The last time I saw a crowd this big standing outside the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, it was for the opening of a Star Wars exhibit.
But the crowd that's packed in front of the Caroline Wiess Law Building this Saturday night is way hipper (there's nobody dressed like Chewbacca, for example). Inside, people are packed along the stairs that lead up to a gallery space that's been converted to a dance floor. They're grinding and talking into each other's ears while they nurse their coffees and cocktails -- which were damn near impossible to get with all the lines. As I squeeze my way up the stairs, one thought keeps echoing in my head: I'm in the Museum of Fine Arts?
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Apparently so, though it seems like the Museum of Fine Arts-meets-NYC warehouse party-meets Urban Outfitters. It's the inaugural night of "Beats of Basquiat," a monthly Starbucks-sponsored joint that's meant to mix cool DJs, cool peeps and the current Basquiat show running at the MFAH (you can get details at www.mfah.org). I have to admit that when I heard Starbucks and the MFAH were hosting a hipster happening, I raised a suspicious eyebrow. But this bumpin' event is for real; a who's who of reportedly 3,000 scenesters, artists and fashionistas have come to dance -- and break-dance -- from all over town, not to mention places like New York and Seattle.
Upstairs on the balcony, a crowd has gathered around DJ Spooky's setup -- which is blocked off with black velvet rope and patrolled by two security guards -- to check out his set and the giant trippy video images projected onto the main wall. People are also checking out the Basquiat images that span the gallery. It's surreal to watch them studying paintings while they're dancing, but thanks to Spooky's infectious beats, that's what they're doing. In a small room decked out with cushy leather and suede sofas, a Tamra Davis-directed film called Conversation with Basquiat runs continuously. It features candid interviews with the legendary pop artist, as well as little factoids on his life, like "1975: runs away from home for the first time."
At midnight, there's a screening of Better Off Dead, a film that fits the '80s theme. But I opt instead to watch the pretty young things checking out pretty art -- even if they were barely born when said art was made. As I skim past pieces like Jim Crowe, a Basquiat work painted on a found fence, there's genuine discussion about materials, intent and method.
But there's also a party going on. And as promoter B-Boy Craig Long and Spooky pump up the crowd, a circle on the dance floor opens up and two dudes break into some dope back flips. Art and break dancing: I'm thinking Basquiat would've really dug this. -- Steven Devadanam