Bulgari Bring the Sparkle to Houston Museum of Natural Science

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Photo by Sergio Calleja via Wikimedia Commons
Jewelry company Bulgari is celebrating its 130th Anniversary and the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences is playing host. Bulgari: 130 Years of Masterpieces will be once in a lifetime exhibition of 150 pieces of jewelry from the Bulgari Heritage Collection representing every period in the brands storied history, from its 1884 founding in Rome until the present day.

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Real Pirate Treasure Comes to Moody Gardens

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Photos by Lynda Rouner
Left: A recreation of the ship's bell, used to authenticate the wreck. Right: A recovered rifle
It was a weird fact to learn, but in all the history of nautical archeology there has been one, and only one, completely authenticated pirate ship wreck that has been discovered. It was the Whydah, which sank in 1717 but was discovered by Barry Cliffords in 1984. Now, the surviving artifacts from the ship are on display at the Moody Gardens Discovery Pyramid.

The Whydah started out as a slave ship. It was taken by Captain Sam Bellamy, a sailor turned pirate lord on a quest for the gold needed to marry the woman he loved. He took a fancy to the ship and made it his own personal vessel. Over the course of a year he plundered more than 50 ships using Whydah before deciding to return home with the loot and fulfill his promise to his beloved. A deadly storm made sure his promise was broken, and Bellamy was lost with his ship. Several men survived to bring the tale back to England, and only one escaped death to regale others of the magnificent Whydah.

The tale of Bellamy and his crew, including nine-year-old pirate John King, forms the background of the exhibit, with extremely well done recreations of life at sea in set pieces with mannequins serving as human reminders among the recovered bits of their life as pirates. Cannons, pistols, rifles, and real honest-to-goodness pirate treasure ate all on display along with dramatic audio descriptions narrated by their previous owners.

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The Menil Offers the Mysteries of Magritte

Categories: Museums

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The Six Elements, by Magritte.
The Setup:
John and Dominique de Menil were friends with many of the prominent art figures of their day, including the modern painter René Magritte. As a result of their patronage, the Menil Collection holds the most elaborate repository of Magritte's paintings outside of his native Belgium. In many ways, the images of Magritte are just as much a part of pop culture as they are art history. Even if one has never stepped foot inside a museum, chances are they've seen the raining men of Golconde (1953) or the word/image play of The Empty Mask (1952).

In an effort to bring audiences into a more intimate knowledge of Magritte's fascinating Surrealist landscapes and critiques of tangible reality, The Menil Collection has joined the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Modern Art to create Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, an exploration that examines the early work of his career and identifies the Surrealist experiments that would mark the masterpieces of his later career.


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Evocative Watercolors Showcase Another Side of John Singer Sargent

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MFAH Houston/Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by Special Subscription.
John Singer Sargent, "The Bridge of Sighs" c. 1903-04.

The amazingly prolific American-born John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) had already secured his reputation and fame as the leading oil painting portraiture artist of his time. But by the turn of the 20th century, he felt the medium had grown...well...as staid and stale as some of his subjects.

So as a challenge to himself -- and to allow a more fluid and faster-paced creativity -- he began to concentrate on producing watercolors. Two exhibitions of these works at New York's Knoedler Galleries in 1909 and 1912 (curated by the artist himself) were massive successes.

The entire group of Sargent's works at each show was purchased by the Brooklyn Museum and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, respectively -- the latter before it even opened to the public.

Now, more than 90 of what one contemporary critic called "swagger watercolours" from both exhibitions come together in the MFAH's "John Singer Sargent: The Watercolors."

"At the turn of the century, Sargent was at the top of his game, but he felt he had achieved all he could in portraiture," says Kaylin Weber, assistant curator of american painting and sculpture at the MFAH.


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A New Way to Look at Dr. Seuss at the Children's Museum

Categories: Museums

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Photos by Jef With One F
It is impossible to overstate the impact that Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, has had on the world of literature and art. Something like one in four American children have their first reading experience with one of his books, and they've sold more than 600 million copies. Add in the library of films based on his work and you see a towering figure of a man responsible for shaping more dreams than almost anyone else in the history of art.

The Children's Museum of Houston recognizes that, and recently took down its long-running Cum Yah Gullah feature to replace it with the Art of Dr. Seuss. The new exhibit is a celebration of all of Geisel's life, and even though it is heavily focused on the enduring childhood images that he was responsible for it all offers a more well-rounded look at his entire career as an artist than you might expect.

Statues of his most famous characters line the back of the main entry hall, including an amazing bronze rendition of Yertle the Turtle that should probably stand in every government building in America just to bring that all-important message about what happens when you raise yourself too high on the backs of others home. The petty king of the swamp looks both ruthless and ridiculously tiny in the statue, a perfect example of a great piece come to three-dimensional life.

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Hot History: Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley's Bold Art Revolution at the MFAH

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Courtesy National Gallery of Art. Ferdinand Lammot Belin Fund.
John Singleton Copley, "Watson and the Shark," 1778

In the late 18th century before the Revolutionary War, a good number of English citizens were pish-poshing the very idea of a United States of America.

