Sculpture worth visiting at Rice University

December 07, 2019

Rice University is my alma mater, and if the weather’s nice when I’m in Houston I’ll often take a walk around campus. It’s not all for nostalgia’s sake, though. Rather, Rice has really upped its sculpture game in recent years, and much of it is open to the public. Take James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace, which rises like a grassy Mayan pyramid at the end of a sycamore allee. A thin white rectangular roof floats over the mound like a hovering UFO.

If you arrive before dawn or sunset, you can walk inside the mound at ground level or up a flight of stairs just under the roof…

…seat yourself on a bench, and gaze up at the sky through a hole in the roof. Colored light washes across the white ceiling, framing the aperture to the sky, which appears to change color itself from moment to moment. It’s a hypnotic illusion of color that immerses your senses.

The show ends once the sun is up or down, so it pays to arrive well before sunrise or sunset for the full effect.

It’s a beautiful experience and totally free (closed on Tuesdays, and reservations may be required; check the website).

On a recent visit with family, we took in the sunrise Skyspace show and then walked around campus for an hour. Mirror by Jaume Plensa always draws me in for a closer look. Two faceless figures with arms wrapped around their knees sit facing each other. Their lacy bodies consist of steel letters from alphabets around the world — a modern Tower of Babel?

As with Skyspace, you’re encouraged to enter the art, and chairs inside Mirror‘s bodies offer a place to inhabit them.

Letters swirl around you like escaping thoughts you just can’t put into words.

It’s a striking sculpture and a terrific addition to campus. By the way, you’ll find another set of Plensa’s alphabetic sculptures at Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston.

Near Mirror you’ll see another floating flat white roof (not pictured), which is Brochstein Pavilion. An inviting patio off to one side features long, black water troughs with mirror-like surfaces set amid a bosque of 48 lacebark elms.

Colorful Fermob chairs and bistro tables let you sit where you like under the shade of the elms. I would have loved hanging out here when I was a student, had it existed then.

If you’re an architecture buff, you’ll also enjoy the neo-Byzantine architecture of many of the buildings on the Rice campus, as seen here in the academic quad. Rice has a beautiful campus, and it’s well worth a visit the next time you’re in Houston.

Read more posts I’ve written about Rice and public art in Houston:

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