Old School Summer Reads

Now that the University of Texas at Austin is out for the summer (and Austin schools will be soon!), it’s time to think about how to keep your brain working over the break! Blanton educator Andrea Saenz Williams shares some of her summer reads below:

Rain, rain, go away! I’m ready to bask in the summer sun, an icy drink within reach and book in hand. Summertime is busy. Punctuated by interruptions, excursions, and naps (if you’re lucky). I like quick and engrossing reads with chapters that make it easy to press pause. This year, I’m planning ahead and feeling nostalgic. My reading list is going to include a few old favorites that continue to inform and inspire.

Working autobiographically, my first pick is a school- From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Kongisburg age classic, and probably what fueled my desire to work in an art museum: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Kongisburg. Don’t let the elementary reading level fool you. This book is for anyone who has ever visited a museum and has wondered what it would be like to stay after hours (and where they would hide out).

Next up, Chaos by James Gleick. Who doesn’t love a book about chaos theory that reads like a fast-paced thriller? I spent a post-grad summer in San Francisco and remember spending hours at the beach, devouring page after page. If this recommendation seems like a stretch for an art lover, try drawing a fractal.

Fast-forward to grad school. Beloved SAIC professor Angela Paterakis (she taught there for almost 50 years) handed out our course reading list and at the top was Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Her advice, “keep it by your bedside table and refer to it often.” Art and Fear is chock full of quotes and inspiration that doesn’t feel saccharine, but does inspire. I could open any page to demonstrate this point, but will pull something straight from the introduction:

This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart-like people—essentially (statistically speaking) there aren’t any people like that. But while geniuses may get made once-a-century or so, good art gets made all the time. Making art is a common and intimately human activity, filled with all the perils (and rewards) that accompany any worthwhile effort. The difficulties artmakers face are not remote and heroic, but universal and familiar. This, then, is a book for the rest of us.

Conversations Before the End of Time by critic Suzi Gablik

I mailed my first copy of Conversations Before the End of Time by critic Suzi Gablik to an art crush in Los Angeles after a visit to her studio. Not being able to live without it, I’ve since repurchased Conversations and have re-read it several times. I’m always intrigued by how the book intersects with current events (or at least my current thinking). This summer, I’m gonna concentrate on the chapter, The Aethetics of Everyday Life, an interview with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Or, if I’m wanting a side of environmentalism with my art crit (and if the kids are playing outside), I’ll peruse the chapter Doin’ Dirt Time. I’ll probably Conversations Before the End of Time in tandem with Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things. This is a lovely collection of poems about everyday objects. Either Ode to the Dog or Ode to the Tomato would be perfect companions for a lazy backyard afternoon. (C’mon, what’s more summery than a good tomato?)

Last up, Learning to Love You More by Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July. Ray Williams, the Blanton’s director of education, introduced this book to me around the time I started at the museum and it has become something of a philosophical touchstone. But in terms of summer reading, LLYM serves two purposes. First, its super fun to just look at, since it presents multiple interpretations of assignments given by artists Fletcher and July. But the real joy of this book is that in the heat of summer, when feeling subversive or bored, you can flip to the list of assignments in the back and choose one. Because, like the authors state in the beginning, “sometimes it is a relief to be told what to do.”

Do you have a book to recommend? Share with me on twitter @andreasaenzwill.

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Behind the Blanton: Cassandra Smith

In this installment of Behind the Blanton, a blog series where we shed light on staff that work behind-the-scenes, meet Cassandra Smith. She’s the Blanton’s Manager of Exhibitions, and oversees the day-to-day production schedule and tasks for all gallery activities, and is also the primary point person for the reinstallation project. Cassandra began her career in museum collections and exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Art where she worked from 1997-2005. She has worked as a registrar and exhibition manager at several art museums over the past two decades including; The Modern, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, SFMOMA, San Antonio Museum of Art, and The Contemporary.

Cassandra Smith stands in front of a black painting at the Blanton

What made you pursue a job in the museum field?

When I was sixteen I fell in love with a Philip Guston painting, promptly declared to my dad that I would be going to art school, and soon after got a degree in studio art from UT. After I graduated I was extremely lucky to score a fantastic internship at the Modern in Fort Worth (home of my favorite painting!), which ultimately led to jobs at the Amon Carter Museum, SFMOMA, San Antonio Museum of Art, The Contemporary Austin, and now the Blanton.

Philip Guston, Wharf, 1976, Oil on canvas, 80 x 116 x 1 1/8 inches. Collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Museum purchase, The Friends of Art Endowment Fund.

Philip Guston, Wharf, 1976, Oil on canvas, 80 x 116 x 1 1/8 inches. Collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Museum purchase, The Friends of Art Endowment Fund.

Manager of Exhibitions is a pretty broad title: what does a typical work day at the Blanton look like for you?

In simplest terms, “Mission Control.” Not a glamorous job, but necessary to create a successful exhibition. I have an embarrassingly high number of scheduled meetings per week, and an equal amount of impromptu drop-ins from co-workers. I am constantly juggling production schedules to make sure deadlines are met and exhibitions open on time, on budget, and are excellent. On any given day, I might be checking in on an installation in progress, reviewing exhibitions designs for a future project, approving expenditures, reviewing incoming exhibition proposals, discussing facilities issues, editing text, or negotiating contract terms with a lender or museum…oh, and the aforementioned meetings.

What has been your favorite exhibition to work on at the Blanton and why?

Moderno, a technically difficult project due to the number and types of works in the show—but the end result was beautiful, culturally rich, and innovative. I love working at a museum on the leading edge for the research and exhibition of Latin American Art.

Two figures wearing hand stitched masksWhat’s a part of your job that people might be surprised to find that you manage? What’s the hardest aspect of it?

