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Free Museums around Houston

Eli Maierson
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Broken Obelisk outside Rothko

Although photos aren’t allowed inside Rothko Chapel, the Broken Obelisk outside is a great place for a pic. (Photo: Ryan Chang)

If you’ve lived in Houston as long as I have, then you’ve probably hit all the major museums countless times. You know the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Children’s Museum like the back of your hand. And, if you’re like me, you’ve probably spent a small fortune on tickets.

As much as I love and respect these institutions, my wallet can only take so many hits. So, I set out to explore Houston’s many free museums to see what they had to offer.

Statue at Menil

Within the Menil Campus are enormous metal statues covering a small lawn. If you can brave the heat, they’re more than worth visiting. (Photo: Ryan Chang)

The Menil Collection
1533 Sul Ross St.; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

Although the main building of The Menil Collection is undergoing renovations until Sept. 22, the area still holds a plethora of other installations and is still a great free option for any art lover. 

Rothko Chapel
3900 Yupon St.; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

While not a typical museum (patrons must be silent and not take pictures to allow for meditators), Rothko Chapel showcases 14 works by painter Mark Rothko. The chapel serves as a non-denominational space where members of any (or no) religion can be at peace together. Holy books from many faiths are available for visitors who plan to mediate or pray. The chapel does not allow photographs or talking while inside.

Just outside of the chapel is the “Broken Obelisk” sculpture by Barnett Newman. It rests in a reflecting pool where visitors can take pictures and relax in a more casual environment. 

Cy Twombly Gallery
1501 Branard St.; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

Cy Twombly’s works are famous for not being part of any particular art movement of the 20th century. His unique and creative works are on display in the Cy Twombly Gallery, spanning over 50 years of his life. Situated right across the street from the main building, I believe this collection is one of the best in the Menil Campus. 

Byzantine Fresco Chapel
4011 Yupon St.; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

The Byzantine Fresco Chapel is now featuring “The Fabiola Project” created by Francis Alÿs. The exhibit contains more than 450 reproductions of a portrait of Roman Saint Fabiola. Many of these duplicates are portraits, but some are woodcarvings, needlepoint, ceramics, jewelry and even a mosaic consisting of only rice and beans. This exhibit will remain open until Oct. 28. 

Sculpture at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

Sculptures cover the floor of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, creating a dynamic exhibit. (Photo: Eli Maierson)

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
5216 Montrose Blvd.; Closed Mon., 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tues.-Wed., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thurs., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 12 p.m.-6 p.m. Sun.

The downstairs exhibit of modern art, featuring a variety of works by Cary Leibowitz, contains many adult themes and messages that may not be suitable for children. However, if you visit without young kids and enjoy quirky, political, funny and self-hating modern art, then I highly recommend Leibowitz’s work. This exhibit is open until Aug. 26. 

Art Car Museum
140 Heights Blvd.; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wed.-Sun.


 

Adorned with a garage and car parts on the outside of the building, the Art Car Museum fully embraces its quirky identity. The museum currently has six award-winning cars and a bike on display. They also feature three exhibits from Texan artists: Allen Bourne’s “Out of Doors” series shows photographs of rusting car doors, Robert Cook’s “Retired” collections contains images of painted tires around Houston and Brad Ford Smith’s “Roadside Snacks” sculptures.

If you like your museums off the beaten path, the Art Car Museum is a can’t-miss. 

Free Days at Museums

Some Houston museums have free days or events, including:

  • The Houston Museum of Natural Science has Free Thursdays all summer (except for Aug. 16) from 6-9 p.m. On these days, all permanent exhibits and the planetarium are open without charge. Beginning on Aug. 23, the hours of Free Thursdays will return to 2-5 p.m. Permanent exhibits are free every day to museum members and children under 2.
  • The Children's Museum of Houston hosts Free Family Night every Thursday, 5-8 p.m. Children under one and museum members are given free admission every visit.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is free all day on Thursday from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. The museum is also free for members and children under 12 every day. On Saturdays and Sundays, the museum is free for children 18 and younger who have a library card from any public library in Texas.
  • The Health Museum also has Free Family Thursdays from 2-7 p.m. Members and children under 2 have free admission every day.
  • Holocaust Museum Houston is free to the public on Sunday from 12-5 pm. It is also free for young children, students and college students with a valid ID.
  • Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens offers Family Days when admission is free, generally on every third Sunday. The next Family Day is on Sept. 16, 1-5 p.m., which will focus on the Latino influence on American culture.
  • The Houston Museum District has compiled a list of 19 free museums and free times. Check it out here.
  • Art Car Museum

    This “Cataillic” made from a 1975 Cadillac hearse is one of six vehicles on display at the Art Car Museum. (Photo: Eli Maierson)

     

  • Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

    The “Right Here, Right Now: San Antonio” exhibit at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston encompasses a wide range of mediums. (Photo: Eli Maierson)

  • Art Car Museum
  • Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

More photos

Art Car Museum

This “Cataillic” made from a 1975 Cadillac hearse is one of six vehicles on display at the Art Car Museum. (Photo: Eli Maierson)

 

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

The “Right Here, Right Now: San Antonio” exhibit at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston encompasses a wide range of mediums. (Photo: Eli Maierson)

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