Houston, Part One, Land of Museums

Last week and over the weekend I attended the 2nd Biennial David B. Warren Symposium.  The title is quite a mouthful: American Material Culture and the Texas Experience: Art and Archtitecture before 1900 in Texas, the South, and the Southwest.  In an nutshell, it was a three day symposium organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston focusing on the oft forgotten culture of Texas; material culture, specifically.   This one concentrated on the European contribution with regard to art, furniture and architecture.  One of Villa Finale’s volunteers, Merribell Parsons very kindly drove her car, with me as a willing passenger, to Houston on Thursday afternoon.  

 On our own, we set out immediately to visit The Menil Collection www.menil.org , a long modern building tucked in to a neighborhood of bungalows.   We were lucky enough to fall upon the museum when they were having an opening for an exhibition by American artist Cy Twombly called “Treatise on the Veil”.  We stayed until almost nine o’clock.  Not with Cy Twombly , however, but with the outstanding collection of ancient art,  Greek, Roman, Byzantine, etc.,  all tucked in to their respective galleries.  Museums at night are really neat.   I did also see the Warhols and Magtrittes, and the Rothkos, too.  What a boutique museum.  I just loved it.  The most wonderful gallery, in a back room off of the surrealist gallery, was a smallish space simply filled to the gills with objects that were owned by Surealists.   They were collectors of the most amazing things.

After a brief visit back to the Menil Collection to see the Rothko Chapel, Friday was all about the house museum.   But house museums acting as a backdrops for fine and decorative art.  First was Ima Hogg’s Bayou Bend, which reminded me a great deal of Henry Francis du Pont’s Winterthur.  I was not surprised to hear that Miss Hogg and Mr. du Pont were friends.  For anyone who wonders about poor Miss Hogg’s name, as I did when I first saw it, her grandfather protested mightily upon hearing that his granddaughter was to be named Ima Hogg.   He was just too late -Ima was already christened by the time the poor man arrived at his son’s home by horseback.     Bayou Bend is the American Art wing, if you will, of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and is a great and evolving collection of  superior American art and furniture.  The house is set on fourteen acres of azalea-filled, beautifully tended gardens and is, as its name implies, on the bend of the Buffalo Bayou which runs right through Houston.   Here is the bridge one crosses to reach the house: Visitors are not permitted to linger on this bridge, and I have to say I didn’t really want to.  The bayou looked like this when I was there: Here’s the front of the house:    Merribell and I were the only ones on an exclusive two-hour tour.  I will continue with our visit to Rienzi in my next post. 

-Meg Nowack

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