There is not a particular part that is surprising, but the shear volume of items might be surprising to some. Typically every artwork, interpretative text, and design seen in our galleries goes across my desk at some point. With so many wonderful ideas, it can be difficult to distill what the essential parts are and make sure efforts are being applied in the right areas. I am also the person responsible for securing rights that allow our visitors to take photographs in our galleries—something that we have made a priority over the past few years.

And finally: do you have any weird talents that people would be surprised to know about?

No weird talents! Just a love for making things with my hands, especially masks, which I routinely make my family wear for family portraits and general absurdity.

Learn more about our staff members by checking out other features in Behind the Blanton.

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In the Studio with Raimond Chaves and Gilda Mantilla

In February of this year, I visited Lima, Peru to interview artists featured in the Blanton’s exhibition Fixing Shadows: Contemporary Peruvian Photography, 1968-2015. I met with ten artists in six days, and every one of them was extremely gracious and generous with me despite my obvious body odor. I guess we all had it. There was no escaping the humidity at the height of this El Niño summer in Peru. Taxi drivers, baristas, archivists, and artists alike… everyone languidly lamented the weather. But we carried on due to all of the amazing food.

A view overlooking Barranco, Lima.

A view overlooking Barranco, Lima. Photo by Robin Williams.

The narrative below stems from my long and wide-ranging conversation with artists Raimond Chaves and Gilda Mantilla in their studio in Chorrillos, one of Lima’s coastal neighborhoods. Chaves and Mantilla have worked collaboratively since 2001, while also maintaining solo artistic practices. In 2015, they represented The Republic of Peru in the country’s first-ever national pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale with the installation Misplaced Ruins (2015).

In the excerpt below the artists discuss Isla (2009), their work featured in Fixing Shadows. Isla is a QuickTime animation projected on a screen made from recycled cardboard. The video presents a sequence of still photographs showing views of an island off the coast of Lima as the city’s ever-present fog hovers between sky and sea, surrounding the island. Here the artists describe the ideas behind this project and how it fits into their larger artistic practice. For the sake of space and clarity, I have edited the conversation into a narrative that combines both artists’ voices.

Gilda Mantilla (left) and Raimond Chaves (right)

Gilda Mantilla (left) and Raimond Chaves (right). Photo by Robin Williams.

Raimond Chaves and Gilda Mantilla
Chorrillos, Lima
February 11, 2016

Isla, the video, is part of a project called Observaciones sobre la ciudad de polvo [Observations on the City of Dust], which we conceived of as an installation and developed between 2008 and 2009. Before then we had been traveling around Latin America for a long period for our project Dibujando América [Drawing America]. And after that we wanted to focus on a context closer to us, here in Lima—to close the circle by doing something about this place.

In Lima we have very peculiar weather conditions. We are located in a tropical position—on the same latitude as tropical areas of Brazil, for example—but we have desert coasts because of the currents in the Pacific Ocean and because of the Andes, which divide the continent and work as a barrier against evaporation. So here in Lima, it never rains, but we do have between 60 and 90 percent humidity. The sky is almost always grey, and in any other part of the world, this is the sky when it is about to rain. But here it just hangs there.

We took that as a starting point—the weather here and the conditions that make it possible—and we wanted to extend our investigations to the social and historical climates. We were thinking about a fatality related to weather. If it rains, it rains—you can’t do anything—and if it’s sunny, it’s the same. So you can make a link with other fatalities that are common here. Fatalities related to politics, for example. We carry the weight of bad governments and politicians like the weather—on the back. It’s about the naturalization social processes—about a sense that they are natural and you can’t do anything about them.

Gilda Mantilla Raimond Chaves, Isla [Island], 2009, QuickTime animation projected on recycled cardboard, 5:49 min loop, silent, dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artists and ProjecteSD, Barcelona

Gilda Mantilla Raimond Chaves, Isla [Island], 2009, QuickTime animation projected on recycled cardboard, 5:49 min loop, silent, dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artists and ProjecteSD, Barcelona

We started by doing research on the weather. We went to the weather institute and got scientific information about how the weather works here. Then one day while looking around in the center of Lima, we saw a guy pushing a trolley with this cardboard. We followed him and arrived at the place where they process and sell it.

They explained to us that this type of cardboard is recycled. If you look closely, you can see bits of letters that come from newspapers and silver metallic paper from magazines. This cardboard they use, for example, in the soles of cheap shoes, on the bottoms of cheap bags, inside folders for school children… But it’s a material that you never see because it’s always hidden beneath another material that looks nicer. So we decided to work with this cardboard and to make a kind of weather station—not like the real ones, but a metaphorical or poetic one.

We chose to project the video on the cardboard, which we were using for the other pieces in the installation. The cardboard perfectly represents this dryness of the city without rain, and because it is recycled, it is made from something like the pulp of Lima. But the other thing is the color, what we call “panza de burro,” which means “donkey’s belly.” It’s the name of the color of our skies—like the belly of a donkey, a very light grey.

Gilda Mantilla Raimond Chaves, Isla [Island], 2009, QuickTime animation projected on recycled cardboard, 5:49 min loop, silent, dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artists and ProjecteSD, Barcelona

Gilda Mantilla Raimond Chaves, Isla [Island], 2009, QuickTime animation projected on recycled cardboard, 5:49 min loop, silent, dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artists and ProjecteSD, Barcelona

The video shows photographs that we took from the boardwalk here in Chorrillos. There are two islands in front of the port, but because of the weather conditions during most of the year, we don’t see them. And people in Lima, most of us forget that we have that obstacle in our vision. The idea is that we have a clear horizon, but that’s because of the fog—the horizon line isn’t even visible most of the time. We took photos of where the horizon should be, but what we usually saw was a kind of screen… like shades of grey. But then, because we were working over a period of nine months, toward the end, summer arrived, and the weather changed. So the video also includes pictures of the island in summer, when the scene is almost California-style with bright skies (although there is still a mist… there is always a mist).

