top of page


Marilyn Oshman


Marilyn Oshman is the founder and chairman of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art and is deeply committed to all its activities including the preservation of the Orange Show Monument and the Beer Can House, development of Smither Park, and presentation of the Houston Art Car Parade. Marilyn and Ann Harithas, along with Walter Hopps, envisioned and implemented the art car judging and awards program as a way to encourage and celebrate the art form locally and nationally. Marilyn is driven by her passion and long-term interest in Houston's art scene and has always been dedicated to the creation of a vibrant and interesting cultural climate. She currently serves on the boards of The Menil Collection and the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art.

Marilyn Oshman

Text by Pete Gershon

Every city’s art community needs its patron saint, a person with both vision and means who truly understands and cares about

artists and helps to make the impossible, possible. In Houston that person is Marilyn Oshman. I met Marilyn about twelve years ago when I began writing a book about the Orange Show, and my life changed forever. The more I looked at her accomplishments, the more I saw that she was at the epicenter of one of the greatest regional art scenes in the country. As the founding director of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art; as a former president of the Contemporary Art Museum Houston, head of the collections committee at the Menil Collection, and board member the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and as a private collector and patron, nobody has done more to advance cutting-edge contemporary art in Houston, always with an emphasis on the city’s own artists and audiences.

Marilyn became interested in art during her college years in New York City, where she saw early shows by Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. “It was a magic moment,” she says. “It made some kind of sense to me, what people outside of Houston were doing, and

thinking that was radically different. It was the last thing I expected in my life, that the Orange Show would be open to the public, and that I’d be running it,” Marilyn told me. She befriended Jeff McKissack in 1975 when she was the board president of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, having been brought to the site by Jim Harithas, the maverick director she’d hand-picked. Together, they courageously redirected the CAMH effort and began to support local Texas artists, Latino artists, female artists and other underrepresented groups who had never been given a professional platform to show their talents.


At the CAMH, she met a group of long-haired members of a radical architecture collective called the Ant Farm. Within a couple of years, she’d arrange two important solo shows of their work and hired them to build an improbable lake house that looked like the

love child of the Yellow Submarine and an Eames chair. In a 2019 expose on the House of the Century, Marilyn told the Dallas News,

“The reason I wanted to do this was to find out how hard it would be to get the best from an artist. What does it take to get an artist to give his all?” Freedom from conventional constraints enabled the architects to embrace their wildest ideas. When Harithas took Marilyn to visit McKissack and the Orange Show, she recognized a similar creative impulse. It also struck her as a metaphor for Houston’s own non-linear growth and its stubborn insistence on individual freedom. From then onward, she made the Orange Show a must-see for visiting friends and artists.

McKissack’s intention to live to be 100 years old is legendary, but he was practical enough to hedge his bets. After he died at 78 in 1980, he left behind a note that read, “If anything happens to me, call Marilyn Oshman.”

When it fell to her to maintain her friend’s legacy, Marilyn went at it with gusto, raising money to buy and restore the property, and

setting up a board and an administrative staff with a mandate to connect with the community. She has never been interested in

preserving the site as mere roadside kitch. Marilyn’s personal collection is among the finest in the state, and particularly notable for the presence of works by prominent Latino artists and by artists from Houston. John Alexander’s bayou scenes sit comfortably alongside Diego Rivera’s self-portrait, outsider artists from around the globe hang with Kienholz and Chris Burdens, all surrounded by 15th century Tibetan Mandalas. “What do I look for in art?” asks Oshman. “Probably the same thing I look for in people. It’s really not that far apart. Something that’s authentic. And authenticity has a vibration. You can’t hear it, but you can feel it. That’s the whole reason why I loved the Orange Show. Okay, here was a man living in this universe that he had built over a twenty-five year period, not interested in selling it, just doing it because he had to. That was very attractive to me. It’s about the human spirit. Something very real is happening here.”

Marilyn Oshman is one-of-a-kind. All of us who love Houston owe this energetic powerhouse a huge debt of thanks for her

contributions to the arts. She has an immense capacity for appreciation, whether for work created by female surrealists,

art car enthusiasts, or self-taught visionaries. On behalf of all of us at the Menil Collection, we thank her for her many years of leadership, her support, and her advocacy for art.

- Rebecca Rabinow, Director the Menil collection


“What a magnificent role the great lady has played in my personal life as well as the life of Houston proper.”

- James Surls

“Everyone will try to convince you that this (Orange Show) is important for children…by all means do children’s events. But if

you take this on, you have to remember that this is an important work of art and it must be treated that way.

- Dominique de Menil

Pete Gershon is Curator of Programs at the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, and the author of ‘Collision: The Contemporary Art Scene in Houston, 1972-1985’ (Texas A&M University Press, 2018) and ‘Painting the Town Orange: The Stories Behind Houston’s Visionary Art Environments’ (History Press, 2014).



2022 - Bun B, Rapper, Philanthropist, Restaurateur

2019 - Raul Brindís, Spanish Radio Host

2018 - Jeannette Epps, American Astronaut

2017 - Cheech Marin, Author, Comedian, Art Collector

2015 - Annise Parker, Former Houston Mayor

2014 - Annise Parker, Former Houston Mayor

2013 - Gertrude Barnstone, John Alexander, and The Art Guys, Houston Artists

2012 - J.J. Watt & Connor Barwin, Houston Texans Football Players

2011 - Lynn Wyatt, Philanthropist

2010 - Dan Aykroyd , Actor

2007 - George Clinton, Musician

bottom of page