Hirsch Library Exhibitions
Visit the Hirsch Library during regular hours to browse exhibitions featuring volumes from the library’s collection of rare books.
Echoes of Harlem: The Graphic Work of Aaron Douglas
March 10–August 29, 2020
Aaron Douglas (1899–1979) was a graphic artist, painter, and teacher who began his artistic career during the period recognized today as the Harlem Renaissance. He came to Harlem in 1925, inspired by the writings of African American philosopher Alain Locke, who called for a New Negro renaissance in black art and literature that would contribute toward racial equality in America. Douglas’s work appeared in major publications, from black journals like The Crisis and Opportunity, to books published by Alfred A. Knopf and Harper & Brothers.
The covers and texts of noted Harlem Renaissance writers—including Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, and Claude McKay—also featured Douglas’s illustrations. In his graphic work for these publications, Douglas developed a visual language inspired by African art, Art Deco design, and black vernacular music, such as jazz and the blues. Through this synthesis, Douglas created an unparalleled black artistic expression that was distinctly modern.
All of the publications are part of the Hirsch Library’s growing collection of materials related to the Harlem Renaissance.
Meet the Books: Hirsch Library Exhibition Tours
To complement the library’s exhibitions, the Hirsch Library staff often schedules “Meet the Books” tours. These tours are free and open to the public.
Modernist Myths: Aesthetics of Identity in Latin American Graphics
November 19, 2019–March 7, 2020
During the nationalist reconstruction of the 1920s, avant-garde Latin American artists and writers aimed to subvert European exceptionalism in their quest to explore a postcolonial, postrevolutionary identity. Understanding that European culture could not be ignored, artists realized that it could be used to their advantage. Imported printing techniques and the prevailing Modernist style were adapted to reframe indigenous visual culture and advance a revitalized American identity.
The circulation of local or indigenous mythologies and pre-Hispanic aesthetics in magazines and affordable paperbacks provoked a revolutionary spirit, disrupting power relations rather than reinforcing them. With a dedication to potent imagery, the materials in Modernist Myths illustrate the birth of an American Modernism that inverted, while often exploiting, international influences.
The Revolution Will Be Publicized: Printing the Resistance
July 30–November 16, 2019
“The revolution will not be televised”—a slogan made popular by the 1960s Black Power movement in the United States—was later used as a song title and immortalized further by poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron. At its heart, the phrase suggests that traditional media outlets and sources of information, ensconced as they are in maintaining the status quo, are incapable of properly representing movements toward real social change.
The mid-20th century was a time of great social upheaval throughout the United States and the world. Faced with established outlets of information either incapable of, or unwilling to, represent their ideas, resistance movements turned to creating their own publications, periodicals, and newsletters to communicate their messages and unite their members.
The Revolution Will Be Publicized presents periodicals of resistance from the Hirsch Library’s special collections. The exhibition focuses on mid-20th century Mexican political and labor publications; newsletters and pamphlets from the Black Power and Civil Rights movements; and later antiwar, queer, and feminist periodicals from the 1960s and 1970s.
Alluring Melancholy: Representations of the Tormented Artist
April 9–July 27, 2019
The tormented artist, frequently embodied by Vincent van Gogh, is an easily recognizable archetype and often a real-life person. This character may be withdrawn from society and suffering psychological turmoil—the impetus for creating poignant works of art. Alluring Melancholy: Representations of the Tormented Artist explores the origins and development of this archetype through seminal art movements of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, including Romanticism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Art Brut.
Books from the collections of the Hirsch Library and the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation illustrate how the philosophies of these movements have perpetuated the stereotype of the tortured artist. The exhibition also examines society’s preoccupation with the struggling artist, which in turn influences contemporary art and artists.
Alluring Melancholy focuses on Alice Neel, Jackson Pollock, Scofield Thayer, and Unica Zürn in the role of the tormented artist.
Everyday Encounters: Erasing the Divide between Art and Life
December 18, 2018–April 6, 2019
In the 1960s, breaking with a long tradition of art as object, avant-garde movements—such as Conceptualism and Fluxus—engaged with the chaos and absurdity of the times by dematerializing the art object. Everyday Encounters draws from the Hirsch Library’s collection of Conceptual and Fluxus books, periodicals, and ephemera to look at process-oriented artists through the lens of printed matter as interactive documents.
An essay by American writer and curator Lucy Lippard in 1968 predicted the complete disappearance of the traditional art object, and the increased power of ideas, concepts, and audience engagement. Working with everyday materials and invoking dynamic relationships between art and everyday life, artists began to illustrate this radical shift where encounters became the preferred medium, and ephemeral relics were often the only remnants.
Among the artists represented in Everyday Encounters: Erasing the Divide between Art and Life are Lygia Clark, Alison Knowles, Yoko Ono, and Edgardo Antonio Vigo.
Creating “Collision: The Contemporary Art Scene in Houston, 1972–1985”
August 28–December 15, 2018
The Hirsch Library and the MFAH Archives—the premier research facilities for scholars of Texas art—offer books, catalogs, and nearly 700 reels of microfilm produced by the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art. Also available are thousands of files containing ephemera related to artists and arts organizations from Houston and beyond. These files are particularly valuable, as they contain newsletters, résumés, gallery invitations, programs, and newspaper clippings of which few copies survive and which are sometimes the only existing record of obscure dates and events.
This exhibition presents highlights from the Hirsch Library’s collection that informed the research behind the new publication Collision: The Contemporary Art Scene in Houston, 1972–1985 (Texas A&M University Press) by Pete Gershon, program coordinator for the Core Program at the Glassell School of Art.
