Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dick Wray's Tower Tall As Houston's Skyscrapers

I couldn't decide if I liked this image of Dick Wray's tower as a horizontal or vertical. Thoughts? In either case, when Dick's work is added to that four story elevator tower by the exterior staircase, it will be dynamite. It will be SEEN.

Measurements - Do I Believe Them?

Visited the site yesterday afternoon with Beth Collins Wray. She and I measured the wall segments along the basement corridor with a very long tape measure. Guess such measurements are called 'field measurements'? I personally do not trust measurements or anything at all with numbers.
This tendency goes back as far as the days right out of college when I made $90/week at Bloomingdale's as an executive trainee. Every month I'd spend an entire evening reconciling my bank account and always had to round off to the nearest dollar. I could go back further to high school when I had a job that I loved selling tickets at the movie theater. How many times was I not able to make the number of tickets sold reconcile with the money taken in? I have no realistic answer, or number.
All of this is to say, numbers elude me. I don't retain them. So Beth and I measured those basement walls, some of which do not have door frames affixed to doors yet, so that will throw the measurements off a bit. As for these measurements? I've sent them on to S.O. Creatives so they have a canvas to put all the 'recycle' words I've written or collected in five languages. Then their file will go to a fabricator who will create a very, very long artwork from many strips of powder coated metal with cut out words.
It is my hope that when a person walks the length of this basement corridor, he or she will get a linear and inspiring or interminable, as the case may be, series of recycling messages in languages spoken throughout this city. The extended length of the piece along should drive the message, "Recycling is inevitable and good for us. Get on with it."
Suffice it to say, I can think of words to write far better than I can count numbers.
Beth and I weren't done after measuring the basement corridor. We went to each of floor in the building where reveals/insets were built in for Jesse, Gonzo and Geoff. All of their work will be 'inset' in a sheet rock frame-of-sorts to protect from daily wear and tear.
When I returned home, I put our reveal/inset measurements against measurements given me by the artists for their artwork. I think - the operative word is 'think' - that their work will fit into these spaces. I 'think' everything will be OK. But I won't be sure until Jesse, Gonzo and Geoff have hung their work successfully. That won't be for another month and at that time, I'll experience delayed gratification or total dismay.
One thing I can say is that I am not only in awe, but am completely mystified by the talent and skill sets it takes to draw architectural plans and then have folks in the field translate them into walls, rooms, lobbies, offices, entire buildings.
Mindy, you smile patiently at me when I ask for the twentieth time if the measurements for anything at all, are going to be OK. I never really believe it. But I thank you for your patience, for that extra reassuring email that doesn't really reassure. It'll all work out. If it doesn't, sheet rock is easy to reconstruct?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Kaneem Smith Creates Sculpture From Coffee Bags

Last Wednesday afternoon, I visited Kaneem Smith in the new studio space on Spring Street that she's sharing with her dad, the sculptor George Smith.* I wanted to take a look at the work she's producing for the lobby at 1002 Washington Avenue. I first saw Kaneem's fabric sculptural works at the TSU gallery last summer and I loved them. The day we visited TSU, Kaneem was in the gallery, so we got a personal tour. Knew at once that Kaneem could add an altogether different dimension to the artwork being created for this public space and I asked her if she'd like to join the artists' team. BTW, Kaneem teaches at UH Downtown.
When I walked in her studio last week, I laughed out loud because the pieces that she is assembling are delightful, playful and colorful. One wonders exactly what they are. I can only imagine how two dozen of these cone/columns will appear when suspended and placed in proximity to one another.
I really like what Kaneem is producing for the new Houston Permitting Center. She gathered several dozen large burlap coffee bean bags and is now sewing them into cone shapes, rather like a cluster nest of wood dabbers. Only Kaneem's cones are painted in bright pure colors and the coffee logos remain where they've been stamped on to each bag.
And yes, two dozen cones in many colors will be suspended from the ceiling in the lobby area between those two enormous return air ducts. Imagine the look of these colorful columns just floating there in space.
I hope they sway a bit. I hope folks will touch them and I hope children will walk through them instead of around them. I told Kaneem she ought to affix bells inside each cone, so when people do touch, they'll hear those bells jingle and be surprised. We'll see what she does.
In the meantime, Kaneem has a lot of stitching to do as many of the cones have intricate patterns made of folds and gathers. And then she'll be painting with those bright colors.
Can you imagine this work in the Houston Permitting Center? I continue to be amazed at the variety of the artwork that will be installed in this public building.
Just think about arriving and seeing Dick Wray's four story tower, a narrative in laser cut steel. Think about Dean Ruck and Dan Havel's extravagant assemblage of recycled metals. Think about Gonzo's aerosol murals. The list goes on and on. This is public art created by Houston artists and quite frankly, it's inspired.
No one can possibly anticipate how folks will experience all this art for the very first time. Imagine someone walking through those front doors for a plan review, a stamp of approval. And I like the surprise element in all of this. Feels to me as if we've given each person a series of gifts. If they take time to look at the work and wonder about it.
I am beginning to think that I'll spend time in the fall lingering near the artwork to listen to people's reactions.
To each artist working on this project - my very best wishes for smooth installations and my thanks for contributing to what will be a unique public space.

