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María C. Gaztambide, Ph.D., the new director and chief curator for Public Art of the University of Houston System, poses in front of Dorothy Hood's The Angel's Key in the Wortham Theater lobby at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.
María C. Gaztambide, Ph.D., the new director and chief curator for Public Art of the University of Houston System, poses in front of Dorothy Hood's The Angel's Key in the Wortham Theater lobby at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.
Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

UH System's Head Honcho for Public Art Vows to Make Works More Accessible

María C. Gaztambide, Ph.D., the new director and chief curator for Public Art of the University of Houston System, won't be embarking on any major shopping trips, at least not yet. A moratorium on commissions remains in effect for at least one more year, but that isn't stopping Dr. Gaztambide from introducing new initiatives that make UH System's almost 700 objects more accessible to Houstonians.

She will oversee permanent and temporary objects and installations at all five campuses: central, UH - Clear Lake, UH - Downtown, UH - Victoria and Victoria's Katy campus.

"Mike [Guidry] will continue to do the excellent work that he’s been doing for the past 13 years managing the pressing day to day and logistical parts of managing such an interesting collection," says Gaztambide.

First up is the September unveiling of a new hanging glass sculpture by Texas artist Margo Sawyer at UH - Victoria. "That commission went through before a three-year moratorium was imposed from our chancellor," says Gaztambide, adding that she'll use this time for conservation — some works need to be preserved and re-sited — and to think more critically about the collection.

Carlos Cruz-Diez's “Double Physichromie" is a serpentine-like sculpture that first debuted in 2009. It has been moved to a more central location and landscaping will be completed before its official unveiling in October.
Carlos Cruz-Diez's “Double Physichromie" is a serpentine-like sculpture that first debuted in 2009. It has been moved to a more central location and landscaping will be completed before its official unveiling in October.
Rendering courtesy of Public Art of the University of Houston System

In October the landscaping will be complete for the new home of Carlos Cruz-Diez's "Double Physichromie," the 65-foot-long striated sculpture that seems to change color and shape as viewers move around it. The 2,000-piece aluminum and steel optical illusion has been moved to a green space that is central to the UH Arts District, near the College of Technology and Graduate College of Social Work buildings.

The First Friday tours also are gearing back up for the October-May season. "We're putting together a roster of new and interesting guides, bringing fresh perspectives, some even from outside the University," says Gaztambide, adding that the tours will occur at all five campuses.

Wilhelmina Grove, which debuted in UH's Arts District in 2014 and connects principal arts venues at the central campus — Blaffer Art Museum, Moores Opera House, Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts — is the site of a new initiative that kicks off in January.

"We see the physical space as the actual gateway for public art across central campus. Starting in January of 2019, which happens to be [Public Art's] 50th year anniversary, we’re going to begin a program for temporary public art installations," she says, adding that UH System began implementing the Texas Legislature's “Percent For Art” program in 1969, devoting one percent of new campus construction and a half percent of remodeling projects for public art.

"It would be useful for the community at large to know what my view of public art is because this whole definition of what consitutes public art has been changing over the years," says Gaztambide, adding that it will make more sense down the road when new commissions are initiated. "For me it comprises any artistic gesture, in any media, that’s installed in a publicly accessible space. Indoors or out. What’s important is that it’s experienced by multiple audiences."

Furthering that mission is something that levels the playing field when it comes to other gallery spaces around town: free parking. "[At central campus] we have a number of parking spaces reserved for our visitors," says Gaztambide. "If they want to come out for a tour or to join us individually. So their visit is made a little more seamless. We do realize that parking at the University is sometimes seen as an impediment; we’re trying to alleviate that."

For new temporary installations that are mobile, she's also looking at touring those works among the five campuses so that all students will have the opportunity to see and engage with the contemporary works.

Gaztambide's bucket list includes enhancing the relatively new Public Art website, adding images and details for highlighted objects within the collection, including works by Cruz-Diez, Andy Warhol, Dorothy Hood and Frank Stella. She'll draw on her 13 years of experience at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where she served as associate director of the International Center for Arts of the Americas.

For more information about Public Art of the University of Houston System, visit publicartuhs.org.

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