Armpits, Armadillos, and Art

Last week I shared my Austin experience. This week you get to hear my Houston experience. I spent less time there so I don’t know it as well—I never even went downtown. My boyfriend who grew up in Houston describes it as “the armpit of Texas.” I  could see what he meant and I guess other people feel the same.

Houston signIt’s not that there aren’t nice parts, because there are (I’ll show you some below), but the majority of it is highways and yellowy-beige strip malls that sit half empty. It’s quite depressing how much vacant retail space there is. It’s like the developers built them without knowing if there was a demand, or they’re only occupied for a short season before the business shuts down. I’m looking through my photos and I don’t even have a single strip mall or highway to show you, which I guess demonstrates how uninspired I was by the suburban landscape.

But I did get out of my camera for a lot of other things, such as this weird beer can house that could belong in Austin.

Beer Can House 1

A house made entirely of beer cans

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Transco Tower (now called the Williams Tower) is the most distinguishable skyscraper on Houston’s skyline, and it’s not even downtown. It’s located in the Uptown District. This office tower with a beacon on top was built by New York-based John Burgee Architects with Philip Johnson—the famous architect who designed the Glass House. You can see that glassy influence on this postmodern tower which is the 4th tallest in Texas.

Transco TowerOpposite Transco Tower is the Waterwall that I alluded to in my last post. I stood under its Roman arches and heard the thunder of 11,000 gallons of water spilling over the edge. Its height is also significant as 64 feet references the 64 stories of the Transco Tower.

WaterwallWaterWall PlaqueStanding by WaterwallThe other highlights of Houston, also in the Uptown District, were their fabulous museums. We first checked out the Museum of Natural Science which required much more than the 2.5 hours we gave it. Still, we managed to see the Lester & Sue Smith Gem Vault, the Hall of Ancient Egypt, and the Morian Hall of Paleontology (rather rapidly).

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A sample of one of the cool configurations of fossils in the paleontology hall

The Morian Hall of Paleontology

dinosaurs, dinosaurs everywhere!

Did you know the nine-banded armadillo is the state mammal of Texas?

Did you know the nine-banded armadillo is the state mammal of Texas?

On the way out I snapped some pics of beautiful Hermann Park across the street with a large spider sculpture in the middle of the reflecting pool, reminiscent of Ottawa’s spider in front of the National Gallery of Canada.

Reflecting PoolThis area of town is called the Museum District for a reason, so we visited The Museum of Fine Arts until we called it a day. I was really impressed at the size and quality of their collections, and especially how many Impressionist paintings they had (my favourite kind!)

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Orange Trees by Gustave Caillebotte, 1878.

The Orange Trees by Gustave Caillebotte, 1878.

Water Lilies (Nymphéas) by Claude Monet, 1907.

Water Lilies (Nymphéas) by Claude Monet, 1907.

The Rocks by Vincent van Gogh, 1888.

The Rocks by Vincent van Gogh, 1888.

We only had time to do the European and American collections, but we did walk through this bamboo-style installation made of 24,000 plastic tubes that hang 28 feet from the ceiling to the floor. Venezuelan artist Jesus Rafael Soto has made 25-30 of these works he calls “Penetrables” that “epitomize his investigations into space and movement. For Soto, space was a perceptual field that had to be experienced, not just with the eyes but with the entire body and senses.” (quoted from the plaque) Soto was a pioneer of the Kinetic Art Movement. I’m a fan. I love interactive art, especially ones you can get lost in!

Soto: the Houston Penetrable by Jesus Rafael Soto. It was exclusively created for this hall at the MFA in Houston, a space designed by Mies van der Rohe.

Soto: the Houston Penetrable by Jesus Rafael Soto. It was exclusively created for this exhibition hall designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

So there you have it, a snapshot of my Austin & Houston experiences. Contrary to what everyone had been telling me and how it normally is, Houston actually had “cooler” temperatures than Austin. God knows I needed it! There was a massive thunderstorm while we were touring the MFA and it was impressive to hear rain pounding so loudly on the roof. I thought a machine had gone haywire in the building. Vancouver gets a lot of rain, but not like that! I was telling an older gentleman in Austin about the Houston storm when we returned to Austin to finish the trip, and his response was, “Well, what can I say? We Texans like to put on a show for y’all!”

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