Do Things — Wander Through a Museum

Jamie Hoang
Aug 28, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo by Ioana Cristiana on Unsplash

I spend a lot of time in my own head, and occasionally I need a break. This past Thursday was one of those days. I had just written the middle section of my book, which was an uphill battle, so I decided to take myself the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH).

To be completely honest, I was trolling for inspiration. I needed new ideas to propel my characters forward in an interesting way. What I found was exactly that, but not just for my characters, but for myself as well.

I had walked into an exhibit showcasing the art of Islam and on the wall was this quote:

“I have spent a fortune traveling to distant shores and looked at lofty mountains and boundless oceans, and yet, I haven’t found the time to take a few steps from my home, to look at a single dewdrop on a single blade of grass.” — Rabindraniath Tagore (1861–1941), Nobel Laureate

It was the perfect analogy for my life in the past 3 years. And so it set the tone for my day.

Though I moved to Houston just 3 months ago, I had already fallen into a slump of what I call “the everyday cycle” where everyday of the week seems to bring on the same thing. But today I was going to check out my own backyard.

Standing in the middle of the exhibit, and looking at a larger than life painting of Mahatma Gandhi, I was content in my solitude, when suddenly I heard a yelp to my left. Two lady’s were hovering over an art piece made out of silver kitchen supplies. I stared at it for a long time, but couldn’t figure out what was so funny. Was there a spoon hanging in a suggestive way? Curiosity forced me to ask the woman and she excitedly pointed at the artists information bio. It turned out at this particular artist who prided himself of using found objects had gone so far as to use “cow dung” in some earlier installations! Gross. We laughed for a bit longer together and for a moment I had found a friend.

I took a left after exiting the exhibit on Islam and found myself in an empty room with just one sculpture: a gold plated sitting Buddha. He was small, maybe 2 feet wide by 3 feet tall and protected by a glass case but what struck me most was how powerful he felt in the room. I have visited many Buddhist temples on my travels through Asia and yet, this small figure had a greater impact on me than all of those temples combined. The emptiness of the space around him was peaceful, quiet and real.

To the right of Buddha was the entrance to another room, where I was greeted by a museum guard who asked me if I’d like to watch a video. I did. So he pushed play on a large touch screen monitor and I watched Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao as they created an Explosion of Art, literally. Large canvases were laid out in a huge auditorium and then stencils were created and lain down. Gunpowder was shaken loosely over the openings of the stencils, and then oiled string was strewn through the painting with bricks holding it place, until we reached the end where Ting Tsung lit the ends of the string and I watched as the work erupted in an explosion. The end result was an installation designed specifically for MFAH, which lined the walls of an entire room. What it felt like to me was a Chinese version of Monet’s Water Lilies. Who knew that something as treacherous as gunpowder could yield an end result of tranquility?

I used to think of art as just something to look at, because I had never had an experience with it that made me feel anything. But in one day that all changed. The Chinese painting made me believe for the first time in the possibility of world peace. But I also found love in a Mexican sculpture of a couple embracing. Anger, in a installation that just had speakers with audio of a civil rights leader preaching about inequality. Sorrow, in an installation titled “With Me…You” that expressed the pain of loving someone who no longer loved you. And loneliness, in a moving installation showcasing a day in the park with just a few solitary people walking through.

In a day of wandering, I learned that art can make you feel a multitude of emotions and that what’s unique is that because so much of what we feel is our own personalities projected onto the artwork and bounced back at us, everyone’s experience is different.

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