Convention Center Art Commission Still Alive (For Now)

Last week, the Houston Arts Alliance told sculptor Ed Wilson that his million-dollar commission had been withdrawn. After a high-profile resignation, the HAA now says the project is still under consideration.

By Michael Hardy November 25, 2014

Artist's rendering of new George R. Brown Convention Center lobby

Contrary to some media reports, local sculptor Ed Wilson’s major commission for the renovated George R. Brown Convention Center lobby has not been rejected. According to the Houston Arts Alliance, which managed the selection process for the $830,000 commission, Wilson’s proposal is the only one currently under discussion. HAA Director of Communications Marie Jacinto said that the proposal still needs to be vetted by several stakeholders, including the HAA’s Civic Art Committee and the Houston First Corporation, which manages the convention center. (Wilson may be best known for creating the giant metal sculpture shaped like a paper airplane that was displayed on the Heights Boulevard esplanade earlier this year.)

In September, Wilson’s proposal for a 60- by 30-foot hanging steel sculpture was unanimously chosen by a five-member selection committee organized by the HAA. Last week, however, someone from the HAA contacted Wilson to inform him that the commission had been withdrawn. In protest, Matthew Lennon, HAA’s director of civic art and design, announced his resignation on Saturday. (Yesterday the HAA announced that local art consultant Sara Kellner will replace Lennon.) Lennon’s resignation letter, which was obtained by online magazine Glasstire, complains that the HAA was subverting the selection committee’s work:

To undermine a process that has served HAA well, to denigrate local art professionals and belittle local talent—no matter how cleverly masked—is not the job of the CAC [Civic Art Committee]. … Ed was selected unanimously by a blind vote. Derailing that process is naïve and insults everyone engaged. Depriving Ed Wilson of his commission is unethical.

According to the HAA’s Jacinto, the whole thing was a misunderstanding. “It was premature that Mr. Wilson was contacted,” Jacinto told me. “We’re still going through the procedure and process and the whole protocol. It’s unfortunate that Matthew resigned.” Why was Wilson told that his commission had been withdrawn? “I really don’t know,” Jacinto replied. When I asked whether Wilson’s proposal could still be rejected, she said that she “can’t guess the future,” but that his proposal is currently the only one under consideration. (Wilson and Lennon did not respond to a request for comment.) 

Well-known local art conservator Jill Whitten was one of the five members of the committee that selected Wilson’s proposal. She told me that she was surprised and disappointed to learn that the commission had apparently been withdrawn. “We were charged with selecting an artwork for a specific space, in a specific building, and we picked the piece that we thought would enliven that space,” she said. “We didn’t base it on a person or an existing body of work. We based it on the proposals.” 

According to the HAA, the sculpture—whatever it ends up being—is scheduled to be installed in the new lobby of the George R. Brown Convention Center in November 2015.


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