So the thought of former colonists creating any kind of unique art worth looking at -- much less comparing to centuries of British tradition -- was not keeping many of King George's gallery walkers up at night.

But nobody told that to Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley. Though the American-born artists (Pennsylvania and Massachusetts respectively) had relocated back to the mother country by the time the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, their unique American perspective and practice of a new genre of painting ensured their massive success in London.

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Do This, Don't Touch That: Museum Etiquette for Beginners

Categories: Museums

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Flickr photo by .imelda
Terra cotta soldier at the HMNS
I was having lunch a few weeks ago with a friend who works in the art industry when the topic of museum etiquette came up. I had just gone to see two separate exhibits in town and was marveling at how the atmosphere differed so widely at each gallery. In a town like Houston, which regularly gets large exhibits -- such as the Houston Museum of Natural Science's Terra Cotta Warriors or the Museum of Fine Arts' recent Turrell exhibit -- people who aren't regular museum or gallery-goers are sometimes drawn to these big-name events. Some of these people might even go years between museum visits.

So I put the question to social media: "What are some important tips for museum/gallery etiquette? Do you have any pet peeves with people in galleries?" And I got a huge response, from all sides of the coin, including curators for large museums, gallery owners and casual art lovers alike.

This Saturday is the fourth installment of the Houston Museum Experience. This is the Houston Museum District's reworking of the insanely popular Museum District Day, which also used to occur in September every year. On that day, all 19 of the district's museums were open and free to the public, and the crush it created with thousands of people trying to squeeze in as many museum visits as possible wasn't pleasant for anyone. So at the beginning for 2013, the district decided to divide those museums into four walkable zones, focusing on one zone a quarter.

Zone 4, which is being highlighted all day Saturday, includes some of Houston's busiest destinations -- HMNS (one of the most-visited museums in the country) as well as the Houston Zoo, the Children's Museum of Houston and Rice Gallery. And it's also Families Weekend on the Rice campus. That could mean a lot of people.

If you are new to museums or just don't go that often, check out our guidelines on museum etiquette.

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Mayor Parker Announces Houston's Fall Arts Season

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A crowd of whose who in the Houston arts community gathered last Friday on a very sticky morning for Mayor Anise Parker's official opening to the Houston Fall Arts Season. Held on the front lawn of the Menil, the purpose of the address was to give a preview of what is to come this year for Houston's robust art community and reflect on the success the city has seen in regard to its "Houston Is Inspired" tourism campaign, which has been running for several months now.

Opening the commencement was the Director of the Menil, Josef Helfenstein, who spoke on behalf of the "over 500 arts organizations" actively creating and producing art in the city. Helfenstein was followed by Executive Director of classical music company, Musicqa, Joseph Wilson. Wilson gave a sneak-peek into the upcoming installation exhibition "What Time Is It," which will open in downtown's market square on September 28. The exhibition is a collaborative effort between Musiqa and artist Jo Ann Fleischhauer that incorporates music and art with the concept of time.

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Mayor Parker chats with Musiqa's Joseph Wilson and HAA's Jonathan Glus.


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New Designs for Menil Collection Create a Better Art Neighborhood for Houston

Categories: Museums

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Photo courtesy of Gretchen Sammons and the Menil Collection

With the recent appointment of architecture firms Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and Johnston Marklee, the Menil Collection slowly moves forward with its plan to enhance and expand the museum's landscape in the heart of Houston.

The 30-acre Menil Collection is known as a museum and "neighborhood of art." The Menil's main building houses works of art from modern artists to paintings by Picasso. Following a sidewalk or pathway brings visitors to other buildings, such as the Cy Twombly gallery and the Rothko Chapel. The surrounding bungalows are residences and offices for the Menil Collection and other art organizations in the community.

In 2009, the museum hired London-based David Chipperfield Architects to undertake the design of the museum's master site plan, which includes new landscape designs, more visitor amenities and additional buildings for art.

The project is set to proceed in the fall. According to Director of Communications for the Menil Collection Vance Muse the museum does not have a total budget yet, since not everything the museum will undertake is finalized, but there will be fundraising involved.

"We do have an endowment but it is modest by many standards and this will involve a lot of support from the community, but I am sure we will find that support," Muse said. "This is an era now of stewardship, because the founding family -- John and Dominique [de Menil] -- are deceased, meaning it's no longer patronage of the founder, but it is careful stewardship of our director and the staff of the Menil."


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10 Things the Houston Museum of Natural Science Could Do Better

Categories: Museums

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The Houston Museum of Natural Science has become a wonder, a gem for us all to be very, very proud of. First they unveil a paleontology hall that is unbelievable in its breadth and scope, and now they've done it again with an Egyptian exhibit that is a marvel. This in addition to some already first-rate permanent collection. Any money spent visiting the museum is money well-spent indeed.

That said... I go a lot because it's a good way to get the kid out of the house while my wife studies on Sundays and it has air conditioning. Having been through the doors at least ten times this year, I feel there are some definite places that the museum could improve upon.

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