Every year, Museum District Day offers shuttle-bus service and free general admission at 17 institutions showcasing everything from dinosaur bones to Byzantine frescoes.
But this year’s iteration, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, is almost too good to be true from the perspective of an art critic, whose mission includes trying to convince people that looking at contemporary art not only won’t kill them, but might just enrich their lives.
If you’re someone who tries to keep an open mind about today’s art but finds that befuddlement takes over the minute you set foot in, say, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, I may have just the itinerary for you.
CAMH will offer docent tours for the traveling exhibition The Spectacular of Vernacular. Group shows organized around a theme — in this case, artist Mike Kelley’s aphorism that “the mass culture of today is the folk art of tomorrow” — can be a tough sell, but this one accommodates an incredibly wide array of artistic practices while retaining coherence.
It also features strong works by some of today’s most important contemporary figures, including William Eggleston, Kerry James Marshall, Lari Pittman, Kara Walker and Dario Robleto. These artists’ works look nothing alike and arise from different impulses.
What they have in common, writes exhibition curator Darsie Alexander, is that they’re “too local and rustic to be called ‘Pop’ and … too carefully crafted and narrative to be associated with (Marcel) Duchamp’s readymade tradition.” (Duchamp is the provacateur who presented a urinal as an artwork in 1917, arguing that his choice in doing so trumped the question of whether he’d made it himself. The artists on view at CAMH place a much higher premium on the handmade.)
At the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the exhibit Second Nature: Contemporary Landscapes From the MFAH Collection shows how artists today alter landscape imagery through mechanical or digital reproduction — when they’re not altering the landscape itself to varying degrees with land art.
Check out Pelle Cass: Selected People at Houston Center for Photography for a different take on altered imagery. Cass sets his camera on a tripod, takes hundreds of shots of countless passers-by, then picks which ones to include in the final composite photograph, with often surprising results.
You also can stop in at Rice University Art Gallery to watch art being made. Los Angeles artist Ana Serrano will be at work on creating Salon of Beauty, an imaginary cardboard cityscape inspired by her neighborhood.
And you can help make art yourself. At the Jung Center, you can participate in the collaborative exhibit INSIDE-OUTSIDE Virtual Parade by using an assortment of images to create a collage of yourself and adding it to the community collage.
At the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, you can help fold colored origami papers into three-dimensional butterflies that the center hopes will eventually fill a wall. HCCC’s butterflies will eventually become part of a 2013 Holocaust Museum Houston exhibit titled I Never Saw Another Butterfly, for which the museum is collecting 1.5 million handmade butterflies. (The same number of children died during the Holocaust.)
Explore the District
Museum District Day also has lots of non-art options, including interactive exhibits at the Children’s Museum of Houston and discounted $10 admission to the Health Museum blockbuster exhibit Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination.
Other museums offering free admission Saturday:
• Buffalo Soldiers National Museum
• Byzantine Fresco Chapel
• Czech Center Museum Houston
• Holocaust Museum Houston
• Houston Museum of Natural Science
• John C. Freeman Weather Museum
• Lawndale Art Center
• Menil Collection
• Rothko Chapel