From Obama to Optical Illusions: Ambitious Spring Season Awaits at MFAH

'Barack Obama' by Kehinde Wiley and 'Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama' by Amy Sherald, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

ANYONE WHO WORKS behind the scenes at a museum will tell you that installing a major exhibition in the time of Covid-19 is no small feat, but Houston institutions continue to step up their efforts to bring great shows to the city and keep their staff and visitors safe. Looking ahead to Spring 2022, four exhibitions are scheduled to go up at MFAH, each equally ambitious in their scope and complexity.


First up is the critically acclaimed Dawoud Bey: An American Project (March 6 – May 30, 2022), a retrospective of more than 80 works by New York-born photographer Dawoud Bey. The exhibit includes Bey’s portraits of Harlem residents — photos he took between 1975 and 1979, inspired in part by the portraiture of Harlem Renaissance photographer James Van Der Zee — as well as Bey’s recent series of moonlit stops along the Underground Railroad, a project he describes as “trying to see through the eyes of a fugitive African American.”

For Bey, who lives with severe hearing loss, photography is both a medium of personal expression and a way to reaffirm the “presence” of his subjects, specifically Black Americans, who are historically under- or misrepresented in museums, be it a skinny, yet confident boy in big sunglasses, holding a carton of milk, or a trio of senior ladies in Sunday church hats, leaning on a police barricade at a neighborhood parade.

Also scheduled for the Spring is M.C. Escher (March 6 – Sept. 5, 2022), a collection of bizarro illustrations and objects by the Dutch master of optical illusion, M.C. Escher, and Extraordinary Realities (March 13 – June 12, 2022), a provocative exhibit of South Eastern- and Persian-inspired miniature paintings by Glassell School of Art Core Program alumnus Shahzia Sikander.

The Obama Portraits Tour (April 3 – May 30, 2022) brings the official portraits of President Barack Obama (by Kehinde Wiley) and First Lady Michelle Obama (by Amy Sherald) to Houston, providing an intriguing counterpoint to the everyday royalty Bey captures so masterfully in his photographs.

M.C. Escher's 'Relativity'

'Horace and Shamari,' by Dawoud Bey

'Intimacy,' by Shahzia Sikander

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