The Apostles of Peter


Sixteen curators weigh in about Peter Marzio%26rsquo;s nearly 30 years at the helm of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston %26mdash; the acquisitions, the exhibitions, the anecdotes. Catherine D. Anspon considers how the late director%26rsquo;s legacy continues to influence the institution, as well as the city whose culture he shaped.


Image: Peter and Frances Marzio, MFAH Grand Gala Ball, 2010. Photo by Jenny Antill.

Frances Marzio, curator, The Glassell Collections and assistant to the chairman of the board; at MFAH officially since 1993
Blockbusters: 1) Glassell bequest. 2) Designation of the atria of Audrey Jones Beck Building for antiquities. 3) More than a decade of exhibitions about the ancient world.
Upcoming: Publication of a book on the Glassell Collections this year and %26ldquo;Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs,%26rdquo; opening October 16.
In Retrospect: Introducing me as the family nerd and joking his only rivals were 2,000 years old. In 2001, I proposed an exhibition of ancient Greek art with Princeton. At the end of my presentation, Peter asked and answered, %26ldquo;Who will come? You and your friends?%26rdquo; We opened %26ldquo;The Centaur%26rsquo;s Smile%26rdquo; in 2004. When attendance exceeded 75,000, Peter said, %26ldquo;You have a lot of friends.%26rdquo;


Image: Gustave Caillebotte%26rsquo;s "The Orange Trees," 1878. Photo courtesy MFAH, Audrey Jones Beck Collection.

Helga Aurisch, curator, European Art; at MFAH since 2004
Blockbusters: %26ldquo;Masterpieces of French Painting from 1800 %26ndash; 1920 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art%26rdquo; in 2007 and the current exhibition of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces from the National Gallery. The most significant acquisition for the department during Dr. Marzio%26rsquo;s tenure was surely the unequaled gift of more than 70 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works by Audrey Jones Beck to the MFAH.
In Retrospect: Watching Peter negotiate the loan of the Impressionist exhibition from the National Gallery. He talked about fly-fishing with his friend Rusty Powell, the director of the NGA, with as much passion and knowledge with which he could talk about art. Incredible.


Image: Eric Fischl%26rsquo;s "Year of the Drowned Dog," 1983. Photo courtesy MFAH, The Peter Blum Edition Archive, 1980%26ndash;1994.

Edgar Peters Bowron, The Audrey Jones Beck Curator of European Art; at MFAH since 1996
Blockbusters: 1) The acquisition of a painting by Rembrandt, Portrait of a Young Woman, 1633 (2004). 2) The creation of a Dutch %26ldquo;Golden Age,%26rdquo; or 17th-century, paintings collection. 3) The exhibition %26ldquo;The Splendor of Rome: Art in the Eighteenth Century%26rdquo; (2000).
Upcoming: %26ldquo;Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland,%26rdquo; May 22 %26ndash; August 14, 2011.
In Retrospect: His unwavering willingness to entertain and, if he believed in the integrity of the proposed acquisition, exhibition, or project, support the initiatives of the Museum%26rsquo;s curators.


Image: North fa%26ccedil;ade and outdoor plaza, Lora Jean Kilroy Visitor and Education Center, Houston. Photo by Robb Williamson.

Michael Brown, curator, Bayou Bend Collection; at MFAH since 1980
Blockbusters: 1) The restoration and renovation of Bayou Bend in 1991 %26ndash; 1993. 2) The gift of three masterpieces of Newport, Rhode Island, furniture from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. James L. Britton Jr. in 1992 and 1999. 3) The dedication of the Lora Jean Kilroy Visitor and Education Center in 2010.
Upcoming: The exhibition of Duncan Phyfe furniture that is being co-organized with the Metropolitan [opening 2012].
In Retrospect: In January 2001, I received an inquiry from a gentleman named Russell Barnes, who wondered if the museum might be interested in purchasing his collection of early Texas pottery ... [by] H. Wilson %26amp; Co., the first business founded, owned and operated by African-Americans in Texas ... The next step was to bring the pottery to Peter Marzio%26rsquo;s attention ... He, too, was very excited about the pottery ... He was one of those rare individuals who possessed the ability to recognize and appreciate the significance of all cultures and periods %26mdash; as evidenced by the encyclopedic collection that he envisioned and built for Houston.


Image: Peter Marzio with Isamu Noguchi in the Cullen Sculpture Garden, 1986. Photo courtesy MFAH Archives, %26copy; Richard Cunningham.

Bonnie Campbell, director, Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens; at MFAH since 2004%26nbsp;%26nbsp;%26nbsp;
Blockbusters and Upcoming: I will let Michael Brown respond.
In Retrospect: At the 2010 opening of Bayou Bend%26rsquo;s Lora Jean Kilroy Visitor and Education Center, Peter spoke less than 500 words, but in those brief remarks, he captured the essence of America%26rsquo;s foundations ... then connected these ideals to the early American objects found in Bayou Bend%26rsquo;s renowned collection. Masterful and memorable.


