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Rice University launches public art initiative with three new works

Rice News staff

Rice University is known for its distinctive architecture and its canopy of stately trees. Now it will also be known as a setting for major works of public art, thanks to the Rice Art Program, a campuswide presidential initiative that brings public art to students, faculty, staff and the Greater Houston community.

Molly Hubbard
Molly Hubbard, left, university art director, and artist Charles Mary Kubricht are pictured next to Kubricht's work, "paraMuseum: Environmental Exigencies," during a reception at Brochstein Pavilion. 

The recent installation of "paraMuseum: Environmental Exigencies" by Charles Mary Kubricht in the Brochstein Pavilion is a beautiful and poetic example of Rice's commitment to site-specific public art, said University Art Director Molly Hubbard. The four black-and-white oak leaves on 8-foot panels reflect Kubricht’s conception of natural landscapes (and their constituent parts) as "museums" -- places and objects worthy of preservation.

The artist thinks of the Rice campus as a tree museum as a whole. Her oak-leaf panels reflect her interest in how humans actively create and measure experience, perception, meaning and the fate of the natural environment. The four oak leaves were selected by the artist from four indigenous oak trees on the Rice campus. Printed on canvas, the photographs are coated with a unique, eco-friendly sealant that protects them from UV radiation and other environmental factors.

Kubricht lives in Texas and New York. She has been exhibiting her work in the United States and abroad for three decades, and her work has been the subject of several museum solo exhibitions. Since 2005 Kubricht has focused on the photographic representation of the ever-changing cultural and political events on Mount Livermore, located near the West Texas town of Marfa.
Charles Mary Kubricht's "paraMuseum: Environmental Exigencies" was recently installed in Brochstein Pavilion.

With the installation of Leo Villareal's "Radiant Pathway" in the second-floor café of the BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) at University Boulevard and Main Street, Rice has launched a new era of public art “outside of the hedges,” Hubbard said.

The work pulsates from 7 a.m. until midnight, seven days a week and is visible from University Boulevard. Light sequences radiating in and out from the center mirror the function of the university as a gathering place for knowledge that is then released back into the larger community. The 92 LED light tubes each have 20 pixels capable of displaying 16 million different colors. The changing light sequences are never repeated, and Villareal composed them on-site using his custom computer software technology.

New York artist Villareal was born in Albuquerque, N.M., and raised in El Paso, Texas. He is an innovator in the "new digerati" due to his original and transformative monumental public light installations. Villareal’s work is currently the subject of a solo retrospective at the San Jose Museum of Art and his first monograph has also been published for the occasion. His work can also be viewed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and in other locations around the world. 

Leo Villareal's "Radiant Pathway" in Rice's BioScience Research Collaborative launched a new era of public art "outside of the hedges. 

Earlier this year, Aurora Robson's "Lift" debuted in Rice's Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center. The huge spherical sculpture, made of more than 9,000 discarded plastic bottles, is suspended from the ceiling with four smaller satellites surrounding it.

"Lift" is a vibrant addition to Rice's new Recreation Center, Hubbard said, because it creates a sense of the “cosmic and astronomical” among the daily regimen of bench presses and treadmills. The five pieces embody the qualities of energy, light and dynamism of a solar system and are also associated with the physical activity and recreation occurring in the space itself. The suspended sculptures are engineered with solar-powered motors that provide rotation and light.

Another work by Robson, "The Great Indoors," transformed the Rice Art Gallery into a three-dimensional landscape of organic structures and forms inspired by the human body during the fall of 2008. The installation was made entirely from parts cut from about 10,000 reused plastic bottles.

Aurora Robson's "Lift" debuted in the Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center earlier this year.  

Born in Toronto, Robson is both an artist and an environmental activist. She is the director and co-founder of two important artist groups: Lumenhouse, an artist residency space in Bushwick, N.Y., and Project Vortex, a coalition of artists, architects and designers dedicated to working with discarded plastic to reduce the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans. Recent projects include "What Goes Around, Comes Around," a work using 9,000 recycled bottles that is on display in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s corporate campus in New Jersey.

In addition to the above works, earlier this year Rice debuted the exhibition "Magnificent Seven: Houston Celebrates Surls," an installation of seven large sculptural works by American artist James Surls across the campus. Two of the sculptures have been purchased to remain as part of Rice’s collection. Also, the internationally celebrated American artist James Turrell has been commissioned to create a "skyspace," an experiential work of art that fuses light and space, which will be constructed east of the Shepherd School of Music in 2011. And noted American sculptor Bruce Wolfe has been commissioned to create a bronze statue of Edgar Odell Lovett as a commemorative sculpture for Rice's Centennial Celebration in 2012. The statue is likely to be placed in front of Keck Hall. Also, a bronze owl by English artist Geoffrey Dashwood that stands over 6 feet high will be the focus of a Legacy Garden that is also being designed to coincide with the Centennial.

The Rice Art Program is directed by Hubbard and led by the Rice Art Committee, which is chaired by alumnus Raymond Brochstein and co-chaired by alumna Suzanne Deal Booth. Members include Rice trustees, students, faculty and staff, in addition to community representatives. Funding for the site-specific projects is provided from a new one-half-percent-for-art initiative for new buildings and funded by philanthropy.

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