*By the way, George Smith taught sculpture for years at Rice U and one of his pieces can be seen in front of Lanier Middle School on Woodhead at Westheimer.

AIA Gala: 1002 Washington Avenue

What a lovely evening. Guests would never have guessed that on Monday afternoon, the main lobby was covered with piles of sand in preparation for laying the terrazzo floor. Who would have known that the concrete steps to one of the main entrances was still to be poured, as was a part of the front parking area. Party lights, filtered through geometric shapes, covered the lobby ceilings. Would that those lights could remain in perpetuity. Beautiful way to show off after dark.
1002 Washington Avenue looked good tonight. And I never saw so many bars at one party. A crowd of over 700 gathered to celebrate architectural firms receiving awards and to be the first to see this almost-finished City of Houston building. Must have been quite a night for Studio Red's Bill Neuhaus, architect in chief. Mayor Parker spoke with pride about the facility's greenness and the city's commitment to sustainability. The building is tracking for LEEDs gold right now. The Mayor also mentioned the public art that will soon fill the building which brought a burst of applause. I liked that response.
When I spoke with Mayor Parker after dinner, she asked when the art will be installed. "May," I told her. Everyone is anticipating the artwork. And strangely, though I know that May will be enormously busy and all kinds of things could go awry, I'm confident about the end result. The art is going to work in this place. There will be a lot of it and it will be exciting and totally unexpected. And for the record, civic art is good public policy in action. From the City of Houston website:

"The program was established in December 1999, when City Council adopted an ordinance mandating the inclusion of civic art in selectedcapital improvement projects. Each year, the civic art component of the CIP includes design, acquisition and/or construction of new civic art as part of the City’s collection.

The primary objective of the program is to enhance the environment through the inclusion of artist-designed features in new municipal facilities, contributing to a sense of community pride. The Civic Art Program supports the City’s commitment to neighborhood enhancement and improving overall quality of life. As projects are completed,they will add to Houston’s image as a vibrant and culturally rich metropolis, both nationally and internationally."

Nice to be working with such clear objectives.
Earl brought his camera tonight and suddenly there were pictures of me at the party. A new experience as I am usually the one behind the viewfinder.
I am wearing that costume I made with brocades, silks and linens salvaged from Hurricane Ike flood waters. I thought it was the thing to wear because it mirrors this building where the original interior brick and concrete have been preserved and reuse and repurposing are the verbs of choice. Repurposing is at the core of some of the artwork too. Dean Ruck and Dan Havel's piece is assembled from recycled metals and is dynamite, baroque, wonderful. If we care to toot our own horn, Dan's included a bouquet of trumpets and coronets in the piece.
Saw Minnette Boesel, Mayor's Assistant for Cultural Affairs and Susan Christian, Mayor's Office of Special Events.
Here is Lorie Westrick, Rey de la Reza Architects. When I was president of the Greater East End Management District, we worked together on the East End Streetscape Project with TXDOT. Seems eons ago.
Lovely to see Rock Gremillion and his wife. Rock and his brothers own A&E Graphics and they will be involved in fabricating two of the my text walls for this new facility. Wait until you see those walls.
Here I am with Steve Andrews of Texas Timber Plank, the company that supplied the recycled wood beams that form the lowered floating ceiling on the main floor. Each section of the lowered ceiling spells out a word in bar code. If you stretched out flat on the floor and looked up, you could read all the bar codes. that is, if you could translate into the language you speak. the barcode words are meant as encouragement as one goes through the permitting process. Subliminal messages. By the way, Texas Timber knows the provenance of each piece of its timber. Lots from Hurricane Ike and lots of good reused Texas trees.
Chatted with Sarah and Lance Gandy, Gandy2 Lighting Design. Every fixture in this facility comes from them.
At dinner, we sat with Louis Skidmore, consultant to Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill, LLP and his son Chris Skidmore who manages the art gallery Gremillion & Co. Charming dinner companions. Louis told me that lamb shanks seemed to be the plate of choice at this year's galas. Seems he's eaten more than one or two of late. I'd say those lamb shanks made a very tasty dinner.
Now, about the bathrooms. For months, I've wanted to put text interventions on the wall near the bathroom ceilings or at the tops of columns where folks don't expect words. The words would be sly green messages and thoughts about code. I see them as plexi conversation bubbles or I'd have a sign painter paint the words or, what about Gonzo 24/7? He's already painting two aerosol murals for the place. I am still hoping I have a sliver of budget funds for small messages up high on bathroom walls. Folks wouldn't forget them. I really do want to do this.
Just time for one last photo as we waited for the car. BTY, I saw JB White, General Services for the City of Houston and Manhattan's Charlie Genella. Both of them sure look great in black tie. Absolutely should have taken their photos. You'll just have to imagine them.
So, here we are. Earl's seen the building for the first time. Tonight was the 'before'. The 'after' will be when the building is filled with what are called 'artful interventions'. Indeed. The artists are intervening all right. All twelve of them. It's the art that will make this building sing the really high notes, that will give voice to its greenness, that will speak to the city's energy and diversity, that will bring wonder and perhaps a smile to those folks working the permitting process. Don't you think?
This green building is a terrific project and does the City of Houston proud. I am glad to be a part of it.
For the record, here a list of the artist's who will absolutely make this building. They are quite a group:
Dick Wray
Dean Ruck
Dan Havel
Serena Lin Bush
Joe Mepplelink
Andrew Varna
Kaneem Smith
Jesse Sifuentes
Gonzo 24/7
Agnes Welsh Eyster
Geoff Winningham
Mary Margaret Hansen