Image: Sword Ornament in the form of a Crocodile with Mudfish, Akan, 19th century; photo courtesy MFAH, The Glassell Gold Collection.

Alison Greene, curator, Contemporary Art and Special Projects; at MFAH since 1984
Blockbusters: 1) The utterly transforming Caroline Wiess Law bequest, 2004, which brought not only masterpieces ranging from Picasso to Warhol into the museum%26rsquo;s permanent collection, but also an endowment that allows the MFAH to pursue the best in modern and contemporary art ... 2) The 1986 completion of the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, designed by Isamu Noguchi %26mdash; the first step in Dr. Marzio%26rsquo;s enduring commitment to creating a museum campus that could truly be a %26ldquo;place for all people.%26rdquo; 3) %26ldquo;Czech Modernism: 1900 %26ndash; 1945,%26rdquo; the exhibition I organized with Anne Tucker, along with Jaroslav Andel, Willis Hartshorn and Ralph McKay. It opened in 1989, just weeks before the Velvet Revolution. Even 20-plus years later, it is still recognized as the premier exhibition of the material ever to be seen in the United States %26hellip;
Upcoming: %26ldquo;Revelation: %26ldquo;Major Paintings by Jules Olitski,%26rdquo; opening at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City in May 2011 and traveling to Houston in spring 2012.
In Retrospect: When I handed in my manuscript for the Texas book in 1999, he immediately called me into his office to congratulate me. He then took the book to a major publishing house and gave it his fullest support. Not many museum directors make such a commitment to the artists on their doorstep!


Image: Alfred Glassell Jr., Peter Marzio, Joe Havel and Core Fellows at the Core Program%26rsquo;s 25th anniversary, 2008. Photo courtesy MFAH Archives, Thomas R. DuBrock.

Joseph Havel, director, Glassell School of Art; at MFAH since 1991
Blockbusters: 1) The Core Program%26rsquo;s 25th anniversary [2008]. 2) The opening of the new Junior School Building and the remodeled Studio School in 1994. 3) Adding the Critical Studies fellowships to the Core Program in 1998.
Upcoming: Simply to continue doing excellent work improving all of the Glassell programs ... That would be what Peter Marzio would want.
In Retrospect: Peter having lunch and visiting the studios of the Core fellows. This didn%26rsquo;t happen every year but was always charming and special when it did. He was always open and inquisitive, wanting to understand their experience and ideas.


Image: Rienzi. Photo by John Everett.

Katherine Howe, director, Rienzi and Dora Maar House; at MFAH since 1975
Blockbusters: 1) Peter Marzio negotiated with Carroll Sterling and Harris Masterson III to secure Rienzi, including its collection and an endowment, so that it could become the museum%26rsquo;s center for European decorative arts upon their deaths. 2) In 1997 %26ndash; 1999, he guided Rienzi through its delicate transition from private residence to public museum. 3) In 2010, he helped Rienzi secure a very important silver and gilt bronze Neapolitan coffer ... It remains Rienzi%26rsquo;s most significant purchase since its founding.
Upcoming: On September 17, Rienzi will open its first formal exhibition. Called %26ldquo;English Taste: Dining in the Eighteenth Century,%26rdquo; it is a re-creation of a fine English dining table, including the meal itself.
In Retrospect: On one occasion, when he needed a curator for an arms-and-armor exhibition, he began with this expression of confidence: %26ldquo;You know silver, and you%26rsquo;re a fast take!%26rdquo; I knew nothing about armor and had never held a weapon in my life, but of necessity I learned fast. On another occasion, which involved the residency program in France, he asked very apologetically, %26ldquo;Do you think you would mind going to Provence?%26rdquo; Of course, I wouldn%26rsquo;t! ... Peter had an infectious laugh.


Image: %26ldquo;Golden Horn%26rdquo; Tondino, first half of 16th century. Photo courtesy MFAH, Arts of the Islamic World Collection.

Francesca Leoni, curator, Islamic Art; joint appointment in 2008, full-time at MFAH since 2010
Blockbusters: Following one of the most successful fund-raising events in the history of the museum, which occurred in 2007, Dr. Marzio established the department of the Arts of the Islamic World, identified a permanent gallery space and hired me as full-time curator to steward the collection and exhibition program.
Upcoming: Our exhibition %26ldquo;Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts%26rdquo; is the largest Islamic exhibition that the MFAH has ever had [opening October 2011].
In Retrospect: His ability to make you feel at ease at any time, and the great trust he had in everybody%26rsquo;s capacities.


Image: Rex Reed, Lynn Wyatt and Peter Marzio at %26ldquo;A Night at the Movies with Rex Reed%26rdquo; reception, 1996. Photo courtesy MFAH Archives, Thomas R. DuBrock.

