Sunday, August 28, 2011

Havel and Ruck Out Do Chamberlain

When I was in New York a week ago, I spent a couple of underwhelming hours at MOMA. Very little was exciting, but I guess it might be hard to top the Matisse exhibition I saw there a summer ago. What I did see was an unassuming John Chamberlain sculpture in the middle of one of the galleries. And I thought to myself. "It's nice." I used to think Chamberlain was quite wonderful and yes, some of his work on display in Marfa IS marvelous, but this MOMA piece was simply 'nice'.
I thought about and compared this John Chamberlain piece to Dean Ruck and Dan Havel's 'Torrent' at the new Houston Permitting Center. An entire wall is overloaded with recycled, repurposed metals with enough energy to power a high wind. Funky beautiful details are strewn with abandon or calculation all over the place.I am not doing Dean and Dan's work justice with these photos. ' Suffice it to say that Torrent' should be on everyone's fall schedule for 'looking at art'. And just so you know, I heard someone say that the piece is 'John Chamberlain on steroids.' That is not an inaccurate statement. P.S. We spent time adjusting lights for this wall, but to little avail as you'll see if you visit any time soon. However, better lighting is coming and then the work should then begin to dance and wink as well as hold that wall. Get thee to 1002 Washington Avenue and take a look.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Installing Dick Wray's Tower

Hard to image, but I've not been in the Houston Permitting Center for over a week. Unprecedented. But I have business there on Wednesday morning, so I'll see if the artist's stainless steel etched plaques have been installed. That is one of the few 'last things' that need to happen in the building in order to say 'We're finished'. We are still going to work with Houston Arts Alliance on a brochure for the facility's artwork, but that looks like it will happen in September after everyone gets back from summer travels.
In the meantime, I'll share some images Charles Masterson and his crew installing the panels of Dick Wray's tower. Lots of reflections and late afternoon sunlight in the photos.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


At 5:00 this afternoon, for the first time, I showed a group of good friends this city building that has occupied me for over a year. They got to experience the lobby with its 85 year old concrete columns, brick walls and wide expanses and art by Metlab Studio, Havel Ruck Projects, Kaneem Smith, Jesse Sifuentes, Agnes Welsh Eyster and MMH. All of this is just in the lobby.
Steve Stelzer was still at work in the Green Building Resource Center and he very graciously talked about the information and opportunities he offers to builders, contractors and the general public.
We went floor to floor, looked out the windows at the top of the central stairwell, stopped to look at the art in each elevator lobby and pushed open bathroom doors.
I love the bathrooms and wanted everyone to see the tile work that circles each column and the dropped portions of the ceiling that punctuate the tops of those columns. The bathrooms are wonderfully detailed.
Everyone loved the green roof and they agreed that Jesse's mural is indeed reminiscent of a WPA project.
And my friends moved the chairs away from my 'Overheard' wall on level 3, so they could read every single word. I'll talk more about those chairs in another post. It's complicated.
I was disappointed to discover that this building is so energy efficient that Serena's monitors in the central stairwell were OFF when we looked down expecting to see blue skies and clouds. Guess the monitors are only on during working hours? What a pity.
We moved outside to see Dick Wray's elevator tower. I have to say that one needs to walk over to the Amtrak station to really see this piece. It looks so different with a bit of distance. At a distance, uou can see the faces and figures that become invisible up close.
I sure do love this building and I loved playing a part in its transformation. And it was fun to show it off to good friends. I cannot believe that I've not walked friends through this building until today. I suspect there'll be a few more of these tours. I know absolutely that these women will be spreading the good word about the facility's 'greenness' and public art.
I heard more than one mention made of the lobby as a potential venue for receptions for green groups, the Greater Houston Partnership and organizations like Houston Tomorrow. Receptions could be another income stream for the GBRC and would certainly bring in folks that might never, ever have cause to visit the building.
BTW, I handed in final paperwork today to Houston Arts Alliance. I also gave them the individual artist plaques to install. I think I am just about done with this job, except for more thank you letters with updates to donors and collaborators.
Thank you to everyone who came to see the building this evening. It's wonderful to be able to show it off and hear folks say that the whole place is terrific.
And it was also fun to move on to Beaver's for good food and conversation and that mulled cucumber habanero infused vodka cocktail.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Last Art Wall DONE: Houston Recycles

All artwork for the Houston Permitting Center is now complete. It's done. Every bit of it. Amazing. The rest of the artists finished their installations by mid-June, but I did not even begin on the basement corridor wall until late June. This last text intervention runs along 88 feet of basement corridor and was completed just yesterday.
For a long time, I've felt like that fairy tale cobbler whose children are the very last to get shoes. Turned out to be OK as HPD is not moving into their new offices off this long corridor for another week. It's still pretty quiet in the basement.
This past weekend, Robynn Sanders, she of art car fame, finished hand painting the last small section of the basement's 88 foot long corridor and then applied the protective 'green' top coat. I'd say that corridor is quite a piece of work.
Robynn spent several weekends tracing elaborate patterns of words on those 88 feet. Once traced, she filled in each letter or character with absolutely 'green' paint. She was not too happy with the thickness of 'green' paint. In places, it looks more like water color, but we decided that is just fine.
The story of this particular wall begins months ago when I contemplated a laser cut, powder coated strip of metal that ran the length of the corridor. A sort of ribbon or banner of recycling words in lots of languages. I thought that the very length of the piece would convey the message that it is always time to recycle, rethink, repurpose, reuse, refine, redo and on and on.
The first step was to create a list of as many English words that began with 're' as I could. Got almost 50 words within minutes. Made me want to go back to the Latin root and learn a little more about 're' words.
Somewhere along the way, I scrapped the idea of the long metal 'ribbon' of words and began to think about painted words. Kelly Musebeck of S.O. Creatives introduced me to Robynn Sanders and that was it.
Then, with my list of 're' words in hand, I looked for translators, so that we might have similar words in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Arabic. I wanted this wall to show the universality of the recycling message as well as the diversity of Houston. Significant populations in this city speak each of these languages.
Working with the translators was a joy, because each translator was truly interested in the project and genuinely pleased that their community would be represented on this wall. My thanks to Mary Cee for Vietnamese translations, Najwa Barazi for Arabic words and phrases, to Yat Chong at S.O. Creatives for Spanish translations and Dr. Richard Smith for Chinese translations. When I contacted Rich, he was in China on sabbatical. Isn't email wonderful? He sent the words back to Houston in a day's time.
Sometimes, it really does take a village. Gathering translations for this undertaking became an example of one of the wall's messages. Diversity, inclusiveness. We're all in this together. I like that. Hope to get all the translators together soon for a look at the corridor - and all the rest of the facility. Hope Robynn will be there too to meet the folks whose words she painted.
Here is the last section of the wall, the one closet to the reception area. All the words and characters here are about redoing, reversing, beginning again, starting over. Which of course means walking back the length the corridor to the elevators. Making something circular out of a straight line.
I especially like that small Arabic character near the recycling logo. It's very simple, nothing long winded. It means, "Do it again." "Once more." Perfect.
It is also fun to know that Arabic is read from right to left, so the walk to the elevators is just fine for reading that particular set of words. Again, we are taking a straight line (that would be the corridor) and allowing it to become a circle of repetitive messages.
So there you have it. Thank you to all who contributed to this wall. It was a real collaboration. Thank you very much.