Public Art by the University of Houston Systems (Public Art UHS), an arts organization that enriches and serves multiple campuses in the UH system and the greater Houston area with one of the most significant university-based art collections in the United States, announces the installation of two new site-specific commissions and the acquisition of 20 works by some of the most dynamic artists working working in Houston today, all of which will be on public view this fall.
Commissions include a permanent light sculpture by American artist Leo Villareal for the new Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine and a temporary, large-scale architectural installation by Mexico-based Cuban-American artist and sculptor Jorge Pardo for Wilhelmina’s Grove, both at the university from Houston. These new installations and acquisitions further Public Art UHS’s mission to collect and display artworks that are representative and accessible to the diverse communities it serves in the greater Houston and Southeast Texas area.
“As one of the pre-eminent collegiate arts institutions in the United States, it is of the utmost importance to us to exhibit works that exemplify a vibrant, engaged, and diverse arts community,” said María C. Gaztambide, UHS Director of Public Art and Senior Curator . “During a period of strategic planning for the institution’s 50th anniversary, we took the time to evaluate our current collection of almost 700 works. With this responsibility completed and a plan in place to move forward with collection development, we look forward to continuing to expand our collections and program, particularly with these important commissions and recent acquisitions.”
Each of the new commissions represents a different pillar of Public Art UHS’ work as an all-encompassing arts organization that enriches the daily lives of UH System’s more than 74,000 students and nearly 10,000 faculty and staff, as well as the diverse communities in the greater Houston and Southeast Texas, through temporary exhibitions, robust public programs, research, education and broad outreach.
Artist Leo Villareal’s site-specific commission for the University of Houston’s new Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine transforms a limestone wall at the center of the Page-designed building into a space for gathering, contemplation and connection. The two-dimensional, planar, monochromatic light sculpture features 90 mirrored stainless steel LED lights and contains 3,960 white LED nodes bright enough to be visible in full sun. The optically powerful combination of materials reflects and emits light, creating a luminous field of suspended particles. Villareal’s work will be open to the public beginning October 2022, coinciding with the opening of the Fertitta Family College of Medicine building.
“UHS’ permanent collection of public art provides opportunities for university audiences and beyond to encounter art, often when and where they least expect it,” said Gaztambide. “Villareal’s piece at the new Fertitta Family College of Medicine will take this to a new level, serving as a ‘digital hearth’ for students, faculty and visitors, allowing for personal reflection while deepening connections within the larger community.”
Villareal will sequence the artworks to create compositions that respond to and complement surrounding activity, allowing the light patterns to “unfold in orchestrated, scholastic rhythms,” as the artist describes, transforming the setting into a space of connectedness Present.
“Like the College of Medicine itself – an institution of diverse but connected disciplines and people – the immersive artwork will foster connection as the true heart of the new building,” said Villareal.
Jorge Pardo, “Foolishness”
This fall, Public Art UHS will also present Jorge Pardo’s Folly, one of the artist’s most ambitious large-scale architectural installations to date. “Folly” marks the third project in UHS’s temporary public arts program for public arts and the second site-specific Grove Commission developed for Wilhelmina’s Grove, a tranquil on-campus gathering space anchoring the UH Arts District.
Pardo’s artworks use vibrant colors, eclectic patterns, and a variety of materials and scales to explore the intersection of contemporary painting, design, sculpture, and architecture. For his Grove Commission, he plays with the concept of a folly—a purely decorative building with no purpose—to invite the community to question the distinctions between fine art, architecture, and design. The immersive piece features a gazebo-like structure of steel and waterproof panels, with an interior adorned with laser-cut, hand-painted wooden wall panels and illuminated by Pardo’s signature sculptural chandeliers.
“One of the goals of our Grove Commissions is to challenge artists to delve into uncharted territory by expanding the reach and scope of their work,” Gaztambide said. “We are honored to host Pardo’s ongoing creative experimentation through ‘Folly’ and look forward to sharing with our audience his unique approach to artistry and architecture.”
Pardo’s outdoor works will complement the more than 350 artworks displayed both indoors and outdoors around UH’s sprawling 594-acre campus – including sculptures by Carlos Cruz-Diez and Brian Tolle, architecturally integrated works by Frank Stella and Alyson Shotz as well as long-term loans from the internationally recognized artists Sarah Braman, Tony Smith and Odili Donald Odita.
Public Art UHS will complete the installation of 20 new works by Houston artists acquired over the past year. Many of the works, ranging from paintings to works on paper to sculptures, will be permanently installed in the John M. O’Quinn Law Building and open to students and the general public in time for the fall semester. Works featured include an early painting by Bert L. Long, Jr., one of the co-founders of Project Row Houses; a diptych from the Eroding Witness series by UH graduate Jamal Cyrus; a textile sculpture by former UH faculty member Kaneem Smith; a series of etchings by El Paso-born, Houston-based artist Adriana Corral; and more.
Two composite wood sculptures – “O La Loo” (1999) and “Long Tail Many Horns” (1998) – were created by Jesse Lott, another founder of Project Row Houses, for the newly completed Advancing Community Engagement and Services (ACES) Institute at acquired ER. The remaining new acquisitions will be installed at the University of Houston-Downtown, including Adriana Corral’s “Impunidad, círculo vicioso” and Bert L. Long, Jr.’s “The Couple (Chest of Material Wealth)” (1977)..
“When considering new acquisitions, our top priority is to bring in artists and artworks that reflect our mission to foster dialogue, enrich the cultural and intellectual character of our universities, and engage with diverse audiences,” explained Gaztambide. “These new works more than live up to those demands, and we are proud to continue our long-standing effort to showcase artists of all backgrounds and experiences, many of whom are from the Texas area.”
In addition to these new acquisitions and the repositioning of existing artworks from the collection at the John M. O’Quinn Law Building, Public Art UHS is giving a new commission for the first floor of the building by artist activist, UH professor and Project Row Houses co. known -founder Rick Lowe, which is to be presented in spring 2023. Lowe’s work, titled “The Line,” references his extensive work in the community and references the implied line between Houston’s Third Ward and the University of Houston, and questions the need for that dividing line originally intended to define the character and to preserve the history of the district. The abstract painting will feature Lowe’s signature use of collage and color on panels.