Let’s Talk: Gallery Teaching and Conversations about Art

Villinski_Passage

Paul Villinski, Passage, 2011, Salvaged wood, found aluminum cans, wire, soot, and steel, Courtesy of the artist and Morgan Lehman Gallery.

It’s been almost a year, but I still remember how nervous I was on that morning last September when I led my first gallery visit for Art Central, the Blanton’s multi-visit education program developed in partnership with AISD. It felt like the butterflies from Paul Villinski’s Passage had invaded my stomach, bringing nausea and anxiousness with them. I had already finished a year of my M.A. program in Art History by the day of my first tour, so I was fairly confident in my ability to effectively present my ideas to a group of my peers, but Art Central is a program for fourth and fifth grade school groups. I was acutely aware that speaking to a group of nine year olds about art would be a much different exercise than doing the same with a class of art history graduate students.

My mind raced with terrifying thoughts:

“What if they think the art is boring?”
“What if they think I’m boring?”
“What if I ruin museums for them for the rest of their lives?”

I felt so much pressure to be a teacher, but at the same time, I was not entirely sure what it really meant to be a teacher in the art museum.

Despite my fears that first morning, I successfully led three groups of fifteen students each through the Blanton. My tours were far from flawless, but I made it through them and realized that while I had a great deal to learn about gallery teaching, I also had the ability and the desire to do so.

Each new tour that I gave was a learning experience and soon I began to develop a teaching philosophy based on the idea that teaching should not mean lecturing or knowing all the answers. Ray Williams, Director of Education at the Blanton, had emphasized this idea from my first day on the job, but I needed to have some tours under my belt before I was able to completely grasp the importance of speaking with my tour groups, not to them.

Matias Duville,

Matias Duville, Espiritú guardián, 2008, acrylic on board, Susman Collection, 2008.

The value of this approach to art museum education hit home for me during a discussion about the painting Espiritu guardian [Guardian Spirit] by Matias Duville. The work is quite large (91 in. x 144 in.) and striking in its chaotic composition, but I am ashamed to admit that before Andrea [Saenz Williams], educator and head of school and teacher programs at the Blanton, pointed out its potential for a gallery lesson, I had never really considered it carefully. Thankfully, at Andrea’s suggestion, I used it in my next tour and the discussion was nothing short of exciting. Not only were the students fascinated by the curious scene before them, they were also incredibly observant, wanting to make sense of the seemingly discordant parts of the painting. In our discussion, I found that the students were able to see things in the painting that I had never noticed. In other words, I was the teacher, but I was also the student.

Conversations like this one have taught me what I did not fully understand on that first day of teaching: When people are invited to share their observations about a work of art, they encourage others, including myself, to consider a different perspective, and more often than not, taking a different point of view results in finding something new and exciting. Effective teaching in the art museum means facilitating the visitor’s experience, not directing it.

Sarah teaching in the galleries

Sarah teaching in the galleries

Now, ten months after my first gallery lesson, I’ve led over 75 tours and though I still have a tremendous amount to learn about art museum education, I do feel confident enough in what I’ve already learned to leave you with a suggestion. The next time you find yourself with some free time, I encourage you to go to the Blanton with a few companions, walk upstairs, and stand in front of Espiritu Guardian and pose the following prompt: “Let’s take a moment to look at this work. Think about what you see and, after a minute of observation, let’s talk.”

I have a feeling you’ll learn something.

- Sarah Abare

Sarah worked as Graduate Teaching Fellow at the Blanton during the 2013-2014 school year.  She graduated with her Master’s in Art History from the University of Texas in May 2014 and will be starting as the Administrative Coordinator for the Education Department at the Blanton next month.

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George Gershwin In An Imaginary Concert Hall

Blanton volunteer Ray McLeod shares his research into one of the most popular works hanging in our galleries, David Alfaro Siqueiros’ portrait of musician George Gershwin, a painting on long-term loan from the Harry Ransom Center.

George Gershwin

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Portrait of George Gershwin in a Concert Hall, 1936, oil on canvas, 66 7/8 x 90 5/8 in., Long-term loan from the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

American composer George Gershwin went to Mexico in 1935 and met Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. As Siqueiros and Gershwin got to know each other better, they realized how much they had in common.  For one thing, they both experienced a sensory phenomenon called synesthesia—when one type of sensation produces a stimulation of another.  When Gershwin viewed a Siqueiros painting, he heard sounds made by the colors, and when Siqueiros listened to a Gershwin melody, he could see colors produced by the music. On a visit to New York City, Siqueiros painted George’s portrait, now hanging in the Blanton Museum on loan from the Harry Ransom Center.  What was originally intended to be a simple portrait turned into a concert scene with members of Gershwin’s family and close friends depicted in the front rows, including Siqueiros.  Siqueiros also painted the frame, with the colors bleeding from the canvas onto the frame.  Along the bottom edge of the frame are small nameplates identifying the viewers who George wanted to be in attendance in the imaginary concert.

The Faces on the Left Side

photo 1

From the left, on the front row, are Siqueiros, Mabel Schirmer, Mr. and Mrs. Leo Godowsky, Jr., Gregory Zilboorg, Mrs. and Mr. Ira Gershwin, and Leo Godowsky.  On the second row, at the left-hand end is Oscar Levant, and the third person from the left is Harry Botkin.  All were important figures in George Gershwin’s life for various reasons.   David Siqueiros, known for painting murals with social themes, developed a personal commitment to protecting the rights of the oppressed.  A member of the Communist Party, in 1938 he went to Spain to join the Republican Army and fight Francisco Franco.  Two years later he was arrested in Mexico for an attempted assassination of Leon Trotsky, a Russian Marxist who was a guest of Diego Rivera’s. In 1951 Siqueiros won second prize for foreign artists at the 25th Venice Biennial, and in 1967 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. Next to Siquieros is Mabel Schirmer, of the G. Schirmer sheet music printing business, who helped George buy taxi horns like those he had heard in Paris and then used in composing “An American in Paris.” Leopold Godowsky, an inventor of such products as Kodachrome film was also a gifted pianist, composer and teacher, known as “a pianist for pianists.”   Dr. Gregory Zilboorg was a psychoanalyst whose patients included Kay Swift, Lillian Hellman, Marshall Field, and George Gershwin.  Ira Gershwin is famous for collaborating with his younger brother to write some of the most popular Broadway music, including “Embraceable You.”  Ira was the lyricist and George was the composer.  Oscar Levant, another famous musician and composer is represented in the painting along with George’s cousin Henry Botkin, the person who suggested that George contact Mexican painters when he went to Mexico in 1935.

The Faces on the Right Side

photo 2

Across the aisle are Gershwin’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Morris Gershwin, George’s older brother Arthur, Mrs. and Mr. Louis M. Paley, Kay Swift, and William Merrigan Daly. Mr. and Mrs. Morris Gershwin, were originally from St. Petersburg, Russia and immigrated to the United States in the late 19th century. They bought a used piano for eldest son Ira’s practice but George, at age twelve, couldn’t resist playing it. Arthur Gershwin, George’s brother, was not a musician and would introduce himself as the “unknown Gershwin.”  Mr. and Mrs. Louis M. Paley were both Gershwin supporters. She was the Gershwin boys’ younger sister and gave George the novel Porgy, which stimulated him to compose the opera Porgy and Bess.  Her husband, Lou Paley, was a lyricist who collaborated with both George and Ira during their early careers.

Kay Swift and George Gershwin 

Kay Swift was the most important woman in George’s life other than his mother.  George and Kay were romantically involved for about ten years. Kay made her own name in show business, being the first woman to score a complete musical.  She also wrote the music for “Can’t We Be Friends?” and “Can This Be Love?”  Proof that she was directly involved with George’s work appears in the form of her handwriting on some of his music, including Porgy and BessWilliam Merrigan Daly was a composer who helped George on many projects, including Concerto in F, possibly the music that George played in the concert that Siqueiros painted.  Max Dreyfus, a music publisher, hired George in 1918 to write songs.  The pay was $35 a week.  His first hit was “Swanee,” which became an Al Jolson standard.

A few years after the painting was complete, George began having dizzy spells and headaches.  He had an operation for a brain tumor but died the next day on July 11, 1937 at the age of 38. After his death, George received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” which he had composed with Ira.  The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to both George and Ira in 1985. The only other songwriters to be so recognized were George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, and Harry Chapin. Gershwin’s legacy lives on in both his music, and through Siqueiros’ portrait.

Ray McLeod, Blanton Museum of Art Volunteer

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Artist Claude van Lingen on Art of the Moment

Austin Artist of the Year and Blanton volunteer Claude van Lingen traces how artists have been influenced by the ideologies and technologies of their time from the Impressionism to Contemporary art movements.

“Call that art?” “My child can do better!”

Exclamations such as these have reverberated ever since the Impressionists first exhibited their work.

Frederic Emile Jean Baptiste Ragot

Frederic Emile Jean Baptiste Ragot, French Landscape, not dated, oil on canvas, Gift of Latane Temple, 1985.

The question is often, “Why do artists create strange work?” The answer: adventurous artists do not work in an accepted style but develop new ideas within the philosophy and zeitgeist of the times in which they live, a concept—central to the creative process—that is not stressed in most books or classrooms.

Impressionism came about because of changed thinking inspired by the French and Industrial Revolutions, technological innovations such as the camera, train travel, and paint tubes, and new ideas about light and color. The Impressionists revolted against the rules of the Academy (a national organization that controlled the art world) and wished to paint daily life with the speed of the camera rather than subjects, such as ancient Greek myths, that were favored by the Academy. Critics and the public alike ridiculed their subject matter and use of brilliant color and quick, visible brush strokes—an attitude difficult to comprehend today.

Max Weber

Max Weber, New York at Night, 1915, oil on canvas, Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1991.

Around the beginning of the 20th century, inventions such as flight, the automobile, the electric light bulb, the X ray, telephone, radio, movies, the elevator, and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity changed the concept of space and time for everyone. In keeping with these new technologies, and in contrast to photographs and perspective renderings (the representation of objects from a single point of view at a single moment in time) the Cubists painted objects seen from different points of view at different moments in time. This method comes naturally to art created by children and to all cultures before the discovery of the rules of perspective during the Renaissance. In contrast to the perspective-type vision of the right brain, it is the way in which the left brain perceives reality. As Picasso said, “I draw what I know, not what I see.”

Theosophy (with its teaching that all major religions have at their core the same basic beliefs and that their different offshoots added details to suit their needs) led artist Piet Mondrian to remove all recognizable details from his work and search for the core truths in art. Although ridiculed at the time, Mondrian’s ideas permeate our lives to this day. His influence can be seen in modern architecture, furniture, and interior and graphic design.

Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell, Rock Bottom, 1960-61, oil on canvas, Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1991.

In the WWI era, artists reacted against the war by forming the anti-establishment Dada movement. Freud’s ideas about the subconscious were the source for Surrealism. Dada and Surrealism’s ideas about chance and the subconscious, combined with post WWII Existentialism, underlay Abstract Expressionism. In turn, the products of our consumerist society became the “landscape” within which Pop Art flourished.

Today, for many reasons, individuality is paramount. Therefore, contemporary artists find something to say or do and use or develop the means most appropriate for communicating their ideas, whether those means be sharks, digital media, army tanks, blood, bottle tops—whatever.

