Public art rarely expresses public feelings, but two temporary works on Houston’s streets capture the spirit of the moment with disturbing clarity. September 11 left us all shocked and horrified, but mostly wondering, searching our collective memories for precedents that could make it all make sense. Both these pieces suggest ways of looking at current events based on established models.
Richard Roederer’s piece stands in the Blossom St. Sculpture Park alongside North Shepherd drive. Two steel pillars are painted as messy flags; stars and stripes dripping with the urgency of their message: “FREEDOM KNOWS NO FEAR – REMEMBER THE ALAMO.” Whoa.
That simple piece folds so many subconsciously held ideas into one simple statement it’s difficult to know where to start. It neatly equates two fallen icons: the twin towers and the Alamo; two embattled republics: Texas and the US; and two historical periods. Whether one accepts these parallels or not is less important than the immediacy and elegance of their expression. For better or worse, it’s public art as public art ought to be, but never is: a vital expression of public sentiment.
A second, anonymous piece on the U of H campus vandalizes Stephen De Staebler‘s Winged Victory (a bronze statue outside the music school) in typical fraternity prank style, dressing the abstracted bronze figure in a Cougars jersey and adding leering jack o” lantern head. It co-opts the piece’s striding optimism and outstretched wings as embodiments of fighting team spirit. A small American flag added at the very top changes the piece’s meaning again, enlarging what was an expression of school spirit into a gesture of support and defiance on a national level.
Like the immense and spontaneous mountains of flowers which appeared after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the sprouting brooms heralding the Rockets playoff sweep, these two pieces are heartfelt and ephemeral, rare evidence of a community spirit ordinarily invisible. If only all public art could mean as much.
All images are courtesy the artists.
Bill Davenport is an artist and writer and was one of the first contributors to Glasstire.