Even for those who've ventured to Rome and waited patiently in the block-long queue to see the Vatican's Sistine Chapel in person, it's a completely different experience to view Michelangelo's paintings up close, at full size no less, and without all the awkward neck cramps.
"Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition" opened to the public June 8, making its Houston premiere with illuminated photographs of the ceiling frescoes, as well as The Last Judgment, courtesy of Brilliant Lectures.
"The first week it had record sales, record box office. I think it’s hitting a note with people, the timing of this exhibition, but also the state of the world and the time this summer," says Scott Brogan, founding director of Brilliant Lectures. "People want to go. We have beautiful music that’s playing in the background, it's air conditioned, cool, calm. It's just very majestic. That’s the word we keep hearing from patrons over and over."
The images were captured post-restoration, which means we'll be seeing the brightly colored scenes from the Old Testament without the shadowy layers of dirt, smoke and varnish that had accumulated over 500 years. Audio guides (just two dollars extra) explain each section from the Sistine Chapel's vaulted ceiling, including the ancestors of Jesus, the three stories of Noah, the creation and downfall of Adam and Eve, the creation, and the prophets and sibyls (oracles).
"The nine frescoes from the Book of Genesis are suspended from the ceiling in order," adds Brogan. "Those are separate and they literally look like they’re floating. All of the pieces they look like they’re floating."
With its neoclassical columns and white marble floors, Corinthian Houston is the perfect venue for the traveling exhibit. It served as home for the First National Bank for more than 50 years and is in high demand for wedding receptions and galas. "It looks as much like a cathedral or church as you could have gotten for a building built in  in Houston, Texas," adds Brogan.
Stop by during lunch and grab a sandwich or salad from the bistro, or come back during evening hours and you might catch a performance by a local arts organization: the chamber orchestra Virtuosi of Houston, Houston Boy Choir, Houston Ballet Academy and musicians from the Houston Symphony, among others. Brogan says the website continues to be updated as they lock in additional performances between now and the show's closing on July 31.
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The exhibit is the 106th program for the 13-year-old organization, and an interesting next chapter for its heavy-hitting portfolio of past guests that include Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, President Mikhail Gorbachev, Sidney Poitier, George Clooney, Maya Angelou and Robert Duvall.
Brogan says most Houstonians are familiar with Brilliant Lecture's guest speaker program, but more recently they've diversified their programming of presenting role models to Houston audiences with a gloriously irreverent riff on J.K. Rowling's popular books, Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience, as well as biennial performances by the Vienna Boys Choir.
Brogan is excited about this September when the Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor Kristin Chenoweth takes the stage. He's been in conversation with Chenoweth and he assures us that she's just as witty and funny in person as she is on stage. "She is exactly who you think she is."
"Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition" will be closed to the public June 18-25, reopening June 26 (except for a private engagement that evening) and remaining up through July 31, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 7 p.m. Sundays, Corinthian Houston, 202 Fannin, 713-974-1335, brilliantlectures.org or chapelsistine.com, $15 to $20.