HOUSTON – Love art? Live in Houston? Congratulations! Consider yourself blessed by the art world gods, and geography.
One of its finest assets, Houston is home to an incredible collection of masterpieces. The city’s museums, galleries, and streets brim with art.
There’s simply so much to see, it can be quite daunting.
Here are a few examples, selected either for their popularity, their status as “heavy hitters” or “unsung gems,” or their significance to the city and its heritage.
Hopefully, this list inspires you to seek out a sensational piece you haven’t yet seen or rediscover a museum or monument you’ve taken for granted.
Luis Jiménez, “Vaquero” at Moody Park
With “Vaquero,” Texas artist Luis Jiménez stresses the significance of Mexican contributions to the history, folklore, and culture associated with the American West.
“The artwork is an interpretation of the traditional equestrian statue which typically portrays heroes with swords or guns mounted on stately, upright horses,” Theresa Escobedo, Civic Art program manager of the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, said. “In ‘Vaquero,’ a lively figure riding an equally high-spirited bucking horse celebrates life and, to me, resilience and triumph. The artwork is representative of the legacy of vaqueros and the foundational influence and history of Mexican and Spanish cultures in Texas and America. Vaquero carries deep meaning for Latino communities in Houston’s Northside especially.”
“Vaquero” is located in Moody Park, the site of the 1978 Moody Park Riot. The artwork is not commemorative of the riot, but for many in Houston, the location and the artwork are inextricably linked, Escobedo said.
📍 3725 Fulton St., Houston, TX 77009
Henri Matisse, “Woman in a Purple Coat” at MFAH
“Woman in a Purple Coat” is one of Matisse’s final oil paintings. In it, he offers a calm everyday scene. His model and caretaker Lydia Delectorskaya lounges in a purple coat and exotic trouser suit with a book at her feet in a colorful decorated interior setting.
Completed in 1937, “Woman in a Purple Coat” has been part of the MFAH’s permanent collection since 1974 and is well-loved among museum visitors.
“Henri Matisse is famously quoted as saying, ‘Art should be an armchair for the mind.’ Despite the suggestion that this statement means he sought to create paintings that were soothing and enjoyable, Matisse’s personality was, in fact, restless and constantly questioning,” MFAH staff write of the artist. “After his rebellious early days as a Fauve and a Cubist, Matisse used his art as a refuge from his anxieties. In paintings like the museum’s ‘Woman in a Purple Coat’ Matisse presents a kind of paradise that he invites us to sit back and enjoy.”
📍 5601 Main St., Houston, TX 77005
Jim Love, “Portable Trojan Bear” at Hermann Park
Located in Hermann Park, “Portable Trojan Bear” is inspired by the Trojan Horse used by the Greeks to enter the city of Troy in the Trojan War. It was the first public commission for Texas artist Jim Love.
Completed in 1974, “Portable Trojan Bear” was originally displayed at the intersection of Montrose and Bissonnet across from the MFAH. It was moved to Hermann Park in 1984. The beloved piece was restored in 1999 and again in 2009.
“When you think about the number of school-aged children who encounter this artwork on field trips to Hermann Park you can understand why this artwork is so well-loved by Houstonians,” Theresa Escobedo, Civic Art program manager with the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, said. “It’s an endearing artwork and very often one of the first public artworks children in Houston encounter.”
📍 6001 Fannin St., Houston, TX 77030
Eclectic Menagerie Park at Texas Pipe & Supply
This popular sculpture garden is located in an unlikely place -- at the edge of a pipe yard on Texas Highway 288.
The collection began many years ago when Jerry Rubenstein, chairman of the Board for Texas Pipe & Supply, purchased a hippo sculpture from a statuary and placed it at the edge of the pipe yard. Soon after, a rhino appeared, then Snoopy, and art pieces just kept on coming after that. Now the pipe yard is littered with over a dozen metal sculptures.
📍 2838 W Bellfort Blvd., Houston, TX 77051
Louis Comfort Tiffany, “A Wooded Landscape in Three Panels” at MFAH
Part of the MFAH’s permanent collection since 1996, this intricate window is a unified forest scene spanning three panels.
