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Hidden in plain sight: Explore Public Art at Rice

Courtesy Nash Baker “Lift” by Aurora Robson is a piece in the Rice Public Art collection that is housed in the Gibbs Recreation Center. The piece calls attention to issues of waste created by humans.

By Rohan Palavali     9/19/23 11:22pm

Art is all around us at Rice. Everyone knows about the Moody Center for the Arts or James Turrell’s Skyspace, but tucked away across the university in unsuspecting places, there is art that is sure to astound. Sometimes, it’s hidden in plain sight. Look around and you might notice pieces of one of Rice’s most ambitious art projects — Rice Public Art.

“One of the first major pieces that came to campus and was installed permanently were the Michael Heiser sculptures that sit in front of the School of Engineering, back in the 1980s,” Frauke Josenhans, a curator at the Moody Center for the Arts, said. “In 2008, several of the Rice trustees came together and resumed the conversation about public art on campus. Trustees such as Raymond Brochstein [were] really instrumental in activating the Rice Public Art Collection … that resulted in the major commission of the Skyspace by James Turrell. Since then, there have been a lot of other major acquisitions.”

The Rice Public Art collection is meant to be an addition to the cultural fabric of Rice. Josenhans said the art is intentionally placed throughout campus in places where students and faculty interact to enhance community engagement.

“We really think it’s so crucial to bring the artworks where they make an impact,” Josenhans said. “And that’s really the beauty of public art, it’s that you find these artworks in unexpected places … When you walk around the campus and you look around, you have artworks everywhere.”

These pieces are created by artists of diverse backgrounds and motives. Each one is given freedom to express themselves in a way that they see fit to create a beautiful space for their viewers.

“We really want to diversify the collection and bring new voices to this already really outstanding collection. And we feel like there are some … pieces that really define the collection on campus,” Josenhans said. “We work very closely with the different departments or locations, schools, on campus, when we choose an artist and an artwork, because it’s often a very long conversation, because there’s so many different parties involved. So, I would say it’s a multi-voice conversation that leads to the addition of new artwork.”

The Rice Public Art collection also includes temporary pieces, which Josenhans said intends to highlight different artists throughout the Houston community. 

“Every year, we commission Houston-based artists to create artworks that are then reproduced for the [PCF tents]. And that’s another instance of public art. It’s temporary,” Josenhans said. “They’re only there for a year, and then they’re replaced by something else. But it’s just as important, because it allows us to connect the Houston community with the Rice community.”

The Rice Public Art collection includes:

“Lift” by Aurora Robson (Gibbs Recreation Center)

This piece is made up of plastic and uses solar-powered motors to slowly rotate. It represents a solar system of plastic revolving around a hot ball of waste calling attention to the incredible amount of waste that humans produce.

“In Play” by Joseph Havel (Outside of the Anderson Clarke Center)

From afar, these sculptures look like simple balls of metal. As the viewer gets closer, they begin to see the folds and details that these sculptures hold. This difference in perception from different distances allows the viewer to engage with this piece in a playful way.

“Po-um (Lyric)” by Mark di Suvero (Outside of the Moody Center)

This sculpture was created to symbolize change and progress in racial equality. The piece itself moves and changes with the wind.

“Mirror” by Jaume Plensa (Outside of Herring Hall)

One of the more recognizable works on campus, this piece asks more questions than it answers. Are these figures mirroring each other, or are they distinct? What are the differences between them? This is up to the viewer to decide.

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