Bill Arning is a local legend. The former Director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston made waves last year when he resigned from his post after nearly a decade in the most modern way possible — via social media. In the now 38 years of his career in the arts, Bill has kept with the times in a state of perpetual evolution. Now focusing his energy on the gallery side of the art world, glimpses of Arning’s social media now show that he is a man who lives and breathes art. But perhaps more significantly, he lives and breathes queer art in particular.
"My legacy will be The Bill Arning Gay Art Collection, comprised of roughly 800 works by a broad range of artists. There are many collections of black artists and women artists, but only a few with a gay focus. My collection will be available to the museum that shows me they understand its historical and aesthetic import." Though not a Houston native, Arning is a staunch ambassador and bright beacon of light in our community, seeing great potential in Houston and its place in the art world. "Houston's art scene today is like Los Angeles in the 60's — just beginning to get attention elsewhere," he says. "Houston is a pretty permeable city compared to New York or Boston, where I lived most of my life. There are so many young visionaries finding spaces and mounting their own shows."
"One reason it's so permeable is Mark Flood, the great Houston artist, mentors so many young talents, and teaches them to do it as he did: find a space, make a kick-ass show, and call everyone in town. In most cities, the main critics and collectors don’t pay attention to artist-generated shows. Here they do.” Arning’s current projects include Stonewall 50/50 for 1969 Gallery on the Lower East Side of New York, run by a former Houstonian, Quang Bao. There’s a show called Texas Extravagant Drawing for Fiendish Plots in Lincoln, Nebraska. Flying the Texas flag across the pond, he’s also organizing a “crazy show” for an alternative space called Horseshed outside of Manchester, UK, dubbed More Texas Queers than You Can Handle.
For the first time, #YvesKlein's "Blue Rain (Pluie Bleue) (S 36)" (1961), pictured here on the right, is on display in our main building. Tomorrow, April 14, at 3 p.m., join Curatorial Assistant Haley Berkman Karren for a discussion on this work and the reinstallation of the #Menil's contemporary galleries this past fall. Free and open to everyone.
A huge fan of Houston’s queer comedy, you can often find Bill at The Secret Group on Monday nights for Gay Shame Parade, a biweekly standup comedy show hosted by comedian Bob Morrissey. With many years of sobriety under his belt, he also appreciates “everything Catastrophic Theatre, MATCH, and Hope Stone Dance Troupe does.” Arning loves the open studios off the beaten gallery path that Houston offers, like Hardy & Nance studios in EaDo, and The Silos at Sawyer Yards. For all of Houston’s affinity for Arning and his work, the feeling is certainly mutual. When introducing newcomers to our city, his first stop is always The Menil, what he calls, “The greatest museum in the country. The fact that you just walk in and it's always free — that’s the spirit of the city to me.”