The other day, I received a Rice University news release in my inbox with the title: “Rice University launches public art initiative […]”
Really? Launches public art initiative? Whatever could it be? Maybe Rice was launching a 50,000 watt transmission of musical genres and styles that cannot be heard anywhere else on the local spectrum? Wait, Rice already does that. It is called KTRU. And what could be more artsy than the eclectic and unique songs that would fill the KTRU repertoire?
But apparently, Rice thinks that three random works around campus is public art. The works aren’t bad, but I question how public they are. Parking at Rice is difficult enough, even for those of us who know the campus. And thanks to the changes in parking policy, there is not even free parking on campus. On the other hand, KTRU is available to anyone with an FM radio.
Indeed, while these installations may be nice, they are quite limited.
Charles Mary Kubricht thinks of the Rice campus as some sort of “tree museum.” These four panels, according to the Rice press release, “reflect her interest in how humans actively create and measure experience, perception, meaning and the fate of the natural environment.”
At the rate things are going, Rice will be a museum for student expression, and unqiue and local art. Perhaps in 50 years, someone will have an installation of photographs documenting the glory of local programming and the grand history of KTRU.
But at least that one is in the Brochstein Pavilion, which is reasonably easy to find and access. Not so much can be said for the second work:
This looks kinda cool, is apparently supposed to create “a sense of the ‘cosmic and astronomical’ among the daily regimen of bench presses and treadmills,” in the Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center. That is nice, but it is even less accessible to the public than the previous work. This ball hangs from the ceiling of the new Rec Center, which is limited to members of the Rice community. So while “faculty, staff and retirees, and graduate students of Rice University as well […] their spouse/domestic partner[s]” may enjoy this dangling décollage, the rest of the public will have to catch glimpses through the window as they run the outer loop.
And speaking of glimpsing through the window, the final work:
The non-repetition inherent in this work [edit: which resides in the BioScience Research Collaborative] certainly is an artistic marvel. However, Rice claims that it is a public work because people can see it through a window. University Art Director Molly Hubbard calls it a new era of public art “outside the hedges.”Apparently a work inside a building that you can see through the window is “outside the hedges.” But you know what else at Rice provided art for the Houston community outside the hedges? KTRU. And while Radiant Pathway is only on from 7 a.m. until midnight, KTRU transmits 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While Rice claims to launch a public art initiative, it does so while eliminating one of the best sources of free, easy to access, public art in the city of Houston: KTRU Rice radio.
I do not like it when people accuse various politicians or institutions as being Orwellian. It is usually used in the sense of someone saying something that means the exact other. For example, the Healthy Forests Initiative allowed for private logging companies to cut down trees. It is probably more accurate to claim such actions are Doublespeak, or merely simple politicking. If you are doing one thing that people don’t like, claim you are doing the exact opposite.
Or course, jokes about the Orwellian nature of the Rice administration are no new thing (pdf: Rice Thresher Orwellian Cartoon):
So if 91.7 FM turns to classical music, which you can already get on 88.7 FM, and that source of unique, eclectic musical art from Houston and around the world goes silent, don’t worry: Rice is launching a public art initiative by placing three works of art on its campus.
And that totally balances out.