Thumb's Up

How very un-Houston. There's construction going on near Allen's Landing on Commerce Street, and it doesn't have much to do with commerce. The folks at the Buffalo Bayou Art Park will be showcasing the work of eight different contemporary sculptors for an exhibition called "In Situ," which will be inexorably altering the urban landscape for the next full year.

The irony of putting a purely aesthetic project in urban-renewal-happy downtown Houston is anything but lost on artist Wyatt Nash. His frozen-in-action Wrecking Ball captures that magic moment right before the old gives way to the new. "Wyatt's piece is really emblematic of the way the city approaches progress," says BBAP's Kevin Jeffries. "Just knock it all down and pretend it never existed."

The artists were asked to consider the physical and historical natures of the site while constructing their pieces. For instance, at some point in the distant past, a giant crouching, carnivorous feline might have been a common sight on the landing, but chances are it wouldn't have been composed of retooled scrap metal. Wendy Klemperer's Predator Cat and Deer evokes that earlier time while commenting on the hard-edged march of civilization and the dangerous waste it leaves in its wake.

And on the other end of the faux-wildlife spectrum, Betsy Odom's whimsically creepy Safety Squirrels uses a unique feature to draw attention to its bushy-tailed animals. "Every park has squirrels," says Jeffries. "Betsy's just happen to be covered in reflective tape."

The skyline is the subject of Jason Villegas's bizarre, satirical Confectionary Business Tower, a mini-skyscraper in the shape of a multi-tiered cake; at its base is a hesitant businessman preparing to ascend its lofty, sugar-filled heights.

Local commercial history is brought to life in the supine palm trees of Paradise Imports by Kayte Young. "It's really about the way Houston in its early days sort of sold itself to itself," observes Jeffries. "I mean, those things don't grow here naturally."

All this and more is set to be unveiled in a gala ceremony on Friday, October 8, when gawkers can check out the artists' work. A DJ will be on hand, and performance artist Vicki Fowler will do her thing. As if all this weren't enough, when the sun sets, Microcinema International will transform the wall of the Sunset Coffee Building into a monstrous outdoor movie screen. A few short-subject pieces from their archives will be shown, followed by a screening of 1964's The Pink Panther, starring dearly departed genius comedian Peter Sellers.

But for all the slapstick, navel-gazing, whimsy and social comment on display, it's a giant thumbprint that's destined to dominate the landing over the next 12 months. Haden Garrett's straightforward, evocative Thumb takes the most commonplace of identifying features and enlarges it to an overwhelming degree. "It poses a lot of questions about what we stand for," Jeffries says. "And the intriguing part is, the bigger the print gets, the more nuances you can see." You can glance back and forth between the circular etchings on your own digit and Garrett's mammoth reproduction in the park and ponder your place in the universe. Heavy, man.

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Scott Faingold