After the success of Ai Weiwei's monumental Zodiac Heads this spring and the announcement of Konstantin Dimopoulos' forthcoming "blue trees" project, the Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) and its Civic Art Team appear to be on yet another winning streak.
HAA has been making strong artistic statements across the city for years . . . Perhaps it's time for a greatest hits album, with liner notes written by the Civic Art Team itself.
Plensa’s Tolerance consists of seven stainless steel human figures about 10 feet high rendered in his signature stainless steel alphabet mesh. Each figure is formed specifically to rest atop a unique boulder hand-selected by the artist in his native Spain.
At night, the figures glow from within, creating a constellation of beacons. Plensa designed the installation to reflect Houston’s unity and its diversity. At a distance, the figures will appear alike because of their size, shape and kneeling positions.
Jaume Plensa, Tolerance, 2011, stainless steel and stone, Harmony Walk, located at Allen Parkway and Montrose Boulevard
Closer examination reveals that each figure is unique, having been created with an open mesh of a distinct set of characters taken from a mix of languages, including Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Greek, Hindi and Cyrillic. Plensa’s use of the building blocks of language as a primary element in the project reflects his ongoing artistic concerns to convey both individuality and universality.
He says, “Despite all of the many differences that make us unique, such as religion or language, we are all trying to achieve similar things, such as love, health, prosperity and the success of our children.”
Vector HH is a suspended sculpture in the new open area between levels at William P. Hobby Airport. Inspired by humanity's ancient desire to fly without the aid of external devices, the sculpture represents the contrail generated in the air by a human figure flying with open arms.
Luca Buvoli, Vector HH, 2010, metal and cast acrylic sheets, William P. Hobby Airport, baggage claim area
The orange figure is visible from the central ticketing area and the observation deck; however, when taking the escalators leading to the baggage claim area, the piece becomes progressively abstract giving the impression of a vibrant three-dimensional zigzag drawing above pedestrians' heads.
Houston Open Channel Flow
The 60-foot-tall Open Channel Flow is a delightfully complex configuration of pipes, valves and elbows that seems to grow out of the pump station itself, a witty illustration of the little known fact that Houston has more than 7,000 miles of underground drinking water pipe.
Geller’s intent is to call attention to the city’s water delivery system and how ease of access to clean water is sometimes taken for granted. One element of Open Channel Flow extends across and over the pump station’s fence into the adjacent Buffalo Bayou Park, like the branch of a large tree.
At its end is a 30-foot-high showerhead that hovers above an 8-foot-diameter stainless steel drain that holds a manual well pump. With effort, several pushes on the pump handle result in the release of a gentle spray from the showerhead, offering a cooling benefit to area joggers, bicyclists and users of the nearby Jamail Skate Park.
Amber and blue beacons placed atop the work’s highest element 60 feet above flash when water courses through the pipes. All these elements combine to create a kind of urban earthwork that is playful, absurd and as entertaining as it is functional.
Matthew Geller, Houston Open Channel Flow, 2009, steel, stainless steel and paint, Sabine Street Pump Station, 105 Sabine St.
Radiant Fountains establishes a vibrant and forceful presence for George Bush Intercontinental Airport, both on land and in the air. For those leaving the airport, this iconic display exudes the energy and vibrancy that awaits visitors as they enter the vast city of Houston. The work also offers an eye-catching brilliance for those who are taking their first or last glimpse of Houston from the air.
Dennis Oppenheim, Radiant Fountains, 2010, stainless steel, acrylic globes, LED string lights and controller, George Bush Intercontinental Airport
Dramatic cascades of light droplets fall through the center of each column radiating powerful burst of light energy upward on the outer walls. Environmentally sensitive, programmed LED lights on the three towers create a rhythmic action of falling and rising light energy.
The 2011 P.O.D.A. Project was a traveling temporary public art exhibition featuring the work of eight local artists and artist teams who uniquely transformed a PODS® container into a work of art that explores the cultural, ecological, political, scientific and socio-economic forces shaping Houston’s aspirations for the future.
Portable on Demand Art Project:
The Colorist, Aerosol Warfare, 2011 (front)
the PLAY, Metalab, 2011
HAA has used the project to showcase the city as a vibrant arts and cultural capital and museum mecca for locals and visitors alike, featuring the work of Aerosol Warfare, BOX 13 ArtSpace, Jillian Conrad, The Joanna, Lynne McCabe, Gabriel Martinez, Metalab and Anthony Shumate.
