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Photo Credits: Aker/Zvonkovic, Rob Williamson

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

Visual art takes many forms. It can be a watercolor hung lovingly in a home, a photograph taken with a discerning eye, a sculpture molded from clay, or a piece of modern art consuming the entire wall of an art gallery. Art is everywhere. And why is that? Perhaps it’s because artists have the need to represent the world, or some piece of it, through their own perception, and we have the need to see our world reflected back to us in a way that intrigues us, stimulates our minds, encourages us to ask questions, or simply moves us to great emotion. Visual art does all this and much more, and is important, because not only is it an outlet for creativity, it is a medium that educates and inspires us at the same time.


It would be an understatement to say that The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) is aware of the importance of visual art in our daily lives. With its diverse permanent collection, intriguing exhibitions, public programs, community involvement, and resources, the MFAH not only understands visual art’s importance, it celebrates it, making it accessible to all Houstonians for their pleasure and enrichment.

 Established in 1900, the MFAH is the oldest art museum in Texas. An important part of the Houston landscape since its inception, the main campus of the MFAH is an integral component of the city’s Museum District. It comprises the Audrey Jones Beck Building, the Caroline Wiess Law Building, the Glassell School of Art, and the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden. Its other facilities, the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, and Rienzi, two remarkable house museums with outstanding collections of American and European decorative arts, are nearby.


A key component of the museum’s mandate is to provide stimulating programs that immerse visitors in art for their edification and enjoyment at no cost. To this end, the MFAH offers imaginative series and stand-alone experiences for all age groups and interests.


For children and families, the “Sunday Family Zone + Studio” offers a suite of programs whose activities include the adventure of exploring a particular gallery, listening to special storybooks, sharpening looking skills with sketching, and creating individual works of art; the “Family Storybook Circle” connects art with entertaining stories; “Little Art Adventures,” especially designed for children from three to five years of age, includes fun activities and simple art projects.


For adults, “Art Beyond Sight” engages visitors who are blind or partially sighted in the collections and exhibitions with verbal descriptions and hands-on material; “Looking Together” engages those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and their family members, in discussions about different works of art; “Happy Hour Thursdays” offers general admission at no cost, cash bar, music, and fun food-truck bites; the historically themed “Rienzi and Bayou Bend Book Club” brings good books and conversation together; “Yoga in the Gardens at Rienzi,” combines exercise with beauty in a calming setting and includes a tour of  Rienzi’s house and gardens; “Photography in the Gardens of Bayou Bend” provides photographers with the opportunity to capture the bayou’s blooms, woodlands, and landscapes through their own lenses.


The MFAH is also dedicated to community outreach by bringing exciting and creative programs to those who need them most. “Art for the Mind and Spirit” brings meaningful visual arts experiences to Texas Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Shriners Hospital for Children, Houston. The program’s activities have been designed for families and children to encourage them to view their surroundings as less sterile, less threaten- ing, and less stressful; create an opportunity for self-expression; and allow participants to feel they are in control.

On-site workshops at each facility introduce participants to a work of art from the MFAH collection, which they explore through discussion as well as the addition of related images and hands-on materials. A wonderful bonus of each session is the opportunity for the participants to take part in a related art project of their own. Each activity accommodates therapy and treatment schedules and is adapted to any physical, mental, or emotional limitations participants face. It is also designed to provide comfort, solace, and healing to patients as well as to their families and caregivers.


“Glassell-on-the-Go” is a program of the Glassell School of Art, the teaching institute of the MFAH. The new studio art program brings the high quality youth art classes of the Glassell Junior School to underserved school students and their families. Two underserved schools in the Houston Metropolitan area will benefit from mobile art classes taught by esteemed members of the Glassell Junior School Faculty. Each semester will culminate in a trip to the MFAH for the students and their families.


The Glassell Junior School is the nation’s only museum-affiliated school to offer year-round art instruction to children ages three to eighteen. While it maintains an active scholarship program for underserved students to take classes at the MFAH, the new “Glassell-on-the-Go” initiative will bring art classes to students who wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to travel to the museum district and derive the benefit of everything it has to offer.


With an eye to its future, the MFAH is currently involved in a project to design and build a facility dedicated to 20th- and 21st-century art as well as a new residence for the Glassell School of Art. Both buildings, along with a sculpture garden, will be linked to the existing gallery structures. When the project is complete, the result will be a 14-acre public campus that will further enhance the lives of Houstonians by multiplying their opportunities for being immersed in the wonderful world of art.



Degas: The Dance Class

Degas: Racehorses in a Landscape

Degas: Woman in a tub

Degas: A Cotton Office in New Orleans

Emperors' Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei

Half Portraits of Empress Chang and Emperor Xuande

Champlevé ewer with European figures in landscape

Vase with revolving core and eight trigram design

Gold bowl used personally by the Qianlong Emperor, Qing Dynasty

Bowl with tree leaf design, Southern Song Dynasty

Consisting of over 160 works of art rarely experienced outside of Taipei, “Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei” highlights the artistic and cultural contributions of imperial rulers in China from the Song dynasty to the Qing dynasty. The unique selection of paintings, bronzes, calligraphy, and decorative arts, which exemplifies superb craftsmanship and imperial tastes, offers Houstonians a glimpse into the roles played by eight emperors and one empress in establishing and developing new artistic directions through the treasures they collected, commissioned, and in some cases, created. It’s a fascinating way to discover how Chinese art evolved and flourished under Han Chinese, Mongol, and Manchu rulers.

