Texas Travel

9 Great Texas Public Artworks

By Peter Simek 10.30.20

Texas’ public art is a quirky and playful mix of high- and low-brow, including works by world-renowned masters and cultish personalities. In other words, it’s a perfect reflection of the character of the state itself.

You don’t need to go to a museum to be inspired and surprised by great art. Just take a trip across Texas in search of some of its greatest works of public art, from the forests in the east to the flat plains of the west. Here are nine fabulous and inspired classics to stop at along the way.

‘Cadillac Ranch,’ Amarillo

Where else to start than the most recognizable piece of public art in Texas? The artist collective Ant Farm’s domino-like array of partially submerged Cadillacs is located near the historic path of Route 66. It has become perfectly infused with the idea of the American West and the freedom of the open road. The sagging, deteriorating tires and peculiar-angled fenders are said to be positioned at the same slope as the pyramids in Egypt. And although visitors have been defacing the piece with spray paint for years, the ever-shifting graffiti that covers the monument has become as much a part of the artwork as the Cadillacs themselves.

Texas public art Prada Marfa
David Solce

‘Prada Marfa,’ Marfa

Installed by artists Elmgreen and Dragset, Prada Marfa has been one of the most famous backdrops for Instagram shoots in Texas since 2005. Some find the sculpture to be an amusing, tongue-in-cheek wink at commodity culture, while others perceive it to be a crass totem to contemporary art’s indulgent self-absorption. No matter your opinion, there is nothing quite like encountering the surreal replica of a luxury shop smack in the middle of the flat emptiness of West Texas.

Texas public art
Cameron Durham

Twilight Epiphany, Houston

Located on the campus of Rice University, the James Turrell Twilight Epiphany Skyspace is a temple-like sculpture that hosts musical performances and classes for the university’s music students. It harnesses simple design and subtle manipulations of light to create a transcendent, otherworldly space infused with a sense of serenity and peace.

Texas public art

The Chinati Foundation, Marfa

Although Chinati is more than a work of Texas public art, tours of this minimalist pilgrimage site should be on the bucket list of every Texas art lover. Donald Judd’s monolithic concrete sculptures sit out in a field viewable from the road, right outside the little town of Marfa. Once used as a military base, Judd purchased the area because he wanted to explore how the minimal West Texas landscape could serve as the ideal setting for his particular brand of minimalism. The result is something that resonates with a mysterious and startling sense of permanence and strength.

The Lyda Hill Texas Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

‘A Tribute to Courage,’ Huntsville

Texas is big. Texas is strong. Texas is assertive. Texas is dignified. All of these qualities are expressed by David Adickes’ massive monument to Texas’ first president, Sam Houston, titled “A Tribute to Courage.” The statue stands a monumental 67 feet tall along the side of Interstate 45 in Huntsville. Passed by millions of travelers every year, it may be the most viewed piece of art in Texas — and is certainly one of the most unforgettable.

Texas public art

‘Monument Au Fantome,’ Houston

Houston is full of incredible public sculptures, but few pieces have been as warmly embraced as this whimsical and expressive work by French artist Jean Dubuffet. The colorful forms twist and bend like a massive piece of coral, or, as one Texas art writer put it, a “psychedelic Grand Canyon.” That playful quality has made the piece irresistible to children who climb on and play around it — even though touching the work is, technically speaking, not allowed.

Texas public art

‘Work No. 1357 (MOTHERS),’ Fort Worth

Like Cadillac Ranch, British artist Martin Creed’s neon sign offers a play on Texas’ deep relationship with the open road. Travelers driving past Creed’s piece — which simply spells out the word “mothers” in big, bold letters — may be confused at first by its enigmatic message. But it’s a befuddlement that plays with our expectations around public messaging and advertising, as well as, perhaps, seeking to prod an unexpected moment of self-reflection as we glide down the highway.

Texas public art
Steve Grant

‘The Dallas Piece,’ Dallas

To mark the opening of I.M. Pei’s concrete shard design for Dallas City Hall, significant mid-century British sculptor Henry Moore created this evocative biomorphic bronze called ‘Dallas Piece.’ The piece consists of two bulbous masses that twist and reach for each other longingly, playing in counterpoint with the foreboding geometry of Pei’s looming city hall.

‘With Liberty and Justice for All (A Work in Progress),’ Austin

Jim Hodges’ text-based work, which wraps around the roof line of The Contemporary in Austin, is as simple as it is provocative. The choice of words (an extract from the Pledge of Allegiance) is paired with an intriguing choice of reflective materials. During the day, the letters change colors as they reflect the movement and light in the streetscape around the museum. At night, the letters are backlit to broadcast the phrase, expressing the promise, while underscoring the fragility, of the American project.

For more Texas culture, check out the museums, exhibitions, and art galleries that tell the stories of our past, present, and future.

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