Contemporary Arts Museum Houston donates archives to Rice

The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) has donated its extensive archive to Rice and Fondren Library’s Woodson Research Center.

The archive documents the history of the museum since its founding in 1948. Exhibitions, interviews and lectures with once-emerging artists and now luminaries of contemporary art history will be accessible to scholars, fans of art and future art historians. The relationship between CAMH and Rice University will be ongoing, and the museum will continue to add to the repository of materials. This will allow CAMH’s archival collection to be available and searchable for all interested in the art history that has occurred in Houston.

Dancers image courtesy Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

Merce Cunningham Dance Company performs “Suite for Five” in April 1965 in conjunction with the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston exhibition “Robert Rauschenberg.” Courtesy Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

“CAMH is committed to being free and accessible to the general public,” said Bill Arning, CAMH director. “It is therefore natural to partner with Rice’s Woodson Research Center in the Fondren Library, who will make our archives accessible to the public and to scholars all around the world. Our institution has shared the art of our time with audiences for nearly 70 years. The wealth of experiences and knowledge that can be gained from our treasure trove of materials will prove to be a marvelous resource for academic and personal research. Founded as a kunsthalle, or noncollecting institution focused on presenting current art and artists, our archives represent CAMH’s institutional legacy in a way that other museums are defined by their permanent collections. The richness of this legacy will be explored for generations, with help from our friends at Rice.”

CAMH’s long-standing mission to showcase cutting-edge art began with its inaugural exhibition, “This is Contemporary Art” (1948), and continues through current programming. The museum’s model of showing six- to- eight exhibitions per year in two different gallery spaces demonstrates the importance of kunsthalles in presenting to the public the practices of emerging and established artists.

The archive spans decades of documentation in a variety of media: photographs, videos, correspondence and audio files. Many renowned contemporary artists exhibited at CAMH early in their careers, including “John Chamberlain: Recent Sculptures” (1975), “Cindy Sherman: Photographs” (1980), “Bill Viola: Survey of a Decade” (1988), “Ann Hamilton: kaph” (1997), “Shirin Neshat” (2003) and “Perspectives 173: Clifford Owens” (2011). CAMH’s website (, which currently lists the entire history of its exhibitions, will provide a link to the Woodson Research Center Special Collections and Archives for those who wish to delve deeper into the history of CAMH, specific exhibitions and artists.

Documentation of CAMH’s search for its first director will draw attention to Houston’s early goal to create a precedent for innovative arts organizations and to provide support to the contemporary arts community. Ultimately, Jermayne MacAgy was hand-picked by Dominique and John de Menil to lead CAMH, then the Contemporary Arts Association, and she played a central role in realizing such groundbreaking exhibitions as “Mark Rothko” (1957), the artist’s second museum exhibition, and “Totems Not Taboo: An Exhibition of Primitive Art” (1959). In conjunction with its other collections, the Woodson Research Center serves as a central resource for the history of Houston arts.

“We are delighted at the Woodson Research Center to provide public access to the archives of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston,” said Amanda Focke, assistant head of Special Collections at Fondren. “The Woodson Research Center at Rice and CAMH have enjoyed strong connections over the years, and the CAMH archives will serve researchers well in the company of other Houston fine and performing arts collections at Rice. Such collections include the Rice Gallery records, Houston Arts and Media Oral Histories, Ann Holmes Fine Arts Archive, Marion Kessel Performing Arts collection, Grace Spaulding John papers and the William Camfield papers. The CAMH records are being processed currently and will begin to be open for research by the end of 2017.”

CAMH and Woodson Research Center share two passions – accessibility and technology, according to Focke. CAMH has long used the latest technology to document contemporary art, and the Woodson Research Center has a strong commitment to both analog and digital preservation. The CAMH collection contains hours of audio and visual recordings, including a rare recorded performance by Merce Cunningham. Interviews and lectures featuring Vito Acconci, Yoko Ono, Lorna Simpson, Pat Stier and Fred Wilson are a small sampling of the treasures identified within the collection, with many more to be discovered. The archivists of the Woodson Research Center Special Collections and Archives will not only conserve the delicate audiovisual recordings but also digitize and make the metadata searchable to facilitate research and online access

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