Texas Travel

The Ultimate Guide to Modern Art in Texas

By Peter Simek 12.4.20

Texas is home to top-notch museums, world-famous art collectors, and some of the most innovative and adventurous art spaces in the country. Its spectacular scenery has attracted modern art legends such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Donald Judd, and its dynamic and diverse cities have given birth to a wide range of homegrown talents.

In fact, there’s so much art to experience in Texas these days, it can be difficult to know how — and where — to dive in. From renowned museums to quirky, upstart art spaces, here’s a beginner’s guide to exploring the world of contemporary and modern art in Texas.

modern art in Texas
Courtesy of the Menil Collection. Photo by Kevin Keim

The Texas Art Capital

Austin may be the seat of state government, but Houston is the seat of modern art in Texas. Its art institutions, galleries, collectors, and patrons have given birth to dozens of top artistic talents. Begin your exploration of the city’s art scene with the Menil Collection, one of Texas’ best art museums, located in a building tastefully designed by Renzo Piano. Some of the Menil’s finest works sit outside the main museum: its shrines to Cy Twombly and the famous Rothko Chapel.

After visiting the Menil, head to some of Houston’s alternative art spaces that make up the historic backbone of its art scene. Founded in 1948, Art League Houston was the first alternative art space in Texas. DiverseWorks has been exhibiting experimental visual, performing, and literary art since 1982. And no trip to Houston would be complete without a visit to artist Rick Lowe’s groundbreaking Project Row Houses, a community-enhancing project that transformed a series of shotgun shacks in Houston’s Third Ward neighborhood into an interactive, socially engaged art space.

Nasher Sculpture Garden: Texas Modern Art
Nasher Sculpture Center. Photo by Tim Hursley

Big Collections in Big D

Dallas’ top museums — including the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center — boast impressive modern and contemporary holdings and often feature living art in their temporary exhibitions. But the story of contemporary art in Dallas is all about the exceptional private collections of the city’s deep-pocketed collectors.

Howard Rachofsky’s hefty holdings of contemporary art can be viewed during special limited hours at The Warehouse, his private art space on the north side of the city. Alden Pinnell’s The Power Station offers an alternative approach to viewing new art. The collector turns over his art space — a historic brick industrial building — to renowned artists who create site-specific work. While in Dallas, also check out the always-provocative Dallas Contemporary and the innovative downtown galleries of Cris Worley, Erin Cluley, and Ex Ovo.

modern art in Texas
Photo courtesy of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Funky Town Fort Worth

The symbiotic artistic communities and a patron-class rivalry between Dallas and Fort Worth has led to cultural investments in Cowtown that punch far above its urban weight. The gemstone of Fort Worth’s modern art offerings is The Modern, located in a Tadao Ando-designed building that is one Texas’ most elegant art spaces. The Modern’s impressive permanent collection includes pieces by many of the most significant artists working over the past 100 years.

In recent years, Fort Worth has also given birth to a flurry of DIY art space activity. A complete art-trip to Fort Worth depends on checking out spaces like FWBLACKHOUSE, Art Tooth, Latino Hustle, Artluck, and Mañanaland.

modern art in Texas
Photo courtesy of The Old Jail Center

Little Art House on the Prairie

Great art in Texas isn’t limited to the big cities. In the little West Texas town of Albany, you can find the Old Jail Art Center, an innovative contemporary art space housed in a 19th-century jailhouse. The space follows a rotating calendar of site-specific exhibitions and features some of the most exciting artists working in Texas today — not to mention an art collection decorated by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Modigliani.

Art, the San Antonio Way

The tone of San Antonio’s dynamic and diverse art scene has long been set by Artpace, one of Texas’ premier independent galleries and art spaces. Artpace offers a prestigious artist-residency program that has hosted world-renowned talents such as Kader Attia and Rosa Barba.

The city has given birth to a solid base of independent, community-minded, and free-spirited art spaces and galleries, including Sala Diaz, Blue Star Contemporary, Presa House Gallery, AnArte Gallery, High Wire Arts, Gravelmouth Gallery, Fl!ght Gallery, and more.

Texas Modern Art
Women and Their Work. Photo by Ali Vanderhider

Keeping Austin Weird

Austin’s visual arts scene has long been overshadowed by its live music cred, but the city is home to many talented artists thanks, in part, to the incubating presence of the University of Texas. Without the same depth of patronage that Texas’ art capitals of Houston and Dallas have enjoyed, Austin’s scene has long been artist-driven, with spaces like Women and Their Work, Big Medium, Pump Project, and Yard Dog Art Gallery.

As Austin has changed in recent years, so has its arts scene, with the arrival of top-notch galleries such as Lora Reynolds Gallery and the expansion of The Contemporary Austin, now located on Congress Avenue in an elegant building designed by Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis.

modern art in Texas
Ballroom Marfa. Photo by Jennifer Boomer

The Ultimate Texas Art Pilgrimage

In 1972, the seminal minimalist artist Donald Judd moved from New York to Marfa, drawn by the stark emptiness of the West Texas plains. He would change the little Texas town forever, transforming Marfa into an artistic destination that attracts visitors from around the world. Marfa’s modern art centerpiece is Judd’s own Chinati Foundation, a virtual shrine to minimalism. The presence of Chinati has led to the emergence of numerous galleries and art spaces, like Ballroom Marfa, which opened in 2003. The art space has curated significant exhibitions and commissioned new work inspired by the unparalleled beauty of the Big Bend region.

Texas art dates back to long before the area was the Lone Star State. Here’s where to find Native American Art in Texas.

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