No art in protest

Artists protest alleged mishandling of $830,000 Super Bowl art commission

Artists protest alleged mishandling of Super Bowl art commission

Call it a type of nonviolent resistance by two Houston artists in support of another.

Artists Nohelia Vargas Bolivar and Liza Littlefield have requested that their art be removed from Houston City Hall to protest a Houston Arts Alliance decision that apparently deprived artist Ed Wilson from a significant commission, Texas visual art periodical Glasstire reports.

Bolivar and Littlefield's action responds to what appears to be the rescission of Wilson's $830,000 commission — what would have been his biggest undertaking to date — to embellish the atrium of the renovated George R. Brown Convention Center with a large mobile of shiny metal clouds and cutout birds in time for the 2017 Super Bowl.

"We want to make a statement about the mishandling of the Ed Wilson commission by HAA, and we also want to support Matthew Lennon."

Although a five-member selection committee — three art professionals, an architect and a Houston First representative (Houston First manages the George R. Brown) — had blindly and unanimously nominated Wilson's submission, HAA insists that the recommendation had not yet received final approval from the Civic Art Committee, a group made up of 19 members, most of whom are private citizens, according to the Houston Chronicle.

A draft contract received by Wilson was repealed, leaving the art community in uproar over the careless handling of such sensitive matters.

The disagreement provoked then-HAA director of civic art and director Matthew Lennon to resign in reaction to the scandal that first emerged in November. Last week, Sara Kellner, former executive director of DiverseWorks, was hired to replace Lennon.

"We want to make a statement about the mishandling of the Ed Wilson commission by HAA, and we also want to support Matthew Lennon," Bolivar tells Glasstire. "We don't want his resignation to be in vain."

Art on loan

Bolivar's and Littlefield's art was on loan through August 2015. The artists have agreed to return the $150 fee paid to each of them. Bolivar also took issue with "using the artwork to decorate the walls at City Hall – taking original artworks from local artists as if it were a commodity."

Littlefield, who lives near Wilson, originally thought of this idea as a form of peaceful protest that asks HAA to rethink its policies, procedures and responsibility for transparency as a city agency responsible for distributing funds for public art work and for managing art in public spaces.

HAA has consented to their request and will move forward with the removal and return of the art to its creators.

Bolivar and Littlefield join other colleagues in expressing dissatisfaction publicly.

In a Dec. 16 City Council meeting, Houston artist Troy Stanley called for the restructuring of the Civic Art Committee over concerns that HAA is unable to "mitigate conflicts of interest within its own organization and with regards to civic art commissions." Stanley stated that the Civic Art Committee's decision to overturn the smaller selection committee's recommendation was a result of its members, who he described as "affluent collectors and art consultants who can have vested financial interests in seeing certain artists win commissions."

Armed with a myriad documents, attorney and artist Tracey Conwell implied at that same council meeting that personal friendships and favoritism were the main reason for Wilson not receiving the commission.

Expedited review

As a result of the Wilson controversy, the city's agency has taken two steps back in regards to the George R. Brown commission. Earlier this month, HAA announced that an expedited review process will reconsider the seven artists who, alongside Wilson, had previously advanced to the semi-final stage — Christian Eckart, William Cannings, Jo Ann Fleischhauer, Devon C. Moore, Susan Plum and a collective with Jeff Shore and John Fisher. At the time, Wilson told the Chronicle that he wasn't sure if he would resubmit his proposal.

The HAA did not release a timetable for a final decision.

Wilson did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CultureMap.

Ed Wilson Houston artist head shot
Houston artist Ed Wilson. Photo by Julie Knudson