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Houston Art Guide

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

Houston Museum District with Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Column," Photo by James Khattak.

We are lucky in Texas to have a handful of amazing art hubs. Houston is one of the most vibrant, and the first Texas city where we truly felt that a weekend wasn't enough time to see everything we wanted to see. But what we saw was really cool!

The centerpiece of this trip was the "Van Gogh: His Life in Art" survey at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. We covered it in-depth in a previous post, so this one focuses on other things, at the MFAH and elsewhere.

Houston has many pieces of amazing public art, including the Rothko Chapel, which was unfortunately closed for repairs when we visited. We are also eager to go back and visit art spaces like the Menil (it's got an intriguing Trenton Doyle Hancock exhibition if you can get there before May 19), and spend some time in the McClain Gallery, which impressed us at this year's Dallas Art Fair.

We arrived in Houston in the late afternoon on Friday, with plenty of time to get to James Turrell's "Twilight Epiphany" Skyspace on the Rice University campus. This is a free installation piece that is open to the public (closed on Tuesdays) and activates light shows at dawn and dusk. It was a busy place, even on Good Friday (this was an Easter weekend trip for us.) We got there 20 minutes or so before the show started, and the interior spaces were starting to fill up, so give yourself plenty of time if you are hoping to see the lights change from inside the structure.

"Turrell's composition of light compliments the natural light present at twilight, and transforms the Skyspace into a locale for experiencing beauty and reflecting on the surrounding campus and the natural world." - Rice. edu.

James Turrell's "Twilight Epiphany" Skyspace on the Rice University campus, Houston. Photo: James Khattak.

This was easily my (Stephanie's) favorite in a weekend of world-class art. Dusk is often considered the "magic hour," and being in a group of people silently watching the sun set, the colors glow and the lights come on in the tall buildings across the lawn was amazing and very specific to this piece and its setting.

James Turrell's "Twilight Epiphany" Skyspace on the Rice University campus, Houston. By James Khattak.

The next day was dedicated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The Van Gogh exhibit took a little more than an hour of our time. (If you are going with kids or if you, yourself are interested in the interactive component, it would take a little longer, FYI.) Most of the remaining time was spent with "Sally Mann, A Thousand Crossings." (Through May 27*.)

"Battlefields Antietam (Starry Night)" by Sally Mann at the MFAH.

"A Thousand Crossings" is the first major retrospective of Mann's career, and it was a comprehensive and deep show. While the subject matter diverged, Mann's signature style and perspective was strong throughout each category. According to MFAH press materials, this exhibition focuses on how the American South, and specifically, Virginia, shaped Mann as an artist and photographer.

"Deep South, Untitled (Fontainebleau)" by Sally Mann.

I've always loved her work. It's a little gritty, a little gothic, and hard to look away from. Her work seems to glow from within. There is so much going on here; it touches on everything from family to war to history to race.

New Yorker columnist Hilton Als analyzes Mann's work, in the context of the Deep South, in much greater depth here: The Color of Humanity in Sally Mann's South.

Top Row: Mt. Lebanon Baptist; Beaulah Baptist; First Baptist Church of Goshen. Center Row: First Baptist Church of Goshen, Refectory, St. Paul United Methodist, Oak Hill Baptist. Bottom Row: Asbury United Methodist, Marl Hill Baptist, Lawson Chapel United Methodist.

Other notable MFAH pieces include: "Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something)" by Kara Walker, and Mark Bradford's "Circa 1992."

"Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something)" by Kara Walker.

Critic Hilton Als has written, “In Walker’s work, slavery is a nightmare from which no American has yet awakened . . . leaving us all scarred, hateful, hated, and diminished.”
Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something) is among Walker’s first large-scale compositions mounted on canvas. Here she restages the Biblical narrative, with violence matched by mourning, subjection countered by erotic power. - MFAH. org

Mark Bradford's "Circa 1992" at the MFAH.

Circa 1992 reflects a specific moment, when the Rodney King riots tore Los Angeles apart. After the first days of violence, local church groups issued signs proclaiming: “REBUILD SOUTH CENTRAL WITHOUT LIQUOR STORES!! / RECONSTRUIRAL SUR CENTRAL SIN NEGOCIOS DE BEBIDAS ALCOHOLICAS!!” By repeating these phrases in his painting, Bradford pays tribute to the spirit of community renewal. - MFAH. org.

Another bit of permanent, public art and a hit of "surprise and delight" was the walk from the Glassell School of Art's MFAH parking garage to the main buildings, which takes visitors through the Cullen Sculpture Garden, a free experience with work by Rodin, Matisse, and Bourgeois. Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Column" is a recent addition, and adds a fun and interactive element to the plaza. For those who visit the rooftop dec