Creativity abounds in Houston
Words by Christiana Roussel
Wanderlust took me to Houston where the Arts District welcomed me in and fed my creative spirit.
A city the size of Houston (estimated population of 6.7 million in 2023) is nearly impossible to consume in a single trip. The sprawl is real, seemingly taking the city southward to the Gulf Coast and northward to almost south Dallas. On this visit, I hyper-focused on the lauded Arts District, within city limits proper, exploring the wealth of creativity.
Speaking of wealth, none of this artistic largesse would be possible without the generational philanthropic contributions of many prominent Houston denizens, more names than can fill a page. The result is a wide swath of town, dedicated to the arts and culture, for all to enjoy.
A city of this size requires more than one airport: George Bush Intercontinental Airport to the north side of town and the smaller William P. Hobby Airport on the southern side, are two options. I elected to make the ten-hour drive to Houston from Birmingham, stopping in New Orleans for a night, to make the most of this getaway.
Where to Stay
La Colombe d’Or – This venerable 1920s Beaux art property on Montrose Boulevard underwent a complete renovation and expansion two years ago, adding a modern tower of suites to complement the existing landmark. Art is at the very heart of La Colombe d’Or, where original pieces from the owners’ private collection fill public spaces and intimate suites of this luxury boutique property.
Having lived in Houston many years ago, I was familiar with the cache of the La Colombe d’Or name but was wholly unprepared for the modern and incredibly hospitable charm of this hotel. From valet to check-in to in-suite details, I felt welcomed and cared for, ensconced in a respite from the city’s rush outside.
What to Do
A five-minute drive from the hotel to the Arts District had me traveling under sprawling old-growth live oaks, dotted with moss and air plants. The canopy feels insular and historic, creating shade and shadow, running for miles. These are the must-do’s:
- The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) – Comprised of seven buildings, it is one of the largest museums in the country, with a stunning catalog (nearly 7,000 works of art) that spans centuries of mankind’s artistic endeavors. Get lost in galleries featuring Latin American, European, African, decorative, and photographic arts. I am most drawn to the modern and contemporary collection featuring works from Calder, de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko, and Warhol, but it is all stunning. Pace yourself with a quietly elegant lunch at the museum’s Le Jardinier restaurant.
- Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden – Just adjacent to the MFAH, this space was created by sculptor Isamu Noguchi and features important work from artists such as Rodin, Matisse, and Miró. Incorporating many natural elements within this concrete-wall-flanked space, Noguchi accomplished his goal of a garden as “sculpture for sculpture.” I was especially taken with Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Column, the massive size of which seemed to evaporate as the clouds overhead changed shape and obscured the work’s outline.
- Houston Museum of Natural Science – Explore the intersection of art and science in this space where the Cabinet of Curiosities exists side by side with relics from ancient Egypt, Texas wildlife dioramas, and a hall of malacology (study of mollusks). The Cockrell Butterfly Center and Burke Baker Planetarium round out the STEM-heavy experience here.
- The Menil Collection – Founders Dominique and John de Menil had the singular goal of making art accessible to all. The main building houses galleries of ever-changing pieces from the collection, which is stunning in size (nearly 19,000 pieces, prehistoric to present day). The result is one that is well-edited in presentation so as not to become overwhelming. The Cy Twombly Gallery, adjacent to the main building, features work from this single modern-day artist. Twombly had the privilege of being intimately involved in the planning and design of the building that would house his works, making it art-housing-art.
- Rothko Chapel – Also on the Menil campus, it is a nondenominational destination providing “a stillness that moves.” Within the eight-sided building lies pure silence, filtered light from above, and the space to connect with your thoughts. You may find yourself, as I did, overcome with emotion, simply being still here. Just outside the Chapel is the Broken Obelisk sculpture by Barnett Newman, which is dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Set over a reflecting pool, the piece invokes a tenuousness that invites reflection.
- James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace – Art, at its core, is something that must be experienced to be felt. In this exhibition on the campus of Rice University, participants do just that. Twice daily—at sunrise and sunset—viewers engage in the passage of time through this LED light sequence which runs about 40 minutes in length. Built into a grass-covered knoll, this 72-foot square concrete and steel structure features a knife-edged roof where LED lights are projected onto the ceiling. Yes, you’ve experienced sunsets elsewhere, but nothing quite like this.