Havel on Havel

Joseph Havel (American, b. 1954) was the featured artist at the Nasher Sculpture Center’s 360 Speaker Series this Saturday.

I’ve admired this Houston-based sculptor’s work for many years, attended his openings at Talley Dunn Gallery in Dallas, and was thrilled to learn more about his background, thought process and career path.

Joseph Havel was appointed Director of the prestigious Core Residency Program at the Glassell School of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 1991. (photo: Mayra Beltran, Houston Chronicle | chron.com)

As usual, I’ll share several stories that resonated with me. Hopefully, you will also find them of interest.

He said that this was a special talk for him. One that propelled him to remember, revisit and show images of early work because Dallas has special and historic importance for his career path. He came to this area from the East coast for his first post-graduate teaching position at Austin College in Sherman, TX. The town is only 60 miles North of Dallas. He found himself driving most nights into downtown Dallas, specifically Deep Ellum where there was a very happening, active arts scene in 1979. This was a place where his work was embraced and recognized – a place of many firsts:

  • His first show in a non-profit space was at 500X, which still operates as an Artists’ Coop in Deep Ellum.
  • The Dallas Museum of Art was the first museum to acquire his work.
  • He completed his first sale to a private collector, who happened to be seated in the audience on Saturday and was visibly proud to be part of Havel’s life story.
  • The first cast bronze sculpture he sold was to a Dallas collector.
  • Michael Auping, Chief Curator of The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, asked Havel if he planned on casting a cloth curtain sculpture in bronze. Havel quickly responded, “Of course!” Most likely he would not have taken this next step without Auping’s prodding. The outcome of the story? This bronze piece was museum-ready and was selected for the 2000 Whitney Biennial in New York. The biennial is an art showcase known as a career-making vehicle and acknowledgement that an artist has arrived on the national scene.

In the photo below, notice the draped sculpture to the left. It resembles the work Havel carried – literally carried – to a Paris show at Le Palais de Tokyo.

Joseph Havel: A Decade of Sculpture | Authors: Peter Doroshenko, Alison de Lima Greene . (source: Scala Publishers)

Havel told us he wanted to pack an entire gallery exhibition in two suitcases – no professional handlers, no complex customs and tariffs, the fewest of encumbrances. He did this by making “soft sculpture” art – like the large square “mesh” of hand-sewn shirt labels in the image above. The square was hung from one of its corners, causing a fluid drape that extended from the gallery’s ceiling beam to the floor. This renowned artist rolled two suitcases through the Tuileries Gardens en route to the gallery space. I was amused by Havel’s motivation, careful planning and desire to schlep a manageable load.

Tuileries Garden | Paris

Paris was the subject of another story he shared with us. He was there for a solo show on September 12, 2001 – buffered by the Atlantic Ocean from Ground Zero and 9/11 terrorist attacks. Havel was so moved by the condolences from Parisians when they realized he was from the USA that he knew his next show in the “City of Light” would have an American theme. Stars and stripes from our flag were repurposed into striking objects. Below are two images from these explorations which are still ongoing.

Cut-up American flags, needles and thread | 36” diameter
(photo: William Shearburn Gallery, St. Louis)

Single Star (2007) | Bronze with patina | 26 x 16 x 12 inches (photo: Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans)

Joseph Havel is one of many who’ve visited the Nasher Sculpture Center to talk about work and life as an artist. For people intrigued by the creative process, I highly recommend the next 360 Speaker Series guests who are:

  • The Art Guys on July 14th
  • Kathryn Andrews on August 25th

I’m taking a short summer vacation – be back July 15th.

Stay cool,


4 thoughts on “Havel on Havel

  1. Thanks. This is a great summary of a wonderful talk, and yes these Nasher 360 talks are very enjoyable and thought provoking–susan ernst

  2. “love the juxtaposition of the old Paris and the new Havel. The shirt tags even look Eiffel related! Thanks for sharing the info on Havel’s talk. SW

  3. A very intriguing article. Sorry i missed that! But now im inspired to investigate his work. Thanks again Meg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s