For us, the fact that the island disappears from view for most of the year and then reappears is a kind of metaphor. There are things that, here, historically, people don’t want to face. So the questions for this project were: what is hidden behind the fog? What is the obstacle of our vision in more social and political terms? What would happen if we finally had open skies?

One of the islands, El Frontón, was important in two moments in history. One was during a war with Chile and Bolivia at the end of the 19th century. It was a war about bird shit. There was such an amount of bird shit on those coasts that, in the 19th century, European companies made deals with the governments here to make fertilizers. In the end there was a war over this resource…

Then, in the 1980s, Peru built a prison on the island, and political prisoners from Sendero Luminoso and Túpac Amaru were sent there. There was a prisoner mutiny there during the first term of Alan García, and the government made a brutal repression, killing almost all of the prisoners, around 180 people. The government then destroyed the prison. Since then, it has been abandoned, and there is still no clear justice in the case. Of course the prisoners had guns, but not enough to make them a real threat. The government lied about it to the press, but what happened is that they took advantage of the situation and just finished the whole problem.

For us it is important to remember this event because we have been experiencing a long period of peace. What you see with younger people now is that the past happened, but nobody wants to remember. In fact, Alan García is a candidate again, and he is appealing to younger people who cannot relate to that history because they were not born yet.

During the period when we were developing the installation, there was this idea in the air that we are doing ok—the economy is better and maybe there is even a Peruvian boom in art, and maybe everything is ok. But for us it was very important not to collaborate in this idea that everything is ok and that we don’t want to know anymore about structural violence. People refer to terrorists as monsters, for example, because they prefer not to really look at them as related to deeper, more complex social and historical problems. The project is about these kinds of politics.

Visit Fixing Shadows: Contemporary Peruvian Photography, 1968-2015 to learn more and see Isla in person, on view through July 3.

Robin K. Williams is a PhD candidate in Art History at UT Austin and the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Latin American Art at the Blanton Museum of Art. Her research in support of Fixing Shadows was made possible through the generous support of the Mellon Foundation.

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Have it Both Ways: Bilingual Co-Teaching at the Blanton

For the past two years the Blanton has been tinkering with what is rapidly becoming a national model: bilingual gallery lessons for K-12 school groups.

A recent bilingual lesson with students from Sanchez Elementary. BBE co-teacher Mayte De Paz (front left) and Blanton gallery teaching fellow Kimberlynn Martin (center right) and AISD art teacher Susan Holland (far right) share a laugh with students as they compare the frustration in Joan Mitchell’s Rock Bottom to the emotions they feel when playing video games. This lesson was Sanchez students’ third visit to the museum as part of the Art and Feelings multi-visit program.

On a recent bilingual lesson with fourth graders from Sanchez Elementary, BBE co-teacher Mayte De Paz (front left), Blanton gallery teaching fellow Kimberlynn Martin (center right) and AISD art teacher Susan Holland (far right) share a laugh as they compare the frustration in Joan Mitchell’s Rock Bottom to the emotions they feel when playing video games. This was their third visit to the museum as part of the Art and Feelings multi-visit program.

I know what you’re thinking. “Don’t they already do that somewhere?” Nope. (We’ve checked.) A lot of museums provide tours in a language other than English (Spanish, mainly), but none, as far as we know, provide bilingual tours for school-age kids. Right now, the Blanton’s bilingual tours are in both Spanish and English.

Ok, so how does a bilingual gallery lesson work?

First, it takes two co-teachers: one for each language. In the Blanton’s case, we partnered with UT’s College of Education and their Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Each semester we have worked with Dr. Haydee Rodriguez and her cohort of bilingual and bicultural education students (aka, future bilingual teachers!). We pair the bilingual students with the Blanton’s gallery teaching fellows, who are graduate students in the art and art history department.

These co-teaching dream teams are asked to plan together as much as they can, setting a goal to teach close to 50/50 in both languages. Sometimes meeting this goal is easier than others. The first year of the program, most lessons were taught about 70% in English and 30% in Spanish. This year they’re way better, hanging around 60/40 or even 50/50. However the Spanish to English ratio during the lesson depends on the duo of teachers.

An easy way to think about the co-teaching dynamic is to envision cooking dinner with a partner. You might do all the chopping while they sauté and stir. You might sit back with a glass of wine, asking questions and offering suggestions, letting the chef take the lead. Or, your partner might make a salad while you prepare the entree—you’re doing a little more work, but you are both completing complementary portions of the same meal. The point is, in both cooking and in co-teaching, both partners play to their strengths and provide each other opportunities to jump in, learn, advise, observe, contribute.

So why is the Blanton doing this?

Each year about 11,000 K-12 students from all over Central Texas visit the Blanton. Many are Spanish-speaking. Over one quarter of the 83,524 students from Austin Independent School District (AISD) are Spanish-speaking. The district, the fourth largest in Texas[1], has dedicated 57 of its 84 schools to dual language instruction—that’s 68%. Until the Blanton instituted bilingual co-teaching, there was a language divide that resulted in a comprehension gap between conversations that took place in the museum and those at school. Basically, students whose primary language was Spanish couldn’t fully participate in conversations about art when they were at the museum.

We decided to change this and move to a more inclusive model: teaching in both languages enables wide-ranging interpretive conversations to be had in the galleries, with fluid understanding.

A student discovering a work of art in the Blanton's modern and contemporary galleries.

A student discovering a work of art in the Blanton’s modern and contemporary galleries.