The lesson is this: to begin to understand what any artwork is about, one has to research the philosophy of the times and delve into the artist’s background to discover what he or she is trying to communicate—even if it’s a realistic still-life painting. Understanding contemporary art is not always easy, even for those who are well versed in the history of art, but it can always be interesting.

- Claude van Lingen, Blanton Volunteer and Austin Artist of the Year

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Curiosity Unbound: Docent Training at the Blanton

Storytime tour at the Blanton

Luz Marie joined the Blanton Docent Program in September 2013, and now regularly leads school groups and Spanish/bi-lingual guided visits in the galleries. Here, she leads Storytime in the summer’s special exhibition, In the Company of Cats and Dogs. (Photo by Jerri Starbuck, 2014.)

Annually, hundreds of groups comprised of K-12 schools, community organizations, and university classes visit the Blanton. We hope these visitors come with a measure of curiosity and a desire to explore, and we expect them to leave changed in some way, perhaps possessing a better understanding of themselves and others, inspired by the limitless possibilities of human creativity on view in the galleries. This thirst for exploration is nurtured by the Blanton’s volunteer docents, a fantastic group which includes artists, educators, business professionals, students, faculty members, mothers, fathers—women and men representing the surrounding, vibrant Austin city area. Here at the Blanton, docents are teachers who generously give of their time to help visitors enjoy a meaningful experience, and the galleries are classrooms, where each work of art has the potential show us something new about the world, each other, and ourselves.

Throughout the academic year, Blanton docents participate in continuous training to prepare them for working with the broad range of groups who visit the museum. Between one and two sessions are scheduled monthly, covering topics such as teaching methods for school groups, led by our Museum Educator for K12 Audiences Andrea Saenz Williams, and special exhibition training for new shows at the museum, such as In the Company of Cats and Dogs, led on June 23rd by curator Francesca Consagra and graduate intern Douglas Cushing. In keeping with the model we promote for group visitors—that the best learning happens in front of the works of art—we host as many of our training sessions in the galleries as possible.

To give us a more personal insight into the process of docent training at the Blanton, Iris Cahill, Coordinator of Docents and Tours, asked three of our newest docents who recently underwent a rigorous year of preparation between September 2013 and May 2014 to share some of their thoughts.

Jeannie, Blanton DocentJeannie:

One of my goals in retirement was to be a Blanton docent so I could combine my passion for teaching with my love of art.  However, just because I’m a teacher by training and I love art didn’t immediately change me in to a docent who could conduct a tour.  That took the Blanton’s talented education staff.  Our training, which is ongoing, is interesting and always thought provoking.  My favorite training takes place in the galleries where we can sit in front of a work and drink it in. We learn about the art itself while also exploring techniques that teach us and our audiences to look deeply, responding to the art without demanding a specific answer.  Because of these techniques, my viewing of art has changed, becoming deeper and more rewarding for me, and I try to pass that along to the groups I take on tours.

I give tours to all age groups.  My favorites are the school children because they tend to ask more questions than adults.  This summer I’ve done Storytime with younger children, which is an interesting challenge because the books that are used have to be loosely matched to a work of art.  The big thing I’ve learned while working with younger children is they are quite accepting of abstract art and love to look at the colors and brushstrokes in the paintings.  Each tour, no matter what age, is always different, many times rewarding and usually fun.

Rosie, Blanton DocentRosie:

I love art.  I enjoy the docent program because of the opportunity it affords me to interact with others surrounding works of art. I am most appreciative of the opportunity to glean knowledge from the tours that are led by the curators at the Blanton Museum.  Initially, my most memorable experience and favored exhibition was Lifelike.  Now, my favorite has changed.  It changed because of the tour of In the Company of Cats and Dogs.  This training session, led by curator Francesca Consagra, was exceptional and most memorable.  She uses a beautiful technique that lulls you while she is speaking.  Her narrative gives you the sensation that she is caressing the works as she engages and interacts with the audience while discussing a selected piece of art. After she moves to another piece of art, I am left savoring the prior discussion while I attempt to absorb all of the information that she has provided. I am sure that I am not the only trainee who longs to mature to the level of Francesca in discussing art.

The group training sessions are an asset to the program. I am particularly fond of the in-gallery sessions because they are fun and thought provoking.  I very much enjoy the research pursuit while preparing for a tour as well as completing the tour outline.  I feel a sense of accomplishment when I lead a successful tour, and I appreciate the support, the understanding, and the availability of the managers and of the directors for this program during our training challenges.  It is hard to believe that in September, we will have participated in this program for one year. I am so proud that many of us have led many tours.  We appreciate that the management have enough faith in us to allow us to transition through our own metamorphosis.

Michele:

It seemed only natural for me to be interested in becoming a docent. I enjoy people and love art. I was delighted when I was selected to be in the 2013 training program at the Blanton.

The training involves learning about the collection from the knowledgeable curators. We regularly have great lectures about various works of art in the collection and from special exhibits. We each do our own research from the resource room organized just for docents. This room is full of books and papers written by curators and past docents about the works owned by the Blanton.

The education staff has taught us many things, one of them is how to address groups of adults and children using current techniques, like visual thinking skills. It has been really fulfilling to engage the children in a conversation about art using this technique. I was amazed at how many school groups and summer programs tour the Blanton.

There is great support from the experienced docents and we newbies help each other when we can.  I always look forward to my assignments and training sessions. This has been a wonderful experience for me.

For more information on the Blanton docent program or to schedule a guided visit, please contact tours@blantonmuseum.org.

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Branding Between Mountains and Sea: Arts of the Ancient Andes

The first encounter visitors have with Blanton exhibitions often occurs well before our shows even open. For each exhibition, a look or “graphic identity” is developed to help set the tone of what visitors will find in the galleries. Used on our website, on signage on the side of our building and around Austin, in advertisements, and elsewhere, the graphic identity provides context for each presentation and is an important component for engaging our audiences. How are these graphic identities created? Blanton Graphic Designer Meredith Word explains the process:

Between Mountains and SeaEvery new exhibition at the Blanton brings with it the welcome challenge of designing a graphic identity to help brand the exhibition and convey the scope of the artworks included. Each logotype has to be able to function across multiple platforms: for promotional purposes in print collateral, web ads, and signage, and internally as the primary component of the gallery graphics.

My standard approach begins with an overview of the object checklist to get a sense of the tone of the collection of work. Next I delve into a little historical research, looking for any hints of typographic style. I am a sucker for typography and can spend an irrational amount of time admiring and drawing inspiration from fonts, logos, packaging, hand-painted signs, menus, movie credits, you name it. Needless to say, given that no written language existed in the Andes until after the Spanish conquest in 1532 there was not much to draw from typographically for Between Mountains and Sea. But the abundance of stylistic elements exemplified in these artifacts and the mammoth geoglyphs known as the Nazca lines pointed to block-style lettering, primitive but precise. Kimberley Black, a free font available on dafont.com, ended up working surprisingly well despite the fact that it was based on corporate/industrial logotypes from the 1970s–although maybe that makes it an appropriate fit for an ancient culture renowned for their technological achievements!

Andes title graphicsFrom the outset I imagined some kind of geometric icon needed to be incorporated into the design. Guest curator Dr. Kimberly Jones suggested using a step and volute, which functioned as an iconic element for the North coast of Peru and is believed to symbolize the intrinsic connection between the mountains and sea—the perfect symbol to illustrate the title of the exhibition. Usually comprised of three ‘steps’ that culminate in a scroll or ‘volute’ which curls back over the top step, the icon appears in various configurations painted on ceramics and woven into textiles by the Moche and Chimu. Using various examples as a template I refined the step and volute to reflect characteristics of the type, and inserted it as bookends to the subtitle. Finally, taking into consideration the limited but rich palette of earthy reds, yellows, and oranges, a color palette was chosen to enhance the logotype and complement the objects on view in the exhibition.

We invite you to see how Meredith’s designs augment this special exhibition by visiting Between Mountains and Sea: Arts of the Ancient Andes, on view through August 17.

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Austin’s Cats and Dogs

As part of our new exhibition, In the Company of Cats and Dogs, we invited Austinites to submit photos of their kitties and pooches to be included in a slideshow alongside the works of art in the exhibit. The response has been incredible, with over 150 submissions to date, underscoring how animal-friendly Austin is! Although we couldn’t include stories of the animals on the slideshow, we wanted to highlight a few that were submitted. For this installment of the blog, we will focus on dogs, but a blog dedicated to cat stories we’ve received will be coming up soon!

BorrisThis is Boris, who was found nine years ago, living on the streets in downtown Austin. He had heart worms and a bad skin condition when I found him, so it took about 3-4 months to nurse him back to health, then we spent about a year training and getting ready for therapy dog work. I’ve had him over nine years, and he’s still going strong. He’s one of the mellowest Chihuahuas ever. This photo, taken in his Bouldin Creek neighborhood, shows that he still has undeniable street cred. - Joyce Bertolacini

CassidyThis is a picture of “Hop a Long” Cassidy, my beloved, magical, 3 legged wonderdog.  She lives in South Austin with my wife, Amy Davis, and me, in the Western Trails neighborhood.  She’s slowing down a bit in her old age, but she’s a courageous dog who loves to play and swim and go for walks on the greenbelt, despite having to put in a little extra effort because of the missing front leg. – Jason Steans

Photo by Oscar Ricardo Silva

Photo by Oscar Ricardo Silva

This photo is of my husband, Joel Chapman, our chocolate lab, Muddy, and our German Shepherd, Reba. It was taken by our friend Oscar Ricardo Silva in 2011 at Red Bud Isle. About a week before this photo was taken, we’d learned that Muddy had cancer, and it had metastasized. So Oscar, who IS NOT a morning person, met us at Red Bed at 7:00 on Labor Day to do photos with us. This is one of my very favorite photos for so many reasons, but mostly because how I remember how much we all loved one another, and Oscar captured that. – Erin Randall

BrunoOur 1-year old Viszla, Bruno (yes, Mars) loves to chase model airplanes in Zilker park, play keep-away, and generally be adorable :-)  - Britt Menendez

Want your cat or dog to be part of this slideshow? Email catsanddogs@blantonmuseum.org with a photo of your kitty or pooch (include yourself, if you want) along with your pet’s name and neighborhood or hometown. High-res files preferred, but cell phone photos work, too! The slideshow is updated weekly, so keep checking back throughout the exhibition to see your pet!

In the Company of Cats and Dogs is on view through September 21, 2014.

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An Interview with Peter Stopschinski, curator of Beat the Rush

Composer and musician Peter Stopschinski is the current curator of Beat the Rush, the Blanton’s innovative monthly music series held as part of Third Thursday programming. In a recent interview with Adam Bennett, the museum’s manager of public programs, Peter discussed his ideas for the series and his interests in art and music:

Peter Stopschinski. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Peter Stopschinski. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Q: What are you looking for when you select performers for Beat the Rush?

A: I’m trying to find a wide variety of musicians and music to present that reflects the diversity of art in the museum as well as the diversity of music and musicians in Austin.  Within this eclectic mix I’m looking for musicians that are inspired by extra-musical ideas: cinema, art, poetry, performance.  Many musicians play music but there is a smaller sub-category of musicians to which music plays a central role, but is not the entire story of their creative impetus.

This fall we will present a world premiere harp concerto, the scathing and twisted blues-rock of Churchwood, the cinematic instrumental music of Justin Sherburn (who is the pianist in Okkervil River), choral wonders from Convergence and Texas Choral Consort. Also the striking sounds of Line Upon Line percussion.

