I’ve been curious about Houston’s newest museum since I first heard rumors about it’s opening last year. Besides Seismique’s catchy name and the few pictures I’d seen online, I wondered was it a museum or an art installation? Was it worth visiting? I had a chance to check out this unique experience this week. So what is it? A mixed-media museum featuring bigger than life art installations. Seismique requires no previous knowledge or art history classes to enjoy it. You won’t find any Van Gogh or Picasso paintings hanging on these walls. Each turn yields a new visual surprise and one has to wonder how all these themed art rooms fit inside a former Bed, Bath and Beyond retail store.
Who comes up with this stuff anyway?
Actually it’s the brainchild of Steve Kopelman and Josh Corley, two world travelers and haunted house/escape room creators. Sensing a need for art that defies frames, glass cases and other barriers that keep the viewer at a distance, the two came up with a concept of interactive spaces that allow the guest a hands-on experience. They took over the 40,000 square foot space and jokingly quip “the only thing we kept from Bed, Bath and Beyond was the “Beyond”. And beyond it is. Forty unique spaces created by 50 local and international artists make up this one-of-a-kind museum.
A robot greeted me at the entrance. He’s not controlled by a remote puppeteer. He’s AI all the way. The reception is a large room with black and white retro-futuristic art covering the floors and walls. Think giant oversized coloring book. It’s the first of countless photo ops tucked into Seismique’s grand halls. If you’re an Instragrammer, you’ll be in heaven. Every room is unique and has its own theme.
To be social-distancing compliant, you’re required to make a reservation for your visit and wear a mask throughout. Pick one of the three entrances and begin your journey. Since each section was created by a different artist, nothing is the same style, but the creators did a nice job of segueing the various themes into a cohesive unit. Some are interactive. All of them are interesting. It’s easy to miss some of the interactive opportunities. For example, there’s an app you can download that allows you to change things in several rooms. There’s a digital waterfall that you can control with your movements. There’s sounds that can be changed by turning some knobs. None of this is really explained and maybe that’s the point. Half the fun is figuring it out.
One of the first rooms I entered had a Japanese-inspired undersea mural on one wall and multi-colored lights on the other. As the lights changed colors, parts of the pictures would disappear and new ones would emerge, yielding a new picture every few seconds. Aerica Raven Van Dorn from Austin created it and calls it Europa. Changing art? Cool.
I rounded a corner and found myself in a space tunnel of flashing neon lights before entering the trippy fluorescent jungle. A cross between an Avatar film set and the back area of a 1970s Spencer Gifts, this black light world is a psychedelic neon dream that would have indoor putt putt golf managers drooling. Best picture ever.
One of my favorite rooms consisted of 4 non-linear angled walls mounted with 200 white disc-shaped screens with hidden projectors casting nature videos on them called Brainwasher. Designed by MIT trained Joshuah Jest, this installation offers a catchy chill drum soundtrack synched with videos of forests, clouds and molecular graphics that seemingly could calm anyone down. I could live there.
Then there’s the “ball”-room, a mirrored Pepperland-esque installation with lit multicolored led balls on poles covering the floor and ceiling like an infinite sea of lollipops. Next I wandered into the largest room of the complex, “The Hub” complete with brightly colored alien statues, and flying saucers dripping continuous bubbles. There are several interactive pods where one can enter, flip switches, push buttons, and rotate dials to see if anything happens. It’s every kid’s dream; infinite moving parts that potentially can create a sound, turn on a light or alter time and space as we know it.
So it’s not a museum for adults only, as the adjoining room with a hanging net play-land further proves. There’s neon colored globe swings and tunnels to crawl through. However, it’s supersized, so anyone from 3-99 can take off their shoes and navigate their way through the net passages to the ceiling. Hey, you’re only a kid once… or twice.
In all, there were 40 rooms/concepts. At a relaxed pace, the experience might take you a couple hours to visit. Seismique is a new kind of museum for Houston and it’s refreshing to see a venue for this kind of art on the third coast. In the near future, the museum will be adding more art spaces, host concerts, DJ events and be available as a venue for private events.