Bilingual gallery lessons not only support dual language development for students who are learning English and Spanish, they also send an important signal to parents and the Austin community at large that the Blanton cares about dual language acquisition. If the Blanton’s bilingual project had a motto, it might be something like, “Learning English is important, but don’t forget your native language and culture. Sí no lo usa, lo olvides.” If you listen in on a fifth grade bilingual gallery lesson you will hear students who are fluent in both languages speaking in a mix of English and Spanish. Chaperoning parents will sometimes participate too, in either language.

There are benefits to doing all this at a university art museum. Among them, back-stage access to rock-star partners is at your fingertips. This project has attracted the attention UT faculty across campus, visiting speakers, and doctoral candidates. It has been the topic of two national presentations this year alone.

The first batch of UT students that taught in the bilingual model at the Blanton are about to wrap up their initial year teaching in K-12 classrooms. We plan to check in with some who stayed here in Austin this coming fall. A few burning questions that have us super-curious: did co-teaching in an art museum inform how they teach in their classrooms? Are they teaching with art more than they might otherwise? Stay tuned.

Andrea Saenz Williams manages the Blanton’s school and teacher programs. Get in touch or learn more by contacting andrea.williams@blantonmuseum.org

[1]2016 Largest School Districts in Texas, retrieved Dec. 3, 2015 from k.12niche.com

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Soft on the verses, loud on the choruses: The Blanton Mixtape Project by the numbers

Depiction of several visitor-submitted mixtapes from the Blanton Mixtape Project.

Just a few of the mixes we’ve received.

For those just joining us: as part of our current exhibition Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s, we asked folks to send us playlists of their favorite 90s jams, so we could record them onto cassette tapes for our visitors to listen to on real-honest-to-goodness Sony Walkmans. We’ve received 75 submissions to date, from our friends over at KUTX, besties from Austin, Blanton staff, and even some artists in the show. In the almost three months that Come as You Are has been open to the public, hundreds of visitors have checked out tapes to listen to. If you submitted a playlist, thank you—you are a bright star in the universe. If you haven’t, there’s still time–submit your playlists to blantonmixtapes.tumblr.com.

Now that we’re a few months in, it seems like a good time to reflect on what the project tells us. What can one say about the music of the 90s? It wasn’t all grunge. In fact, it wasn’t even mostly grunge. Sometimes it was about telling people “how we do it.” Sometimes it was about standing up to the twin menaces of diggity and scrubs (this was in stark contrast to the 80s, when such things were widely tolerated). The 90s were about changing our mind every few minutes: we were about the Arsenio Hall Show until we were suddenly about “Dr. Feelgood” for some reason, and then we decided to impeach Clinton. Briefly, MC Hammer removing the “MC” from his name seemed important enough that your local newspaper might report on it. It was as crazy as things could possibly get before Reddit existed.

I decided that we could use the Blanton Mixtape Project to help us understand the music of the 90s a little better, by using data to cut through the noise, as it were, and answer three really important questions:

  1. Which artist from the 90s still matters the most to us?
  2. Hey, remember The Breeders?
  3. Did Liz Phair sell out after or before the release of the album “Whitechocolatespaceegg”?

The answer to #3 is “before.” To find totally legit scientifical answers to the other two questions, I consulted the experts at the Blanton Data Center For Music Policy (90s Division), who crunched some numbers for me. I think the answers they came up with will surprise you. Their methodology involved looking at what songs, artists, and albums were most consistently represented on the mixes our friends sent to us, and then sending that data to me to interpret recklessly. We’ll look at each set of results separately.

Favorite songs

We first looked at the songs that showed up the most often on the tapes submitted. A clear consensus didn’t emerge here, as even the most popular song only showed up on six tapes (out of 75 received). I’ll just chalk this up to the fact that friends of the Blanton know their music, and tended to go for deep cuts over the big hits. That said, these seven songs showed up the most often:

  • TLC, “No Scrubs”
  • The Breeders, “Cannonball”
  • No Doubt, “Just A Girl”
  • Sixpence None the Richer, “Kiss Me”
  • Blackstreet, “No Diggity”
  • Ginuwine, “Pony”
  • Liz Phair, “Stratford-On-Guy”

The number crunchers at BDCFMP explained to me that Ginuwine’s “Pony” made the list mostly due to a statistical variance caused by its appearance in the movie “Magic Mike XXL.”

A picture of a cassette mix tape from the Blanton Mixtape Project, with a track listing consisting entirely of the Melvins' song "Hooch."

I like the song “Hooch.”

They also asked me (politely, I might add) to stop trying to skew the results by submitting mix tapes consisting entirely of the Melvins song “Hooch” 30 times in a row. I told them to stick to their jobs and to stop telling me how to do mine.

You will note the presence of The Breeders’ “Cannonball” as well as a pre-sellout Liz Phair in the top seven. Just pointing these things out.

Favorite artists

To identify favorite artists, we looked at the total numbers of unique submitted songs from each artist. Here we were hoping to identify artists who might not have had a big hit that everyone knows, but who still consistently showed up on the mixes we received. This meant that TLC didn’t show up in this list (they appeared on 13 mixes we received, but only 4 songs), but Nirvana (16 appearances with only one repeat: “Heart-Shaped Box”) did. Most of these artists therefore didn’t show up in the “favorite songs” category (with one exception that the observant reader might note). Here are our favorite artists:

  • Nirvana (15 unique songs)
  • Guided By Voices (11 unique songs)
  • Yo La Tengo (11 unique songs)
  • Radiohead (10 unique songs)
  • Björk (10 unique songs)
  • Smashing Pumpkins (9 unique songs)
  • Nine Inch Nails (8 unique songs)
  • Modest Mouse (8 unique songs)
  • Stereolab (8 unique songs)
  • Notorious B.I.G. (7 unique songs)
  • The Breeders (7 unique songs)
  • Tribe Called Quest (7 unique songs)
  • Portishead (7 unique songs)
  • The Offspring (7 unique songs)
  • Pavement (7 unique songs)

Here’s a pie chart.