“Like a living landscape, during the course of a day the scene changes in appearance, responding to the light surrounding it,” MFAH staff write of the piece. “A ‘Wooded Landscape’ is far more complex than most stained-glass windows, which are pieced together in a process similar to solving a jigsaw puzzle. Instead, by layering different textures, thicknesses, and colors of glass on top of each other within the window—just as an artist might layer paint on a canvas—Louis Comfort Tiffany created subtle color combinations that change with variations in light. During his lifetime, it was said that Tiffany ‘painted’ with glass.”
MFAH staff said this stunning piece is a not-to-be-missed heavy hitter.
📍 5601 Main St, Houston, TX 77005
James Turrell, “The Light Inside” at MFAH
The MFAH commissioned “The Light Inside” for the underground tunnel linking the museum’s Caroline Wiess Law Building with the Audrey Jones Beck Building when the latter opened in 2000.
“Transcending the traditional confines of built spaces, ‘The Light Inside’ acts as both a passage and a destination,” MFAH staff write of the piece. “The raised walkway guides visitors forward and gives them the sense of floating in space, while the changing cycle of illumination (which shifts from blue, to crimson, to magenta) further invites contemplation. ‘The Light Inside’ makes the experience of moving between the Law and the Beck Buildings not only an exploration of light and space, but also a profound and awe-inspiring experience.”
📍 5601 Main St, Houston, TX 77005
David Adickes, “Virtuoso” at Lyric Tower
Houston sculptor David Adickes’s “Virtuoso,” a 36-foot-tall cellist statue, was completed in 1988 and stands outside the Lyric Tower, a 26-story skyscraper in downtown Houston.
Adickes is a modernist sculptor and painter. Many of his monumental sculptures are among the most recognizable works of art in Houston. They include the “We Love Houston” sign, the giant Beatles statues at 8th Wonder Brewery, and the presidential busts at American Statesmanship Park.
His most popular work is “A Tribute to Courage,” a 67-foot-tall statue of Sam Houston. It’s located 65-miles north of Houston in Huntsville, Texas.
Adickes’ work is featured at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Blanton Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the Witte Museum, among others.
📍 Prairie and Smith Streets
Jesus Bautista Moroles, “Houston Police Officers Memorial” at Buffalo Bayou Park
The Houston Police Officers Memorial at Buffalo Bayou Park serves as a public recognition of the sacrifices made by Houston police officers, especially, those who have died in the line of duty.
The monument serves as the location of an annual procession and wreath-laying ceremony honoring the officers.
Laid out in the form of a Greek cross with a stepped pyramid in the middle, the memorial also features a reflecting pool surrounded by pink granite slabs incised with the names of over 100 fallen Houston police officers.
“A view from the top of the pyramid monument offers one of the most recognizable views of the Downtown Houston skyline,” Theresa Escobedo, Civic Art program manager with the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, said.
📍 1400 Memorial Dr., Houston, TX 77019
Anish Kapoor, “Cloud Column” at MFAH
Located on the MFAH’s Brown Foundation, Inc. Plaza, Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Column” stands over two stories tall, “gracefully inviting us to contemplate not only the object itself, but also how we position ourselves in relation to the world around us,” MFAH staff write of the piece. “The highly polished stainless steel surface reflects every nuance of light and at the same time captures the surrounding landscape. The play between the convex and concave surfaces establishes a dual reality, as the elongated core of the sculpture presents the world upside down, bringing the heavens down to Earth.”
📍 5101 Montrose Blvd., Houston, TX 77006
Located on a half-acre lot next to The Orange Show, Smither Park is a work of art in progress, providing visitors an opportunity to see artists in action and the slow evolution of a creative space.
The mosaic art park is free to the public and features an amphitheater, a pavilion, swings, a meditation garden, an elaborate marble roll tower, and a sprawling 400-foot memory wall. Everything is decorated with elaborate mosaic work created out of recycled and found materials and designed by local artists and community members.
