HTX Contemporary Arts 2012
A Fair representation

To MaRS and back: Houston design firm creates playful "environment of art" for Texas Contemporary lounge

To MaRS and back: Houston design firm creates playful "environment of art" for Texas Contemporary lounge

Mars Texas Contemporary 2012
Emerging Houston design firm MaRS has tackled the VIP lounge at Texas Contemporary with a playful nod the Bayou City. Courtesy of MaRS
Mars Texas Contemporary 2012
Industrial shipping supplies speak to the Port of Houston while exercise balls refer to the city's nationally-recognized weight issues. Courtesy of MaRS
Mars Texas Contemporary 2012
Designer Erick Ragni's doodles have been repurposed as wall art behind the bar. Courtesy of MaRS
Mars Texas Contemporary 2012
Four light bulb displays spell out the fair's initials TCAF, harkening to the marquees of old Texas honky-tonk clubs. Courtesy of MaRS
Mars Texas Contemporary 2012
Overhead, a display of umbrellas remind us all that hurricane season has not quite ended yet. Courtesy of MaRS
Mars Texas Contemporary 2012
Mars Texas Contemporary 2012
Mars Texas Contemporary 2012
Mars Texas Contemporary 2012
Mars Texas Contemporary 2012

For even the bravest of collectors, an art fair can be a daunting endeavor . . . scores of galleries showing hundreds of artists among thousands of attendees. Thankfully, there's always the bar.

But more times than not, the art fair lounge can be a dreary place, an afterthought amid a sea of carefully-conceived gallery booths.

Tasked with designing the VIP lounge for the upcoming Texas Contemporary show, which runs Oct. 18 to 21 at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston architecture duo MaRS thinks it may have found the solution.

"We're not just architects," Mayfield notes. We're designers ready to create a range of pieces with which people can interact." 

"Art has always been an important element to our work," explains designer Kelie Mayfield, who launched MaRS in 2010 with architect Erick Ragni. (The firm title is a combination of the founders' names, by the way. The S is for 'studio.')

"This has been an opportunity for us to create a sort of environment of art. We did some work at last year's show and loved the way organizers integrated artwork into the convention design. We're enhancing that idea with this year's VIP area, creating something closer to an art installation."

Listening to the manner in which MaRS devised the initial concept for the VIP section, the two designers sound more like playful conceptual artists than architects who have worked with some of the biggest names in architecture Frank Gehry and Enric Miralles, to name a few.

"We spend a lot of time online going though all of this data on Houston," Rigni says. "In the end, we decided on four basic components that subtly refer to the city."

To represent the Port of Houston, the walls of the lounge are made of stacked shipping pallets and industrial wire spools are used as tables. An overhead array of umbrellas harkens to the city's perpetual struggle with hurricanes. Four large displays of light bulbs together spelling the fair's initials TCAF speak to the marquees of old Texas honky-tonk clubs. Chairs have been replaced with exercise balls, a joke about the Houston's reputation as an out-of-shape city.

"This project has been wonderful for us to highlight what we do as a firm," Mayfield notes. "We're not just architects. We're designers ready to create a range of pieces with which people can interact."

The Texas Contemporary Art Fair kicks off Oct. 18 with a special opening preview party. VIP tickets (starting at $100) are required for the event and include admission at all four days of the fair as well as access to the VIP lounge. Three-day tix are $35 and a one-day pass is $20.