Downtown Goes Art Crazy

Saturday's Big Bash celebrates Art Blocks' colorful installations at Main Street Square

Saturday's Big Bash celebrates Art Blocks' colorful installations

Art Blocks: Trumpet Flower
A Trumpet Flower grows on Main Street.  Photo by Joel Luks
Art Blocks: Color Jam Houston
City intersects with color in Jessica Stockholder's Color Jam. Photo by Joel Luks
Art Blocks Houston
Trumpet Flower and Color Jam bring dramatic colors to Main Street.  Photo by Joel Luks
Art Blocks: Lightnin’ Field
Lightnin' Field is the first of four works installed on the Main Street Marquee.  Photo by Joel Luks
Art Blocks: mas que la cara (rendering)
Photo rendering of the mas que las cara interaction between face and technology.  Art Blocks courtesy photo
Art Blocks: Trumpet Flower
Art Blocks: Color Jam Houston
Art Blocks Houston
Art Blocks: Lightnin’ Field
Art Blocks: mas que la cara (rendering)

Watch out Times Square, there’s a new city art square taking, well, shape in Houston, and it’s ready to give New York some geometric cool-hangout competition.

That’s right. Main Street Square, or MSsQ to those Houston hipsters in the know (namely me because I just made the moniker up) is getting an art makeover with plans to turn the blocks into a central spot for events and celebrations as well as a refuge amid the downtown bustle to people-watch and art-watch an afternoon away.

If you don’t know where Main Street Square is, you’re not alone, and since it runs three blocks between the two METRORail stations at the 900 and 1100 blocks, it’s more of a rectangle than a square. Back in 2004, those stations made something of a literal splash with renovations to the blocks and the installation of pools and fountains along the tracks.

Movin' on up

Since then, the area has languished a bit, but that’s about to change with the Downtown District’s initiative to bring color, whimsy and fun, along with thought-provoking artistic clashes with the public arts project: Art Blocks. They hope to revitalize the square as an art and event focal space for the coming year, especially as Houston spiffs up for the Super Bowl in 2017.

Along with major and minor renovations like improved lighting; new granite sidewalk pavers; new raised, decorative planters; a bike station; and general maintenance and improvements for the central fountains, the biggest projects to hit the square is four large art installations specifically created for their spots along the blocks. Three of those installations will be up until March 2017, while the Main Street Marque above the Main Street Market at Walker will act as a canvas for a four rotating installations.

The art will be viewable for all to see for a year, but this Saturday brings The Big Bash special celebration to Main Street Square to welcome Houstonians back to the new and improved art-filled blocks. So before the big party, let’s take a stroll down Main Street between Dallas and Walker and admire the art views along the way.

más que la cara (more than the face) by YesYesNo
Zach Lieberman of the Brooklyn artist collective YesYesNo says their name comes from the fact that there’s always at least one member of the group in disagreement. They’re all on board, however, to bring this interactive piece to the windows of the old Sakowitz Building. Using software designed to track and map people’s faces, which in another situation might seem rather sinister, the work will scan passersby and then project their faces on the windows with playful results. Viewers will find masked and animated versions of themselves looking back from behind the glass.

Trumpet Flower, by Patrick Renner, produced by Flying Carpet
If you’re missing Funnel Tunnel after its move from Montrose to New Orleans, spend some time underneath its vertical, six-stories high sibling. This flower of steel and painted wood, which resembles a kind of upside down tornado of woven color, startles and delights the eye from afar, even as it provides shade for those who walk underneath it. Enjoy a noontime repast at one of the tables and chairs set out beneath the flower and gaze up into the infinity of color funneling into the sky.

Color Jam Houston by Jessica Stockholder
The dramatic colors beautifully blowing and slashing through the city doesn’t end with Trumpet Flower. Jessica Stockholder has been commissioned to create public art all over the world, but she has maintained a fascination in intersections both real and figurative.  Stockholder began her artist career as a painter but was less interested in using canvas as in using the space around her. For Color Jam the everyday things of Downtown Houston, the sidewalks, buildings, street lights and planters all become both a canvas for picture-making and objects inside this giant intersection-wide painting. 

Main Street Marquee
This several stories high, two-dimensional space will allow four different artists their time in the Main Street corner spotlight, as every four months between now and March 2017 a new work will be installed.

On view now is Jamal Cyrus’s Lightin’ Field, a piece both referencing and honoring Houston blues musician Lightnin’ Hopkins and the famous music venue Liberty Hall once located on Chenevert.

In July, Roses and Hearts on the Blue Sky by Nataliya Scheib will add another burst of color to the skyline, this time in the form of flowers on an blue background in the decorative style of Scheib’s native Ukraine.

Appropriately, flowers give way to City Bird of Houston in October and Armando Castelan’s giant blue bird making the Main Street Marquee building into its birdhouse for the mild Texas Autumn.

Finally, from January to March as visitors travel both to Houston for the Super Bowl and then home and as the Art Blocks installations near their end, the work Salads by M. Giovanni Valderas refuses to bid everyone a sad “Adios” or “Goodbye.” Instead, this installation, created with the illusion of a piñata’s texture, will give a friendly "Ay Te Miro" (See you later) to Houston and the world.

Celebrate the Art Blocks at the free Big Bash party Saturday, April 16, from noon to 6:00 p.m.