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THERE’S AN UNDENIABLE LINK BETWEEN COLOR AND EMOTION, whether we understand it or not. Blue can be a calming presence for some, while evoking sadness in others. Warm reds, yellows, and oranges pulse with energy, while green, through no fault of its own, almost always represents envy.
Our relationship to color takes centerstage with the wildly whimsical outdoor sculptures (plus one audio soundscape) of Color Field, a traveling exhibition that has transformed a one-mile stretch of the University of Houston’s main campus into a momentary oasis of public art. It also features work from some of today’s most interesting contemporary artists.
“We have a breadth of different treatments of this singular concept, which is how they use color for a variety of different means,” Maria Gaztambide, director and curator of public art at the university. “There’s artists who are clearly concerned with sociopolitical concerns, and there’s others who are more interested in formal aspects of art.”
Color Field, which premiered at Arkansas’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art last year and remains in Houston through May 2021, is the second offering in the UH’s ambitious temporary public art program. Of course, H-Town art lovers already know the university has long been a trailblazer in the city’s growing public art scene, boasting one of the Bayou City’s oldest collections.
While Color Field is the kind of exhibition that’s worth making the drive to see up close, we get it if you’re avoiding the outside world right now. As does UH. The university has created an online supplement to its campus-wide color explosion, featuring images and recorded comments from the artists behind the works (there’s also a printable map for all you wide-eyed wanderers). It will also be hosting monthly artist talks and art-related activities throughout the exhibition’s stay in Houston.
Here are a few of our favorite sights you’ll experience at this rainbow wonderland of shape and color, whether you choose to venture out in person or embrace the color through your screen.
Back to Kansas
When MGM’s iconic The Wizard of Oz premiered in 1939, it was a cinematic revelation, setting the standard for how technicolor was used in subsequent films.
Artist Spencer Finch has tapped into the awe-inducing moment when Dorothy’s world shifts from black and white to full-on color in Back to Kansas, a billboard-like display featuring 70 individual blocks of color. Each square corresponds to a specific hue Finch spotted during his numerous viewings of the film—he’s even given them names, like “Ruby Slippers” and “poppies,” to match (view all the names and timestamps at UH’s website).
But what really takes this nostalgic piece to another level is its interactivity. Sit in front of this work for 30 minutes during sunset, and you’ll be able to relive Dorothy’s adventure down the Yellow Brick Road as the colors shift from full vibrancy to grayscale before your very eyes.
Growing up in his father’s junkyard, Nacogdoches-based sculptor Jeffie Brewer learned to spot beauty in the mundane at a young age. And he’s made a career out of that skill, taking recognizable forms and distilling them to their simplest forms before welding them out of painted steel sheets.
While the gargantuan critters that make up Brewer’s menagerie (he has six pieces in Color Field, four of them creatures) are as delightfully fun as they are irreverently playful, one stands out from the pack. From its squiggly head to the two-tone blues of its body, PoP, which was first created as part of the sculptor’s monsters series five years ago, looks like it sprang right out of a child’s drawing of their imaginary friend. Good luck capturing all of this not-so-scary fellow in your selfie, though. It’s a whopping 12 feet tall.
Created in response to the separation of migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, Odili Donald Odita’s flags examine the socio-political dynamics of immigration in 21st-century America. Instead of sticking with the red, white, and blue of the American flag, Odita, himself an immigrant from Nigeria, added in complementary colors of green, black, and orange to highlight how differences both enhance and contrast each other, much like the various races, ethnicities, and religions that exist in our great melting pot of a country do.
Odita’s 13 20-f00t-tall flagpoles—one to represent each of the U.S.’s original colonies— have been placed along the pathway leading up to the UH’s E. Cullen Building, requiring participants to walk directly under them and confront their own role in these conversations about immigration and what it means to be an American.
Both of Sam Falls’s pieces in Color Field reference his background in photography in a wholly interactive way, but there’s something about being able to physically climb inside Untitled (Maze) that makes it even more special.
Using brightly colored panels, some of which have been coated in light- and heat-sensitive paint and are covered in carefully placed incisions (called apertures, get it?), Falls transforms light into both a medium and component in artwork. As the sun shifts throughout the day, those rays of light shift the color on the walls, creating a photogram, a photographic image made by exposing photosensitive material to light without a camera. And you can become part of the photo by exploring the nooks and crannies created by its colored panels.
Thru May 2021. Free (groups limited to 10 and under; reservation required). University of Houston, 3333 Cullen Blvd. More info and reservations eventbrite.com.