What’s the Matter with Rice? Part 3

VIDEO ABOVE and IMAGE BELOW of Art Barn demolition by Tish Stringer.


Not much to add to Drexel Turner’s remarks in Molly Glentzer’s postmortem on the now-demolished Art Barn at Rice University:

Drexel Turner, a visiting assistant professor of architecture at the University of Houston and a former curator of architectural projects for the Menil Collection, was also angry.

“The philistines have won again. It seems so gratuitous, even arrogant,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense at all … Those buildings really belonged there; they represented a bright moment in Rice’s history.”

The companion Rice Media Center, built in 1970, is not being demolished; it still houses the department of visual arts.

Turner doesn’t believe there’s much point in saving the metal panels. “The value is not just in the pieces but in how they fit together. Even the forecourt was a precocious element, an inspired gesture,” he said.

In 1987, when the university carved out classrooms for continuing education programs inside the once wide-open interior and rechristened it the Martel Center, part of an original architectural promenade was removed. “They’ve been clueless a long time,” Turner said.

Ah, Rice. Ah, Houston. Of course, as I wrote when it looked like there was hope the former Rice Museum would be merely removed instead of demolished, this sorry episode raises questions about the status of visual-arts faculty and students at Rice:

I’m not surprised Turner brought up the Media Center, which the visual and dramatic arts department currently occupies, and which is also rumored to be on the chopping block. Removing, rather than demolishing, its companion piece rather than letting the arts department use it for studios and exhibition space hardly alleviates those concerns, especially given the arts department’s ambiguous status as “primary minority stakeholders” in the planned Moody Center for the Arts. On the other hand, the center sounds great for the art history department, which will deepen its collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in ways that should prove exciting. But the art history department has a doctoral program after landing a $10 million grant; the visual and dramatic arts program doesn’t even have a master’s degree.

It’s enough to make you wonder if Rice, our finest institution of higher learning, is no more enlightened about art than the rest of city, and for that matter the culture at large. Does it value art when it’s used to decorate the campus and attract prestige and funding, but not so much when it comes to supporting and teaching its art students? Will the arts department have to find a way to become a profit center to maintain a viable presence on campus?

The only possible answer I can think of is that maybe Rice wants to outsource its visual arts program to the Glassell School. Maybe the plan is that Rice art students would take their liberal arts and science courses on campus, but take their art-making elsewhere?

Or maybe, as is so often the case in Houston, there is no plan. Whatever the case, the Art Barn is gone; long live the Art Barn. Tish Stringer has mesmerizing Vines of the destruction here.