History & Mission
The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is a non-collecting institution dedicated to presenting the best and most exciting international, national, and regional art. Through dynamic exhibitions accompanied by scholarly publications and accessible educational programs, the Museum reaches out to local, regional, national, and international audiences of various ages.
The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is a leading destination to experience innovative art. CAMH actively encourages public engagement with its exhibitions through its educational programs, publications, and online presence.
ALWAYS FRESH, ALWAYS FREE
The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston was founded in 1948 by a group of seven Houston citizens to present new art and to document its role in modern life through exhibitions, lectures and other activities. The Museum's first exhibitions were presented at various sites throughout the city, such as The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and included This is Contemporary Art and L. Maholy-Nagy: Memorial Exhibition.
1950 – 1960
The success of these first efforts led in 1950 to the building of a small, professionally equipped facility where ambitious exhibitions of the work of Vincent van Gogh, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, and John Biggers and his students from the then-fledgling Texas Negro College (now Texas Southern University), reflected Houston's receptiveness to new ideas.
In 1955, the once volunteer-run Museum hired Jermayne MacAgy as its first professional director. Ms. MacAgy organized such definitive exhibitions as The Sphere of Mondrian, Mark Rothko (his second museum exhibition), The Disquieting Muse: Surrealism and Totems Not Taboo: Primitive Art. During the 1960s, the Museum's dedication to thematic exhibitions, architecture and design, and surveys of individual artists continued. Landmark exhibitions included The Emerging Figure and the influential combine paintings of Robert Rauschenberg.
1970 – 1980
By the close of the 1960s, the Museum's programs and audiences had outgrown the 1950 facility, and the trustees secured capital funds and a prominent site on the corner of Montrose and Bissonnet where the new building, designed by Gunnar Birkerts, was built. In 1972, the present facility opened with the controversial exhibition Ten, which featured several artists working in non-traditional media. Throughout the 1970s, the Museum continued its commitment to showcasing the newest national and regional art in such exhibitions as John Chamberlain, Dalé Gas (one of the first surveys of Hispanic artists in the U.S.), and a major thematic exhibition, American Narrative/Story Art 1967-1977. Exhibitions of new Texas talent gave early recognition and encouragement to James Surls, John Alexander, and Luis Jimenez, among others.
1980 – 1990
In the 1980s, the Museum contributed vigorously to the emergence of Houston as one of the most significant cultural centers in the nation. From 1979 to 1984, the Museum grew significantly, extending its reach with major exhibitions that presented and toured thematic surveys of installations for performance art; contemporary still-life painting; an important group exhibition of work by Texas artists; and one-person shows of nationally-known artists such as Ida Applebroog, Robert Morris, Pat Steir, Bill Viola and Frank Stella as well as exhibitions of the work of Texans Earl Staley, Melissa Miller, and Vernon Fisher. At the start of the decade Director Linda L. Cathcart established Perspectives in the Museum’s lower gallery. Perspectives is a fast-paced series of medium-sized exhibitions focusing on cycles of work by emerging and well-known artists not previously shown in Houston. Over 170 shows have taken place within the series that continues today.
1990 – 2000
In the 1990s, the Museum sharpened its focus, concentrating on art made within the past 40 years and extending its reach internationally. Major one-person exhibitions included Art Guys: Think Twice; Tony Cragg: Sculpture 1975-1990; Ann Hamilton: kaph; Richard Long: Circles Cycles Mud Stone; Nic Nicosia: Real Pictures 1979-1999; Introjection: Tony Oursler: 1976-1999; Lari Pittman; Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective; James Turrell: Spirit and Light; William Wegman: Paintings and Drawings, Photographs and Videotapes; and Robert Wilson's Vision.
The Museum closed on January 1, 1997 for its first major facility renovation in 25 years. Funded by a highly successful capital campaign, the Museum reopened to the public on May 10, 1997 with Finders/Keepers. This landmark exhibition documented the institution’s relationship to the community, borrowing back important works of art that had remained in the region after first being presented in exhibitions at the Museum. Other important thematic presentations during the decade included Elvis + Marilyn: Two Times Immortal; Abstract Painting Once Removed; and Other Narratives.
The new millennium was celebrated by the Museum with a look back at some of the most arresting and important installations of the previous decade in the exhibition Outbound: Passages from the Nineties. Other thematic exhibitions of the new century have included Afterimage: Drawing Through Process; Subject Plural; and The Inward Eye. One-person shows have focused on groundbreaking figures in all media and have included Uta Barth; When One is Two: The Art of Alighiero e Boetti; William Kentridge and Juan Muñoz.
2000 - present
In the 2000’s CAMH presented several award-winning exhibitions, including Andrea Zittel: Critical Space, which was named “Best Architecture or Design Show” by the International Association of Art Critics/USA (AICA) in 2005-2006; and The Old, Weird America: Folk Themes in Contemporary Art, which was awarded “Best Thematic Museum Show Nationally” by AICA in 2008. Cinema Remixed and Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image since 1970was nominated by AICA/USA in the “digital media, video, or film" category. Co-organized by Valerie Cassel Oliver and Dr. Andrea Barnwell-Brownlee, director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, the exhibition featured the contributions of black women artists to the cinematic and visual arts arenas, and was presented in Atlanta in two parts (2007/2008) and at CAMH (October 17, 2008-January 4, 2009).
The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston continues to look forward with exhibitions that exemplify the art of today. From German painters to South African videographers to Houston sculptors, the Museum is proud to show work by artists from many different cultures and backgrounds.
A complete history of exhibitions at the Museum can be found in our Archive section.
images + video