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Creative City Guide: Houston

Updated: Feb 12, 2023

Houston Museums & Public Art

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, and a weekend wasn't enough time to see all of the art in Houston that we wanted to see, in and beyond the Houston Museum District. But that just means there is plenty to see on return visits!

Houston has many pieces of amazing public art, including the Rothko Chapel, near the Menil Collection. The Rothko Chapel does not allow photography, instead functioning as an intentional meditative space.

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 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 an easy a 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.

An entire day could be dedicated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It takes up a great deal of real estate in Houston's Museum District with its buildings and sculpture garden, and recently expanded even more with the completion of the Kinder Building, which houses contemporary art. Its onsite restaurant, Le Jardinier, is one of Houston's standouts.

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 deck (there are stairs and also an elevator), the view is breathtaking. I could say "you forget you're in Houston" but that's not correct at all. With the green trees, dense (for Texas) and diverse foot traffic, interesting architecture and public art in view below, you KNOW you're in Houston and you're seeing its best.

Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Column" at the MFAH Glassell School. James Khattak.

Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern: The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern in Houston is a truly special place. Its worth the $10 fee and reservation process to take a small group tour underground into the space, which has striking columns; a dark, meditative atmosphere and rotating exhibitions and music performances by local artists. If we lived in Houston, we would go back often because the space doesn't change, but each artist's vision will create a different experience.

Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern in Houston, Texas

Houston's Creative Spaces:

Houston Center for Photography: This small, donation-entry space is the perfect size for a stop between larger destinations. Their pieces were well-curated and interesting.

The Houston Center for Photography.

Houston Contemporary: Located next to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in the Houston Museum District, this smaller, free museum offers fewer exhibitions at a time with a sharp focus on contemporary artists from around the world. It's easy to walk to from the MFAH, and the largest gallery will still only take about an hour of your time, even with close-looking.

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft: This museum elevates contemporary craft pieces such as glass, embroidery, textiles, weaving, jewelry and more.

Art League Houston: Art League Houston is a free gallery of artwork by members and local community artists.

Sawyer Yards: Give yourself about a day to see everything there is to see at Sawyer Yards in Houston's Arts District. Large buildings house open studios (check the website for dedicated open studio days!) and outside offers murals and other public art pieces. Gallery shows rotate throughout the interior.

Sawyer Yards, Arts District Houston

Smither Park and The Orange Show: These outdoor, year-round installation/folk art pieces are colorful, immersive and a lot of fun. The Orange Show Monument isn't always open for in-depth exploration, but its neighbor, Smither Park and its permanent glimmering mosaics have plenty of wow factor.

Shopping and coffee stops are a fun and essential part of exploring a new city. Here are some other places to check out when you're seeing art in Houston.

Himalaya: This Indo/Pak/Fusion restaurant was overwhelming, bustling, friendly and delicious. We got butter chicken and curry, but were eyeing the biryani mountain at the table next to us with interest and a little envy.

Common Bond: This is an essential stop for travel essentials, like coffee and baked goods. Multiple locations.

Pondicheri Bake Lab: Full disclosure, we went here twice in three days. If words like "Gulab Jamun Doughnut" make you sit up and take notice, this is the place for you.

Da Gama: This restaurant serves coffee and pastries from its walk-up window, and the palm treed patio was a fun and immersive touch.

Space Montrose: A perfect stop for those who enjoy shopping local and supporting artists. Lots to see here, from cute and kitschy enamel pins and patches, to high-end, handmade jewelry and a huge selection of cards and prints.

Brazos Bookstore: We always visit as least one indie bookstore when we travel, and Houston's Brazos Bookstore was just perfect. When we visited, it was set up for a vibrant and energetic book club discussion, and it was neat to see first-hand how the bookstore anchors its community. The shelves were full of interesting books - most of which I had heard of, but many that were new and intriguing to me.


About K.Co Press

Since 2016, K.Co has been a platform to share inspiration, creative connections and unique experiences found in local businesses, culture and communities, and off-the-path travel. In spring 2022, we published our debut release, Ten Texas Towns and Places In-Between, Field Notes from the Back Roads.

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