Day Trips

Museum-hopping in Houston.

<i>Flower Day (Festival of Flowers)</i> by Diego Rivera
Flower Day (Festival of Flowers) by Diego Rivera (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston looks boxy and plain from the outside. On the inside, the spacious gallery filled with light becomes a theatre for the art pieces. Like all of the great museums of the world, MFAH brings the world's great works of art to life.

Light in the huge gallery seems to come from all angles, and the subtleties of the painter's brush stand out with a vibrance that even the best coffeetable book cannot capture. Every visit to the museum is a new experience, with rotating exhibits of the more than 37,000-piece permanent collection and visiting exhibitions.

The museum's current special show, "Diego Rivera: Art and Revolution," offers a glimpse of the artist through his work in a way that both entertains and educates. Best known for his substantial murals, Rivera played a pivotal role in leading Mexico to the forefront of 20th-century modern art.

This retrospective exhibition explores more than Rivera's prodigious output of murals. His career spanned one of the most creative generations of artists in modern history. During a 14-year study in Europe of the master works of the continent, Rivera saw the works of Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse, and others when the paint of their work was barely dry. It is easy to see the natural evolution of his development from the European styles to the distinctive Mexican style for which his is best known.

On the wall leading to the entry of the second-floor gallery at the Caroline Wiess Law Building hangs a sampling of sketchbook studies that Rivera used to prepare for the 12x12' wall paintings that one would expect in a Rivera retrospective. As the visitor rounds the corner into the main gallery space, a whole other world of styles opens.

For an artist so closely associated with the folk art renaissance of Mexico, it is stunning to see his talent for interpreting various styles. From 1907 to 1921, his body of work included Dutch landscapes, Spanish avant-garde, and French still lifes. During his Cubism period he produced more than 200 witty and satirical works during a five-year period.

Mexico was coming out of 10 years of civil war in 1921, and Rivera was there to help the nation create its new identity based on its past. "Everywhere I saw a potential masterpiece," he wrote. "My style was born like a child, in a moment, with the difference that this birth took place at the end of a painful 35-year gestation."

The 80 works in "Diego Rivera: Art and Revolution" takes the artist's varied talent out of the shadow of his great murals and reveals the full range of his remarkable career. Organized by the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, through the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (Mexico) and The Cleveland Museum of Art, the exhibition runs through Nov. 28.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston is one of several attractions in the Museum District at the southern end of Montrose Avenue, south of the downtown business district that includes some of the best museums in the state, plus Hermann Park and the Houston Zoo (713/523-5888, http://www.houstonzoo.org).

Within a six-block radius of MFAH are the Contemporary Arts Museum, 5216 Montrose Blvd. (713/284-8250, http://www.camh.org); Museum of Natural Science, One Hermann Circle Dr. (713/639-4629, http://www.hmns.org); Holocaust Museum, 5401 Caroline St. (713/942-8000, http://www.hmh.org); Museum of Health & Medical Science, 1515 Hermann Dr. (713/521-1515, http://www.mhms.org); and Rice University Art Gallery, Sewall Hall, 6100 Main St. (713/527-6069, http://www.rice.edu/ruag).

The Children's Museum, 1500 Binz (713/522-1138, http://www.cmhouston.org), continues to be one of Houston's favorite museums. The educational activities and exhibits enthrall visitors of all ages. The current special exhibit of puppets from the Papalote Children's Museum in Mexico City through Jan. 2 features performances as well as a collection of marionettes.

Founded in 1900, MFAH is the oldest and most comprehensive visual arts organization in the Southwest. The museum actually comprises five locations around the Houston area. The cornerstone is the Caroline Wiess Law Building at 1001 Bissonnet, 713/639-7300 or http://www.mfah.org. Other MFAH gallery space is at the Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose; the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, Bissonnet at Montrose (free); Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, 1 Westcott St.; Rienzi, 1406 Kirby Dr.; and the Beck Building, to be opened next to the Law Building in March 2000.

The Caroline Wiess Law Building opens Tue.-Sat., 10am-5pm and Sun., 12:15-6pm. Admission on Thursday is free, 10am-9pm. The museum also houses a small cafe, bookstore, and library. Free parking is available in two lots north of the museum along Main Street. Call the museum for dates of the noon tours of the Rivera exhibit throughout the month.

To round out a Diego Rivera trip to Houston, stop by Las Manos Magicas at 4819 Blossom at Durham, 713/802-2530 or http://www.lasmanosmagicas.com. The gallery is hosting an exhibit of work by Rivera's wife Frida Kahlo along with fine folk art from the interior of Mexico.

Coming up this weekend ...

Texas Clay Festival in Gruene features 33 top artisans selling their wares and demonstrating their crafts and Kelly Willis singing in historic Gruene Hall, Oct. 23-24. 830/629-7975 or http://www.clayfestival.com.

Food & Wine Fest in Fredericksburg celebrates Texas cuisine to the serenades of two stages. Adult admission is $15 and includes five wine tastings and free food samples, Oct. 23. 830/997-8515.

Hogeye Festival in Elgin honors the legend of Elgin Hot Sausage, but the fun includes such unique events as greased pig chases and Cow Bingo, where the winner is decided by where the cow patty falls, 10am-6pm, Oct. 23. 512/281-5724.

Antiques Festival in Bellville at City Park brings together dealers from across the country, Oct. 23-24. 409/865-9116.

Coming up ...

Bluegrass & Gospel Music Festival brings a national-class lineup of entertainers to the Coushatte Recreational Ranch outside of Sealy, Oct. 28-30. 281/376-2959.

Run for the Turkeys 5K Run/Walk in Johnson City to benefit Blanco County Libraries offers participants prizes and music at the Old Lumberyard, Nov. 12. Registration deadline is Nov. 6 at Run-Tex in Austin, http://www.moment.net/~turkey or 830/833-5289.

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