While researching the May issue’s short story on Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads–a series of 12 bronze sculptures on view through June 3 at Houston’s Hermann Park—Senior Editor Lori Moffatt chatted with Houston Arts Alliance CEO Jonathan Glus about bringing these important works to Texas, as well as the importance of public art.
“First, about the Houston Arts Alliance: We are the city’s municipal arts agency. We’re a non-profit organization, and we were created by the city 6 years ago to advance arts services on behalf of the city. We leverage public and private money to benefit arts organizations,” says Glus.
“The vast majority of the pieces are in public spaces for viewing. Over the past few years, the three most visible permanent projects have been installed at the Bush International Airport—the three 60-foot sculptures by the late artist Dennis Oppenheim, called Radiant Fountains. They’re illuminated by multicolored LED lights and serve as the gateway to the airport.
“In addition to siting permanent projects like Radiant Fountains, in 2009 the Houston Arts Alliance rolled out our temporary art program (TAP). Twice a year, we bring to a part of the city a temporary art project. The TAP program has two primary foci. One is to bring to public spaces works by national and internationally recognized artists who are well into their career, such as James Surls, now Ai Weiwei. The second half of TAP is focused on local and regional mid-career artists who are interested in the intersection of architecture, design, and pubic space. These artists often incorporate 20th-Century technology into their artwork.
“Specific to Ai Weiwei, we reached out to the foundation in New York that is traveling this exhibition. We felt it was important to bring this artist to Houston at this point in time. Not only is he the most globally recognized contemporary artist at this time, but he has produced extremely well-crafted and thought-provoking artwork. Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is his first major outdoor public art project. After this, they go to Washington, Princeton, and they’re done.
“Visitors to Hermann Park can see them adjacent to McGovern Lake, in the heart of the park. You can see them sunrise to sunset. It’s wonderful watching people looking at them. At first, you’re drawn to the sale itself, then the sense that they’re sitting there, looking out onto the water, which is on purpose. The artist approved of the siting, even if he is not permitted to leave Beijing. He wanted these objects looking out onto the water, as they once were in Beijing. The level of detail is extraordinary. For example, with the dragon head, you can see the teeth, the tongue, the bronze hair features. Each one has a different personality. Some are very fierce, and the rabbit is almost playful. They reflect the personalities of the different zodiac signs.”
See full article in the May 2012 issue.
From the June 2012 issue.