Q: Who else are you looking forward to hearing at the Blanton?

I invited Datri Bean, who’s the leader of Minor Mishap Marching Band, to play some of her solo work. Minor Mishap is inspired by New Orleans and Balkan brass bands, but they really shred and create events rather than just concerts. Datri has a million other musical outlets which get less attention than the Minor Mishap explosions of costume and raucous music, so I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us! And I am always happy to see what my friend Graham Reynolds is up to.  Guaranteed it will be exciting and beautiful and his knowledge and relationship with visual art is incomparable.  I could keep going.  I really can’t wait to see all of these shows.  I chose them all so it’s the perfect series for me!

Q: You’re premiering your harp concerto this month at the Blanton. I know it’s written for a larger ensemble, so how is it going to be different during Beat the Rush?

A: It went through several different versions to get to this point.  It was initially conceived as a string quartet with piano and electronics and premiered by the Tosca String Quartet at a Golden Hornet Project show at Lamberts here in Austin.  Next I created a solo piano version to perform by myself.  Then I took the slow movement and built an entire five-movement symphony that premiered alongside Graham Reynolds’ Difference Engine Triple Concerto and Jonny Greenwood’s Popcorn Superhet Receiver. This was at a Golden Hornet Project concert which won the Austin Critic’s Table award for Best Symphonic Performance in 2012.

Elaine Barber, Harpist

Elaine Barber, Harpist

So it was in this symphonic version of the piece, which was then titled Rough Night with Happy Ending that I first introduced the harp.  Elaine Barber, harpist from the Austin Symphony, agreed to play the part and at the concert we decided to put her in the front of the orchestra instead of behind the strings which is where the harp usually lives.  Up to this point the harp played a supporting role but by physically putting her in front of the orchestra I began to see how the harp was really the spirit of the piece. Then last year Elaine submitted Rough Night to the American Harp Society who agreed to feature the piece at this year’s American Harp Society Orchestra Gala Night in New Orleans and Elaine and I began to really beef up the harp part and create an entirely new version of this music in which the harp played the lead role.  As we worked on this Harp Concerto with Orchestra we also created a version for piano and harp that we could perform as a duo.

Q: I love hearing about how many different permutations a single piece can have. I know that piece on your last album (Now Would Be a Good Time) and can’t imagine how it will sound for only harp and piano. One last question: what’s your favorite style of art?

Dallas Chaos II

Peter Dean, Dallas Chaos II, 1982, oil on canvas, Gift of Lorraine Dean and Gregory Dean, 1994.

My taste in visual art varies; there’s no one style or artist that I love above all the others. I have a special attraction to Bosch and Dali. I was never a huge fan of Picasso and I always wondered why. The most “blown away” I’ve ever been by a painting was a Chuck Close self portrait. At the Blanton I am continually impressed by Luis Jiménez’s Border Crossing, the crazy painting of Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald [Peter Dean's Dallas Chaos II], and I’ve recently found myself loving the non-conformity of the medieval stuff in the permanent collection.

Peter Stopschinski performs at Beat the Rush tonight at the Blanton at 5:30 PM.

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Francesca Consagra on In the Company of Cats and Dogs

Hiroaki

Takahashi Hiroaki (Shotei), Published by Fusui Gabo,
Cat Prowling Around a Staked Tomato Plant, 1931
Woodblock print, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Gift of Stephanie Hamilton in memory of Leslie A. Hamilton

To introduce our new exhibition,  In the Company of Cats and Dogs, curator Francesca Consagra shares a preview of the show and what visitors can expect to encounter.

This week, our exhibition In the Company of Cats and Dogs opens and it provides a wonderful opportunity: the enjoyment of looking at amazing works of art depicting cats and dogs by such important artists as Louise Bourgeois, Pieter Brueghel, Albrecht Durer, Paul Gauguin, Francisco Goya, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Pablo Picasso, Jan Weenix, and Andrew Wyeth. Also on display are beautiful works from Ancient Egypt, third-century China and Mexico, and some of YouTube’s most popular cat videos. That is a surprising mix, no? It is because we want to explore the profoundly different ways that people have perceived and interacted with cats and dogs, and how these attitudes have changed over time.

As the curator of the exhibition, I encourage you to look closely at the art, to read the labels and wall texts, and to listen to the audio guide in the hopes that you will begin to think more about the roles that cats and dogs play in your own life and culture.  We collaborated with faculty and students at the University of Texas at Austin, who study the interactions between human and non-human animals. The exhibition’s wall texts, audio guide, and labels discuss a wide range of topics, including the psychological, cultural, and biological underpinnings of human attachments to cats and dogs, to which the artists themselves may have been responding.

David Bates

David Bates, The Whittler, 1983, Oil on canvas, Michener Acquisitions Fund, 1983.

Some works in the exhibition, for instance, demonstrate anthropomorphism, the desire to give human form and characteristics to objects and animals. They also reveal a tendency to associate cats with women and dogs with men, and the inclination to connect these two animals with the beginning and the end of human life. We discuss how the rise of Christianity ushered in an era of unusual suspicion and the maltreatment of cats and dogs up until the thirteenth century.  Then, dogs began to be rendered more as loyal companions, healers, and signifiers of a person’s high moral and social status. Cats, on the other hand, remained mostly symbols of evil, cruelty, and sin in European art well into the eighteenth century. We also consider how the empathy-governing hormone oxytocin is produced in response to contact with our companion animals. When you pet your dog, a recent study concluded, both human and animal oxytocin levels increase, and numerous works in the exhibition offer a glimpse into the empathy and affection that the artists themselves felt for their cats and dogs.

Near the end of the exhibition, you will find a resource room organized by Ray Williams, Director of Education and Academic Affairs. This room features a slideshow of Austin’s pets, children’s books, and other readings that may help you think about pet ownership and care. The Blanton has also organized some great events, so keep an eye on the museum’s Facebook and Twitter pages for announcements throughout the summer.

We look forward to seeing you soon!

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We love our Members!

Membership Appreciation MonthWith free admission, member-only tours and events, and exclusive previews of new exhibitions, membership at the Blanton offers some of the finest cultural experiences in Austin! While we love all our visitors, June is Member Appreciation Month at the museum: a time when we extend a special thank you to all of our members for their generous support and friendship! To celebrate, we’re offering extra special member perks all month long.

Are you looking for an enjoyable evening out?  Come to B scene: Blue Hawaii on Friday, June 20.  Guests will dance to the hot tunes of Dalevis (Dale Watson’s Elvis-inspired alter ego), enjoy a cash bar with specialty cocktails, snack on yummy bites like Elvis’ favorite peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich, and much more! And Blanton Members will have extra special perks at the event, including an exclusive outdoor member lounge, complete with special seating, light bites, a private cash bar, and an art activity just for them.  Plus, B scene is now always free for members!

Members at the BlantonDo you have kids or grandkids that are looking for fun, creative activities in a cool setting?  Join a Storytime Tour or stop by the WorkLAB, the museum’s open studio ensured to inspire all art enthusiasts.  We’re also showing several family-friendly movies in the auditorium this summer.

Want to learn more about the art on view at the museum? While we offer weekly tours, members can beat the crowds and take part in a Member Tour of the new summer exhibition, In the Company of Cats and Dogs.  Organized by the Blanton, this exhibition takes a multifaceted look at our relationship with felines and canines through the ages.

Have company visiting this summer?  The Blanton is a perfect place to beat the heat! Members enjoy special Friends and Family Fridays, where they’re invited to bring unlimited additional guests for free general admission every Friday in June.

Blanton MembershipAll of these activities are free for Blanton members.  For a complete list of programs and events be sure to look at the Summer Calendar of Events for dates, times, and descriptions.

Not a member yet… but want to be one?  You are in luck.  We have a special, limited-time offer going on right now.  Joining is easy!

Thank you, again, members, for all you do to support the Blanton.

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WorkLAB Satellites: An Interview with Artist Leslie Mutchler

To further its efforts to serve as a hub for inspiration and site for creativity, the Blanton has commissioned artist Leslie Mutchler to create new works of art to be used as creativity stations within the museum. Titled WorkLAB Satellites,the 40 x 90 inch mobile and flatpack workstations will supplement the Blanton’s WorkLab program—a series of open studio experiences offered to children and their families each summer.

Photo by Deborah Cannon for Austin360

Leslie Mutchler in front of the WorkLAB Satellites. Photo by Deborah Cannon for Austin360

Cut from birch plywood on a CNC router, each of the workstations is designed to be configured and reconfigured in a multitude of ways; changing the look of the work environment in conjunction with new projects. Window-like openings will enable visitors of all ages to engage in conversation as they create.  The stations will be stocked with everyday materials such as tape, paper, pencils, stencils and chipboard. Simple directives in English and Spanish will offer instruction for creating paper sculpture, collage and weaving, among other projects.

To introduce the project, we sat down with Leslie to interview her about her creative process and how WorkLAB Satellites came to be.

How did the idea for these creativity stations originate? What drew you to collaborating with the Blanton on this project?

For the last six years, my work has become more and more participatory. I installed a project titled tumblrEAL at Gensler Global Architecture in Austin in the spring of 2012. The project consisted of cardboard (temporary) furniture (shelving, sawhorses, and wall frames) that housed a large assortment of digitally printed images sourced from my personal tumblr site. I installed the project as a way to give the architects at Gensler (sitting behind computers and surrounded by gray cubicles) something visually striking to look at and also something to physically engage in. All of the prints were hole punched and could be easy moved from one location to another, providing endless ways in which an interested viewer could sort through and curate visual information. This level of participation has been increasingly more important in my work in the last few years as I am invested in collaboration and the notion of flux within my work. In late 2012 I developed TrendFACTORY as a production-based participatory project, in which I ask the audience to make three-dimensional forms from printed and pre-scored chipboard using limited materials and tools. I provide the maker with simple instructions and ask that the final object be documented (by the use of a smartphone or camera) and uploaded to an online archive.

Ray Williams, Director of Education and Academic Affairs at the Blanton Museum, approached me in the late spring of 2013, after he had seen TrendFACTORY at the Visual Art Center on UT Campus. He and I talked at length about the project, our interests in creating a work space for people to make and share with one another, and thus he asked me if I was interested in proposing a similar project to the Blanton, but on a larger scale. I was thrilled to engage in such a challenge- and we were off and running.

Can you explain the significance of the name “WorkLAB Satellites?” What do you hope to connote with this title?

I think there is a common misconception that an artist spends time in their studio messing around in hopes that something good might come from the time spent. While play is an important aspect of the artist’s studio practice more important is the notion of work. When I go to my studio, I work. I read, I research, I study materials and processes, I calculate and imagine outcomes and most importantly I work hard to design and create installations or projects that will invite a particular response and read from my viewer. In short- working in my studio is work. It’s the work that I’m most happy to engage in, but it’s work none-the-less. The word “lab” is in reference to the idea of the laboratory- or a place where experimentation and play takes place.

The word “satellites” references the modularity and ever-changing composition and make-up of the work environment. WorkLAB Satellites can be installed and deinstalled quickly; it can change formation; house different materials and processes; and is in constant dialogue with the Blanton’s permanent hands-on studio for making, WorkLAB.