Marian Luntz, curator, Film and Video; at MFAH since 1990
Blockbusters: The film committee was established, with Peter Marzio inviting Lynn Wyatt to serve as its founding chair, in 1993. In 1996, the Film Buffs patron group was launched with an event chaired by Lynn Wyatt, %26ldquo;A Night at the Movies with Rex Reed.%26rdquo; Ms. Wyatt invited the renowned film critic, a longtime friend of hers, to present a favorite film. He chose The Member of the Wedding (the original version from 1952) and shared entertaining personal anecdotes about growing up in the South.
Upcoming: We are currently finalizing the roster of presenters for the seventh season of our popular series %26ldquo;Movies Houstonians Love%26rdquo; and were so delighted by the turn-away crowds at the inaugural %26ldquo;Five Funny French Films%26rdquo; in March that research has begun for the next edition.
In Retrospect: One of the last times I saw Peter was also one of his final public appearances, when he was kind enough to make remarks at a program marking my 20 years at the MFAH during the 2010 Cinema Arts Festival Houston. He spoke with his characteristic blend of intelligence, humor and passion, sharing his conviction about the importance of film as an art form and its essential role within the museum%26rsquo;s programming mission.


Image: Elie Nadelman%26rsquo;s "Tango," circa 1918 %26ndash; 1924. Photo courtesy MFAH, American Art Collection.

Emily Neff, curator, American Painting and Sculpture; at MFAH since 1989
Blockbusters: 1) The milestone for the department is the fact that it was founded [in 1995]. 2) %26ldquo;An American Season%26rdquo; [in 2010] was a great boon to American art at the museum. Works by John Singer Sargent, Maurice Prendergast and Charles Russell ... 3) %26ldquo;The Modern West: American Landscapes and Photography, 1890-1950,%26rdquo; of 2006 %26ndash; 2007. 4) Acquisitions: Elie Nadelman, Tango, 1918 %26ndash; 1924, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Meredith Long; Thomas Hart Benton, Haystack, 1938, gift of Mr. Frank J. Hevrdejs; Mary Cassatt, Children in a Garden, 1878, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Long ...
Upcoming: In the planning stages, %26ldquo;American Adversaries, West and Copley in a Transatlantic World%26rdquo; and the Julian Onderdonk catalogue raisonn%26eacute;, which will
be the first major catalogue raisonne for a Texas artist [both 2013].
In Retrospect: He was funny, unpretentious, and could always tell a great story or joke. He was also brilliant. His field of expertise was in my same area, American art, and so I always needed to be on my toes. ... One time, we were discussing some aspect or issue in American art and, out of the blue, he said, %26ldquo;I think you need to go look up George Washington%26rsquo;s Farewell Address%26rdquo; ... I went home and dutifully read it again ... It was completely tangential to our conversation and at the same time perfectly spot-on. He was genius at that sort of thing. He didn%26rsquo;t make it easy for you, but he did point you in the right direction so that you could figure it out for yourself. This is, by definition, a great leader, and Peter was the best.


Image: Peter Marzio, Mari Carmen Ram%26iacute;rez and Adolpho Leirner in galleries with installation of %26ldquo;Dimensions of Constructive Art in Brazil: The Adolpho Leirner Collection,%26rdquo; 2007. Photo courtesy MFAH Archives, Thomas R. DuBrock.

Mari Carmen Ram%26iacute;rez, The Wortham curator of Latin American Art and director, International Center for the Arts of the Americas [ICAA]; at MFAH since 2001
Blockbusters: 1) The permanent collection of Latin American art that we have been creating at the MFAH since 2001. Right now the collection includes more than 450 works representative of the Latin American avant-garde. 2) %26ldquo;Inverted Utopias,%26rdquo; the major exhibition co-curated by H%26eacute;ctor Olea and myself that presented more than 300 works of the Latin American avant-garde between 1920 and 1970 ... The New York Times declared it one of the top two exhibitions of the last decade. 3) The ICAA Documents of 20th Century Latin American and Latino Art Project, a digital archive and publications project that aims to make accessible the intellectual foundations of this art at the global level.
Upcoming: In 2012, a series of three installations will take place, showcasing Latin American works of art from our permanent collection. In addition, in 2012 the ICAA will launch a ground-breaking online resource [see above].
In Retrospect: A few years ago, while working on the exhibition of a well-known artist from South America, I ran into trouble with the guardians of the artist%26rsquo;s estate, who demanded that certain passages from my introductory essay in the exhibition catalog be removed. When I asked Peter if that was what he wanted me to do, he surprised me by responding: %26ldquo;The only thing we own in this profession is our intellectual integrity. Therefore, don%26rsquo;t even think about removing a word from what you wrote.%26rdquo; From that time on, I learned to read simultaneously and between the lines both the value of my knowledge and the power of his wisdom.