📍 2441 Munger St., Houston, TX 77023
Claes Oldenburg, “Geometric Mouse, Scale X” at Central Library
Created in 1971 as part of a series of geometric mice in different colors and sizes, “Geometric Mouse, Scale X” is located outside Central Library in downtown Houston.
Modern artist Claes Oldenburg drew inspiration for his geometric mice from the pervasiveness of Mickey Mouse in popular culture. The design for the mice consists of a handful of basic shapes – a square with two rectangular windows for eyes, and two circles which form the ears, an organic shape which forms a nose, and two small tear drops which are attached to the end of chains and trail out of the eyes.
An anonymous donor donated “Geometric Mouse, Scale X” to the city of Houston.
“We know who gifted the sculpture, but they do not wish to be recognized as donors,” Theresa Escobedo, Civic Art program manager with the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, said. “I guess a hint would be to think about who at that time was charting the course for mainstream culture in Houston... but I’ll never tell.”
📍 500 McKinney St., Houston, TX 77002
Jean Dubuffet, “Monument Au Fantome” at Discovery Green
“Monument Au Fantome” translates to “Monument to the Phantom” or imaginary city, in French. The sculpture is located in Discovery Green along Avenida de las Americas. It has seven individual forms that represent different features of the city, including a church, hedge, chimney, dog, phantom, tree and mast.
“Monument Au Fantome” is painted fiberglass over steel frames, and the tallest piece is 33 feet. It is part of the Hourloupe series, which has companion sculptures in New York, Chicago and Europe.
📍 1500 McKinney St., Houston, TX 77010
Kara Walker, “Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something)” at MFAH
MFAH staff consider Kara Walker’s “Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something)” a “must-see.”
In it, Walker “addresses the history of slavery and today’s persistent racism through vividly rendered narratives,” MFAH staff write of the artist. “Using cut-out silhouettes that reflect and confound stereotypes of the Antebellum era, Walker demands that we confront this toxic legacy. ‘Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something)’ is among Walker’s first large-scale compositions mounted on canvas. Here she restages the Biblical narrative, with violence matched by mourning, subjection countered by erotic power.”
The MFAH purchased “Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something)” in 2017.
📍 5500 Main St., Houston, TX 77004
Jeff McKissack, “The Orange Show Monument”
Located in Houston’s East End, The Orange Show Monument is a zany, 3,000-square-foot creation extolling the virtues of the humble orange.
It was built over two decades by the late Jefferson Davis McKissack, a Houston postal worker.
McKissack used common building materials and found objects including gears, tiles, wagon wheels, mannequins, and tractor seats to transform a lot into an architectural maze of walkways, balconies, arenas and exhibits decorated with mosaics and brightly painted iron figures.
When McKissack died, Houston arts patron Marilyn Oshman formed a non-profit foundation to preserve The Orange Show, which now serves as an event venue and gathering place for the city’s art community.
📍 2401 Munger St., Houston, TX 77023
William Bouguereau, “The Elder Sister” at MFAH
Completed in 1869 and given to the MFAH in 1992, William Bouguereau’s idyllic composition “The Elder Sister” is a favorite among museum guests.
“Executed with extraordinary painterly skill, ‘The Elder Sister’ is a sentimental scene for which the artist’s daughter Henriette and son Paul served as models,” MFAH staff write of the painting. “Bouguereau has stripped them of all imperfections, portraying them as children with perfect features, dressed in clean garments, and posed against an idyllic rural background. The composition is unified and balanced, with the children’s arms and legs converging nearly at the center of the canvas. Bouguereau’s smooth paint application and diligent attention to detail result in an almost hyperrealistic representation. Although his works were originally inspired by classicism and antique idealism as transmitted through the works of the masters of the High Renaissance, images like this one present an emphatically Victorian ideal.”
📍 5601 Main St, Houston, TX 77005
Completed in 1971, Rothko Chapel was designed in collaboration with American painter Mark Rothko. The interior serves both as a non-denominational chapel and a major work of modern art. On its walls are 14 dark black and blue paintings by Mark Rothko. Philip Johnson, Howard Barnstone, and Eugene Aubry are the architects.