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Gary Tinterow with Degas Exhibition 23

CKW Luxe recently had the pleasure of speaking with Gary Tinterow, Director of the MFAH, about the museum, its significance for Houstonians, the Degas and Emperors’
Treasures exhibitions, and what he envisions for the museum’s future.

CKW Luxe: What do you see as the role of the MFAH in the city of Houston, and how do you make it accessible to everyone?

Gary Tinterow: The MFAH is the city’s principle art museum and one of its primary sources for art education and creative culture. There are many fine museums in Houston, but we feel we serve an important function, not only as a storehouse of world culture, but also as a community center where people of all faiths, continents, and nationalities are able to visit and find their cultures and ancestors represented.

CKW: The Degas exhibit is quite a comprehensive representation of the artist’s work. What do you think the selections add to our current perceptions of Degas, and how do they enhance our understanding of him as an artist?

GT: This is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of Degas’ work to be mounted in nearly 30 years. That alone makes it important. It also provides us with an exceptional opportunity to experience the career, life, and work of one of the greatest artists who ever lived—an artist who was constantly searching for a profound understanding of what it is to be human. I believe we see in his work, and in the exhibition, as in the work of a great novelist, a number of characters occurring at the beginning of his career that he takes with him in his art. As Degas ages, so do his characters. They seem to move through life together seeking a deep understanding of what human life is about.

CKW: As well as being a feast for our senses, how does the Emperors’ Treasures exhibit increase our understanding of Chinese imperial culture? Our readers would also be curious to know if you have a favorite piece in this unique collection.

GT: The Emperors’ Treasures exhibition is a great opportunity for Houstonians to experience some of the finest pieces from the imperial collections of the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Originally, the collections were housed in the Forbidden City in Beijing. During the 20th century, after the fall of the imperial household, the revolutions, and the subsequent civil wars in China, the collections were placed in various cities throughout China for safekeeping. Since 1949, they have been beautifully cared for in Taipei. This is only one of three occasions since then that items from the collections have been loaned out. That in itself is extraordinary. There are many beautiful pieces in the exhibition, and they represent all the high achievements of Chinese culture: painting, ceramics, lacquer work, metalwork, enamel, and so on. Each is represented in its finest expression in objects owned by the emperors and empresses. I don’t have a favorite piece, but my favorite emperor was the Qianlong emperor, a great collector who amassed works from antiquity and also commissioned new ones. When he liked an object he marked it with his seal. Many of the articles in the exhibition display that mark. In a way, the item that summarizes this activity is a puzzle box with secret drawers housing miniatures of these pieces. It is, in essence, an encyclopedia in miniature of his favorite treasures. That’s pretty great.

CKW: Please describe your plans for the museum’s future and explain how they will impact the people of Houston.

GT: We’re engaged in an important campus expansion that includes building a new Glassell School of Art, a new Nancy and Rich Kinder Building for modern and contemporary art, and a new Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Center for Conservation. The expansion will help fulfill our mission as well as be a magnet for tourism. Not only will we be adding 50 percent more space to display our permanent
collection and special exhibits, we will also be adding a fine dining restaurant, another theater for films and lectures, a larger café, a great hall to receive school children, a public plaza with a fountain, a roof garden, and an amphitheater. I believe the museum will be a destination for the entire region and that the world will be impressed by what the city of Houston and its philanthropists will have achieved.

CKW: Can you give our readers a preview of your upcoming exhibits?

GT: Next spring and summer we will be welcoming two important exhibits that focus on other parts of the globe. In the spring, we’re opening an exhibition called “Adiós Utopia:
Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950,” which will focus on the art and artists of Cuba from the revolution of 1959 to the present. It focuses on how important art was in establishing the new revolutionary principles of the new government of Cuba. It will also show the struggles the Cuban people have encountered to realize their vision of society and their place in the world as time goes on.

Then we have a comparable exhibition that will focus on Mexican revolutionary art from 1911 until the early 1950s. It will feature artists at the forefront of portraying revolutionary goals and helping political figures create an identity for a nation re-establishing itself.

The MFAH, which houses and makes accessible to all Houstonians priceless works of art that not only please the eye, but tantalize our senses, make us question our perceptions, and educate us, is a treasure unto itself. From its inception at the turn of the 20th century to its entry into the 21st century, the MFAH has recognized visual art’s importance in our enjoyment and understanding of everyday life. With that tenet always at the forefront of its decisions, the MFAH continues to illuminate the public with stimulating programs, displays of its permanent collections, and exotic and thought-provoking exhibitions from across North America and around he world.

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