Image: The Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery, installation view of Cai Guo-Qiang%26rsquo;s "Odyssey." Photo courtesy MFAH, Will Michels.

Christine Starkman, curator, Asian Art: Ancient to Contemporary Art; at MFAH since 2000
Blockbusters: 1) Opening of the Arts of Korea Gallery in 2007. 2) The exhibition %26ldquo;Where Clouds Disperse: Ink Paintings by Suh Se Ok.%26rdquo; 3) Opening of the Arts of India Gallery in 2009. 4) The exhibition %26ldquo;Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea.%26rdquo; 5) Opening of the Arts of China Gallery, 2010. 6) The acquisitions Sarasvati in 2004, Parvati in 2007 and Odyssey by Cai Guo Qiang in 2010.
Upcoming: Arts of Japan gallery, opening February 2012; Richard Fabian 19th- and 20th-century Chinese painting and calligraphy exhibition, opening June 2012; and National Museum of Korea 18th-century Joseon Period exhibition in 2013.
In Retrospect: He called me into his office to let me know that we needed to open a Korean gallery and organize a modernist and contemporary exhibition from Korea ... I told Peter that we only had four Korean objects in the collection. So he said, %26ldquo;What are you waiting for? Get going.%26rdquo;


Image: Frances Marzio, Peter Marzio, Alfred Glassell Jr. and author Doran H. Ross at %26ldquo;Gold of the Akan from the Glassell Collection%26rdquo; book signing, 2002. Photo courtesy MFAH Archives, Thomas R. DuBrock.

Cindi Strauss, assistant director, programming, and curator, Modern and Contemporary Decorative Arts and Design; at MFAH since 1994
Blockbusters: 1) The acquisition and exhibition of the Helen Williams Drutt Collection of contemporary jewelry. 2) The acquisition of the Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio Collection of modern and contemporary ceramics. 3) The support, growth, and consistent exhibition of decorative arts in the museum galleries.
Upcoming: %26ldquo;Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Ceramics: The Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio Collection,%26rdquo; opening at the MFAH in March 2012.
In Retrospect: There are too many to choose from! Peter was an incredible mentor and friend to me. I miss our conversations dearly.


Image: Lid for Canopic Container from Tutankhamun%26rsquo;s Tomb, 18th Dynasty. Photo courtesy Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, %26ldquo;Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs%26rdquo; %26copy; Sandro Vannini.

Anne Wilkes Tucker, The Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography; at MFAH since 1976
Blockbusters: 1) Acquisition of the Manfred Heiting Collection. 2) The exhibition %26ldquo;History of Japanese Photography.%26rdquo; 3) The exhibition %26ldquo;Brassai: Eye of Paris%26rdquo; and acquisition of important group of Brassai photographs.
Upcoming: %26ldquo;War/Photography: Photographs of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath%26rdquo; [opening Veterans Day 2012].
In Retrospect: I happened to have a meeting with Peter just after he had toured Helga Aurisch%26rsquo;s German Impressionism show for the first time. As he often did, he began to think aloud about her exhibition, comparing French and German Impressionism. Then he spoke about how these tendencies continued into Modernism through artists such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and other Bauhaus artists. It was almost 20 minutes before we got to the more mundane matters for which I%26rsquo;d made the appointment. In the meantime, I%26rsquo;d had a delightful %26ldquo;seminar%26rdquo; experience with someone who loved art and approached it with a fresh and personal vision and a solid grounding in both history and art.


Image: Life trustee Caroline Law, curator Barry Walker, art dealer Jason McCoy (Pollock%26rsquo;s nephew and estate representative) and Peter Marzio posing next to Pollock%26rsquo;s "Number 6," 1949, during the exhibition %26ldquo;Jackson Pollock: Defining the Heroic,%26rdquo; 1996. Photo courtesy MFAH Archives.

Barry Walker, curator, Modern and Contemporary Art and Prints %26amp; Drawings; at MFAH since 1991
Blockbusters: 1) A very large purchase from a Jackson Pollock drawings exhibition that had been in Europe. When it came to Houston, Dr. Marzio encouraged me to add paintings and sculpture. 2. The Peter Blum purchase and exhibition, %26ldquo;Singular Multiples.%26rdquo; 3) Dealing directly with Jasper Johns, and a complete purchase of his paintings, drawings and prints.
Upcoming: An exhibition with English draftsman, Ewan Gibbs, probably in November 2012.
In Retrospect: It%26rsquo;s so rare that you meet someone who you totally admire but also enjoy being with. Peter was more fun than anyone else.

Image at top: Peter Marzio with Isaac Arnold Jr. in the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden during 20th anniversary celebration, 2006. Photo courtesy MFAH Archives, George Ramirez.

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