Monday, April 11, 2011

Main Entrance Now Has Steps

Lovely to see the building after a week away. Concrete steps have been poured for the main entrance. Work's been done on the green roof area. The air ducts on the main floor where Kaneem Smith's piece will be installed look great. Carpet is being laid on parts of the first floor. The recycled wood timbers above the racetrack are all installed and are quite good looking. Each group of timbers spells out a word. Should one lay on the floor and look up - and if one could read bar code - then the ceiling would speak to you. Good things are happening.
The AIA Gala is this Saturday evening. 700 people will be partying in the lobby. I can see there is plenty of work still to be done to make it a safe and elegant party place. I am sure they'll make it happen.

Blue Skies in the Basement

Met with Serena Lin Bush at the site today along with Cody, one of her IT partners. She wanted to check the stairwell pit once again, now that the row of recycled wood timbers has been set in the space. Serena's monitors will be attached to the recycled timbers. She brought white paper cut in the sizes of each of the monitors. Just to check on placement and ease of seeing. She opted not to use the wall behind the stairway. We decided that the stair railings themselves would cover the monitor and it would loose its effectiveness. So all monitors will be flat in the pit.
I still get goose bumps when I think about Serena's piece. Several cameras will be mounted on the roof of the building and will photograph the sky continuously. Cabling will bring the images down to the monitors in the basement. So viewers will see real sky in the bottom of the stairwell and will be able to look up all the way to the top of the stairs four stories high and see that same sky through a skylight. It's a very cool idea.

A Green Message From Yellowstone

Disheartening to read that Yellowstone National Park has tons of garbage left by sightseers at Old Faithful. The park used to ship this plastic garbage overseas, but now they send it to Georgia where it's made into a woven, fleece-like material for carpeting backing. Makes for jobs in the U.S. and that's a good thing. But what a pity that American citizens litter their own national monuments. Makes me long for the days when there were commercials on television with an old Native American giving an anti-litter message with a big tear running down his cheek. You won't see a commercial like that these days. I suspect that even the Don't Mess With Texas campaign against highway litter has been defunded.
None of this has anything to do with the civic art project at 1002 Washington Avenue, except for the fact that the city is making this facility a model 'green' building that is currently tracking for a LEEDs gold rating. And some of our artists are using recycled materials in work created especially for this building. They would be Dan Havel, Dean Ruck and Kaneem Smith. I think we can add Metalab Studio to this list. They plan to have some recycled trumpets and coronets in their piece as receivers of CO2. Yes, we'll be encouraged to blow CO2 into these horns and see what happens on a large screen at the end of the main lobby.
We can't wait to show the public all the art in this building.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Civic Art Gets Thumbs Up From Fellow Blogger

It is so nice to get a positive mention for work done, or in the process of being done. I just read a recent on The Great God Pan Is Dead, an always interesting blog that follows the Houston art scene. Thank you, Robert Boyd, for recognizing how unexpected it will be to see so many Houston artists in one very public building.
This project is terrific and I've loved working on it. The art will be installed in May. City employees, now housed in a half dozen locations around town, will begin moving in about the same time as the art. We'll see how they like their new digs and we'll see how their customers - the contractors, architects and designers - like visiting this new space where they'll see all this unexpected art while they get those permits and the coveted red stamps of plan approval.
Folks will see art as soon as they hit the parking lot. Dick Wray's work is the outer skin of the four story exterior elevator. Here's a photo of Dick and his wife Beth taken during the meeting when we first saw the model for this four story work. It'll be laser cut powdered coated metal installed in panels on the corrogated exterior wall now in place.
Actually, you will see Dick Wray's four story work even if you never enter the parking lot or the building itself. That four story exterior elevator is visible from the freeway that circles downtown. Spectacular. BTW, it's safer to look if you are in the passenger seat.
This blog post also published on Rockbridge Times.