Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Arting Around Houston

A friend from Lafayette was in town visiting last week so we did some Houston stuff that I thought I'd write about. Actually I'm only writing about it because I need to make list of museums and galleries that I want to visit and putting it here is the only way I am guaranteed not to lose my list.

Orion MPCV
We had very limited time and really crappy weather so we didn't get to do and see everything that I would have liked but we still had a great time. My friend had never been to NASA so we spent one day there. I didn't realize that so many people are under the impression that NASA has closed down. It seems to be a common misconception, however the only thing that has closed down is the shuttle program. NASA is alive and well and working on the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle which is expected to make its maiden voyage in 2015. In the mean time we'll be hitching a ride to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz to the tune of $60 million per seat. Russia isn't exactly mourning the loss of our shuttle program.

Later that evening we drove over to Humble to meet my friend's friends for dinner. I'd never been to Humble before, it was bigger than I thought it would be. If you're in Southeast Texas and want to blend with the natives make sure you pronounce Humble correctly. It is Umble. The "H" is silent. I don't know why. Similarly, if you are in South Louisiana and want to blend you should learn how to pronounce Atchafalaya correctly. You will have to have someone pronounce it for you because there is no way you could ever accidentally say it correctly. Cajuns have a thing about putting emphasis on syllables that you would never expect to be emphasized, yeah? <---that was a Cajun thing too.

Ever since we moved to Houston I've been encouraging people to stay with us when they're in the area because we have plenty of space for guests. It just so happened that Jayson was out of the country when my friend came to visit so he couldn't stay with us since it really wouldn't be appropriate to have a man in the house without Jayson here. He is a dear friend who is like a son/brother to me but it still wouldn't be right. Fortunately we have some mutual friends in The Woodlands who where happy to have him stay with them.

This provided a good opportunity to troll The Woodlands which I highly recommend if you've not done it before. It was one of the first "master planned communities" in the United States...which is just another way to say that most of us can't afford to live there and even if we could we wouldn't want to because of all the rules. I don't know exactly what all the rules are but just the few that I do know of are enough to keep me out. Don't get me wrong, the area is beautiful and if you don't mind all the restrictions then you might love it.

Some of these restrictions include a cap on how large your house can be, a requirement to maintain a certain percentage of wooded area on your lot, a cap on how much concrete area can be on your lot, design and color restrictions based on your neighborhood, etc. This is in addition to other basic neighborhood association rules such as not allowing you to have a Chevy up on blocks in your front yard. I can dig that. 

When you're driving through the Woodlands you might be asking yourself where all the houses and stores are. They are not visible from the roads but are hidden by tall forest-like trees. There are restrictions on how tall commercial signage can be which must be around 4' tall since I never saw a sign taller than that. There are no billboards which makes for a very pleasant driving experience but the short signs hidden by tall trees make for a frustrating experience when you're trying to find the stinkin' McDonald's.

Market Street, The Woodlands, TX
I would like to go back one day and visit Market Street in The Woodlands so that I can criticize that too. Okay fine, maybe I'm just jealous. I honestly would not like to live there but I do have to admit that from a design perspective it is well planned, executed, maintained and simply beautiful. A little pretentious, yes, but that's what happens when you live in an area whose population is over 90% white with an average family income of over $100,000 per year. This community was designed to be exclusive and it has succeeded. I tend to rebel against that kind of exclusivity.

On the last day of my friend's visit we had hoped to see the King Tut exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts but we were delayed because of rain and didn't make it over there in time. Instead we went to see the Menil Collection which consists of a museum, 2 chapels, 2 galleries and a bookstore with no admission fee for any of it.

We saw the Rothko Chapel and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel which are both architecturally stunning but we missed out on some of the awesomeness because it was a cloudy day and the chapels are both designed to incorporate natural light as a design element.
Byzantine Fresco Chapel
Rothko Chapel

Because of time we missed the Cy Twombly Gallery and the Dan Flavin installation at Richmond Hall but I will definitely keep those on my long list of Houston artsy stuff to do.

