Arts / Museums

Houston’s Secret Underground Super Bowl Art

Historic Relic Serves as the Eerie Setting

BY // 12.09.16

One of the perks of Super Bowl LI for Houston’s visual scene — some pretty astounding public art. Cue Houston Cistern.

Opening tomorrow (Saturday, December 10), the new site-specific installation sets a high bar for the newly inaugurated arts programming of Buffalo Bayou Park. It could be the equal of Kusama this past summer or Soto in the summer of 2014 — BBP art committee co-chair Judy Nyquist describes it as “Kusama on steroids.”

In fact, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, partnered with the park on this bold new iteration of Venezuela artist Magdalena Fernández’s video 2iPM009.

But the venue — the 87,500-square-foot Houston Cistern, a brooding relic from 1926 that once contained the city’s water supply — is a first for the artist, her most ambitious project to date, and a decided break from the traditional white cube.

Rediscovered in 2010, restored by Buffalo Bayou Partnership, and opened to the public in the summer 2016, the Cistern is nothing short of heroic. The mysteriousness of the space is amplified even more by the staging of Fernández’s immersive sight-sound piece.

The 2009 work incorporates one of the artist’s signature mobile paintings channeling a rainy night, observed through a Constructivist lens — think Mondrian and late Latin American master, Joaquin Torres-Garcia. (The internationally exhibited artist’s Texas dealer, Sicardi Gallery, assisted in the installation planning; the actual video is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.) And credit MFAH director Gary Tinterow and park-and-arts patron Nancy Kinder for the vision to make the all-encompassing work a reality in record time of a matter of months.

Talk about a global collaboration: The soundtrack is collaged by Fernández from Slovenian cappella choir Perpetuum Jazzile, set to snapping, slapping, and stamping of hands and feet to evoke the rhythm of the rain. You’ll swear the thunder is real. Its presentation in this cavernous, columned space represents the ultimate melding of the industrial past and the digitized, utopian future.

There’s more going on here too — for Fernández’s “Rain” alludes to climate concerns (who doesn’t think of Houston’s terrifying flooding?) as well as the world’s dire water shortage. In the artist’s own country, the water is rationed; taps are only turned on four days a week. All this makes Fernández’s Houston Cistern installation “a symbol of survival and sustainability,” Nyquist says.

“Rain: Magdalena Fernández” at the Houston Cistern, December 10 – June 4; timed tickets, from $8 (no children under 9) at Thursdays free but reservations required.

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