Rice's public art program looks to science as it prepares for major JamesTurrell unveiling
As it awaits James Turrell's much-anticipated "skyspace" — set to open in early summer next to the Shepherd School of Music — Rice University's Public Art Program has been looking to the BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) building as the backdrop for a string of site-specific pieces that speak to the innovative science center's interdisciplinary focus.
Designed by renowned architectural firm SOM and nestled into a corner of Rice's campus adjacent to the Texas Medical Center, the BRC was envisioned as a meeting place for people working in a variety of scientific fields to interact and share ideas. Situated at the center of building, a multi-story cylindrical core dubbed the Collaborative Hub encourages intellectual and social cross-pollination with student workstations, a large lounge and an open stairwell that promotes communication between floors.
John Sparagana's Geronimo uses computer technology to deconstruct a black-and-white image of a crowd in Times Square on the night of Osama bin Laden's death.
After opening in 2009, the BRC and its Collaborative Hub quickly gained two iconic pieces from Rice's Public Art Program, both of which attempt to define and exploit a shared common ground between visual art and science.
Leo Villareal's ultra-techie Radiant Pathway, situated on the second floor of the Hub, employs 92 LED light tubes to display changing sequences of 16 million different colors. James Surls' Walking Molecular Flower, on the patio just outside the building's main entrance, offers an atom-like interpretation of the artist's well-recognized plant forms.
In 2012, two more pieces will make their mark on the collaborative environment of the BRC.
John Sparagana's Geronimo
Late March saw the Hub's newest addition, a work by Rice art department chair John Sparagana located in the building's main lobby off University Boulevard. Titled Geronimo, this massive photo-collage uses computer technology to deconstruct a black-and-white image of a crowd in New York's Times Square on the night of Osama bin Laden's death.
Exploring that awkward terrain between art, mass communication and technology, Sparagana has digitally reprinted the picture to match the exact 10-by-16-foot dimension of two works by color field painter Morris Louis, Beta Kappa and Mu, which the artist subsequently has recreated in acrylic on either side of the print.
"John take media-driven images, slices and dices them, and repurposes them," Rice public art director Molly Hipp Hubbard said at Geronimo's unveiling. "The addition of iconic compositions, in this case by Morris Louis, places the artist in between mediums, which is what makes this work so engaging."
Dana Frankfort's new contexts
Across campus in a vacant ground-floor room of Brockman Hall for Physics, the Public Art Program has given abstract artist Dana Frankfort a large temporary studio to complete a piece that will fill a blank wall inside BRC's open staircase.
Frankfort typically centers her work around a single word painted on the canvas — a piece of text spelling out L-I-F-E or P-E-O-P-L-E. For the Collaborative Hub stairs, she is working on two pieces simultaneously and will decide which suits the space when she finishes the artworks this fall. For the BRC, she's painting around the words "think" and "test."
"These works involve a lot of free association for me," the artist told CultureMap during a studio visit. "It's about merging text with total abstraction, about creating a picture of the word rather than a sign."
As a professor of art at Boston University, Frankfort said this continuous process of painting in and around the text might often happen in plain view of her students, not unlike the very public studio set-up she maintains at Rice when she is not teaching. The technique balances the artist's deep personal considerations with a desire to remain open to any interested parties, a method very much in line with the interdisciplinary ideals of the BRC.
"In the end," she said, "a new context for the original word has emerged."