Sampling Houston’s Municipal Art Collection

Houston Bayou

A city without art is a barren wasteland or a vibrant jungle, but it’s not a city. Creating things is a natural part of being warm blooded, empathetic creatures. Art is to cities what air is to their residents.

The big themes are technology, history, and diversity. You see it on the street downtown, the zoo, the airport, and all over the rest of Houston.

African Elephant.

Art at the Zoo

People come for the animals, but Houston’s zoo charms them with its art. In addition to statues of Oliver Twist and Sam Houston himself, visitors to the zoo will be delighted by sculptures like African Elephant and the Greek-inspired Atropos Key. As you might expect, most of the sculptures at the zoo were inspired by the world’s wild things.

Art at the Airport

The jet set. Pan Am, the airline and the TV show. International travel and intrigue. People expect certain things when they visit the airport, even after the TSA took most of the fun out of flying. There will be jets. There will be retail stores selling sunglasses. Airports represent a certain level of technological achievement, and art at the airport should reflect that.

There are a few pieces at the Houston Airport that stick out because they speak more to Houston’s history than to her technological achievements. Houston Bayou sticks out among tech-themed pieces like Moonwalking Cow and Vector HH. It reminds visitors and residents of Houston’s natural history in a place where they would be more inclined to consider the fluorescent lighting and the advertising posters on the walls. The serpentine wall serving as its canvas adds to the depth of experiencing Houston Bayou in person.

Downtown Art

Second only to the airport, downtown is the most trafficked area of a substantial city like Houston. The art should not disappoint. Other than the Cotswald Fountains, north downtown doesn’t have much to offer that isn’t contrived and silly. Things get better as visitors and residents travel south.

One of the most interesting art works in Houston sits in Buffalo Bayou, underneath the Preston Street Bridge. Called Big Bubble, a red button activates an underwater air compressor that blows a big bubble. It’s not presented as art, and the button is a mystery until pressed. The piece invites passersby to participate in a serendipitous experience in the bayou.

Dean Ruck’s Big Bubble from Douglas Robertson on Vimeo.

Art at the Garden

The Hermann Park Garden Center is a veritable showcase of historical Houston art. Busts and full-size statues of Houston’s most important historical figures have been carefully placed throughout the garden’s grounds. Some of them aren’t historical figures at all but objets d’art in their own right, like Dawn and Grecian Dancer.

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