After this, it gets a little crazy, with Beck, the Spice Girls, PJ Harvey, Built to Spill, Cat Power, Sleater-Kinney, Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth, Weezer, and the Pixies each getting 6 unique songs each. It gets more entropic from there. I think we can also see that friends of the Blanton like them some YLT and GBV.* I also can’t explain why Jay-Z isn’t on this list, despite several High Priority e-mails I sent to the data team demanding an explanation for this omission. I guess you guys who submitted mixes just let us down. That’s the only explanation. So, nice work on that.

Also, The Breeders.


Favorite Albums

The last part of BDCMP’s research involved determining which albums were the source of the most songs on our mix tapes. Here are those albums, in order:

TLC shows up twice! And look, there’s The Breeders again, at the top of the stack. So, based on this completely sound statistical study, we can safely say that The Breeders is every single person’s favorite artist of the 90s, or at least that “Cannonball” on its own is more popular than most other artists’ entire catalogues. Clearly, The Breeders are as beloved as they ever were.

In conclusion, the Melvins’ “Hooch” is totally awesome.

I hope you’ve appreciated this science-based dive into data with us. We’re happy to publish this data in any science-type journals that might request it, for a nominal fee. And if you haven’t submitted your 90s mixtape playlists to us yet, make it happen! See you soon at the BIanton!

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Felix Gonzalez-Torres, AIDS, and ACT UP

1990: Already ten years into trickle down economics, a rise in cynicism, growing racial and class tension, and the widening gap between the very rich and the rest of us. L.A. before the riots of 1992. A time of defunding vital social programs, the abandonment of the ideals on which our country was supposedly founded. The erasure of history. The Savings and Loan bailout with our tax dollars. “The economic boom” of the Reagan Empire thanks to the tripling of the national deficit. The explosion of the information industry, and, at the same time the implosion of meaning. Meaning can only be formulated when we can compare, when we bring information to our daily level, to our ‘private’ sphere. Otherwise information just goes by.


This passage, written by Felix Gonzalez-Torres for a 1996 exhibition catalogue for artist Roni Horn, was published the month after his death from complications with AIDS. And yet, if you take away the nineties-specific cultural landmarks like Reagan and the L.A. riots, it is astonishing how foretelling it is about comments made about our current social landscape. “[T]he widening gap between the very rich and the rest of us… the abandonment of the ideals on which our country was founded.” It could easily have been written today.

Installation view of Come as You Are featuring Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Placebo), 1991, Candies individually wrapped in silver cellophane, endless supply Overall dimensions vary with installation, ideal weight: 1,000–1,200 lbs The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Elisa and Barry Stevens

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Placebo), 1991, Candies individually wrapped in cellophane, endless supply, overall dimensions vary with installation; Installation view of: Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s, Blanton Museum of Art, 2016, Managing Cur. Evan Garza. Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. Photo by Colin Doyle.

Gonzalez-Torres is arguably the most important artist of the nineties. His practice of conjoining personal and political content through a language of Minimalist and Conceptual traditions so clearly defined what it meant to make art in the nineties. He merged the hot nature of identity politics and deeply personal events, like the death of his partner Ross Laycock from AIDS, with the systematic approaches employed by Conceptual artists. And he did so in a way that was designed to be as approachable as possible—so much so that his most famous bodies of work, like his piles of candy or offset prints, invited viewers to leave their experience of the work with something (physical) they could take with them, the way we hang on to a lost loved one’s ashes or an old t-shirt.

Gran Fury Various members, active in New York City 1987–1995Kissing Doesn’t Kill: Greed and Indifference Do, 1989 Wall vinyl reproduction Dimensions variable Courtesy the artists

Evan Garza leading a tour in front of Gran Fury’s Kissing Doesn’t Kill: Greed and Indifference Do, 1989

Much was taken from Gonzalez-Torres and others in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community in the 1980s and 1990s amid the rapidly worsening AIDS crisis. When federal and public indifference to the deaths of thousands of those with the disease made AIDS a political crisis, groups like ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, first emerged in New York to fight back. Queer artist-activist groups like fierce pussy and Gran Fury, which grew out of ACT UP meetings, formed in the late 1980s and early 1990s to arouse in the public both anger and action.

The tremendous—and tremendously trying—efforts of ACT UP, its organizers and its supporters are the subject of David France’s award-winning documentary “How to Survive a Plague” (2012). The film charts the organization’s efforts to force the Reagan and Bush administrations to acknowledge the crisis at hand, demand dignity for the lives of queer people, and force the FDA to approve the first HIV/AIDS medications after years of protest and constant death.

I hope you’ll join me for a screening of “How to Survive a Plague” at the Blanton Auditorium, Sunday April 17 at 1pm, preceded by brief lecture about the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. This program is part of Screenings at the Blanton: Films of the 1990s, in conjunction with the current Blanton exhibition, Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s.

Evan Garza
Blanton Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

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Global Color: 90s Films From Outside America

Our ongoing film series at the Blanton, Come as You Are: Films of the 1990s, focuses on films produced in the United States, just as the artworks in the exhibition of the same title were all produced in this country. But it’s worth thinking about the rich tapestry of non-American films of the 90s, many of which continue to influence contemporary filmmakers in and outside America.

The 90s were the first decade during which all feature films were not, in fact, “films”: the Danish films The Celebration and The Idiots premiered at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival as the first-ever feature “films” recorded entirely on digital video. They still needed to be transferred from digital video onto actual reels of 35-millimeter film in order to be distributed, but they opened the door to the digital video experimentation that is routine among today’s independent and studio productions.

In a decade during which the physical attributes of film changed, perhaps more substantially than in any decade since the birth of cinema in 1895, many innovative non-American directors were pushing the envelope of how films looked. And among their many formal innovations was an attention to making new uses of color.

