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Texas Sushi Chef, Bench Artist Pair to Aid Houston Museum

Claudia Schmuckli
Claudia Schmuckli, director and chief curator of the Blaffer Art Museum of the University of Houston. Her fundraising dinners, pairing chefs and artists, have been a hit and will support its upcoming exhibition, "Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art'' which opens in September. Photographer: David A. Brown/Blaffer Art Museum via Bloomberg

Tomorrow night, 30 people will gather at the Houston home of energy executive Jim Petersen Jr. to raise money for the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston and share an unusual dinner.

Guests will rotate in small groups among different tables meant to represent food trucks, from oysters to shabu-shabu to raw-fish tacos. Seating will be on simple wood benches built by mixed-media artist Gabriel Martinez.

“Gabriel and I wanted to take the idea of temporary community created by food trucks and how they disperse,” said Kaz Edwards, a native of Beaumont, Texas, and the chef de cuisine at the award-winning Uchi in Houston, in a phone interview.

The $500-a-person dinners, one of five organized this year by the Blaffer Museum’s director and chief curator, Claudia Schmuckli, will support the exhibition “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art,” which runs Sept. 6 through Dec. 7. The sold-out dinners, held in museum patrons’ homes, have raised $65,000.

Schmuckli said the dinners inject fun and surprise into fundraisers by pairing chefs and artists as collaborators on an art-themed meal.

“Houston is a competitive fundraising environment, and we are continuously looking for ways to differentiate ourselves,” said Schmuckli.

Artists’ Showcase

“Feast” will showcase the work of 25 artists, including Marina Abramovic and her former partner Ulay; conceptual artist Mary Ellen Carroll; and German artist Sonja Alhauser, who has used butter, chocolate and marzipan for sculptures.

At tomorrow’s dinner, Martinez’s simple benches will be conversation pieces. One of the featured artists in the “Feast” exhibition, he builds them from scrap wood and installs them around Houston. (Peterson, the host, is the president of Gulf Electroquip Ltd., a maker of motors and generators for oil and gas drilling rigs.)

“The bench is a place where people from different backgrounds and ethnicities can be next to each other,” said Martinez, who plans to take the benches to bus stops where they will become public art.

Schmuckli hopes the dinners will attract new supporters.

“We’ve relied on our hosts to bring their friends and business associates,” Schmuckli said. “We also drew from the food community, who weren’t necessarily patrons of our institution. So we’ve been able to expand the group of art lovers and collectors.”

The museum, with a budget or $1.8 million, opened in 1973. It is named after Sarah Campbell Blaffer, a Houston art patron and daughter of Texaco Inc. founder William Thomas Campbell. Her husband, Robert E. Lee Blaffer, founded Humble Oil, which became Exxon Corp. (the predecessor of Exxon Mobil Corp.).

Muse highlights include Greg Evans on movies, Craig Seligman on books, Jeremy Gerard on theater.

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