Photo by Deborah Cannon for Austin360

The WorkLAB Satellites installed at the Blanton. Photo by Deborah Cannon for Austin360

Why are these artworks designed to be interactive, and what do you hope participants will get out of the experience?

It is my hope that through these guided projects, making use of simple but rich materials and processes, the user can experience a high-level of engagement with the making of a creative work. I believe a person, regardless of familiarity with the art world, can bring a wide range of aesthetic and cultural knowledge to their creative work practice. Essentially, they put themselves into that thing. This too is what artists do; it’s why we become so attached to the things that we make. As artists we know that work starts with an idea (whether that be small or grand). One can imagine and perhaps see it in their mind, but ultimately the thing that they are making/ writing/ composing never ends up looking like what was imagined. This, I think, is the lynchpin of creative practice; learning to see and appreciate results that might not have been planned. I want to give that experience to a person (a non-maker/ non-artist) so that they might find a new appreciation for the trials and tribulations of the creative practice.

The IKEA effect, coined by Associate Professor, Michael Norton at the Harvard Business School, is a study that proves the increase of valuation for handmade products. This psychological phenomenon essentially tells us that our labor leads to love. People that make an object with their hands (from baked goods to IKEA furniture) are inclined to be more attracted to their results as opposed to those results stemming from external efforts. By giving an individual materials and guidelines for making I am empowering that person to find value in using their hands.

What role does social media play in the artwork? What is the importance of documenting the work, and how do you achieve that in your directions?

The photos I ask the maker to take and upload exist as a way to document what happens in the work space. The online archive serves as a way for people to revisit that experience of making and for people from around the world to view that experience without actually having to be there or participate. The archive also serves a cross-section of the cyclical nature of aesthetics and a look into the current hand skills of the public.

We are surrounded by social media in all other aspects of our lives. We document experiences, travel, events and moments and send it out into the world for instant gratification. Why shouldn’t we want the same from our creative endeavors and struggles. It’s my belief that social media, while primarily is a social tool, also facilitates learning and investigation. We research, seek and engage with like- minded people and projects, and we seek to connect to a larger world to achieve greatness.

WorkLab Satellites is made possible by a grant from Texas Women for the Arts.

tx

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Summer Midday Music Series at the Blanton

To kick off our summer Midday Music Series, Kress Interpretive Fellow Natalie Zeldin provides a look at what to expect from this monthly musical event.

Picture the scene: It’s a Tuesday afternoon and you’re about to whip out the Tupperware for lunch at your desk. Why not try something more refreshing this week? At noon on the last Tuesday of each month, the Midday Music Series offers an opportunity for you to break away from the thick of the grind. Treat yourself to an uplifting encounter with music and art instead.

Midday Music Series

Photo: Ashley Stanford

The Blanton’s Midday Music Series features diverse one-hour programs that explore the relationship between musical and artistic technique, form, and style. The connections that we find through deep looking, listening, and discussion cast new light on both the music and the art presented. These concerts provide the unique opportunity to reflect on one art form in relation to another. In one recent concert, students and faculty from the UT Jazz Composition Department wrote short works in response to the same painting by Fernando de Szyszlo. In this program, the musicians celebrated the variety of interpretation possible in response to the same work.  In another concert, the UT Harp Ensemble compared the ways that harpists and painters use their technique to evoke a particular mood or setting, comparing their practice to that of landscape artists of the American West.

This is the first year we are continuing the Midday Music Series through the summer, and to kick off the season, we are offering a 20% discount at the museum shop and a cookie-and-coffee deal at the Blanton Cafe following the program from 1pm to 3pm! (As a reminder, these programs are always free for members and UT students, faculty, and staff.)

Enjoy a preview of our upcoming summer lineup:

MAY 27:

Hendrick Goltzius, Helios, from Pairs of Deities, circa 1588-1590, Chiaroscuro woodcut from three blocks, tone blocks printed in ochre and brown, Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1983.

Hendrick Goltzius, Helios, from Pairs of Deities, circa 1588-1590, Chiaroscuro woodcut from three blocks, tone blocks printed in ochre and brown, Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1983.

This Tuesday, we’ll discuss what a sixteenth-century print has in common with a violin and cello duo. The musicians of Mohinya perform works by Maurice Ravel and Zoltán Kodály and discuss the challenging process of learning chamber music. Then, we’ll compare their rehearsals to chiaroscuro woodcut by the master Dutch printmaker Hendrick Goltzius. The meticulous use of layering to create a range of textural and colorful effects is key to the success of both the music and art. Afterwards, we will head to the Blanton’s Julia Matthews Wilkinson Center for Prints and Drawings for a special treat–an up-close look at the Goltzius print.

JUNE 24:

This concert will feature flute and guitar duo Duo Epsilon, performing works by Bulgarian composer Atanas Ourkouzounov and the Argentine tango composer, Astor Piazzolla. The art featured in the discussion will be Quipus 58 B by Peruvian artist Jorge Eielson. The concert celebrates the ways that visual artists and composers incorporate regional folk idioms into their work to assert pride in their cultural identity. In our discussion, we will highlight the variety of techniques artists use to celebrate cultural traditions in their work.

JULY 29:

This concert is part of our summer collaboration with the Austin Chamber Music Center. This woodwind quintet concert will feature works that depict animals, in conjunction with our summer exhibition In the Company of Cats and Dogs. The cornerstone of this program will be a bilingual presentation of Peter and the Wolf [Pedro y el lobo], narrated by KUT’s All Things Considered host, Nathan Bernier.

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Perception Unfolds on Arts in Context

We’re thrilled to share that the Blanton’s current exhibition, Perception Unfolds: Looking at Deborah Hay’s Dance, was recently the subject of an Arts in Context episode.  An Emmy-winning arts documentary series exploring the process of creation, Arts In Context is produced by Austin’s PBS affiliate KLRU, and is syndicated in national markets including New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

The series’ April 24 episode spotlighted the Blanton’s current exhibition and examined Deborah Hay’s creative process surrounding her modern dance choreography. Through interviews with Hay, Blanton staff and others, it underscored how Hay has challenged, for decades, the dance world’s expectations and assumptions while creating pieces that enthrall and entertain.

Watch the trailer for Perception Unfolds below, then head over to KLRU’s website to watch the episode in its entirety. The exhibition is in its final days and closes May 18, so make sure to visit the Blanton to experience this groundbreaking show that CultureMap Austin calls a “kinetic, sensual experience.”

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The research behind “In the Company of Cats and Dogs”

In the Company of Cats and DogsThis summer, the Blanton is excited to present In the Company of Cats and Dogs. On view from June 22 – September 21, the exhibition features approximately 150 works by masters such as Albrecht Dürer, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, William Blake, Francisco Goya, Paul Gauguin, Takahashi (Shotei) Hiroaki, Pablo Picasso, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Hopper, Louise Bourgeois, and others. Examining the ever-changing roles of cats and dogs and our enduring fascination with them, the presentation includes Egyptian sculpture, Chinese and Pre-Columbian ceramics, medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, and prints, books, photographs and paintings from the Blanton’s collection and those of  the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Yale Center for British Art; UT’s Harry Ransom Center, and other public and private collections. In anticipation of the exhibition opening, we invited intern Douglas Cushing to provide insight into the research and preparation for the show. 

In September of this past year, I began as an intern in the Print and Drawings and European Paintings department at the Blanton. Since then, I have been working on the upcoming exhibition, In the Company of Cats and Dogs, and I have been extremely fortunate to have been included in the process of researching and selecting works for the show. Additionally, I have been able to follow the evolution of the exhibition space. In the process, I have learned quite a bit from the show’s curator, Francesca Consagra, and from other members of the Blanton community, and I have enjoyed every minute of the work! Among the most rewarding aspects of this position have been the opportunities and challenges in researching objects that span diverse cultures and epochs. Expanding my horizon constantly has been a joy!

Otto Dix, Katze in Mohnfeld [Cat in Poppyfield]

Otto Dix, Katze in Mohnfeld [Cat in Poppyfield], 1968, Five-color lithograph, Gift of Charles and Dorothy Clark, 1986.

With so many wonderful objects in this show, picking a favorite is difficult, though I found one that I recently researched particularly moving. In the last few years of his life, after suffering a stroke that paralyzed his left hand and left him quite weak, German artist Otto Dix produced a multi-color lithograph of a cat in a field of poppies that I think stands apart in his oeuvre. Earlier in his career, Dix’s critical view of German society produced some unflinching images of war. He also allegorized the decadence of the bourgeoisie, portraying their excess with grotesque eroticism that he often contrasted with the marginalized veterans of the Great War. When the Nazis took power, Dix became a pariah, but he continued to make work.

Now, at the end of his life, the artist was dealing with the subject of his own decline. During this period, Dix produced a self-portrait of himself as a stroke victim, and another of himself as a skull. Here, however, he chose to depict a hunting cat. Claws out, eyes wide, lithe, it stalks its prey among the flowers. Despite Dix’s frenetic and seismic mark making, the fluidity of the cat’s movement is manifest. I cannot help but see this as a self-portrait as well. His mind was on the track of an idea. Illness had diminished Dix’s manual control, but his will to express himself visually remained strong. He was determined to make a print that remained powerful and affecting. When Dix died the next year, a painting of a solitary arrangement of flowers remained on his easel. The cat, now absent, had apparently completed its hunt.

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Inside the creation of a Sol LeWitt wall drawing

Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing 797

A student drafter at work

This past February, the Blanton team was hard at work preparing to open Converging Lines, our exhibition celebrating the friendship between Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt. As part of that process, 49 University of Texas students ranging from PhDs to undergrads, Electrical Engineering to Art History majors, worked over 11 days alongside trained drafters from the LeWitt estate to bring Wall Drawing #797 to life. We invited Art History major Julie Timte to reflect on her experience helping to create this site-specific work:

I have always been interested in contemporary art, and I have always admired Sol LeWitt for his initiative in involving students in his process.  As soon as I heard about the Converging Lines exhibition at the Blanton and the opportunity to participate in the installation of Sol LeWitt’s work, I rushed to apply.  I was lucky enough to be selected as a participant in the installation of a LeWitt wall drawing.

Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing 797

Milinda Hernandez works on tracing the line above

When I arrived to the Blanton on my assigned night, I met a senior drafter from the LeWitt Estate and my fellow student drafters. We received broad instruction, and then climbed onto the scaffolding to begin the installation.  The piece we worked on consisted of alternating red, yellow, and blue lines.  Each installer was assigned a color, and all we had to do was follow the line immediately above ours.  For such a straightforward task, I was quite nervous at first, paranoid that I would pick up the wrong color or lead the line askew.  However, with time, I got the hang of the technique, rotating the marker with increased ease.  And as we progressed, I became amazed at the organic patterning that emerged.  When I was close to the work as I was installing it, I focused on the distance between the lines and where one line deviated from the next.  However, when I stepped back to watch the other students work, the distinct colors were barely visible.  At a distance, the waves almost appeared three dimensional, undulating in space.  The whole time I was installing the work, I was thinking of the childhood game “telephone,” where one person whispers a message into the ear of the next, and the sentence is completely transformed by the end.  The same process occurred in our work on the wall drawing.  With the touch of many different, and imperfect, hands, lines were transformed to create a dynamic piece.

Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing 797

The completed wall drawing (click the image for a larger version)

One of my favorite elements of this experience was being trained by a senior drafter and gaining knowledge about the handling and installation of art.  From being mindful of the distance between the scaffolding and the wall to the technique of creating the line, I learned so much about the physical creation of contemporary art.  I have to say I loved being behind the scenes.  I also enjoyed meeting my fellow wall drafters.  Both happened to be foreign exchange students, and getting their perspective on the art was intriguing.  Using my hands and collaborating with so many others to create a work of art was truly a unique and rewarding experience.

Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt is on view at the Blanton through May 18, 2014. Photos by Mary Myers. 

Wall Drawing #797: The first drafter has a black marker and makes an irregular horizontal line near the top of the wall. Then the second drafter tries to copy it (without touching it) using a red marker. The third drafter does the same, using a yellow marker. The fourth drafter does the same using a blue marker. Then the second drafter followed by the third and fourth copies the last line drawn until the bottom of the wall is reached, 1995

Black, red, yellow, and blue marker on wall
Installation view, Blanton Museum of Art
LeWitt Collection, Chester, Connecticut
© 2014 Estate of Sol LeWitt/Artist Rights Society (ARS)

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Meet the Musicians of SoundSpace

This Sunday at 2pm, the Blanton is excited to present SoundSpace, a visual and sonic experience with musical performances throughout the museum. In a recent article in the Austin American-Statesman, writer Jeanne claire Van Ryzin states,”The Blanton Museum of Art’s SoundSpace easily claims must-see status.” 

In conjunction with the exhibition Converging Lines, this iteration of SoundSpace – Downtown NYC 1960- features dynamic experimental works by composers based in lower Manhattan in the 1960s such as Steve Reich, La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass, as well as more recent compositions inspired by this movement. Artistic Director Steve Parker interviewed some of SoundSpace’s composers and participants in anticipation of this weekend’s event.

Roland DahindenSwiss Composer Roland Dahinden

What can you tell us about your friendship with Sol Lewitt?

The American composer Alvin Lucier (I studied with him and was his assistant 1992 -95 at Wesleyan University, CT) introduced me to Sol. We visited him in his home and atelier in Chester, CT, 1992, because we were invited to do a collaboration for the Kunstmuseum Zug, Switzerland. This was the beginning of our friendship. As a young student, I was deeply touched by the openess and kindness of both Sol and Alvin – two great artists. Our work together was very fruitful and I learned a lot.

How did your collaboration with Sol come about?

The collaboration was based on a horizontal line of the Swiss Alps; Sol did a wall drawing, Alvin wrote a composition for trombone and piano (for my wife Hildegard Kleeb and myself) and I did a sound installation. A few weeks later, Sol gave me a painting of himself to thank me for the collaboration – what a generosity! Three years later the interdisciplinary art festival Steirischer Herbst Graz, Austria, commissioned a collaboration for Sol and myself; Sol did a wall drawing and I did a sound installation and a concert. Again, the collaboration was very fruitful and again, Sol gave me a painting of himself, to thank me for the collaboration. So, I’m thankful for our friendship, the collaborations, and the paintings I’ve been enjoying every day since.

How is your work inspired by the visual arts?

As a composer I’m often inspired by visual beauty – works by visual artists or landscapes, structures of stones, mountains, forests, water, rain on the water, wind in the air, leaves.  Artists who inspired my work are Agnes Martin, Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman or Brice Marden, Swiss Artists Philippe Deléglise, Stéphane Brunner and Rudolf de Crignis, Austrian Inge Dick and German Lali Johne. It’s the vibrations of the art work, how they resonate in me – in fact, I’m listening to the paintings.

What are you currently working on?

Hildegard Kleeb and I are currently working on the new program, entitled RECALL POLLOCK – music for trombone and piano. The music is inspired by paintings of Jackson Pollock. We have worked about three years on the music and done several concerts and a CD recording. Now we are trying to develop the music and a second concert program, including a second CD recording.

line upon line percussionMatt Teodori, of line upon line percussion

What will you be performing on SoundSpace on April 27th?

Steve Reich’s Clapping Music and Drumming Part I

You’ve just launched a successful series at Canopy.  What appeals to you about performing at art galleries and museums?

For us, the idea of spaces being specific to one use is a bit unfortunate. I think we welcome ways for any space, not just art spaces, to be used for music performance.

line upon line percussion has has a history of great hybrid arts collaborations.  What are some of the highlights for you, and can you tell us about your collaborative process?

Our site-specific work with Norma Yancey, seeing times are not hidden, for custom chimes hung under the Waller Creek Bridge, stands out. For us, collaboration is vital. We have a need to work with others, not only to learn, but to find ways for percussion to be more useful in contemporary art-making.

What do you have in the works for 2014-2015?

Looking ahead to 2014-15, we’ll premiere several new works and continue touring the States. We’re also really excited to present the 2nd year of our series at Canopy. We’re making an effort to curate the front half of those shows next year as a way of bringing some folks doing interesting things to Austin.

Jason Phelps in The Intergalactic Nemesis Buzz Moran in The Intergalactic Nemesis © Sarah Bork HamiltonJason Phelps of the Intergalactic Nemesis

What will you be performing at the Blanton?

I have assembled a group of 6 performers to do an interpretation of LaMonte Young’s Composition 1960 # 15 to Richard Huelsenbeck, “This piece is little whirlpools out in the middle of the ocean.”

What appeals to you about Lamonte Young’s work?

He creates open ended compositions that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. It appeals to the multi-disciplinarian artist in me to take his structures and create anything. I love the endless possibilities that can be explored with such evocative images. Like a haiku. Like a breeze. Like a beam of sunlight illuminating. Like the sound of a bell…

What are some of your most prized collaborations?

I love working with artists-actors, dancers, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, digital artists- who can be open to the limitless possibilities of making something live in a given moment. How can we enliven this space, now!? How can we create an experience that will change how an audience sees, hears, think and feels? This has happened for me in a photo shoot, during a play rehearsal, creating a dance theatre moment, listening/responding improvisationally with a musician/live dj.

How does movement, sound, and the visual arts inspire your work?

To me, these art forms are interconnected by rhythm and/or the absence of rhythm. It requires a specific kind of listening and finding a place to tap into and get inside and explore. Sound is everywhere and I am constantly inspired by the feedback I receive from it. Movement is life. Everything moves. When there is movement harmony, then life is flowing. When there is movement dis-harmony, there is tension and something is trying to get free. This back and forth is constantly compelling to me. The visual arts esp, photography, sculpture, painting, and film inspire me to view the world in chaotic and beautiful newness.

The Invincible CzarsJosh Robins of The Invincible Czars

What will you be performing on the April 27th SoundSpace show?

Terry Riley’s In C.  This will be fairly true to form though certainly not as long as most performances of the piece.

What are some of your favorite cross-disciplinary collaborations?

It’s very difficult to say but —- there are plenty of them happening right now at Fusebox!  I guess I’m partial to the stuff that simply can’t be replicated without some major planning.  The real spectacles – like Graham Reynolds writing dance music for dump trucks.  I also like the live music/live art events where there’s live music and multiple visual artists making art right there in front of you.

The Czars always come up with such interesting and novel adaptations of existing scores.  Can you tell us a little about this process?

In my mind, there are two facets to the process: 1) choosing the piece and what to do with it and 2) dealing with the realities of arranging it that way and for our line up.

Choosing the piece ultimately it comes down to this question: is our version of this work going to be necessary, good and/or entertaining? In other words – will we like it and if so, will it matter to anyone else? Working up an arrangement of a composed work for an event like SoundSpace isn’t like learning a quick cover song to play at a club show.  The audience will (probably) be more sober, attentive and critical.  So we need to do more than just entertain ourselves. From piece to piece, those three factors  can vary in ease of achievability.

1812 Overture was a no-brainer with regard to necessity.  We’re the only rock band to have ever performed it in its entirety to my knowledge.  That makes our version remarkable – meaning it’s at least worth mentioning.  Making it good and entertaining was the challenge.  It’s not an easy piece and it took years to get right.  Making it entertaining live can be tough, too, because we’re so focused in that moment on simply playing it correctly.

In C is the opposite.  Our version will certainly be good and entertaining but because it’s not a particularly difficult piece to play, there are tons of versions of it out there.   We won’t be the first rock band to play it.  We’re not even the first to play it this month in Austin!  We won’t be the first to incorporate loops or dancers or non-orchestral instruments or to play a shorter version.

However, the improvisational nature of the piece makes nearly every performance of it unique!  Plus, this piece is truly essential to the theme of the event and we’ll be proud to be performing it such a special location.  I’d also wager that the performance will be most of the attendees’ first exposure to the piece.  That’s necessary enough for us.

Dealing with the realities of arranging the piece for ourselves is often more time consuming than difficult.  It’s an incubation process that can’t be rushed. It takes becoming intimately familiar with the original score, doing some individual and group experimentation and then, ironically, stepping away just enough in order to have an “a ha!” moment in the shower or while doing the dishes.  Then there’s the tedious task of notating all our changes to the original – tempo, rhythm, meter, expression, phrasing, dynamics or what have you.  Of course,  then we sometimes wind up back at the drawing board if it doesn’t sound good in our practice room.

When I country-fied the Miniature Overture (from The Nutcracker), I was relatively new to both instrumental country music and arranging classical music for a rock band.  So I simultaneously learned a lot about conventional country playing, Tchaikovsky’s orchestration/composition styles and the limitations/strengths of the band and instrumentation I had to work with!

What are some interesting projects you have coming up?

The Invincible Czars Play Reynolds and Stopschinski:  We just released an short-run EP of music by Austin composers Graham Reynolds and Peter Stopschinski entitled The Invincible Czars Play Reynolds and Stopschinski Vol. 1.  We plan to return to the same studio and record several more Reynolds/Stopschinski pieces for a full album.  You can listen to the EP here and buy a copy here.

An Album of Original Works: We’ve been so taken up with playing other peoples’ music and creating silent film scores that it’s been way too long since we released any of our own non-film compositions.  We plan to change that later this year.

Pictures at an Exhibition: Years ago we decided to team up with local jazz scientists Bee vs. Moth to re-imagine Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  It’s taken a very long time but that project is nearly done and I’m very excited about it.  Fans of Emerson Lake and Palmer will be glad to know that our version is a far cry from ELP’s rendition.  Like our version of The Nutcracker, it’s all over the map genre-wise.

The Wind at Texas A&M: We’ll be performing our score for the silent film The Wind at Texas A&M in the fall.  Very excited to do this.  Phil and I went out to College Station and spoke to the music appreciation classes last November and had a great time. I’m sure we’ll do another performance in Austin and Houston, too.

More In C: Now that we’ve worked it up for the Blanton, we plan to take our version on the road the next time we hit it!

SoundSpace: Downtown NYC 1960 is on Sunday, April 27 from 2pm – 4pm and is included with museum admission. For more information, visit our website.

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Archaeologist Steve Bourget Presents New Findings from a Dig in the Andes

On Saturday, April 26th at 2pm, the Blanton will host Dr. Steve Bourget, Director of Scientific Research, Museum of Ethnography, Geneva in a free public lecture in the Blanton auditorium. In this special presentation, Dr. Bourget will discuss exciting new discoveries at the Moche archaeological site of Huaca Dos Cabezas in the Jequetepeque Valley in northern Peru.

Huaca Dos Cabezas, Jequetepeque Valley, Peru.

Huaca Dos Cabezas, Jequetepeque Valley, Peru.