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy is perhaps the most well-known and widely celebrated exploration of the expressive use of color in the 90s. The trilogy, which links the colors of the French flag (blue, white, red) to the ideals that those colors have historically symbolized (liberty, equality, fraternity), maps these matrices of color and theme onto three interlocking narratives. In Blue, the titular color evokes the protagonist’s grief over a family tragedy, but also conveys the tension between the protagonist’s need to reestablish human contact after the tragedy, with her desire for liberty, and to be free to process her grief privately.

By the resolution of the trilogy, with Red, the color of fraternity is evoked ironically, in a story about a curmudgeonly man who spies upon his neighbors and comes to interact with them reluctantly. The trilogy is fascinating in its insistence in being about three timeless ideals and the colors with which those ideals are associated, while questioning the symbolic associations we make between colors and themes.

The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s acclaimed film Taste of Cherry notably emphasizes a key color other than the one referenced in the title. Set and shot in Tehran, Taste of Cherry is saturated with rich ochres and marigolds in its landscapes and skyscapes, but also in the costuming and twilight sunshine washing over the actors’ faces. The use of color to link actor, land, and sky is incredibly poignant, given that the narrative dramatizes a man’s arrangements for burial after his impending suicide. The beauty of the ochre tones is contrasted by the deep empathy that the viewer feels for the protagonist.

Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry

Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry

Although black and white films in the 90s occupied a niche share of the feature film market, the Hungarian director Bela Tarr’s experiments with the absence of color in films such as Satantango and Werckmeister Harmonies reflect some of the same concerns as Kiarostami’s films, transposed from Iran to late Communist-era Hungary. In Tarr’s films, the landscapes and the human bodies combine in a dark, disorienting visual style in which it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between a medieval building and an industrial factory, or between bodies and landscapes, or even humans and animals. The black tones in Tarr’s films represent the harsh conditions of life in eastern Europe but also suffuse the film with philosophical questions and even dark humor about the juxtaposition of natural and man-made objects that register on film as visual rhymes, cast in black shadows.

Bela Tarr’s Satantango

Bela Tarr’s Satantango

Postmodern directors like Wong Kar-Wai, especially in his 1994 film Chungking Express, were also interested in questioning how we analyze color in visual art. Wong’s films frequently set up associations between colors and characters, or between colors and themes, in the first act of the film, only to rearrange those relationships in the second and the third acts. And this visual switching is mirrored by his films’ screenplays, in which characters may change names, occupations, or romantic partners, and in which pronouns are frequently left ambiguous: when characters A and B discuss a third character in language coded so as to leave the audience to question whether A and B were discussing X or Y.

Critics have frequently analyzed this tendency in Wong Kar-Wai’s films through the lens of the transition of Hong Kong—the location of Chungking Express and his other early films—from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, a significant political and cultural shift during which Hong Kong residents went to sleep one evening in a state affiliated with the British Empire, and awoke the next morning affiliated with the Republic of China. But Wong has never endorsed this reading of his films, and it seems overly reductive to his complex system of color-switching, which takes place in Chungking Express among three primary colors and four primary characters, rather than through a two-state transfer of political control.

These examples only scratch the surface of the rich complexities of color explored by films of the 90s—Derek Jarman’s Blue, Tian Zhuangzhuang’s The Blue Kite, Jafar Panahi’s The White Balloon, or Trans Anh Hung’s The Scent of Green Papaya, and many others. The decade was a transformational moment, as the sun began to set on the era where “film” and “movie” could be used interchangeably. In the contemporary landscape, where films shot without digital intervention are the anomaly rather than the norm, it’s worth thinking about how 90s filmmakers used film stock to begin experiments with color in ways that their contemporary successors are now continuing with 21st century technology.

Adam Bennett organizes the music, film, and lecture series at the museum in his role as the Blanton’s manager of public programs. He also writes about arts and culture and practices law in Austin.

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Through the Eyes of a 4th Grader: A Virtual Gallery Lesson

Can you remember an amazing class trip that you loved? Imagine one hundred 4th graders eagerly waiting outside of the Blanton, ready to create cherished memories of their own. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of these excited children, and join them as they journey through the museum.

The lessons and activities highlighted here are representative of real student visits and all student responses are actual comments from our K-12 visitors.

Just imagine… you enter the museum with your classmates and are immediately struck by the bustling activity and sounds.  Your attention is pulled skyward to the flood of light bouncing off the ocean-like walls. A gallery teacher motions for you to follow her, and you begin to climb the staircase to the second floor.

Greeting you at the landing is a large plane, with hundreds of scorched black aluminum butterflies effortlessly lifting the aircraft, Passage by Paul Villinski (2011). The gallery teacher tells you that this plane would fit a 10 year old. “I feel like this plane is the spirit of children, allowing us to soar!” Your friend exclaims. You wonder where those butterflies would take you. Your gallery teacher suggests flying to your next destination in the museum. You spread your wings and take off.

Children walking around the museum with their arms outstretched

Your class gathers around Summer Circle by Richard Long (1991), an object that almost fills the room. When the gallery teacher asks, “what do you see?” You hesitantly you put up your hand and say that it looks like a maze. “What a wonderful observation!” She invites the group to lie down and look into the maze. You didn’t know you could lay on the floor in an art museum. The gallery teacher brings out a box, inside are shapes drawn on a mat, and pieces of paper that look similar to the stone in the circle. She tells you that we are going to complete a design challenge, and that you are to use the pieces in the box to think about the issues that this artist might have faced. The challenge is hard at first, but after discussing a strategy with your partner you solve it and begin to feel a growing affinity with the artist.

Two children in front of Richard Long's Summer Circle working on an activity

While following the gallery teacher to the next stop, you are struck with how much there is to see. It’s interesting to see the mix of people gathering at different art works and you wonder about the many conversations that surround you.

