Harbeer Sandhu
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The people have spoken: big art is big.

From the James Turrell retrospective of 2024 to the Rain Room at the LA County Museum of Art to the Architects of Air, designed to “generate a sense of wonder at the beauty of light and color” that passed through Discovery Green twice in the past two years, to the Carston Höller exhibit at New York’s New Museum, which featured a slide and a carousel, these “art exhibits as spectacles” have critics asking whether they qualify as art or not while audiences line up around the block to wait for hours to enter museums that are otherwise struggling to attract anybody at all. Locally, we’ve also recently seen Soto: The Houston Penetrable and Philip Worthington’s Shadow Monsters, both at the MFAH.

Even pop stars have joined the fray, with Drake’s latest video for his single Hotline Bling set inside an immersive light exhibit that many (obviously) liken to a James Turrell installation.


What makes these huge installations so popular right now? Are they a symptom of the new Guilded Age we’re inhabiting? Maybe there’s just so much money to throw around that at least some of it has to be spent on expensive, giant art installations. Or is it because we spend 11 hours a day looking at screens — on our computers, on our tablets and smartphones, on the television — that we crave something bigger, something that bleeds beyond the edges of the screen, that can’t be captured and confined within a rigid frame? Or are they a symptom of our delayed adolecense, with 40-somethings still riding skateboards and playing video games, how could they not want to go down a slide and ride a carousel in a museum setting? Or are we just always on the lookout for a place to take a selfie that will upstage all our friends on Instagram?

Whatever the reasons might be, this is the moment we inhabit. And is it be so wrong to want to seek escape, to experience jaw-dropping wonder, to stand dumbstruck — our mouths agape — full of awe and joy and wonder at something so beautiful that it defies our powers of description?

The headlines in the news these days are enough to make any sane person want to bury her head in the sand.

This weekend, over the darkest days of the year, the Day For Night festival brings the work of over 20 artists from the world over to light up your life and tickle and delight your senses. From Nanotak’s 50,000 square foot installation — the largest they’ve ever made — to Refik Anadol’s Infinity Room, which blurs the edges of the gallery to completely disorient viewers and so many in between, audiences should expect to squeal and clap like a schoolgirl at least once or twice.

And what better way to kick off this holiday week? Coast into Christmas week with a slate wiped clean. The world and it’s problems will still be there on Monday, or December 26, or even January 2, if you’re lucky enough to let them go that long.

And lest they be accused of fostering escapism, Day For Night has partnered up with several non-profits that are helping the less fortunate this holiday season, as well. Through Volunteer Houston, which pairs up volunteers with organizations that can use their services, Day For Night has made donations to Legacy Community Health, which provides healthcare (medical, dental, behavioral) to those who can’t afford it, including artists and musicians, toGirls Rock Camp Houston, which helps young girls strengthen their common bonds and build their self esteem through learning music and forming bands, to Music Is Our Weapon, which works with seniors and disabled people, including those suffering memory loss, to bring the healing power of music into their lives.

So come, if you can, and bring your sense of wonder. And they may be the darkest days of the year, but you might want to bring your sunglasses, too — just in case.