Insider tips: See the massive art collection at Houston’s George Bush International Airport

Jan 9, 2022

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Sprawling George Bush International Airport (IAH), located about 23 miles north of downtown Houston, served more than 45 million passengers in 2019 (pre-pandemic), and with Houston’s Hobby Airport it is home to one of the largest collections of public art in Texas.

Selections from the more than 350-piece collection can be found in every terminal at IAH airport and in some ‘hidden’ locations. During a recent layover at IAH, I joined Alton DuLaney, Director and Curator of the Public Art Program for the Houston Airport System, on a fast-paced tour of the collection. Here are some of the highlights and insider tips he shared.

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Curator Alton DuLaney with reporter Harriet Baskas.
Curator Alton DuLaney with reporter Harriet Baskas. (Photo courtesy Houston Airports)

Our tour began in Terminal C, which features 34 works of art by Houston artists acquired and installed in 2019 thanks to a partnership with United Airlines. Stop one was at a piece titled World Map, Houston Nexus, by Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin.

World Map, Houston Nexus by Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin. (Photo courtesy of Houston Airports)

“Their work traditionally explores places of historical significance to the gay liberation movement across the United States,” says DuLaney, “and this piece was created specifically for the airport. So, they started in Houston’s gay neighborhood – Montrose – and spent thousands of hours on the layered and hand-cut maps in the piece.”

Parade of Art Cars- by Robyn Sanders
Parade of Art Cars by Robynn Sanders. (Photo courtesy of Houston Airports)

We motored over to Parade of Art Cars by local art car painter Robynn Sanders. Houston hosts one the country’s largest art car parades, and for this installation Sanders has painted the side panels of a Ford-150 Truck, a Mini Cooper, a Mustang Convertible and a Porsche 911. “It doesn’t get more Houston than the art car parade,” says DuLaney. “And this piece really encapsulates a Houston moment for passengers.”

The Sky Once Choked With Stars Will Slowly Darken. By Dario Robelto
The Sky, Once Choked With Stars, Will Slowly Darken by Dario Robleto. (Photo courtesy of Houston Airports)

This set of eight photo-based works by San Antonio-born Harvard and MIT lecturer Dario Robleto references art, space and rock ‘n’ roll culture. “The work has a double meaning,” explains DuLaney. “The images are actually altered photographs and are the night sky after the stars have faded. He uses album covers with bands that have recorded live albums. Then he goes in and photoshops out the bands and the instruments so that all that’s left are the stage lights.”

Anat Ronen - The Great Blue 2019. Artwork at IAH
The Great Blue by Anat Ronen. Artwork at IAH. (Photo courtesy of Houston Airports)

The Great Blue is by Houston artist Anat Ronen, who has painted large murals of wildlife throughout the city. “This an oversized painting of a blue heron, a bird that is indigenous to the region,” notes DuLaney. “It has the Houston skyline and the bayou behind it, and is one of the ‘hidden’ Houston pieces passengers will see only if they use the connector tunnel to walk between Terminals C and B.

Also in the tunnel, is a series of eight large-format photographs of Texas landscapes by renowned photographer and Rice University Professor Geoff Winningham. “They are all contemporary works of different areas around Houston, but they seem really timeless,” says DuLaney.

Greetings from Houston - by Daniel Anguilu and Frank Nathan
Greetings from Houston by Daniel Anguilu and Frank Nathan. (Photo courtesy of Houston Airports)

The colorful, 45-foot-long selfie-friendly Greetings from Houston mural by Daniel Anguilu and Frank Nathan greets passengers in Terminal A North. Created over two days in 2020, the mural includes symbolism referencing the Texas flag, an airplane, the state of Texas (with a drop of oil) and birds representing flight.

 Quest by Bert L. Long Jr
Quest by Bert L. Long, Jr. (Photo courtesy of Houston Airports)

In the quiet Terminal A Connector Gallery there are 20 vitrines filled with new and existing artwork from the collection. One vitrine displays Quest, by Houston’s Bert L. Long, Jr.,  an offbeat assemblage of travel-related items.  Another vitrine displays Fiesta Dancers by Luis Jimenez, paired with High Flying by Larry Schuekler. “Both sculptures explore the joy of dance from two different cultural perspectives,” says DuLaney.

Fiesta Dancers by Latino artist Luis Jimenez along side High Flying by Larry Schuekler
Fiesta Dancers by Latino artist Luis Jimenez alongside High Flying by Larry Schuekler. (Photo courtesy of Houston Airports)

As our tour ends, DuLaney shares two bonus insider tips for art fans. One is the 25-foot-tall bronze cast of an oak tree in Terminal A. The work, titled Countree Music, is by artist and singer-songwriter Terry Allen and was one of the first works purchased for the City of Houston Public Art Collection back in 1999.

Countree Music by Terry Allen
Countree Music by Terry Allen. (Photo courtesy of Houston Airports)

The Countree Music tree sits on a terrazzo floor that depicts a map showing Houston as the center of the world. And if you stop and listen, you’ll hear selections from an original soundtrack of 16 songs recorded by Allen with the help of various musicians including David Byrne from the Talking Heads.

To reach the final stop of our art tour of IAH, DuLaney leads us to an elevator in the back of the Duty Free shop in Terminal D, which gives us access to the ‘hidden’ Mezzanine Gallery in the hallway outside the Amex Centurion Lounge. “The gallery features nearly 20 paintings by some of Texas’ most talented artists, and it is a great place to hang out and enjoy art in a quiet and leisurely atmosphere,” says DuLaney.

Terminal D hidden art gallery
The Terminal D hidden art gallery. (Photo courtesy of Houston Airports)

The Houston Airports collection of artworks by Texas artists is growing. In August 2021, Houston Airports and the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) announced the purchase of 74 additional pieces. Most have already been installed, and several larger artworks have been commissioned and are being created.

Featured image courtesy of Houston Airports.

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