Houston's Museum of Fine Arts
Changes at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts is undergoing an extensive redevelopment of its campus. The museum will be adding several more buildings to the seven already in use and expects to have the additions completed by 2019. The design includes underground tunnels which will connect the various buildings. Considering how impressive the current campus is, it’s very likely that lovers of great architecture have something to look forward to.
I must admit that I myself am probably more a fan of architecture than art. I enjoy realistic landscape and portrait paintings but find myself confounded when facing modern or abstract art. During our recent visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, we visited both the realistic world of Ron Mueck and the very abstract world of the Pixel Forest.
The Ron Mueck Exhibit
The 13 sculptures of the Mueck exhibit depict life from birth to old age. Apart from their sizes, all the sculptures are completely realistic. If I have any helpful advice for this exhibit, it is to take your time. Take in every amazing detail before moving on. I fell into my usual trap of becoming so excited by what I was seeing that I rushed too quickly from one to the next. I could have gone back to the beginning and repeated the experiences, but the newness of it would be gone.
Every one of the pieces has its own beauty, but each feels isolated and vulnerable in the enormous gallery rooms. My favorite piece was the older couple under the beach umbrella. He seems relaxed and content where she seems weighed down by regret or sadness. I would love to see the museum do a questionnaire about what visitors are reading from the body language of the sculptures. Is it possible for the artist to sculpt emotions into the figures and to have most visitors see what was intended, or is the perception of emotions contingent on the viewer's own experiences?
The Homelands and Histories Photography Exhibit
A few rooms away from the Mueck exhibit we found a photography exhibit - Homelands and Histories by Fazal Sheikh. This is a moving series of images, shot in several countries, that reveal the struggles of displaced people. Photography is a medium I can understand and one that can easily shake my emotional core. Paintings lead to analysis but photography makes you feel. Just my personal opinion.
The Pixel Forest Exhibit
In addition to the Mueck exhibit, we also wanted to see the Pixel Forest. This is a large scale work by Pipilotti Rist that belongs firmly in the abstract/I-don’t-understand department. In a large room hang long string lights which cycle through various colors. On two walls behind the lights, a movie is being projected and is accompanied by new-age music. Fortunately, there’s a nice large area on the floor where we can flop down on some large pillows.
What can I say about the experience? I’m wondering what the artist would want me to say. I have a feeling the work is about life. It’s colorful, which is appealing. Maybe the disjointed nature of it is supposed to represent those times in our lives when we look around and think “What am I doing?” or “What’s happening to the world?”. It’s certainly making me do a lot of thinking about what it might mean. Maybe that’s the point.
Since I've walked through the permanent exhibits before, we don't stop to see them during this visit. The museum contains collections from all regions of the world and many time periods. In many ways, an art museum doubles as a history museum. Realistically, it's probably my love of history rather than the skill of the artists that provides the motivation for my visits to art museums.
Art and Us
Despite my struggles with understanding art, I’ve discovered that what I most enjoy about art museums is walking into a room and asking whoever I’m with which painting appeals to them most. It seems to usually be different from my own favorite. What I’ve discovered is that the answer can often reveal something about the viewer. Often times, there’s a process of self-discovery in that. Art creates a space where we can discuss our views of the world in open ended terms.
The MFA Cafe
Before leaving the museum, we stop at the MFA Cafe, which receives some really good reviews. I order tomato soup and Karoline asks for a BLT sandwich. We are both supremely happy with our choices. It’s rare to be served a meal with such perfectly balanced flavors. At least food speaks to me in a language I understand! We’ll definitely make it a point to stop here the next time we’re in the Museum district.