Snapshot: Austin's Large-Scale Public Art

Exploring the big ideas behind big art installations

"As an artist, you can never imagine the many different ways people will interpret or interact with your work ... there's freedom that comes from that thought," ponders painter José Parlá, who created the wall-spanning Amistad América (above), part of UT's Landmarks series at the new Robert B. Rowling Hall. "Let's say that 4,000 people a day enter this building, and multiply that by years. The many thoughts that will maybe come out of this mural, or perhaps no thoughts at all – it's astonishing either way, right? Because I can't control it. It's out of my hands."

This mural's Jan. 26 unveiling, plus construction of the otherworldly Stickwork structures at Pease Park (opening Feb. 10 – see "Patrick Dougherty Sticks the Landing," Feb. 2), got "Snapshot" thinking: What other large-scale public art pieces in Austin evoke not just major reactions, but also interactions, due to accessibility and sheer scale? Camera in hand, the investigation began ...

On Tom Friedman’s Looking Up (2015) at the Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria, 390 x 130 x 90 in.; stainless steel (baking tins): "It forces you to do what he's doing ... so it's very effective," posits Simone Gubler (l), 32, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at UT. In line with her discipline, "It's very appealing that [the sculpture] has an aspect of wonder-personified."

On Nancy Rubins' Monochrome for Austin (2015) at the northwest corner of 24th & Speedway (UT Landmarks series); 600 x 642 x 492 in.; stainless steel and aluminum: "It almost resembles one of the trees lining this main walkway [Speedway Mall] as you're walking up," muses Ben Louie, 31, visiting from San Francisco. "If it was warmer I'd probably hang out here under its shade."

On Ai Weiwei's Forever Bicycles (2017) at Waller Creek Delta (The Contemporary Austin's Museum Without Walls Program); dimensions variable; 1,254 bicycles: "I was very curious to see if they were actually working wheels, so I gave one a little turn and it did spin," admits David Stowe, 57, visiting from Michigan. "The arch makes it inviting – a perfect kind of sculpture for this idea of a museum without walls in a place where there's thousands of people pouring by on foot and bicycle every day."

On Marc Quinn's Spiral of the Galaxy (2014) at Dell Seton Medical Center's Health Learning Building Courtyard (UT Landmarks series); 131 x 196 x 100 in.; bronze: "I think it is unconscious that when you approach this piece, the first thing you have is a curiosity of what's on the other side of it," remarks Joel Daboub, 50, director of admissions at Dell Medical School. "There's no barrier, and perhaps the scale of it, too, makes it very approachable, which brings people actually into the art. What's really joyful is watching little kids when they come play inside of it."

On Dixie Friend Gay's Nessy the Lakeness Dragon (2015) at Mueller's Lake Park (across from the Thinkery); 16 x 30 ft.; mosaic of handmade (smooth, glossy, glass) tiles: "It catches kids' attention with the colors [and textures] and seems pretty real to them," says Austin resident Lolly Olivo, 29, who frequents the park with her daughter Aaleyah (pictured). "It inspires more creativity ... keeps their brains working. When they see stuff like that, they look for more stuff like that – she wanted to come here before she wanted to go to the playground."

See more online at Want to pitch an event, happening, idea, or person for “Snapshot”? Email the author/photog: [email protected].

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public art, Amistad América, José Parlá, Robert B. Rowling Hall, Stickwork, Tom Friedman, Looking Up, Simone Gubler, Nancy Rubins, Monochrome for Austin, Ben Louie, Ai Weiwei, Forever Bicycles, The Contemporary Austin, UT Landmarks, Marc Quinn, Spiral of the Galaxy, Joel Daboub, Dixie Friend Gay, Nessy the Lakeness Dragon

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