This week, Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez brings his Kinetic Art sensibilities to the streets of Houston, transforming the crosswalks that connect the central campus buildings of the MFAH
with an optical grid of "zebra" stripes. The artist generously donated one of his original concepts to the MFAH, which calls for the streets themselves to be used as a canvas; a lead gift to help fund the project has been given by prominent Latin American art collectors Leslie and Brad Bucher; Brad also serves as an MFAH trustee. The project is slated for completion by Saturday, June 6 to coincide with the 2009 Latin American Experience Gala and Auction and the preview of North Looks South, an exhibition showcasing key works from the museum´s permanent collection of Latin American art that opens Sunday. The street installation is one of a series that Cruz-Diez has installed in major cities around the world since the 1960s. Houston is the first city in the United States to install one of the artist´s crosswalk projects.
"We´re enormously grateful to Carlos Cruz-Diez for committing this project to the MFAH and Houston, and Andy Icken, Deputy Director of the City of Houston, who helped with the process," commented Dr. Peter C. Marzio, MFAH director. "It´s a wonderful symbol of the MFAH´s Latin American program, and an effort, simply, to make the public spaces near the museum reflect what´s inside."
"One intention of Cruz-Diez´s street art is to spontaneously engage the public with aspects of the urban environment that might normally be taken for granted," added Mari Carmen Ramirez, the MFAH´s Wortham Curator of Latin American Art and Director of the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA). "Pedestrians and motorists passing by the museum on their usual routes will find themselves re-examining their habitual surroundings."
"This installation will enliven an important part of the landscape of the Museum District, and designate it as a special place in Houston for the arts," commented Gwendolyn Goffe, Associate Director of the MFAH and Chair, board of directors, South Main Alliance.
Striping Unlimited, supervised by W.S. Bellows Construction Corporation, will follow the artist´s design, painting five crosswalks. The Foundation has designed the crosswalks in three color palates: green and orange with a black diagonal, blue and orange with a black diagonal, and green and blue with a black diagonal. All of the crosswalks will have 12-inch-wide white, reflective stripes incorporated into the design, as required by transportation laws. The black lines create the impression of movement. Working within city regulations, the painting will take place over the course of five nights. One lane of traffic per crosswalk, per night, will be closed, allowing the street painters to complete their job on time and with minimal traffic disruption.
Four crosswalks will link the intersections of Main Street and Binz/Bissonnet. The fifth will connect the Museum parking lot on Bissonnet Street to the front entrance of the Caroline Wiess Law Building. Photographs of the crosswalks being installed will be updated daily; visit www.mfah.org to follow the installation´s progress.
One of Cruz-Diez´s lifelong concerns has been the integration of the work of art into the community or the habitat as a way of engendering unprecedented events in constant mutation. Commenting on the street as support for an art event, Cruz-Diez has observed, "The works I make for the urban environment and the habitat are conceived as plastic discourses generated in time and space, while creating ´situations´ and ´chromatic events,´ and modifying the dialectic between the viewer and the work."
Cruz-Diez (b. 1923) is an internationally renowned artist who has built his life´s work around experiments with color and innovative media and supports that go beyond the traditional notion of painting or sculpture. In Cruz-Diez´s work, color is projected into space by means of the active viewer, who completes the work through his physical movement. Cruz-Diez first attracted critical attention as part of the group of the so-called "cinéticos"the group of Venezuelan kinetic artists that included Jesús Rafael Soto and Alejandro Otero. Yet, his work with color transcended the activities of this group, leading to a major, original contribution to 20th-century art. Cruz-Diez´s work is in dozens of public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Tate Modern Gallery, London; Museum of Modern Art of Latin America, Washington, D.C.; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Museo de Arte Moderno, Bogota; and the Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro.
The MFAH has a special relationship with the Cruz-Diez Foundation, which was established in Houston in 2006 to promote the work of the artist and to stimulate experimental work in cutting-edge media by young emerging artists. Through the Latin American Art Department´s Partners-in-Art Program, over seventy works documenting the trajectory of the artist´s pioneering experiments with color and movement since the 1950s are already on long-term loan to the MFAH. These will be complemented by a comprehensive collection of works on paper and a series of large-scale projects specially conceived for the MFAH. A selection of the works on loan as well as other pieces by Cruz-Diez in the museum´s collection will be on view in the upcoming North Looks South: Building the Latin American Art Collection. The museum is also working on the first large-scale career retrospective of the artist scheduled for December 2010.