Multimillion-dollar gift will bring Turrell masterpiece to Rice University
Thanks to a multimillion-dollar gift from Rice University alumna Suzanne Deal Booth, Rice will install a work by celebrated American artist James Turrell on its campus. This is the single largest gift by a Rice alum for a piece of art and another milestone in the university's $1 billion Centennial Campaign.
An initial gift from Deal Booth allowed Rice to commission the artwork last year. Turrell has submitted designs for the "skyspace," an experiential work of art that fuses light and space.
The artwork will stand in the green space in front of Rice's Shepherd School of Music. One of the most important features of the installation will be its visibility, with the site deliberately selected because of the nearby parking and the open space around it. It can be seen from some high-rises around Houston and in the Texas Medical Center.
"When I thought about making this gift, it was never a question of whether or not this art would be public," Deal Booth said. "Of course it would be public. Access to art is so important, especially at a university. I want students and the community to be able to experience this extraordinary artwork as part of their everyday life."
Rice University President David Leebron said that the artwork will attract visitors to campus and benefit the city of Houston as much as Rice.
"Art is an important part of the experience and environment we want to bring to our students, faculty and staff," he said. "Art can be uplifting and broaden your perspective. It can inspire you. This is going to be a very significant addition to the campus and important for the city of Houston."
Deal Booth sees potential too for the artwork to become iconic for the university and encourage people worldwide to visit Rice and Houston. Turrell has two other major projects in Houston -- the Quaker Meeting House and "The Light Inside," a site-specific, artificially lit, interior installation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. With the addition of Rice's naturally lit, outdoor installation, Houston will become the only city to publicly feature several types of Turrell's work. Many of his other works have been displayed around the world and reside in major museums.
"The Turrell piece will be an important artistic presence on campus and it will provide more of the kind of space we need," Leebron said. "It gives us more contemplative and reflective space. It's something that says you are welcome here. That's especially appropriate at Rice, where our campus is about contemplation and interaction."
Deal Booth envisioned such a space when she thought about what would best complement and enhance the university.
"Art is my thing – it's what motivates me and directs me," Deal Booth said. "I connect with other people through art. This gift is a culmination of many of my interests, and I hope it will inspire others as my time at Rice inspired me."
Ever since her days as a student at Rice, Deal Booth said, she has wanted to give back to the place that both stirred her passion for art and helped her earn the resources to realize it. Greatly influenced by legendary Houston art collector and philanthropist Dominique de Menil, who was then working at Rice, Deal Booth developed a deep appreciation for art preservation and philanthropy. With her recent gift, Deal Booth said she hopes to honor de Menil’s legacy and create her own.
“Suzanne has given a transformational gift to Rice,” said Molly Hubbard, university art director. “The work by James Turrell will be monumental and will greatly enhance the momentum for the Rice public art program. Suzanne is very intentional that her philanthropic gifts create lasting impact beyond a particular project.”
Deal Booth has been deeply involved in building that momentum. With her support, Rice has established a three-part collaboration with the museums of Houston: a postdoctoral program with the Museum of Fine Arts-Houston ( MFAH ); a biennial lecture series with the Menil Collection that brings top scholars to Houston to speak about their research, and funds to support small exhibitions at the MFAH that will be developed with a Rice art historian and a curator at the museum.
That collaboration contributes to the university's goal to engage more broadly with the city of Houston and also serves as a living laboratory and model for such interaction between universities and cities around the world.
Deal Booth has contributed to the Rice School of Humanities' hiring of up to nine fellows each year from MFAH's prestigious Glassell School of Art. Those fellows have taught 33 studio classes and brought fresh talent and expertise to the campus. Deal Booth also supports the Biennial Menil/Rice Lecture Series, which were organized in 2006 as a collaborative venture between the Menil Collection and Rice's Department of Art History to link the university with neighboring cultural institutions.
"All of these things, along with the solid base we've already built, make me look forward to the next 20 years of building an even more impressive art collection for the university," Hubbard said. She noted that with the 1984 granite sculpture "45-90-180" by Michael Heizer in the Engineering Quad and the Turrell piece, Rice will have artwork by arguably the two most influential Southwestern American artists.
"Suzanne's love of Rice and her commitment to Rice have helped make us a better institution, and it’s her gift and much more that made this possible," Leebron said. "We wouldn't be doing something of this scale -- we wouldn't have Turrell art -- if not for the person Suzanne is. She brings vision to everything she does and helped us define what we needed. She guided us to do something bold in the arts, not just something incremental."
A Southwesterner and native Texan, Deal Booth graduated cum laude from Rice with a B.A. in art history. Beginning at Rice by working with de Menil then earning her M.A. degree in art history and a certificate in art conservation at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, Deal Booth has made a career of preserving art and history. She has worked at such notable institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Menil Collection and, with a grant from the Smithsonian Institution, at the Museums of New Mexico. Her postgraduate fellowship, funded by the Kress Foundation, took her to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, where she restored important 20th century paintings. She then moved to Los Angeles to work at the Getty Conservation Institute and later as a consultant for the J. Paul Getty Trust.
Deal Booth and her husband, David, created the Booth Heritage Foundation, which provides many cultural activities and community services, and founded the Friends of Heritage Preservation, a nonprofit organization that responds to critical preservation needs in the U.S. and abroad. They also established the Booth Family Rome Prize Fellowship for Historic Preservation and Conservation at the American Academy in Rome. Deal Booth recently started a publishing company, Orsini Press, which published "Venus Rising" by her father, Harry William Deal. She also published an essay in the forthcoming "Art and Activism: Projects of John and Dominique de Menil" and occasionally blogs for the Huffington Post.
She serves on Rice University's Board of Trustees, on the board of directors for the Centre Pompidou Foundation, and as a board member of the American Academy in Rome, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. She also serves on the U.S. national committee on the International Council on Monuments and Sites ( US/ICOMOS ) and the Art Committee for the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.