Visual Arts

The 5 Houston Museum Exhibits You Must See Before Labor Day, 2016

The new arts season is quickly on its way but before the summer exhibits close there are several “must-see” shows. The exhibits focus on contemporary art (true, the Houston Museum of Natural Science's "Virgen de Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas" covers the religious icon over the last several hundred years, but it's fair to say she's a prominent figure in today's pop culture) and range in tone from reverential to provocative. We love them all. 

Prices range from fan-friendly free (thank you Contemporary Arts Museum Houston!) to a pricey $35 for special admission (before you bash the Houston Museum of Natural Science, remember the "Virgen de Guadalupe" exhibit chronicles more than eight centuries of history and the apparition of the mother of Jesus). 

Do yourself a favor and avoid the dreaded "I wanted to see that!" head slap in September and catch these five shows before they close. 

By the way, these shows are listed in no particular order. Enjoy.

"Mark Flood: Gratest Hits" at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston 

Rice University graduate and Houston resident Mark Flood will tell you he's  one of the “least important artists of the 20th century.” Curators at the  Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston where his "Gratest Hits" exhibit is currently on display through August 7, call him "one of the most successful working artists today." That apparent disconnect reflects Flood's attitude toward the meaning of success in the contemporary art scene. We're pretty sure Flood doesn't mind the financial aspect of his success as an artist; it's the effect on the art work that the often insane fame that accompanies such a high-profile career that he finds objectionable. 

Bill Arning, CAMH Director and organizing curator for "Gratest Hits" calls the exhibit "a visual roller coaster ride," which includes "many moments of extreme visual beauty, cheek by jowl with crude humor and aggressive, roughly-rendered texts." It's the first ever museum survey of Flood's work. 

One landmark piece in the exhibit is Flood's Eat Human Flesh painting. In the late 1980s, Flood was working on provocative pseudo-advertisements that were meant to cause discomfort in the viewers. One painting read "EAT HUMAN FLESH" and featured the face of a smiling boy. Flood gave the work to a musician friend and it ended up hanging over the sofa of some punk rock fans/suspected drug dealers. It happened that these particular fans/dealers were being watched by authorities. The place was eventually raided by officials and the image ended up on the local news, supposedly evidence of the fans/dealers dark doings. Bam, Eat Human Flesh was instantly famous.  Unfortunately, the painting was lost while in police custody and has never been seen since. (Flood has since made multiple copies including the one seen in "Gratest Hits.") 

As is the norm for CAMH, the exhibit has an interactive element. Viewers can vote for their favorite work by placing a large Like painting in front of it (see the image above).  Two of Flood's assistant's spray painted the word "like" on to some 5,000 pieces of canvas for the exhibit. Museum staff member Connie McAllister tells us response to the Like paintings has been enthusiastic.  People "are really getting into the interactive component of the exhibition," she says.

You can move a Like painting to anywhere in the museum, but don't try to leave with it. Flood has put guards on notice that Like paintings at previous shows were taken well beyond the exhibition space (translation: people stole them). 

There's only one event scheduled before the show closing on August 7. That's a mega-event on July 21 which includes a screening of Flood's film Art Fair Fever, a signing of the "Mark Flood: Gratest Hits" color catalogue that accompanies the show and a discussion with Bill Arning and Stephanie Mitchell, Executive Director at Lawndale Art Center. Get there early - the museum is expecting a large turnout. 

Avoid the Saturday and Sunday crowds and visit the exhibit on any weekday. Remember the museum has no designated parking lot so plan on circling the block a couple of times looking for street parking. (Most people find parking within a two to three block radius.) Admission is free but the museum will happily accept a donation at the door. 

Regular visiting hours for "Mark Flood: Gratest Hits" are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays; and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Through August 7. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose. For information, call 713-284-8250 or visit Free.

"Kusama: At the End of the Universe" at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

There are few art exhibits that prompt marriage proposals but there's already been one such declaration of love this summer at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's "Kusama: At the End of the Universe." (More on that in a minute.) We can thank Gary Tinterow, MFAH director, and Alison de Lima Greene, MFAH curator of contemporary arts and special projects,  for the immersive exhibition. The two are big Yayoi Kusama fans and visited several of her installations to prepare for "At the End of the Universe." Tinterow and de Lima Greene are in good company as Kusama fans; TIME magazine named her to its 100 Most Influential People list for 2016.

The exhibit, open until September 18, follows in the immersion/interactive tradition of the museum's "Soto: The Houston Penetrable" in 2014 and "Shadow Monsters" in 2015. It features two of Kasama's signature infinity rooms. Golden lights fade in and out of darkness in Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity (seen above).  Visitors stand in the room and watch as a seemingly endless void repeatedly transitions into an equally endless infinity and back again.

In Love Is Calling (seen below), soft form sculptures resembling tentacles seem to grow up from the ground and down from the ceiling.  Covered in polka dots, the sculptures change color making for constantly shifting glow around viewers.  

Kusama's two installations evoke a variety of responses from visitors. Viewers have been moved to tears by Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity  and one woman called Love is Calling  "the closest to the experience she had of deep sea diving that she had ever encountered on dry land," according to museum staff. 
There's a soundscape to Love is Calling, where the marriage proposal took place earlier this summer. Visitors hear Kusama recite her poem "Residing in the Castle of Shed Tears" in Japanese. 

Be sure to read the poem's translation which is available in English and Spanish. 

Accompanying "At the End of the Universe" is "Selections from the Museum’s Collection: Post-War Painting and Sculpture." The exhibit features works by New York and Paris based artists working from 1960 to 1990. Represented are Kusama contemporaries Andy Warhol,  Robert Rauschenberg, Sylvia Mangold, Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland and Frank Stella. The show is required viewing for Kusama fans. 

Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons are the best times to visit if you want to avoid the crowds. All tickets are timed. Miss your entry time and oops, you have to buy another ticket. No trades, exchanges or do-overs. Get a Fast Pass (for an extra $7) for quick entry to the exhibit.

Remember, tickets, including Fast Pass tickets, are selling out daily so buy in advance if you can. Tickets are available online and in person at the box office only; tickets are not available by phone.

"At the End of the Universe" tickets include admission to museum's collections and the exhibit "High Society: The Portraits of Franz X. Winterhalter."

Post a photo of yourself enjoying the exhibit on your social media accounts. Use the hashtag  #KusamaUniverse and you'll get a printout of your photo along with a chance to show up on the museum's online feed. 

Use the MFAH parking lot (two blocks east of the main building) for hassle-free parking or ride the METRO train to the Museum District station.

Regular visiting hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 12:15 to 7 p.m. Sundays. The exhibit continues through September 18. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7300 or visit  $18 to $25. 

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Olivia Flores Alvarez