, in no particular order.

Textile Art by Jeffrey Gibson at the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Photo: James Khattak.

Jeffrey Gibson : I know I said “no particular order,” but finding this artist easily tops my art discoveries of 2019. I first saw his work at the Whitney Biennial, and then was able to see his “This is the Day” exhibition in Austin. Gibson’s work is just gorgeous, and he incorporates his Native American heritage into every piece in a way that is both interesting and clear while also making you think.

Tomashi Jackson : I saw Jackson’s work at the Whitney Biennial as well, and have been (im)patiently waiting to see more of it ever since. Her work is very interesting, with a lot of thought, depth and skill layered into the pieces. Viewing the Whitney pieces was like looking into a scrapbook – so much story and narrative.

Lincoln Gallery : Smithsonian American Art Museum | Washington, DC : This wasn’t my first visit to this museum, but I hadn’t seen this gallery before. It was definitely a “Where have you been all my life?” moment. From new/digital media pieces by Jenny Holzer and Naim June Paik to vibrant Mickalene Thomas and Kerry James Marshall paintings and a large installation by David Hockney, it really represented the best of America’s best.

Jeff Koons “Split-Rocker” at Glenstone. Photo: James Khattak.

Glenstone | Potomac, MD : This experience felt very exclusive, but is completely accessible. Free to the public but involving a bit of transportation finagling, Glenstone’s grounds and art pavilions feel almost otherworldly, especially when some of the first things you experience are Jeff Koons’ “Split-Rocker” rising to greet you from a distant pasture, and “Forest (for a thousand years…)” a sound installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, booming through the trees at regular intervals.

“Dior: From Paris to the World” at the DMA. Photo: James Khattak.

Dior: From Paris to the World” , Dallas Museum of Art | Dallas, TX: The exhibit itself was great, but what really shone was the exhibition design. It was so well done, and really made me think about how presentation does or doesn’t work in other exhibits. It’s easy to assume that art speaks for itself, and it mostly does, but when exhibition planners go that extra mile, it has a huge impact on visitor experience.

Blanton Museum of Art | Austin: The Blanton has been in the spotlight in recent years for its permanent Ellsworth Kelly “Austin” installation piece. But if you only see that piece, you’re truly missing out. The Blanton has had some of my favorite traveling exhibitions (Jeffrey Gibson’s “This is the Day” and 2018’s “Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design”) and its permanent collection is really fantastic. The museum is large, and contains works by Yayoi Kusama, a comprehensive selection of Latin American art, and a very cool portrait of Madame C.J. Walker, made of hair combs, by Sonya Clark.

Houston Art Scene : Houston is close to Dallas, and even closer to my hometown. But it was still a pleasant surprise to visit for a weekend and see so much going on in its art communities. We went for the Van Gogh exhibition at the MFAH, and while we were there, we were able to experience James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace on the Rice University campus, the MFAH sculpture garden and Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Column,” and there are so many things that we didn’t have time for, that we must go back and see.

Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Garden | Dallas : This gallery is a few miles from our house, an oasis in the middle of North Dallas. We were first introduced to it at this year’s Dallas Art Fair, and visited shortly after. Its staff is friendly, and its exhibitions are interesting and diverse, with many pieces made using techniques I hadn’t seen before, and inspiring my own artistic process. And one of the best things about it is the sculpture garden and pond behind the owner’s residence. (The garden isn’t always open – look for a sign, or simply ask.)

Amon Carter Museum of American Art | Fort Worth: A long-time favorite of ours, the Amon Carter got a refresh this year and it is even better than ever! The upgrade better-highlights the Carter’s contemporary art collection, and gives polish and deeper context to some of its pieces around the American West. When we went, its main exhibition was of Gordon Parks photos, which in itself was a 2019 highlight because of the talent, subject matter, and Parks’ groundbreaking position as a successful black photojournalist in and around the Civil Rights Era. Its Gabriel Dawe and Justin Favela installations are also crowd pleasers.

“Slumgullion (The Venerate Outpost)” by Karl Unnasch at Philbrook Museum of Art. Photo: James Khattak.

“Slumgullion (The Venerate Outpost)” by Karl Unnasch, Philbrook Museum of Art | Tulsa, OK : Made entirely from reclaimed materials, including colored glass objects and lamps, t-shirts and the skeleton of a late-1800s pioneer home, Slumgullion is a log cabin installation at the back of Phibrook’s fairy tale gardens, which makes it seem even more magical. Philbrook is doing all kinds of interesting and innovative things lately. Can’t wait to see what it brings in 2020! (And if its’ Instagram hinting is any indication, we are in for something – maybe thirty somethings – very cool!)


Believe it or not, this is not all of the amazing art I saw in 2019! I actually did narrow it down a lot, which wasn’t easy.

If you see something interesting in this list, I hope you will bookmark it, research further, and let it inspire your own artwork, art travels or creative thinking!

Year in Reading 2019

I read a lot, sometimes a book a week if I have the time and energy. Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order:

Catch and Kill. Ronan Farrow. Fast-paced and deep look into investigations of the #MeToo movement and its impact on the author.

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion. Jia Tolentino. These essays analyze modern and internet culture and how it has changed society, how we find and define our place in it, and how we view ourselves in these new and changing contexts.

Lot: Stories. Bryan Washington. I really loved these interconnected vignettes that formed a narrative around the life of a Houston boy and his family as he grew to adulthood and the neighborhood evolved around him.

American Predator. Maureen Callahan. This book was really scary. I read a lot of true crime, and this one was the first in a long time that truly unsettled me.

Working. Robert Caro. I’m late to Robert Caro, but after reading this I immediately reserved two of his other books through my library system. His writes clearly, but beautifully and humanizes his subjects without pulling punches.

Henri Nouwen. Discernment. I NEEDED to read this book when I read it. Truly life-changing for me. I downloaded some of his other books, and they were good, but I truly found this one at the right time. (Or perhaps it found me, if you are into that sort of thing.)

Calypso. David Sedaris. The best of the best at his best. Sedaris takes universal challenges (aging ourselves, caring for aging parents) and makes them both poignant and hilarious.

Heart of the Sea : The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. Nathaniel Philbrick. I read this as I was missing and reminiscing on The Terror: Season One, and had already read the book on which that show had been based. I was looking for a true seafaring adventure and this did not disappoint. It was heartbreaking at times, and the descriptions of historic Nantucket as a place bound so tightly to the whaling industry were interesting as well.

Wave. Sonali Deraniyagala. Heartbreaking and beautifully written, this first-person account of the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lank is told by a woman who lost her husband, two children and parents to the wave. It is a short book, spare in language but not without depth, emotion and even beauty.

Book of Night Women. Marlon James. This author has had a few big publications since this book was published in 2010, but this one is no less strong than his more recent works. It tells the story of a gifted young woman in Jamaica coming of age at the time of a slave revolt on the sugar plantation where she lives. It is hard to read in some parts, but also hard to look away from because the story is so compelling, and James’s gifted prose gives each scene the importance and gravity it rightfully deserves.