Outside the chapel, Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk sits above a reflecting pool. The sculpture is dedicated to The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
📍 3900 Yupon St., Houston, TX 77006
Kees van Dongen, “Corn Poppy” at MFAH
Painted in 1919 and gifted to MFAH in 1994, Kees van Dongen’s “Corn Poppy” is one of the the museum’s most popular pieces.
“The model for this painting was a female figure of ‘La Folle Epoque’-the ‘flapper days’ in Paris,” MFAH staff wrote of the painting. “‘The Corn Poppy,’ named for the sitter’s brilliant red hat, was instantly popular and has been reproduced in many forms. Van Dongen’s portraits of women portray an intense sensuality, suggestive of the decadent lifestyle of the ‘smart set’ during this lively period between the world wars.”
📍 5601 Main St, Houston, TX 77005
James Turrell, “Twilight Epiphany” a Rice University
Located at Rice University, James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace has a large hole in its ceiling which opens directly to the sky, allowing visitors to view it as if it were framed. At dawn and dusk, an LED light sequence change colors to affect the viewer’s perception of the sky.
The Skyspace is free and open to the public. The “Twilight Epiphany” light sequence can be viewed every day at sunrise and sunset. The sunrise light sequence begins approximately 40 minutes before sunrise. The sunset light sequence begins about 10 minutes before sunset. Each sequence lasts approximately 40 minutes. Daily sunrise and sunset times can be found here.
📍 Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion, Houston, TX 77005
Surrealism galleries at The Menil Collection
The Menil Collection enjoys a reputation for its large collection of Surrealist artwork.
John and Dominique de Menil began collecting Surrealism in the late 1940s. Their holdings eventually grew to include over 300 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. Three artists form the core of their collection: Victor Brauner, Max Ernst, and René Magritte. The couple ultimately amassed the most significant holdings of these artists’ work in the United States.
📍 1533 Sul Ross St, Houston, TX 77006
John Milkovisch, “Beer Can House”
Tired of mowing his lawn, John Milkovisch, a retired upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, covered his yard in concrete and inlaid thousands of marbles, rocks, and metal pieces into it to form landscaping features. Then, Milkovisch turned to his home and over the next 18 years the house disappeared under a crush of flattened beer cans.
When asked about the transformation Milkovisch said, “It’s just a pastime. But sometimes I lie awake at night trying to figure out why I do it.”
📍 222 Malone St., Houston, TX 77007
Frantisek Kupka, “The Yellow Scale” at MFAH
Striking and enigmatic, “The Yellow Scale” is a much-loved piece from the MFAH’s permanent collection.
“Although it is provocative to view ‘The Yellow Scale’ as a self-portrait, the true subject of this riveting work is the color yellow,” MFAH staff write of the painting. “The intense hues combine with František Kupka’s confident gaze, the book in one hand, cigarette in the other, to convey a strong sense of the artist’s personality.”
“Kupka was an eccentric, sensual man with a lifelong fascination for spiritualism and the occult. Though he never completely abandoned naturalistic representation, he was one of the pioneers in developing abstract painting early in the 20th century. Kupka explored philosophically and scientifically the nature of color—its unity and total effect on a work of art. Beginning with one color, Kupka played out its full scale and range, which for him translated into a work with a spiritual quality. ‘Atmosphere in a painting is achieved through bathing the canvas in a single scale of colors,’ he said. ‘Thus one achieves an état d’âme (state of being) exteriorized in luminous form.’”
“The Yellow Scale” was painted in 1907 and gifted to MFAH in 1994.
📍 5601 Main St., Houston, TX 77005
A special thanks to the folks at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, Rice University, The Menil Collection, the Houston Arts Foundation, The Rothko Chapel, and the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs for their help with this article.
🎨 What would you add to this list? Share your recommendations in the comment section and we may include them in a future update to this article.