I’m not expecting palm trees. Not in Houston. In my mind, palm trees only exist in California, TV celebrity soaps, and Microsoft Clip Art. But there they stand, those disturbing trees, looming over my family’s rental car, 2:00am in the morning at the wrong hotel. And suddenly I know that palm trees will be to me what water is to cats; that unexplainable force that freaks and creeps me out beyond reason.
It relieves me to see no palm trees stand anywhere near the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (CAMH). There are trees, though. Trees with branches decorated by pictures of another tree’s branches decorated by pictures of another tree’s branches.
An inception tree.
A 180 degree turn reveals the museum itself. At 4:30 post meridiem on a Thursday afternoon, seeing the CAMH feels exactly like seeing the Walker. The coincidences keep rolling. After a question and two pamphlets that could easily blend in Walker bookshelves without notice, I’m told the teen council meets downstairs. In the basement. In the Youth Education room.
CAMHTAC, as dubbed before arriving in Houston, is in the middle of planning “Light Up the CAMH”, a teen music festival featuring young art, poetry, and expression. It’s a raw food snack day, and they’re designing and discussing poster options. The CAMH’s in-house designer stops in to give a lightning lecture on typography design.
For those of you who were absent, here’s a quick recap. Fonts can be split into four categories: serif and sans for style, and display and body for size. When choosing type, consider the size of your content, the contents intent and purpose, and the font’s individual style. And you should know that Helvetica–think Jeep, Verizon, Nestle, Microsoft–is always better than Arial, Bill Gate’s money-saving solution while making his Windows operating system.
Side of the CAMH
A blue blanket of low light and blurry vision descends upon me and the mother while we eat fettucini alfredo and chocolate brownies. We’re sitting in one of the uncountable nooks Houston seems to have, our appetites the only things between us and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts (HMFA).
The HMFA is breathtaking. The entrance is a gallery space the size of a ballroom, seat-belt tapes sectioning off the area. Trees with neon-colored leaves drift to secret breezes, projected mesmerizingly on the walls. Going up stairs, I can’t take more than five steps without seeing a masterpiece. Famous names aside, the museum is saturated with history. I can’t say I’m completely amazed, though, until two things happen.
First, an Alexander Calder mobile. Alexander freaking Calder. In elementary school I read a series revolving around mysteries involving Calder’s art and I was in love. So now, standing under this monstrosity of balance, I’m not trying to decide Calder’s artistic intention, or if the white things look more like clouds or pieces of fish skeleton. I’m staring at a part of my childhood, and it feels like coming home.
A Calder mobile
Second, I run into one of the CAMHTAC girls. We’re both heading in different directions, weaving through marble Greek statues missing significant appendages and Roman tombs carved with war scenes. And in the most genuine way I have ever heard someone say, she says, “Thank you so much for coming, it was nice to meet you!” Maybe I’m making too much of it, and she’s just being polite, or kind, or is always like this. She’s gone in two blinks. But what she says is brilliant, ringing, and I start to understand what it means to be a part of a teen art council.
The next day I visit Rice University. Besides the regular college visit, the mother and I take a peek at the nationally reported exhibit in the Rice Gallery, Yamatane. Yusuke Asai’s murals use different types of dirt to make painting shades, and this time he sourced from Texas. There’s a fantastic time-lapse of the piece below.
Samples of paint Asai used
The mural will fade away shortly due to the corrosive properties of dirt. But preserving his art is not Asai’s concern, because its gradual disappearance reflects the impermanence of life.
The focal point face of Yamatane
Once I discover enough tiny doodles and creatures within the mural to make me feel like a certified explorer, we meander into a screen room. It’s small, dark. Dense foam cubes serve as chairs. A series of what seems like Japanese made or inspired short, animated films play on loop. From stop animation using collage or clay putty to traditional line-frame sequencing to giant cloud factories with raindrop beings conducting a musical cloud orchestra, the shorts constantly amuse. They’re light hearted, quirky, entertaining.
A film animating creatures living inside noodles
A cat from a paper animated short
Opening of usawaltz, or bunnywaltz
A raindrop conducting a pipe orchestra in a cloud
I want to go back. To Calder, Rice, CAMHTAC, the museum district, ocean, Texas. Coming from a Minnesotan, private, college prep school, I’m given the underhanded, conformist notion that the South is not where I should want to go. Prejudices aside, Texans are nicer, friendlier, and it’s always sunny. What I’m really saying is I want to escape the snow. But truly and honestly, everything in Houston rules.
Except for the palm trees.
An exceptionally palm tree free beach in Galveston, Texas