Perhaps on the sound economic theory that if you count the pennies the dollars will take care of themselves, Fred Malek, great friend of George Bush, added interior design and art connoisseurship to his duties as director of the economic summit, now underway at Rice University in Houston.

Four works by well-known Texas artists -- two west Texas landscapes of "Big Bend," a fiberglass coyote called "Howl" and a photomontage, "Owl Paints Elephant" -- were removed from the premises being used by delegates.

The artworks were replaced by a painting called "Prelude of Spring" by Hans Hoffman (owned by a local collector) in the Plenary Room, and three Frederic Remington bronze cowboy sculptures and two summit flags flanking a flower arrangement in other rooms, said Malek.

"After the original selection was in place, I asked Peter Marzio, the art director of Houston Museums {and former Corcoran Gallery of Art director} to pick a work with an international flavor for the room where all the delegates would meet. Hoffman was born in Germany, studied art in Paris and then, in 1914, moved to New York. So he seemed appropriate."

Malek denied he had said anything derogatory about the art. "I liked the landscapes," he added, though the Houston Chronicle yesterday said Malek deemed them "amateur." The Big Bend paintings are by Earl Staley, the 1982 winner of the Prix de Rome and former Rice University art department chairman.

Malek said he had the bulky coyote sculpture by Luis Jimenez removed "because it was in a corridor, right where someone turning the corner could bump into it." As for the photomontage of the elephant and the owl by MANUAL (the collaborators Ed Hill and Suzanne Bloom), well, he said he never saw that one, or asked for its removal.

Angie Patton, the University of Houston art professor who was the consultant who gathered together the works, said: "We are proud of what we did. The art is very innocuous -- a wide range of representational and abstract works. We selected and borrowed 200 pieces of art in just 10 weeks. So I don't suppose it's so bad that they objected to a few. I wasn't there at the time, but I was told the four pieces 'didn't seem right' and they would prefer something else. Fred Malek is the head of the whole summit, so he had the right to make any change he wanted to."

Malek, who took time out from the economic summit meetings to be conciliatory about his changes, said, "I was thrilled that 190 pieces of the art were by Texas artists who are world leaders in art. We are proud of the result."

Patton said that she and the firm of PDR (Planning, Design and Research), hired to do the interior design for the offices and meeting rooms being used, "didn't want to use art as decoration. Some of the most important individuals in the world are here in Houston. We saw the selection of the art as an opportunity to show these people, who have seen the great art of the world, that no matter what their preconceived views as to what Texas art is, we have artists of international class. We thought that more hospitable than just using art they expected to see. And we thought that quality art would facilitate negotiations. "

As for another change, George Rupp, president of Rice University, said that the removal of Barcelona chairs and a bench by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was at the direction of "a White House staffer. But I had said earlier I thought they really didn't go with the traditional paneling, columns and furniture in the room."

One Houston painter, who didn't want to be named, said all the controversy today about art was surprising. "I always thought artists were harmless people, like accordion players."