The Menil Collection Museum was a pleasant surprise. From what I understand, Mr. Menil was a french banker who married a Schlumberger gal so they really didn't have any financial trouble. They started collecting art in the 1940s and ended up with over 16,000 pieces of it. They also supported the growth of art and architecture as well as the civil rights movement in the Houston area. Mrs. Menil built the museum after her husband's death to display not only their vast collection but to host exhibits from other artists as well.

I really didn't have high expectations since I knew that most of what we'd see came from a private collection but let me tell you...the Menils chose well. I was expecting to see mostly generic artists but there were lots of name brands. There were dozens of Rene Magritte paintings in their large surrealism section but I guess he saved his most recognizable one, The Son of Man, for his own museum. There were a couple of Picasso paintings and sketches as well as 2 Mondrians that I was not impressed with because really, if you've seen one...

Andy Warhol's "Ten-Foot Flowers"
Andy Warhol's "Ten-Foot Flowers" makes for an impressive piece of wall art. However, I am forever traumatized by Robert Gober's chunk of hairy cheese which I did not understand nor appreciate as art. It's a beeswax chunk of cheese with human hair in it. Why??
Robert Gober's hairy cheese

"Grey Alphabets" by Jasper Johns

Actually, I asked myself "WHY??" more than once which I think most people do when browsing through a modern art exhibit.

If I had to pick a favorite I think it would be the "Grey Alphabets" by Jasper Johns made from beeswax and oil paint on newspaper and canvas. I love the color, the repetition, the medium, everything about it.

I didn't realize there were so many museums in Houston until after we moved here. Maybe this is typical for a big city, I really wouldn't know, but I'm surprised I hadn't heard about more of them before.

As far a big cities go, Houston seems to be one of the more humble...with a hhhh sound. Dallas is loud and unapologetically in-your-face about how awesome it is. And it is awesome. Austin is more quietly pretentious however you do get the message loud and clear that if you're not young and hip you're not welcome. I think Houston is confused about itself. It can't help but be Texas proud but its efforts to embrace diversity make it impossible for Houston to be as Austintatious as it could be with such a large art scene.

This is a list of other arty stuff to do and see around Houston and it is mainly for my own benefit since I am a prolific list maker and a proficient list loser. Here are the ones I haven't seen or previously mentioned:

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

Peel Gallery

The Heritage Society Museum

Project Row Houses

The Museum of Printing History

The Houston Arts Alliance Gallery

Czech Center Museum Houston

Barbara Davis Gallery

The Health Museum

Rienzi Center for European Decorative Arts

Holocaust Museum Houston

18 Hands Gallery - where I just learned about the International Texas Teapot Tournament!!

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

Houston Center for Photography

Houston Museum of Natural Science

McMurtrey Gallery

The Weather Museum

Winter Street Studios - an old furniture factory that now houses over 75 artist studios

Spring Street Studios - a former moving & storage building that's now home to 80 artist studios

Off The Wall Gallery

The Jung Center of Houston

Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum

Lawndale Art Center

Rice University Art Gallery

Art at The Airport - I would like to spend a day driving around to all the terminals to see each different installation

The 1940 Air Terminal Museum - okay, that one is more for Jayson than me

Art League Houston

The Architecture Center Houston - and some of the walking tours available there

Blaffer Art Museum at U of H

Wade Wilson Art

Elaine Bradford's commission at the Vinson Neighborhood Library

John Ross Palmer Fine Art Gallery

George Ranch Historical Park

Station Museum of Contemporary Art

Moody Gallery

Sicardi Gallery

There are dozens more galleries that I haven't checked out yet so I'm sure this list will grow, as if it isn't long enough already. On the upside, it could be much longer but I've already knocked out about a dozen places. And I didn't include my list of offbeat funky destinations such as The Beer Can House and other similar world's-largest-ball-of-string or freak show type things that I'm unnaturally drawn to. Or maybe it's a natural attraction. Those are my peeps.

1 comment:

Chloe said...

I like that Andy Warhol print, too! Gonna write about it for my art class.