random thoughts: on art, art collecting, & las alas de la ciudad

When I was a very young kid, one summer my parents left my sister and me with our grandparents while they took a vacation to Europe.  When they returned, one of the souvenirs they brought for me was a book of Renoir paintings.  I became intrigued with the artist and his paintings, but when I learned how much they were worth, I became convinced that art was, inevitably, for the wealthy.  So while my passion for art was ignited at a young age (and continued during university, where, despite my engineering major, I took every art history class my university had to offer), I always assumed that art was for people with far more money than I would ever have.  The only way to see "real art," I believed, was to go to a museum. 

My thinking about art changed many years after university, when I visited a colleague of mine in her tiny bungalow.  Every wall of her house was filled with the most beautiful, original art.  I asked her where she purchased them, and if she'd done a lot of research on the artists or artistic genres before buying.

"Oh, God, no.  I just buy art whenever I travel for work," she said.  She was an account manager for our company, and traveled constantly.  "I buy it as my souvenir from any new place that I visit.  And I don't really worry about making sure it's expensive enough to be considered 'good art,'  of if it's by some major or up-and-coming artist, or even if it's a good investment value.  I don't have a clue if people who actually know about art would approve of what I buy.  I just buy whatever I like.  Once in a while I buy art from a gallery, but to be honest, I'm just as likely to buy something from a street artist or a gift shop."

It was at that point that I decided that I too would start collecting, and now, our house is filled with original art.  Occasionally we've splurged, but most of the time we've followed our friend's advice, and simply bought what we've loved -- often street art, or from gift or souvenir shops from places we've visited.  We have pieces that were gifts from artistic friends.  I've purchased inexpensive art from Etsy.  Marcus is an artist, so we have several of his works on our walls.  And we even have a few pieces that were created by Alex when she was very young, and had them framed and hung. 

And so, my beliefs around art have definitely changed:  art should be for everyone, man.  Not just wealthy collectors, and certainly not found only in museums.  Who cares if someone doesn't think your art is worth anything? If you love it, regardless of the price tag, or how well-known the artist is, it's awesome.

It occurs to me that if you want to go somewhere to look at art, often the only places to do so are museums and galleries, ones that only house the most expensive and famous of art.  I hate this:  I hate the idea of art being inaccessible to folks who might feel uncomfortable browsing a posh, snooty gallery or who can't afford a museum membership.  I loathe the concept of art being in any way "exclusive."  And for this reason, of late, I've become particularly intrigued with public installations:  I love the concept of art created specifically for everyone to enjoy, appreciate and interact with; art specifically created to engage all members of the public, and not just avid art appreciators or collectors.

There's a very cool public installation going on right now in downtown Houston, Las Alas De La Ciudad ("The Wings of the City").  The sculptures, created by famed Mexican artist Jorge Marín, are placed all around Discovery Green, where families from all over the city come to hang out, play, and just enjoy each other's company.  Marcus, Alex and I decided to go out this weekend and see the sculptures.  They were amazing, ranging from the weird ...

... to the loving ...

... to the downright creepy.

I loved the art, but even more, I loved watching all of the families -- folks from infancy to the elderly -- slowly making their ways around the sculptures, pointing and talking about their impressions in languages from all parts of the world.  So awesome.

But the best part?  The one sculpture that was, in effect, an interactive exhibit, allowing you to become a "celestial" part of the sculpture.

For example, it was easy for Alex to tap into her inner archangel ...

... and even Marcus looked vaguely cherubic ...

... despite the fact that the wings looked like they were coming out of his bum.

(This, friends, is the downside of being 6'5".)



If you're in Houston, go check out the exhibit at Discovery Green.  These beautiful sculptures will remain on display until February 8, 2014.


Song:  Fly away by Lenny Kravitz