New Commission by Leo Villareal Opens at University of Houston’s College of Medicine

by Jessica Fuentes October 22, 2022

After announcing the temporary installation Folly, by Jorge Pardo earlier this month, Public Art of the University of Houston System (Public Art UHS) has also announced the commission of a permanent sculpture by Leo Villareal.  

Raised in El Paso and currently living and working in New York City, Mr. Villareal received the 2017 Texas Medal of Arts and has exhibited his light works across the state, including at the El Paso Museum of Art, the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University in Houston, Ballroom Marfa, the Dallas Cowboys Headquarters in Frisco, and the NorthPark Center in Dallas. His work is in permanent collections such as the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, Kansas; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York; The Museum of Modern Art in New York; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; and Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum in Kagawa, Japan.

A digital rendering of a large-scale light installation by Leo Villareal.

Rendering of “Light Matrix (Houston)” by Leo Villareal for the University of Houston’s Medical College.

Mr. Villareal’s site-specific installation, Light Matrix (Houston), was commissioned for the University of Houston’s new building for the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine, which opens October 26, 2022. According to the Public Art UHS website, the piece is “composed of 3,960 individually-programmable, monochromatic LED nodes contained within 90 mirrored stainless steel rods.” 

Regarding the installation, Mr. Villareal told Glasstire, “I’ve been working with these Light Matrix pieces for a while now in different configurations and styles. We thought this could work with a lot of ambient light and we also wanted to figure out another layer to the work in that a surface is emitting light, but it’s also reflecting light… it takes in the environment and reflects and distorts it.”

While there is not a direct relationship between the piece and its setting within UH’s College of Medicine, Mr. Villareal did state that he sees a connection between working in pixels — the lowest level of technological image production — and cells within the field of science and medicine. He also shared that in general, his work is inspired by Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo, who often explore the cosmos in their work. Mr. Villareal sees his installations as a contemporary take on a mural, using technology and light.

Light Matrix (Houston) will be the subject of Public Art UHS’ Friday Focus Tour on November 4, 2022 from noon – 1 pm. Learn more about this free program and register at the Public Art UHS website.

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