The site of Huaca Dos Cabezas pertains to the Moche culture, which dominated the north coast of Peru during the Early Intermediate Period (200-800 CE). The archaeological site includes a vast urban settlement with a central adobe pyramid, which once towered over 30 meters above the surrounding landscape. The damage in the center, presumed to result from Colonial-period looting, produced two peaks on the north-facing structure suggestive of two heads, or Dos Cabezas (see photo).

The site of Dos Cabezas was excavated between 1994-2001 by Dr. Christopher B. Donnan, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Through his investigations, Dr. Donnan uncovered three intact elite tombs on the southwest corner of the adobe pyramid. These impressive burial contexts have recently been published in a detailed volume available through Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press (Donnan 2007).

Adobe wall with aligned post holes, Huaca Dos Cabezas Archaeological Project.

Adobe wall with aligned post holes, Huaca Dos Cabezas Archaeological Project.

During the first season of renewed archaeological investigations in 2011, research at the site entailed cleaning the surface erosion and interior cavity of the central adobe building in order to determine the sequence of building construction. This resulted in the definition of at least three superimposed buildings during the Moche occupation of the site, with potential corresponding superimposed floor levels within the north patio or plaza.

During the second field season in 2013, investigations sought to clarify this sequence of site construction through focused efforts on the northwest corner of the building. These excavations led to the exciting discovery of a semi-circular structure that appears to have functioned as an observation point. The nature of this discovery will be the center of Dr. Bourget’s conversation at the Blanton. Following an introduction to the site, its layout and excavation history, Bourget will discuss the recently discovered structure and its implications for the ongoing research and interpretation of Moche material culture.

Dr. Bourget’s lecture is presented in conjunction with Between Mountains and Sea: Arts of the Ancient Andes, on view through August 17 at the Blanton and guest-curated by Dr. Kimberly L. Jones. Dr. Jones is the Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of the Arts of the Americas at the Dallas Museum of Art and previously served as curator of the Art and Art History collection in the Art and Art History department at The University of Texas at Austin.

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Sebastian Smee on Artist Friendships

It is rare when a speaker absolutely grabs you the moment he or she opens their mouth, but Sebastian Smee did exactly that.  As an expert storyteller, and a smart and lyrical writer, the audience was smitten.  This past Saturday April 12, the Pulitzer Prize winning, Boston Globe art critic, Sebastian Smee, presented a portion of his working manuscript for his book on artistic friendships. While the forthcoming book will focus on four sets of artistic friendships including: Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning, Smee presented only a portion of his research on the lesser-known and extremely complex friendship between Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon. The story he wove was fascinating and filled with unexpected twists. Smee’s ability to convey the details and nuances of a personal and complex relationship allowed his listeners to deeply connect to the characters and maybe even make connections to their own lives and histories. Although he apologized for reading parts of his manuscript, the audience was unfazed and hung on his every word.

Freud's Wanted PosterSmee began his story by focusing on a troubling event. In 1988, Freud’s portrait of Francis Bacon was stolen from a Lucien Freud retrospective at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. The stolen portrait, a study of Bacon’s face, was a small painting, seven inches by five inches, and bursting with latent tension. The art critic, Robert Hughes, compared the intensity of the likeness to that of a grenade a fraction of a second before it explodes. As Freud was preparing for his 2002 retrospective at the Tate Modern in London, he made an uncharacteristic plea in the press for the return of the painting, politely asking, “would the person who holds the painting kindly consider allowing me to show it in my exhibition next June?”  Freud even created a wanted poster featuring plain lettering, a black and white image of the stolen work and a generous reward. The publicity team tasked with trying to recover the painting, plastered 2,500 of these posters throughout Germany, and it was reproduced in international newspapers and websites. Freud’s painting of Bacon was never returned and the Tate retrospective took place without it.

The painting was important to Freud not only because it bridged the divide between his early work and his later, more mature style, but also because it was Freud’s connection to—as Smee asserts—the most important relationship of his life.  From Smee’s description, Bacon was the charismatic and spontaneous life of the party whose penchant for gambling often led him to the roulette tables of Monte Carlo. Bacon’s ability to charm and gather people around him mesmerized Freud.  His artwork was revolutionary and captured his electrifying emotion and grenade-like tenacity that was not only his painting style, but also his lifestyle.

Bacon portrait of Freud

Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud (detail), 1969, oil on canvas, © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved.

Freud himself professed that it was Bacon’s attitude that he admired most and commented that the way in which Bacon worked as an artist related to how he felt about life.  Bacon believed that “only by going too far can you go far enough,” which is how many describe his artwork.  According to Freud’s friend and early lover, Ann Dunn, Freud harbored a hero, worshipping crush on Bacon.  Smee made it clear that Freud was very different than his boisterous friend, quoting the critic Laurence Gowing who said that Freud’s effect on others was not social or intellectual, but rather visceral; a “coiled vigilance, a sharpness which one could imagine venom.”

Smee reminded the audience that both men carried the names of their famous relatives; Lucien Freud was the grandson of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and Francis Bacon was a descendant of Sir Francis Bacon, the English Renaissance philosopher and chancellor.  Freud had arrived in London in 1933; he and his family had narrowly escaped Nazi Germany, due, in large part to his family name and high-level intercessions at the government level. Bacon had arrived in London in 1926 at the age of sixteen when his father, a belligerent, retired army captain, had thrown him out of the house when he caught his son wearing women’s clothes.

Smee expertly details the story of their intense friendship and honors his readers and listeners by not shying away from the complexity of it.  He notes that the relationship between Freud and Bacon was asymmetrical; Bacon was eleven years older and more established as an artist.  Since Bacon’s paintings were selling well, he would often give Freud money without hesitation.  They spent decades fostering a very intense friendship. There were periods of many years where they would see each other every day, spending hours in each other’s studios and homes. They both embarked on amorous relationships that sparked self-destructive behavior in each.  Freud left his wife for Caroline Blackwood, an heiress.  Bacon found himself in a sado-masochistic relationship with the ex RTA fighter pilot and accomplished piano player, Peter Lacey. When Freud’s marriage to Blackwood dissolved five years later, Freud spiraled into despair.  Bacon would ask mutual friends to keep an eye on Freud and make sure he didn’t hang himself.

Sebastian SmeeIt was clear that Smee had done his research. Throughout the lecture Smee quoted his interview with Freud, bringing the story to life by noting how the artist recalled his friendship with tenderness and sadness. According to Smee, Freud marks the beginning of the deterioration of the friendship to the moment when Bacon was hospitalized after Lacey threw him out of a window.  When Freud saw Lacey with Bacon in the hospital, he reacted angrily and Bacon was upset with Freud for interfering with his love life.  For many years they continued to see each other within their circle of friends, but they were never able to regain the closeness they once had.

Smee notes that life and relationships are messy and complex, and they are very rarely as reductive as they are often portrayed.  As is the case with Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse, Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon’s friendship was surrounded by a circle of friends and co-conspirators.  As Lucy Lippard points out, “Influence among artists is never as specific as art historical shorthand makes it out to be.” What we gain from multiple perspectives and accounts of history allows for a fuller, more nuanced depiction of a period of time and relationships between people.

I, like many in the crowd last Saturday, am anticipating the publication of Smee’s book so that I might learn more about the inner lives of other artists I have long admired.

Amethyst Beaver is a curatorial assistant at the Blanton Museum of Art.

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Art City Austin 2014

At the Blanton, we like art and we like parties, so we’re thrilled to be partnering with Art Alliance Austin for this year’s Art City Austin Festival, April 12-13. Part art festival, part block party, this iconic local event transforms downtown in a celebration of art, culture and creativity. Taking place in the streets, plazas, and open spaces along Cesar Chavez and the 2ND Street District, this year’s event promises to be a truly great time. With outdoor booths featuring art from nationally recognized artists, local food trailers, cocktails, live music, and interactive projects for kids of all ages, the festival brings the community together to celebrate Austin’s vibrant creative culture. The Blanton will have a booth stationed in front of City Hall, so stop by to say hello and learn more about our current and upcoming exhibitions and programs. Plus, Blanton members get in FREE. All you need do is show your membership card at the gate to the festival’s admissions team.

For kiddos and their families, the festival will feature an area where children can create tissue paper stained glass windows, masks, and more, and also can take photos in costumes from different eras and cultures. The festival will also feature a pop-up gallery with art work by students from Austin High.

Art City Austin

Image via the Austin Chronicle

Musicians currently scheduled include Nakia, Elizabeth McQueen, Emily Bell, The Rocketboys, Erin Ivey, Mobley and Grace London, in a special day stage presented by KUTX Music 98.9. In coordination with the Austin Busker Project, the festival will also have two stages for street performers who will perform throughout the day for applause and tips.

Food trucks including Chi’Lantro BBQ, The Best Wurst, Taco Baby, Heros Gyros and micro brews by Infamous Beer will be on hand to provide fuel for the party.

Come spend a day (or night) celebrating and supporting Austin’s vibrant cultural scene. We hope to see you there!

For more information, please visit www.artallianceaustin.org.

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Water, Wealth and Weather in Between Mountains and Sea

The desert coast of Peru is a land of topographical extremes. Cradled between the monumental Andes and the mighty Pacific, this area contends with taxing weather patterns of local and global implications. A colder-than-usual ocean blocks cloud formation and precipitation from the west, while the towering Andes deflect most rainfall to the east into the lush rainforest. In some places like the central coast, these conditions drop annual precipitation close to zero and create one of the driest deserts on earth.

Sea Lion, Chimu Culture

Chimú Culture, 900 –1470 CE
Stirrup spout bottle as sea lion
Ceramic
Collection of The University of Texas at Austin, courtesy the Department of Art and Art History

At the same time, the physical features that hold back rain are the basis of life on the coast and bring balance to the region. On the ocean, the upwelling Humboldt Current that cools the waters and averts rainclouds also gives rise to one of the world’s richest marine environments. Likewise, fresh water trickles down from rare tropical glaciers atop the Andes to moisten sparse but fertile river valleys on the coast. The steep mountain range is also the source of seasonal springs, lakes and ores.

In spite of this duality or maybe because of it, pre-Inca civilizations thrived along the coast due to their resourcefulness, determination and technological achievements. Vestiges of pre-Hispanic canals and irrigation systems speak of the vital role water management had in this area. Shamanic leaders were expected to control and balance the natural and social realms or their authority could be called into question. The canals were meant to divert the seasonal rivers and springs carrying glacial melt towards agricultural lands. Today these canals remind us of the very real power held by those who controlled water resources.

The Chimú elite, for example, were powerful and fabulously wealthy. Besides controlling trade routes in the Northern region, the Chimú strategically managed a sophisticated network of irrigation canals and wells to provide water for their urban centers. This infrastructure helped them adapt to the great seasonal variation in water availability to grow food and beauty around them. Their wealth was also closely tied to the sea. Richly woven textiles, on view in Between Mountains and Sea: Arts of the Ancient Andes, illustrate their successful development on the north coast while their zigzag patterns of repeated undulation suggest the important place water occupied in their minds and way of life.

