Culture / Entertainment

Houston Finally Gets Its Own Museum of Illusions and It’s a Wild, Space City Centric Place — The Galleria Mall Goes Interactive

Keeping It Strange and Instagram Friendly

BY // 09.05.23

At the new Houston Museum of Illusions the interactive magic is not quite all done with mirrors, but they do play a big part in the mind-blowing fun. This reality-defying playhouse created for kids, adults and social media influencers alike just opened last weekend in the Houston Galleria shopping center. This place goes upside down and to infinity and beyond.

The Houston Museum of Illusions showcases more than 60 exhibits including perception-twisting wall art and sculptures along with large-scale interactive and immersive spaces and installations. All designed to launch you directly into the illusions. 

You’ll travel through time in a trippy vortex tunnel, seem to float in a high-tech spaceship and interact with your clone entourage. 

While the Museums of Illusions have magically spread across the globe, the Houston Museum of Illusions becomes the third of its kind in Texas, joining the existing Dallas and Austin Museum of Illusions. All three venues do feature similar exhibits, but the Houston museum blasts off with many unique space-themed illusions around each corner. 

Making Houston’s Museum of Illusions distinctive was important to the designers according to Subhi Gharbieh, managing partner of Beyond Entertainment, which owns and operates all the Texas museums.

“There are a lot of new exhibits here in Houston that we don’t have in our other two museums,” Gharbieh says of the 6,000-square-foot venue. “Houston is the Space City so a lot of our exhibits have a space, astronaut, outer space, spaceship theme. We really wanted to make this an out of this world experience. It was only right to include space themed designs.”

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Exploring the exhibits, I found the upside down room one of the most obvious nods to the Space City vibe. The “trick” of the room is classic, affixing furniture to a ceiling to create the illusion of walking in an upside down room, especially in photographs. But for the Houston museum that room becomes a spaceship on its way to the space station.

Similarly, the vortex tunnel uses basic principles of movement to trick the eye and therefore the brain, but the lights and colors and simulated stars of the installation really did make me feel like I was walking into a sci-fi singularity event. 

Houston artist, Donkeeboy painted murals for two of the exhibits at the Houston Museum of Illusions, including this building illusion. (Photo by Alex Montoya)
Houston artist, Donkeeboy painted murals for two of the exhibits at the Houston Museum of Illusions, including this building illusion. (Photo by Alex Montoya)

The other way this new museum establishes its only-in-Houston cred is the inclusion of two large-scale works by local muralist and artist Donkeeboy, aka Alex Roman Jr.

“In addition to new exhibits that are exclusive to this location, we’re very passionate about collaborating and working with the local artist community,”Gharbieh tells PaperCity. “We looked into murals and muralist around town that have made an impact in the community.”

Donkeeboy was high on their shortlist and the final “right fit” for the museum.

Inside the Houston Museum of Illusions 

One ancient perspective effect that many of the national and international Museums of Illusions showcase is a portrait that uses hollow concave eyes to create the impression that the eyes follow the viewer wherever they go. The illusion usually causes a creepy sensation for many viewers, but when the eyes of Donkeeboy’s Wonder Frida, a comic book stylized portrait of Frida Kahlo as Wonder Woman followed me, it felt a bit like she was keeping a protective watch over the proceedings. 

Donkeeboy also contributed to one of the central pieces of museum. 

“The most prominent exhibit and grand illusion is our building illusion,” Gharbieth notes. “The building illusion is a building facade build on the floor with a large one-piece mirror. This type of immersive space creates the illusion that people are climbing the walls of a building. Thanks to Donkeeboy’s mural work, the exhibit also gives homage to Houston with a painted brick building facade and graffiti of a friendly, peace-loving astronaut.” 

While it’s easy to get swept into the illusions, most of the exhibits are built on fundamentals of physics and brain science and then embellished with artistic flair to beguile the viewer. 

Clone Room
Clone yourself at the Houston Museum of Illusions. (Photo by Alex Montoya)

Gharbieh defines the whole experience as “edutainment,” and says people can certainly embrace the entertainment side of the museum, but there’s a lot to learn from the exhibits as well

“If they want to learn the math, the art, the science, the history behind all of our illusions, our staff are trained to explain all of these things to our guests,” he says.

All together the Houston Museum of Illusions adds a new element of entertainment to a day or night at The Galleria mall. While the gaggle of kids at the preview seemed mesmerized and excited to explore the exhibits, I picture the museum becoming the newest hotspot for adults to dance on the ceiling while getting that perfect Gram-able pic or TikTok video.

The Houston Museum of Illusions is open Sundays through Thursdays from 10 am to 9 pm and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 am to 10 pm. Tickets cost $26 for adults and $21 for kids aged 5 to 12.

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