Public art honors Hermann Park centennial
Hermann Park is undergoing a quite unconventional transformation. A giant, beautiful maze constructed from saplings seems to have recently sprouted out of the ground near the Japanese Garden. By the Museum of Natural History, a 13-foot-tall red orb appears to hover elegantly a few inches above the ground.
These two pieces, created by world-renowned artists Patrick Dougherty and Yvonne Domenge, respectively, are part of a massive project launched by the Hermann Park Conservancy to celebrate Hermann Park's 100-year anniversary. The initiative, which will bring nine total pieces of public art to Hermann Park by the end of the year, is intended to encourage Houstonians and tourists alike to come to the park and gain exposure to art in a comfortable, accessible setting.
Doreen Stoller, the executive director of the Hermann Park Conservatory, said she believes the project is a way to commemorate the park's centennial while introducing art to its visitors.
"Hermann Park is turning 100 years old, and as everyone at Rice knows, this is something worth celebrating," Stoller said. "Along with this, bringing art into the park accomplishes two goals: Great art can change the way people view the park, but also, since Hermann Park is more accessible than a museum, having remarkable art here encourages people to come out and explore art in a comfortable setting."
Judy Nyquist, co-chair of the Art in the Park planning and fundraising committee, said the idea behind the project is to make art more accessible.
"We liked the idea of someone wandering through the park and encountering this strange, novel object that invites him or her to contemplate it," Nyquist said. "It's a safe, eye-opening context for a child to encounter art for the first time and feel that it's very accessible."
The nine contemporary art pieces were chosen by an expert team comprised of art professionals and donors. Lea Weingarten, head of Weingarten Art Group, an art consulting company hired to help with the selection process, is part of this committee. Weingarten said the group wanted the pieces to come from a wide range of artists and to be upbeat and family-friendly.
"The tenants of the park are design, community, family, and history, and when we were looking at different artists, we added the word 'delight,'" Weingarten said. "We wanted the pieces to be appealing to children and others who may have never been exposed to art before."
Nyquist said it was also important to the selection committee that the different pieces represent Houston's diversity.
"We had to understand our audience," Nyquist said. "We have six million visitors to the park every year from very diverse backgrounds - different ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic classes, etc. So it was very important to select pieces that appeal to people of all nationalities, from all geographic locations."
Weingarten and Nyquist said one piece that reflects this theme is the contemporary red orb designed by Mexican artist Yvonne Domenge. Another is a pink, bulbous, organic installation proposed by Canadian artist Sharon Engelstein.
Nyquist said the artists designing the installations come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some are highly regarded local artists, such as Trenton Doyle Hancock, while others, such as Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, are famous internationally.
"The project's not only local, and it's not only national," Nyquist said. "There were artists from all across the world who were excited about this project and wanted to participate. Many loved the idea of working in Hermann Park because of the potential audience, the way the park has been updated and maintained, and the enthusiasm about the project."
Weingarten said the pieces will stay in the park for different periods of time. Some will be permanent, others are on loan or temporary fixtures.
Nyquist said the total cost of the project is $1 million and the money is being collected strictly through fundraising efforts. Donations come from a variety of sources within the Houston community, including individual donors, Houston-based foundations and corporations.
"Art doesn't come cheap, especially at this quality," Nyquist said. "However, we have a very generous philanthropic community here. Fundraising is an ongoing process, and it takes a combination of all these different sources to meet our goal."
In addition, Saxe and Nyquist said how generous those involved in the project have been. Saxe said Houston residents put in over 1,000 volunteer hours to help construct Patrick Dougherty's piece.
"The slots to volunteer to help with Patrick [Dougherty]'s piece were filled within two days," Nyquist said. "The artist himself was amazed by the enthusiasm, and the volunteer element gave Houston participants a sense of ownership of the project."
Weingarten also said that many of the artists themselves waived fees or were very generous with their pay scales.
"The artists were incredibly generous," Weingarten said. "They really wanted to be a part of this project and give back to the park."
Nyquist and Stoller said their greatest hope is that the project brings people out to Hermann Park and that it will encourage them to acquaint or reacquaint themselves with great art. In particular, they said that they hope Rice students will cross the street to engage with the project.
"This is all a testament to the community's dedication to the park," Nyquist said. "We would love Rice students to enjoy Hermann Park; it's a wonderful amenity most university students don't have access to. It's an extension of the campus, and we want the arts and the other improvements to be something that the Rice community can feel comfortable
To donate to "Art in the Park" or find more information, please visit hermannpark.org/art_in_the_park.
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