October 8th, 2009
Museum of Fine Arts Houston: Inside and Out, the Finest
In 7 Words: Serene, Impressionable, Post-Impressionist, Neon, Neoclassical, Modern, Academic
Visiting a museum I have frequented dozens of times is akin to anyone else visiting their best friend’s house. You don’t ask permission to look in the fridge but you wouldn’t necessarily walk around naked. For me the Museum of Fine Arts Houston is like my best friend’s house except my best friend is replaced by pleasant docents who open your door, seem excited at the opportunity to direct you and fail to mock you when you get lost. You might think that I’m just exercising my hyperbole, but trust me, this place is so big even you men may have to actually stop and ask for directions. The museum is a sprawl of buildings, gardens and a separate sculpture garden.
As with many of the great museums, the artistic form doesn’t wait to make it’s impression inside the confines, but meets you head on as you approach the edifice. The Caroline Weiss Building, the museum’s original building – with its main entrance found on Bissonnet – was designed in 1924 by William Ward Watkin in the popular Neoclassical style; a revival of Classical Greek architecture. Almost twenty years later, a commission for renovations to the MFAH was given to Mies van der Rohe (one of the most prominent modern architects of the 20th century) making the Caroline Wiess Law Building, one of only two Mies-designed museums in the world.
Architectural wonders are only the beginning. The incredible collection housed within this building ranges from the world’s most significant collection of gold works of art from the Glassell Collection of African Gold to the arts of the Far East and the Islamic World. One of the MFA’s notable collections is of modern art of the mid-20th century including Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Franz Kline, Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Brice Marden. The names alone astound, but the most impressive aspect is having them all at your fingertips at once (actually, don’t touch the art).
Take a trek over to the the other main structure of the museum, the Audrey Jones Beck Building, for a glimpse at some great works of Early Modern Art. One way to explore the Beck building would be to cross Main Street and walk into the front doors, but that would be the boring way. If you want the feeling of falling through Alice’s rabbit hole I would recommend taking the underground tunnel. A tunnel featuring James Turrell’s The Light Inside joins the Beck and Law Buildings. The installation of neon lights, gypsum board, plaster and glass that creates a narrow, blue tunnel that sends you below the bustle of the museum district and directly to your goal.
The Early Modern art collection at the MFAH is represented by the works of Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Constantin Brancusi, and Piet Mondrian. The Beck Building also has a foot set firmly in antiquity displaying the artistic wares of ancient Egypt, the Roman empire and the arts of the Native Americans. The great European masters of the 19th and 20th century also have representation, including Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists: Gustave Caillebotte, André Derain, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Henri Matisse, Georges Seurat, and Pierre Bonnard, Wassily Kandinsky, Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Marc Chagall, Kees van Dongen and Georges Braque.
In addition to the collections, MFAH has it’s fair share of spots to take a load off your feet and partake in the serene. The Alice Pratt Brown Garden, a place reminiscent of a secret garden, provides you with an quiet reprieve to absorb all culture you just witnessed within the museum walls. The Hirsch library accomodates the academic in all of us, an art research facility adjacent to the garden.
Keep in mind that every Thursday the museum admission is free and it is open until 9PM! If the name-dropping above doesn’t stimulate the spectator in you, then just follow my admonition: A trip to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston should be in your near future.
Where – 1001 Bissonnet (at Main), Houston, TX 77005 (View Map)
What – A Journey Along the Artistic Timeline
Wear – Whatever’s Best to Stand in Front of a Rauschenberg
Who – Art Lovers and The Easily Inspired
How Much – $7 Adult, $3.50 Senior/Youth (and Free on Thursday!)
When – Open Tuesday through Sunday From 10a.m. – 7 p.m. (Check Website, Times subject to change)
Web – http://www.mfah.org/home.asp
Twitter – http://twitter.com/MFAH
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/mfah.org