Joan Mitchell Rock Bottom painting

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

Your group stops to look at Rock Bottom by Joan Mitchell (1960-61), and this time you feel confident raising your hand. Maybe you’re getting the hang of this! The gallery teacher asks the group if the painting reminds them of an emotion. You glance at your peers and notice that everyone is raising their hands, bursting with ideas. You think that the work shows sadness, and when the teacher asks what you see that makes you think this, you reply that it is the color and the movement of paint. She probes further, “why would an artist want to show you sadness?” Your classmate raises her hand, and offers, “it’s because she wants us to know that it is ok to feel sad sometimes.”  The teacher smiles but doesn’t say anything, her silence allows you to think about what was said, and to stay in a moment of empathy. Your friend, who is sitting next to you breaks the silence, “I have felt that way when I was left out by my friends.” Others around you begin to nod, and you remember a similar feeling. This artwork has been able to stir such emotion, and as you walk away you feel like you know the artist and yourself a little better.

Crossing the room, you come to the next stop, Cord Painting by Regina Bogat (1977). This painting is so dynamic! Or is it a sculpture? Soon you are finding patterns amongst the disorderly lengths of cord. “Are we ready to investigate?” Your gallery teacher asks, as she hands you a large envelope. Inside are colored paper and strings of all colors. “With this artwork in mind, experiment with these materials to create your own works of art”

Children work on an activity at the Blanton Museum of Art

Hurriedly you work together, discussing the best ways to approach the task. It is surprising how calming this activity is: there are no confines, no right or wrong, and when you are finished, everyone takes a turn sharing their work and thoughts.

You help the gallery teacher pick up the paper and string. The lesson is over and you can’t believe that it has been a whole hour! “I’m coming back with my family!” you exclaim, waving goodbye to your gallery teacher, as you walk out of the galleries and back down the stairs.

Education at the Blanton is a journey of discovery. Taking the time to look longer, ask questions, and empathize builds life-long, transferable skills.  We invite students to share their lived experiences and relate to works of art in new and unexpected ways.
Sabrina Phillips is a Blanton Gallery Teacher and the Administrative Coordinator in the Education Department.  She has taught at elementary schools in England, Egypt, Qatar and Thailand.

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The Dark Ages Go Digital

Time is running out to see the Blanton’s exhibition The Crusader Bible: A Gothic Masterpiece, before it closes April 3! This centuries-old illuminated manuscript was likely made for France’s King Louis IX (aka Saint Louis) in the 13th century, and is remarkable for its journey throughout the centuries, changing hands multiple times and inscriptions in three languages added to the pages.

Woman using ipad in Crusader Bible exhibition

With brilliantly colored illustrations attributed to seven anonymous artists, the Crusader Bible is the antithesis to today’s digital age—but that doesn’t mean that technology hasn’t caught up with this manuscript! In one section of the exhibition, pick up an iPad and hold it over any set of pages in the gallery you’re standing in—the English translations of each inscription will automatically appear and hover over the real ones. It’s a fun piece of technology, but in addition to seeing this incredible document in person, we’ve rounded up ways to also experience it online.

First, get an up close and personal look at some of the incredible illustrations via the Morgan Library’s digitized version of each folio. Starting with thumbnails of each of the pages, click on any that catch your eye—you can zoom in on the colorful illustrations to see the minute details, like blood on the horses’ flanks from their riders’ spurs.


Maybe you’re wondering how these works of art were made back in the really olden days.—and how did they last so long, when it seems like paperbacks from the modern age tend to fall apart after only a few years?

Medieval books were created by hand by skilled artisans and craftsmen with painstaking precision, using materials found in nature. To see an overview of the illuminated manuscript process from beginning to end, check out a six-minute video from the J. Paul Getty Museum, showing how animal skins were used to make parchment, how quills and ink were created, and how scribes—usually monks—copied the text to make books. It goes on to detail the process of adding in the beautiful color illustrations (called “illumination”), and finally demonstrating how the books were bound and their covers decorated, sometimes with precious metals or jewels.


When you visit the Blanton’s presentation of the Crusader Bible, each of the pages, or folios, is laid out individually; this is the last time the public will be able to see individual pages before the manuscript will be rebound at the Morgan Library. In addition, a special room in the exhibition shows many of the tools and pigments that scribes and artists used to make such books, from the precious blue of lapis lazuli to malachite, know for its sage green color. In this section, visitors are invited to touch the various types of animal skins that were used to make the parchment—you can feel the difference between treated and untreated calfskin.

Seen the show and still want more? If you’re truly mad about the Middle Ages, the Khan Academy has a free online course called “Art of Medieval Europe” that includes a series of short articles and videos on Medieval manuscripts. It’s a great resource to supplement your trip to the exhibition.

The Crusader Bible: A Gothic Masterpiece features over forty unbound pages from the one of the most celebrated French illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. The last day to view the exhibition is Sunday, April 3.

Rebecca Johnson is a volunteer blogger for the Blanton, and editor of McDonald Observatory’s StarDate magazine.

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(Re)consider the Slacker: films of the 1990s at the Blanton

There’s a critique of American films of the 1990s that calls out an excessive focus on slacker protagonists: the too-cool-for-school hipsters, always rolling their eyes, coolly mocking authority without actually challenging it, all affect and no action. Think Reality Bites, Slacker, or even The Big Lebowski. As one character in the film Slacker notes disapprovingly about another: “[You’re] of those neoposeur types that hangs out in coffee shops and doesn’t do much of anything.”