Crustacean Figure, Chimu Culture

Chimú Culture, 900 –1470 CE
Stirrup spout bottle as crustacean
Ceramic
Collection of The University of Texas at Austin, courtesy the Department of Art and Art History

Having to negotiate austere conditions on land, the Chimú rejoiced in the sea. Peru’s coast is home to more fish species than any other area in the world. The country is one of the world’s top fish producers as well. One can see this abundance depicted in pre-Inca art and architecture, filled with representations of sea mammals, crustaceans, fish and birds. On view at the Blanton are ceramic bottles from the Late Intermediate Period that illustrate the tightly knit relationship between the marine environment and Chimú culture.

Adapting to this environment, a number of civilizations have thrived in the desert coast region of Peru. Nevertheless, even at the height of their power, they all remained vulnerable to the fluctuations of weather and sparse supply of fresh water. The weather patterns they learned to live with changed drastically every few decades. El Niño and La Niña, the cyclical warming or cooling of ocean surface displaced the local fisheries and locked the area in cycles of extreme drying or ravaging floods. These periods of great instability challenged everything these societies knew. For example, a thirty-year cycle of draught followed by floods coincided with the decline of the Moche culture. Scholars think this event could have caused ecological, economic or political havoc that played into their loss of influence.

Today, Peruvians living in the desert coast are even more pressed for water than their predecessors. While nearly eighty percent of Peru’s population lives in this area, only two percent of Peru’s fresh water is available to them. The tropical glaciers that historically provided precious drinking water are retreating due to the rapid increase in global temperatures. To make matters worse, many springs and wells are now polluted with mercury produced by ore mining in the mountains. Lastly, scientists expect El Niño to take place on 2014.

While we are all delighted that El Niño may bring much needed rainfall to Texas, this event adds pressure to Peru’s economic and political institutions. Sound water management policy is as indispensable for the future of the region, as it was in the past. However, reaching consensus on a specific plan of action is proving challenging.

Between Mountains and Sea: Arts of the Ancient Andes is on view through August 17, 2014 and features many artifacts that illuminate the striking visual, economic and ideological connections to water and sea portrayed by pre-Inca empires at the same time that reminds us of the vulnerability of this precious resource today.

Mariana Torrens Arias is the Blanton’s PR and Marketing intern. She is a foreign language teacher and a student at The University of Texas at Austin, where she studies advertising.

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Reflecting on Perception Unfolds

We’re always eager to know what our visitors think about their experiences at the Blanton, of course, but never more so than with the current experimental project, Perception Unfolds: Looking at Deborah Hay’s Dance. Designed to engage viewers in really active looking, the immersive filmed dance installation encourages visitors to choreograph their own experience of the dance by moving about and finding fresh perspectives from which to view it. The project features an adjacent resource room where visitors can read more about the choreographer and her work, the experiences of the performers, and the nature of perception itself. Visitors can also watch videos, see related artworks, and try out a new software app, used in the creation of the installation, that responds to the body’s movement to navigate three-dimensional space. And, they are invited to give us feedback on their experiences as viewers.

Deborah Hay

Photo by Mary Myers

We thought you might enjoy reading a selection of the funny, curious and insightful comments that visitors are leaving us in response to the prompt:

How did your perceptions unfold as you experienced the dance? Write or draw a description of your response in the comment book.

Hay’s dance dared to be different. It was confusing, beautiful, and mind opening all in one.

Really a meditative and remarkable experience that is so wonderfully different each visit. THANK YOU.

[Written to the artist:] Greetings Deborah, you have stretched us yet again. My 10 year old grandson LOVES everything about this. My 4 year old granddaughter fully participated. I am a kid again.

I’ve never really seen this kind of dance or even “self expression” before. It was really unusual and I tried to understand it and take it in, but it was hard for me. I guess it shows how understanding expression can lead to frustration and wanting to understand.

Deborah Hay

Photo by Mary Myers

Poetry—sound—movement—mystery—constantly changing

I loved it but it was weird in a good way.

I loved it and I do not care what other people think.

Ultimately freeing

I am writing this with my whole body.

The dance was unique and unlike any other dancing I’ve seen. It definitely inspired me to continue finding my own ways of expressing how I feel and what I think. It shows there’s no boundaries to art and everyone is entitled to their own interpretation.

This blog was submitted by Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, curator at large at the Blanton Museum of Art, and curator of Perception Unfolds: Looking at Deborah Hay’s Dance. The exhibition is on view through May 18, 2014.

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Lucy Lippard at the Blanton

It’s shaping up to be a busy week at the Blanton! On Thursday, March 20, Scholar Kirsten Swenson will give a Perspectives Talk at 12:30, and on Saturday, March 22 noted art critic Lucy Lippard will speak at 1pm in the auditorium. To introduce Lippard and her connection to the Blanton’s current exhibition, Converging Lines, curatorial assistant Amethyst Beaver describes Lippard’s relationship with Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt.

Lucy Lippard

Lucy Lippard

Lippard was one of Hesse and LeWitt’s best friends and earliest supporters. The art world now knows Lippard for her numerous thoughtfully curated and well-researched exhibitions, her foundational writings on contemporary art, political activism and for Printed Matter, the bookstore that she and LeWitt helped establish in 1976. But decades before the Brooklyn Museum of Art produced the exhibition Materializing “Six Years”: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, Lippard was starting out as a page in the MoMA library.

As Veronica Roberts, the curator of Converging Lines, notes in her catalogue essay, Lippard worked at MoMA from 1958 to 1960 where she met Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman (her future husband), Dan Flavin, and Gene Beery, among others. At that time LeWitt was a receptionist at the information desk and the book counter. Flavin and Beery worked as guards and elevator operators. It is comforting to think that the jobs we have in our 20s are not what we will be known for in the future, and also to know that the friendships we foster early in our professional careers may be ones that sustain us throughout our lives.

Lippard, Hesse, and LeWitt all lived within walking distance of each other: Hesse at 134 Bowery, Lippard just north at 163 Bowery and LeWitt was just a few streets southeast at 117 Hester Street. They were not alone, but rather a dynamic part of a larger community of friends and artists. Lippard and Ryman lived in the same building as Robert Mangold and Sylvia Plimack Mangold and Frank Lincoln Viner. Gene Beery and Adrian Piper each lived in the same building as LeWitt (although at different times). Grace Wapner shared a studio with Hesse before Hesse’s move to 134 Bowery and then for a brief time also found herself in the same building as Lippard, Ryman and the Mangolds at 163 Bowery Street. [You can find a map of the artists living in lower Manhattan in our exhibition catalogue and in our education resource room at the end of the exhibition.]

Hesse kept and carefully stored correspondences with her friends—a resource that is invaluable to the art historians trying to piece together the history of her life. In her archive—housed at the Allen Memorial Museum at Oberlin College—researchers can look through years of her diaries and letters from friends. One such letter has given me moments of levity during the long nights meeting pressing deadlines. On November 14, 1964, Lippard wrote a letter to Eva Hesse and Tom Doyle while they were in Germany, writing:

You know the New York gossip so I won’t repeat. I’m reviewing for Art International now. God knows how long that will last as I don’t see myself getting along with Fitzsimmons past the honeymoon stage…Our main concern aside from work at the moment is naming the little bastard who is systematically destroying my insides and outside shape. We can’t agree on a damn thing (Bob wants a boy named Jazz, yet. If it’s a girl we seem to temporarily agree on (don’t laugh) Delancey.) Last night out of desperation, I turned to the two places I never thought would fail me—Faulkner and H.L. Mencken’s American Language. The latter had some pretty wild ideas but not too practicable. Such as Tennessee Coal and Iron Ryman? Pism C. Ryman (for Psalm 100), Munsing Underwear Ryman? Matthew Mark Luke John Acts-of-the-Apostles Son-of-Zebedee Garden-of-Gethsemane Ryman? All suggestions welcomed with three boxtops [sic] and 25 words or less. Three weeks to go wild in. It took the Rosenquists a month to decide on John. Hope we don’t get to that stage of dilution. Cheers, Lucy & Bob

If you are interested to know, Lucy Lippard and Robert Ryman finally decided on the name Ethan. Ethan Ryman—a far cry from Tennessee Coal and Iron Ryman, two of my favorite contenders.

Lucy Lippard

You will have the chance to hear Lucy Lippard in all her wisdom and wry humor at the Blanton Museum on Saturday March 22 at 1pm . She will speak about her personal experiences writing about and knowing Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt, their work in the exhibition and their lives in the Bowery. Lucy’s much-anticipated talk concludes a week of not-to-be-missed programming. On Thursday March 20, as part of our Third Thursday festivities, Kirsten Swenson, Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell and contributor to the exhibition catalogue Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt, will lead a 12:30pm Perspectives Talk in the galleries sharing her deep knowledge about both artists and her perspective on this show. If you can’t catch her tour in the gallery, please join us at 6:30pm that same day when she will present her extensive research on Hesse and LeWitt’s work.

Amethyst Beaver is the curatorial assistant to Veronica Roberts at the Blanton Museum of Art. For more information about this week’s events, visit our online calendar.

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Music and Art: the Blanton at SXSW

We’re always excited when our public programs receive national recognition, but we’re especially thrilled to to be leading a panel at South by Southwest this year. Museum Music: Art Galleries as Performance Spaceplaces Blanton programs on a global stage—even if that stage happens to be just on the other side of downtown Austin. Learn more in this blog post by Adam Bennett, Blanton Manager of Public Programs.

Graham Reynolds performing at SoundSpace

Graham Reynolds performing at SoundSpace
Photo by Vladimer Meija

Last fall the organizers of SXSW Music invited me to speak about our award-winning music series, SoundSpace. If you’ve never been to SoundSpace, it’s an afternoon of simultaneous performances of contemporary, classical, jazz, rock, pop, and performance art, all taking place inside the Blanton’s galleries. The performances are thematically linked to connect to each other and to make connections between the music and the sculptures, paintings, drawings, and videos on view in the galleries.

Contemporary art and contemporary music are definitely having a moment right now, and our panel at SXSW will explore why collaborations between art galleries/museums and musicians are poised to become even more prominent in the future. Events like Kraftwerk’s eight sold-out performances at Tate Modern, Jay Z’s performance with artist Marina Abramović at Pace Gallery, or The National playing one song 105 times in a row for 6 hours at MoMA PS1—these were among the most talked-about performances of 2013.

And of course the Blanton’s own SoundSpace series has become what the Austin American-Statesman called “the most successful new music event in the city.” Even in a city as saturated with performance venues and festivals as Austin, people are incredibly excited about hearing innovative new music in an art museum.

My co-panelists at SXSW will be Steve Parker, the musical director of SoundSpace, and Veronica Roberts, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Blanton. Steve, Veronica, and I will be talking about the history of music and performance in art galleries and how SoundSpace has extended that tradition in exciting new ways.

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We’ll also talk about how musical artists can think creatively about the locations where they perform. Art museums are interesting spaces for performance because they offer a visual experience that other venues don’t. There are a lot of venues in Austin where you can get a beer or barbecue while you watch the band, but nowhere else where you’re going to find a saxophonist in front of a 17-foot painting by Anselm Kiefer, or a turntablist mixing records inside a shimmering sculpture by Cildo Meireles. From talking to hundreds of musicians who have performed in the Blanton’s galleries, I know how creatively exciting it is to be able to break outside of traditional concert venues and perform in a museum. What we do at the Blanton is help facilitate those creative connections by talking with the musicians about the art and planning a performance in which the music and art are in dialogue with one other.