Printing Pop: Andy Warhol On & Off the Page
May 1–August 25, 2018
Andy Warhol (1928–1987) epitomizes the concept of the multitalented, mixed-media artist. During his career, the Pop artist embraced painting, printmaking, filmmaking, photography, and graphic design. Although sometimes overshadowed by his explorations of other media, books and magazines were central to his artistic production. He created nearly 100 books and more than 400 magazine commissions between 1948 and his death. For Warhol, these formats provided yet one more avenue to illustrate provocative juxtapositions of high and low art, the effects of serialization, relations between the visual and textual, and the blurring of authorship.
Featured publications from the Hirsch Library’s collection provide a view of Warhol’s playful and often thought-provoking engagement with printed matter. These materials highlight his various—and sometimes overlapping—roles as illustrator, author, designer, and publisher.
Written with the Body
December 19, 2017–April 28, 2018
Written with the Body considers the female form in art history through housekeeping manuals, photobooks, artists’ books, and gallery catalogues from the Hirsch Library collection. Portrayed by prominent male artists over centuries, the female form has represented many different ideas and themes: idealized femininity; charged symbol of fertility; arrested object of desire.
Increasingly, however, women are reclaiming their form to promote new body images and meaning systems. This exhibition offers a look at female writers and artists documenting their own perspectives to reveal an engagement with the body not as a fixed site, but instead as a space where nuanced, personal associations emerge.
Documenting a Transformative Gift: Books and Archival Materials from Edith A. and Percy S. Straus
August 29–December 16, 2017
In 1941, Edith A. and Percy S. Straus gifted the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, with their distinguished collection of European Pre-Renaissance and Renaissance masterworks, forever transforming Houston’s prominence as a center for art.
Over the years, their generous bequest was complemented by a gift of 135 books and catalogues, as well as a rich trove of archival materials from the couple’s personal holdings. This exhibition—featuring key documents culled from the Hirsch Library and the Museum Archives—offers a better understanding of the figures who shaped the Straus Collection, and how they thoughtfully pursued each object.
Reading Music: Sound Recordings and the Book
April 25–August 26, 2017
From the mid-20th century to the present day, visual artists have worked to expand the perception of the book as a mere container for textual information, subverting expectations and toying with formal elements to make objects typically considered documents into interactive works of art. A similar tradition of experimentation and play exists in another medium: recorded sound. Reading Music presents a selection of books that incorporate sound recordings as well as artists’ original sound works from the Hirsch Library’s collection in an attempt to explore ways artists have used both the textual and aural to create hybrid spaces of expression.
CLAP! – 10×10 Contemporary Latin American Photobooks
March 2–April 8, 2017
“CLAP! – 10×10 Contemporary Latin American Photobooks” features 130 contemporary Latin American photobooks published between 2000 and 2016. Organized by the nonprofit 10×10 Photobooks based in New York City, the project presents a hands-on opportunity to browse Latin American photobooks that are rarely seen in the United States.
The selected books represent many of the most exciting innovations in Latin American photography and publications today.
Drawn to Teach: Instruction Manuals from the 17th to the 19th Century
December 16, 2016–April 22, 2017
Since earliest recorded history, the basic human impulse to draw has been used to communicate ideas, express fears and desires, convey religious or political beliefs, and adorn the physical environment. From the Age of Enlightenment in Europe through the 19th century in America, drawing proficiency was considered not only a sign of refinement, but also an essential element in the repertoire of an educated person. With the aid of skillful teachers and written manuals, individuals of all ages could strive to master rudimentary perspective, nature and landscape, and human and animal figures.
Featuring works from the holdings of the Hirsch Library and the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, this exhibition explores the wide range of drawing manuals published in Europe and America from the 17th to the 19th century.
Much Ado about Something: Shakespeare Illustrated on the Printed Page
July 12–December 15, 2016
In 2016, we mark the 400th anniversary of the death of English playwright William Shakespeare. Although Shakespeare’s reputation is well established today, his legacy owes much to the visual arts over the past few centuries. It was largely through books, folios, and printed impressions that representations of his works were most widely seen and, in turn, his reputation enhanced.
This exhibition features nine publications—from the collections of the Hirsch Library and Rienzi—that highlight artistic responses to Shakespeare’s unique and lasting vision.
Everything and Everyone: Artists’ Books Published by the National Museum of Women in the Arts
March 1–July 9, 2016
Artists’ books, which came to prominence as a medium in the mid-20th century, are best described as works of art that are conceived and executed by their makers as books. To make a book is to claim power over objects by giving physical embodiment to ideas.
Artists' books often take this concept a step further, as every aspect and creative choice behind an artist's book can be alive with meaning. To “read” an artist's book is to reckon not only with text, but also with structure and form.
The publications featured in this exhibition are selected largely from a gift of artists’ books published by the National Museum of Women in the Arts and given to the Hirsch Library by Renée and Stan Wallace in 2011. These works provide a cross-section of the many forms and creative possibilities of artists’ books.
“Violence and Precision”: Artists’ Manifestoes
November 24, 2015–February 27, 2016
Originating in legal and political contexts during the Renaissance, manifestoes played a critical and defining role in many artistic movements of the 20th century as Futurists, Dadaists, and Surrealists embraced their power to challenge orthodoxy and fundamentally change visual practice. Through examples from the Hirsch Library's special collections, the exhibition Violence and Precision highlights a number of artists’ manifestoes from the early 20th century to the present.
For information about past MFAH exhibitions, search the exhibitions archive database.