Portable on Demand Art Project – The Colorist, Aerosol Warfare, 2011
Pachikadi and His Flying Friends
Elaine Bradford’s whimsical installation for the Vinson Neighborhood Library consists of a life-sized, crochet-covered Asian elephant that spews colorful yarn sweaters from its trunk onto nine Canadian geese suspended from the ceiling. The installation tells a story about geese wanting a little more color in their lives and a fantastical elephant that lends them yarn from its own vibrant sweater.
Bradford draws inspiration from children's stories such as those of Dr. Seuss, Hans Christian Andersen, and Lewis Carroll.
Elaine Bradford, Pachikadi and His Flying Friends, 2011, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam and crocheted sweaters, Vinson Neighborhood Library, 310 W. Fuqua
Pachikadi and His Flying Friends
The installation is an entry point for viewers not only to the library, but also into a world of imagination. It leads them to explore books, nature, their own creativity and the larger Houston community.
In addition to the sculptures, Bradford commissioned writer J.D. Ho and illustrator Rene Cruz to create a children’s short storybook.
Buffalo Bayou Invasive Plant Eradication Unit
The Buffalo Bayou Invasive Plant Eradication Unit is a traveling artwork that educates Houstonians on the need to exterminate invasive plant species along Buffalo Bayou. Designed by internationally-known artist Mark Dion, this uniquely-envisioned, rugged emergency response vehicle serves as a work station, laboratory, book mobile and beacon for public outreach in the battle against invasive plant species along the bayou.
Equipped with tools, field guides and books that encourage ongoing engagement with the environment, Dion’s creation provides an ethical, aesthetic and functional tool to promote ecological stewardship of one of our city’s finest assets.
Mark Dion, Buffalo Bayou Invasive Plant Eradication Unit, 2011, mobile unit
Buffalo Bayou Invasive Plant Eradication Unit
Certain species of plants brought in from other parts of the world - including Giant Ragweed, Chinaberry Tree and Japanese Honeysuckle, the three most commonly found species in our region — reproduce rapidly and crowd out local plants.
Eventually, these foreign species harm the local habitat and wildlife that depend on the indigenous plants to survive. The continuously traveling unit will educate residents on identifying invasive plants, on ethical methods of removing them and on how to prevent further growth by actively promoting the use of native plants.
From the air, Houston appears a city nestled within a beautiful green, lush landscape. Meandering bayous, nature preserves and wildlife sanctuaries are intermingled with neighborhoods, office buildings and industrial complexes. Both urban and wild, Take Off is a tribute to this co-existence.
Paul Kittelson and Carter Ernst, Take Off, 2010, stainless steel, William P. Hobby Airport
Measuring about 30 feet in diameter and 20 feet in height, this oversized stainless steel bird’s nest appears to float above a natural garden of sub-tropical plantings. The inter-woven branches create a stylized, animated display of glimmering lines.
This natural form of architecture, rendered in industrial materials, is reminiscent of our bustling, contemporary city set amid the coastal plains. Serving as a welcoming beacon to the city of Houston, the graceful form transforms the front entrance of the airport.
Your Loyal Mighties
Your Loyal Mighties honors the animals that work daily with the Houston Police Department to safeguard the city’s residents and visitors. Created for the exterior grounds of the facility, the artwork consists of three monumental figures rendered in synthetic stone.
These include a 14-foot-high horse loosely modeled on the Percheron, a breed known for strength, intelligence and hard work; and two 6-foot-tall German Shepherds that flank the facility’s main entrance like protective sentinels.
Sharon Engelstein, Your Loyal Mighties, 2010, synthetic stone, Mounted Police and Animal Services Facility, 505 Little York Road
Your Loyal Mighties
Working with digital modeling, Engelstein seamlessly blends naturalistic rendering with the grandeur of historical animal stone carving to create heroically scaled symbols of these loyal partners.
Houston, Can You Hear Me?
Hillerova’s artwork consists of 19 suspended sculptures, each comprised of multiple colorful rays. The star-like forms are internally lit, creating a constellation of color to invoke the history and possibility of Space City.
Hana Hillerova, Houston, Can You Hear Me?, 2010, powder-coated aluminum, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Terminal A
ART/LIFE is a 30-by-7-foot acrylic painting investigating the journey of the creative artist and all original thinkers. The painting depicts a ship sailing towards a sunset. Imbedded in the sea and the sky are copies of 17 art history master works re-imagined as heroes or ideals.
According to Long, the theme of this work is the personal journey of the creative artist who is pictured steering a sailboat in the center of the stormy seascape. The work was specifically created for a niche above the children's reading area in the library.
Bert L. Long Jr., ART/LIFE, 2008, acrylic on canvas, Looscan Neighborhood Library