So bringing the Blanton to SXSW for the first time promises to be a lot of fun. Not only are we looking forward to presenting our public programs to a global audience, but we’re also hoping to help encourage musicians and music industry professionals to pursue creative opportunities in art gallery spaces. We’re excited to be at the forefront of this trend, and hope that we can share our story about how to make these creative collaborations happen with everyone at SXSW!

The Blanton’s panel at SXSW will take place March 12th at 3:30 PM.

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Sol LeWitt’s Postcards to Eva Hesse

As a digital component to Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt, the Blanton has created an exhibition-specific tumblr that will feature many of the postcards LeWitt sent to Hesse and insight from the exhibition’s curator, Veronica Roberts, and others. To introduce the project, Veronica discusses the witty and poignant correspondence between these two artists.

Anyone who was lucky enough to call LeWitt a friend knows that he was a first-rate correspondent. I remember writing him in 2003 to congratulate him on the thirty-five year anniversary of his first wall drawing (done at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York in October of 1968.) He sent me a postcard in reply, drolly commenting, “thirty-five years is a long time to do anything.” He went on to ask how grad school was going and how my grandparents were doing. I was touched that he remembered how close I was—and remain—with my grandparents.

Postcard from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse

Postcard from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse,
New York, New York, postmarked May 19, 1967

Just as LeWitt’s wall drawings have been keeping art students around the world busy for nearly fifty years, the copious number of postcards and letters he wrote kept the United States Postal Service in business; (no wonder the post office is not doing so well these days.) Thirty-nine particularly special postcards that LeWitt wrote Hesse are reproduced in the exhibition and its catalogue. They are thoughtful, funny, and charming—classic Sol. And being the artist he was, he thought carefully about all of its ingredients: the image on the postcard, the message inside—even the stamp he used.

Postcard from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse

Postcard from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse,
New York, New York, postmarked May 19, 1967

LeWitt’s dry sense of humor really come through in the postcards he dispatched Hesse from around the globe. He sent her an image of Moroccan sand dunes, lobster traps in Maine, and a roaring hippopotamus in the Netherlands. One of my personal favorites is a Smithsonian Museum postcard of an Egyptian mummy bull. (Well, according to the postcard, it’s a bull; it looks a more like a bunny to me.) Wrapped in bandages with just its eyes revealed, it looks like a cross between a rabbit possessed by the devil and an early Christo sculpture. On the back, he wrote a succinct, tongue-in-cheek message: “Dear Eva, I hope this doesn’t scare you.” I also love the way he opens a postcard to her, playfully informing her that this is the second postcard he has sent her from Germany, whereas “Dan Graham has only one.”

Sol’s affection for Eva and belief in her talent is very evident in the messages he wrote her. He repeatedly reports on seeing her work in exhibitions (“Went to Larry Aldrich Museum. Saw your piece. It really looks great,” or encourages her (“all sculptures are objects of one kind or another—Don’t fight it. Go! Go!”)

As a curator, I love reading the personal correspondence of artists but I know my attachment to them goes deeper than that. I know part of the reason I’m drawn to them is to see how clearly devoted Sol and Eva were to each other as friends, always making the time to remind each other of this in ways small and big. And I know I personally respond to them because I too have always enjoyed writing letters and receiving them.

People seem to appreciate receiving handwritten letters now more than ever, in part, I’m convinced, because we are drowning in the irritating efficiency of emails, which pile up like car wrecks. Unlike emails, which insist upon a response, letters are gifts with no expectations attached—a chance to say something kind without causing someone to blush or requiring anything in return.

Veronica with her grandmother in California, January 2013

Veronica with her grandmother in California,
January 2013

At some point this summer as I was working on the catalogue for the show, I embarked on a postcard project of my own. I decided I would write my very beloved 91-year-old grandmother Eugenie, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, one postcard a day. Among the many things I inherited from her is a love of art and travel. Since she’s no longer traveling as much as she used to and I pretty much always have a suitcase packed, it seemed like a fitting way to take her with me wherever I go. A few weeks into sending her postcards—I think it was around the time I decided that I was going to send a series of images of the ocean (a nice Vija Celmins woodcut, a Milton Avery seascape) it dawned on me that the idea must have been inspired by Sol and Eva’s correspondence. Sol, my grandmother and I both thank you for what has turned into such a rewarding project. My grandma especially loves that I put Grandma above her address and that I never include her full name.

I highly recommend postcard writing. There are very few nice things you can do for a person for 34 cents! I stockpile my favorites at museums and relish finding silly ones that will make my grandmother laugh. It’s easy to tuck a sheet of stamps in your desk drawer or wallet (although it’s irritating that the post office just bumped the rate from 33 to 34 cents.) But I should warn anyone considering writing postcards as a daily act that this does have its perils. Many a sweet friends and strangers have found themselves unwitting collaborators in my quest. On a recent work trip, my boss, Simone Wicha kindly agreed to stop at various San Antonio gas stations in my futile pursuit of a postcard late in the day. And on a recent Saturday, as I fretted about losing my window of time to get a postcard out, my friend Lysa leapt out of my car when we spotted a mailman and successfully managed to get the postcard on its way. And a very nice woman at a newsstand at the Dublin airport offered to mail a postcard to my grandmother after I realized I had missed my chance to mail it before entering the security line.

My colleagues at the Blanton are equally smitten with Sol’s postcards to Eva. Upon seeing the works, Ray Williams, our Director of Education, came up with a brilliant idea. In the resource room of the exhibition, we are providing visitors with postcards that they can bring to the Blanton Museum Gift Shop. The shop will sell you a stamp and mail the postcard on your behalf. And soon they will be selling notecards featuring images of Sol’s postcards to Eva. Now we all just need to work on our handwriting….

All postcard images courtesy of Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio.  Eva Hesse Archive, Gift of Helen Hesse Charash.  © The Eva Hesse Estate. Courtsey Hauser & Wirth  © Estate of Sol LeWitt/ Artist Rights Society (ARS)

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Images of Abundance: Food in Between Mountains and Sea

An embroidered mantle patterned in vivid indigos and reds. A meticulously modeled crustacean in clay. Black ceramic bottles burnished to give off a metallic sheen.

Bowl with aji (chili peppers)

Nasca Culture, Peru,
Early Intermediate Period (100 BCE – 600 CE),
Bowl with aji (chili peppers),
Ceramic, slip paints,
Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts,
The University of Texas at Austin

The Blanton’s new exhibition of ancient Andean material arts, Between Mountains and Sea: Arts of the Ancient Andes, is a feast for the eyes. The phrase is perhaps most apt in the gallery dedicated to the Nasca, a culture that inhabited the south coast of Peru from about 100 BCE to 600 CE. Here a selection of vibrant, polychrome vessels and bowls are decorated with unmistakable imagery: beans, chili peppers, and tropical fruit.

For the contemporary viewer, the stylized food imagery may seem strikingly modern. Having developed one of the most varied palettes in the Americas—it included as many as 13 distinct colors—Nasca artisans favored figural designs made up of flat areas of color and clean outlines. They turned to the natural world for subject matter, often depicting local birds, fish, and plants.

Double spout bottle of modeled lucuma

Nasca Culture, Peru,
Early Intermediate Period (100 BCE – 600 CE),
Double spout bottle of modeled lucuma,
Ceramic, slip paints,
Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts,
The University of Texas at Austin

Two bowls on view are painted with a repeating chili pepper, or ají, motif. On one, the peppers have been simplified to silhouettes, which alternate in red and earthy green on a white background and are separated by thin vertical lines. One of the earliest known cultivated plants in the Americas, the chili pepper was used by Andean cultures as both a cooking ingredient and a preservative. Its repetition here may symbolize agricultural abundance. For Texans, it may also bring to mind the visual culture of the Southwest—an indication of just how enduring some Pre-Columbian motifs have been.

In another example, a double spout bottle has been modeled and painted to resemble two lúcuma, Andean fruit still popular in Peruvian desserts today. The strategic juxtaposition of the fruits, each bearing a star-shaped apex where a stem might have been, can only be read as a reference to breasts—a playful double entendre that perhaps links natural abundance with female fertility.

Food has of course appeared as imagery in the artistic traditions of innumerable cultures. But along the desert coast of Peru, the setting for most of the exhibition, farming presented unique challenges. Rainfall in the region was so meager that the Nasca had to rely on the occasional flooding of small rivers and a system of underground canals for irrigation. Thus, repeated references to agricultural abundance may reflect the society’s aspirations as much as its reality.

Modeled llama

Chancay Culture, Peru,
Late Intermediate Period (900 CE – 1400 CE),
Modeled llama,
Ceramic, slip paints,
Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts,
The University of Texas at Austin

Elsewhere in the exhibition, we encounter other references to food sources. The Chancay, a central coast culture, made ceramic effigies of camelid species like llamas. While these animals were domesticated for their use as pack animals and for their fine wool, they were also consumed as food. Another important resource for coastal cultures was, naturally, the sea: ceramics from the region feature sea lions, anchovies, and other fish that thrive in the cold Humboldt current off the coast of Peru. Discernible in each of these material traditions is an acute observation of the environment and appreciation of what it had to offer.

Visit the Blanton to view these and other ancient Andean objects. Between Mountains and Sea is on view until August 17.

Beth Shook is the Blanton’s Administrative Manager for Education. She holds an M.A. in Art History from George Mason University, where she specialized in 20th-century Latin America.

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Explore UT at the Blanton Museum of Art

Being the new kid on campus can be pretty intimidating, especially on a campus as large as the one at the University of Texas at Austin. I should know—I just moved to Austin in August, and still am unfamiliar with half of the buildings that I bike past daily. But what if you were personally introduced to the school? And not just the buildings, but a sampling of what a university of this size has to offer?

Explore UT is a day-long open house for anyone interested in what it is like to be part of Austin’s large academic community. Activities are geared for all ages, and appeal to young children, curious adults, and those just beginning to think about what shape their education might take beyond high school. During Explore UT, units across campus come together to set aside a day for the community to be part of one of Texas’ largest universities. More than just a college tour, the day is filled with participatory activities to help people get their bearings on the enriching opportunities unique to the University.

One of these assets that may surprise new Explore UT attendees is the Blanton Museum of Art on the Southern most edge of campus. UT hosts one of the nation’s largest university art museums, which often is used in courses to show how concepts discussed in class reach beyond the lecture hall. The Blanton partners with classes for undergraduates and graduate students and allows researchers to work with primary sources. It is truly special to have such an established resource at easy access.

Students in the museum

Photo by Kelly Lynn James

For Explore UT, the Blanton’s Education department showcases the museum by providing special interactive activities for museum-goers and offering free admission. The museum literally goes outside to greet visitors; interactive art-making activities spark curiosity, spur creativity, and build a sense of belonging with the university and its artistic outlets.

This year at Explore UT, the Blanton will be the spot to join in on an improvisational game, design postcards and contribute to a communal wall drawing inspired by the exhibition, Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt. Visitors are encouraged to use the special Explore UT interactives to connect with art, both in and out of the gallery, on a deeper level.

These activities invite a different sense of what a university (and a museum) can teach, and builds enthusiasm for unique learning spaces. By offering lively and exciting activities on the plaza, the museum opens its doors to those who may have never known it existed. Most importantly, the Blanton’s offerings for Explore UT contribute to a unified campus welcome for all aspiring learners.

Lauren Wilson is the Graduate Research Intern for Family and Community Programs at the Blanton. In addition to her work with the Museum, she studies Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. 

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