By Richard Zagrzecki
Some sit outdoors in open areas for passersby to see. Others hang inside buildings from ceiling and walls. A number of them declare their presence with vivid colors and booming shapes, while others are more timid and subtle.
Altogether, close to 500 diverse and unique works of art from across the UH System comprise the University of Houston Public Art Collection. Nearly 300 of them alone are on the UH campus, providing a visual treat to students, faculty, staff and visitors alike as they go about their busy day.
The extensive collection contains works by local, regional, national and international artists, across all forms of media and style. It’s one of the largest collections among public universities in the United States – yet one that people outside of the UH community mostly are unaware exists.
The University wants that to change.
Over the next several years, a comprehensive effort to educate and expose as many people as possible to the collection will be developed. The ultimate goal? Make the UH campus and its public art collection a destination point for art lovers and the general public alike, whether they live in Houston or elsewhere.
The System-wide Art Acquisition Committee will be spearheading that task. The group, whose varied members include local museum representatives, artists, community members, staff, students and administration officials, already plays a key advisory role in the acquisition and placement of artwork for the collection.
The committee has been asked by Renu Khator, president, University of Houston, to “put the public back in public art” by developing programs, events and other strategic initiatives that expose as many Houstonians as possible to the collection.
The initiative, still in its infancy stages, has unlimited potential in a metropolitan area as large as Houston, which is home to several million people and a thriving arts community, said Michael Guidry, curator for the UH Public Art Collection.
“The University truly does have a fantastic public art collection that is just as diverse and unique as the city of Houston itself,” Guidry said. “Developing ways to get more people to experience and enjoy it is the ultimate goal and one we look forward to undertaking.”
Over the years, the public art collection has expanded and grown steadily, thanks mainly to the foresight of University leaders five decades ago. In 1966, UH developed a policy to have 1 percent of the construction cost of all future building projects earmarked specifically for art. Their reasoning was simple: A public art collection could enhance the University’s prestige, as well as the overall beauty of the campus. Three years later, the Texas Legislature approved the measure, making UH the first state institution to establish such a program.
As the campus and the UH System grew, so did the art collection. The first pieces to be purchased were “Orbit 1” and “Orbit II” by Japanese artist Masaru Takiguchi, who spent the 1969-1970 academic year as a guest artist teaching in the Art Department. The collection now includes such prominent artists as Frank Stella, Jackie Ferrara, Matt Mullican, Jim Love, Alyson Shotz, Carlos Cruz-Diez and Mary Miss.
For more information about where to find these pieces and view them for yourself, visit www.uh.edu/uh-collection.