Bert L. Long, Jr., James Surls, and Bob Camblin, summer 1980. Photo by Frank Martin, courtesy Lawndale Arts Center Archives






"You don't have to be from Houston to enjoy this uniquely Texan tale, a microcosm of the trials and tribulations of an 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 exposé."                        Lucy R. Lippard, curator and critic

"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.

“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

“For any reader interested in the history of Houston, 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.” Barry Munitz, Chancellor, University of Houston (retired); Chancellor Emeritus, California State University System; Former President & CEO, J. Paul Getty Trust

*** 2019 CASETA Publication Award 

*** 2019 Texas State Historical Association - Ron Tyler Award for Best Illustrated Book on Texas History and Culture


Collision: The Contemporary Art Scene in Houston, 1972-1985

Fall 2018, Texas A&M University Press

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Houston emerged as a significant city 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 pioneer in championing Texan artists during his controversial tenure as the impassioned, uncompromising director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. He put the state's native artists on the map, but his renegade style was too hot for the museum's benefactors to handle and after four years of fist fights and floods (and of course, some truly innovative programming by both Texans and artists of international stature including Surls, John Alexander, John Chamberlain, Sal Scarpitta, Norman Bluhm, Luis Jimenez, Julian Schnabel and others), he wore out his welcome at the museum.

After Harithas’ departure from the CAMH, the chainsaw-wielding Surls established the Lawndale Annex as a largely unsupervised outpost of the University of Houston’s art department. Inside this dirty, cavernous warehouse, a new generation of Houston artists found itself and flourished. Both enterprises set the scene for the emergence of an array of small, downtown alternative art spaces including Studio One, the Center for Art and Performance, Midtown Arts Center, and DiverseWorks. Through it all, the members of formally and informally organized groups such as the Women’s Caucus for Art, the Urban Animals, and the Core Residency Program supported and challenged each other’s creative pursuits.

Finally, in 1985, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston presented Fresh Paint: the Houston School, a nationally publicized survey of work by Houston painters. The exhibition, curated by the superstar art historian Barbara Rose, capped an era of intensive artistic development and suggested the city was about to be recognized, along with New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, as a major center for art-making activity. The mid-‘80s oil bust temporarily sapped the scene of energy and resources, but the seeds had been sown for the vibrant visual arts community that enriches the lives of Houstonians today.

For this project, author Pete Gershon draws upon primary archival materials, contemporary newspaper and magazine accounts, and more than 75 interviews with significant figures to present a creative non-fiction narrative that preserves and interweaves the stories and insights of the artists, collectors, critics, patrons, and administrators who transformed the city’s art scene. What were the highlights, the detours, the noble failures? How did the city influence these artists, and how did they in turn influence life in the city? How did contemporary art activity in Houston reflect, oppose, or presage trends in the regional and national arts communities? Was there really any such thing as a “Houston school,” and if so, what was it?

The final product will be a richly illustrated art book with more than 400 images, including color reproductions of both key works and lesser-known pieces, as well as ephemera and rarely seen archival photography. An initial print run of 2500 copies is anticipated, with a release date in fall 2018. Exhibitions of artwork and documentation from area art archives is planned for the new Glassell School of Art in conjunction with the book’s publication.

You can support this project with a donation via its fiscal sponsor, the 501(c)3 organization Houston Artists Fund

Adapted excerpts on the web:

James Surls Walking in the Door With a Chainsaw, Houston Chronicle, May 8, 2017

It Happened in Texas: Antoni Miralda, the Kilgore Rangerettes and Flying Bread at the CAMH, Arts+Culture Texas, June 14, 2018