When we were programming our upcoming film series at the Blanton, which begins on April 3, we were interested in films of the 90s that engaged with this cliché of the inactive, slacker protagonist. The first two films in this series, Party Girl and Safe, can be read as movies about characters paralyzed by inaction, but more interesting is the way in which Party Girl’s Mary, played by Parker Posey, and Safe’s Carol, played by Julianne Moore, are depicted on film as being mismatched with their respective environments. The films ask us to consider our own responses to feeling disappointed with, ill-suited for, or even physically threatened by the social and physical environments in which we live. Despite being very different in tone—Party Girl’s comedy shot through with melodrama, and Safe’s melodrama filmed as horror—each film presents a unique and challenging take on the archetypal 90s slacker.

Screen capture of Party Girl

One of the ways in which Party Girl presents the titular character as being mismatched with her environment is through its compositions that show Parker Posey’s body being blocked and constrained by objects within the film’s frame. At various points in the story, she’ll be screened from the viewer by stacks of library books, by ravers in a crowded apartment, and even by the bars of a jail cell. While it’s clear that she is the film’s key figure—the title refers directly to her and she’s in nearly every scene—it’s unusual in classical film form to have the main character so frequently blocked from the audience’s view.

The way that this visual motif develops is central to the main character’s development during the film. As she begins to adapt to a new job and to feeling older and less closely connected to her Party Girl persona, the camera similarly adapts to show these changes. And the tension in watching the film’s conclusion is how her character resolves her various identities, as Dionysian Party Girl and Apollonian Librarian, and whether she’ll revert to her former self, metamorphose into a new identity, or synthesize these roles.

Screen capture of Julianne Moore in Safe
The second film in the series, Safe, presents the main character as being mismatched with her environment in very different but striking ways. Whereas in Party Girl, the film frame’s typically intrudes upon Parker Posey’s body with props, costumes, and architectural elements, the framing in Safe is stark and wide open: the film’s ambient soundtrack, its cold lighting filters, and its minimal compositions evoke 2001: A Space Odyssey and the films of Italian minimalist director Michelangelo Antonioni.

Screen capture of Julianne Moore in SafeSafe’s central dramatic action revolves around Carol’s mysterious environmental illness, which leads her to an increasingly severe series of lifestyle changes in order to diagnose and treat her physical discomfort. But the nature of environmental illness is that the factors that cause it are largely invisible, and the presence of this invisible menace haunts the empty onscreen spaces in Safe.

Screen capture of Julianne Moore in Safe

Safe is one of the key films of the 90s in its iconic film style—with a minimal precision that reworks key films from the 1960s, and that prefigures 21st century classics like Uncle Boonmee or even There Will Be Blood. But it’s also a perfect choice for our 90s film series at the Blanton because it engages with social problems of the decade, as do so many works from our current exhibition Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s. Safe is a film about an American woman’s encounter with an empty suburban landscape, with inflexible gender roles and emotionally unfulfilling friendships and marriages, and with deadly toxins encountered in traffic jams, hair salons, and even in our homes.

So it’s certainly true that many American filmmakers of the 90s were interested in the dramatic possibilities of inactive protagonists: party girls rather than guns for hire, coffee-shop philosophers rather than hardscrabble boxers, Parker Posey and Ethan Hawke instead of Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes. But what the first two films in our series show is how complicated these slacker roles can really be, and how creative filmmakers responded to adapt  visual motifs that develop these characters’ stories.

Adam Bennett organizes the music, film, and lecture series at the museum in his role as the Blanton’s manager of public programs. He also writes about arts and culture and practices law in Austin.

Party Girl screens at the Blanton on April 3 at 1 p.m.
Safe screens at the Blanton on April 10 at 1 p.m

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Behind the Blanton: Morgan McCammon

There have been a lot of new faces at the museum recently, one of which is Morgan McCammon, Grants Manager for the Blanton. Having only been in Austin for two months, we caught up with Morgan to find out how she’s finding life in the Lone Star State.

Morgan McCammon poses in front of Stacked Waters at the Blanton

You recently moved to Austin from Louisville, KY—how are you liking the city? What’s been one of your favorite experiences since moving here?

Austin is amazing and everyone is so friendly. But really, I’m most excited that I can go almost anywhere and play with other people’s dogs. There have been a lot of good experiences in my two months here, but I survived my first South by Southwest so that is what comes to mind. I got to see one of my favorite bands from the front row and they smiled at my enthusiasm. I feel like that’s a pretty special thing that I wouldn’t have experienced elsewhere. My favorite ongoing experience has been acquainting myself with all of the restaurants here. I’ve been eating a lot of tacos from a lot of different places for, you know, research.

What made you want to work in museums? What’s your education background?

I actually kind of fell into the museum world. I have a BA in English and began a part-time museum job while I started work on my Master’s. I was considering a Ph.D. and, after a year of classes, I discovered that I preferred my job because I felt like I was contributing to the city. I expressed some interest in learning the grants process and here I am a few years later…almost to the day.

You used to work at the Speed Museum of Art—are there any differences you’ve found between working there and at the Blanton? Similarities?

The biggest difference is the Blanton being open! I worked at the Speed while the museum was closed for a major renovation and expansion. It’s been really nice to take breaks and get lost in the galleries to recharge. The Blanton and the Speed have a lot of similar artists in their permanent collections, so it’s comforting to see some familiar faces. This is my first time working for a university and it’s definitely nice to be around the engaging energy on campus. Regardless of differences, I feel very fortunate to have museum experience in two cities that are so generous and supportive of the arts.

Most people don’t know that there are a lot of behind-the-scenes jobs that help keep the museum running smoothly. What does a typical workday for you look like?

It definitely depends on how many upcoming deadlines are on the calendar. I like to segment my projects into stages so each day has some variety. I’m always researching, writing, editing, or submitting proposals. I’m lucky because I get to work with most departments on projects. So many of the Blanton’s mission-related activities, from educational programs to collections care, rely on funding from outside supporters. I appreciate collaborating with so many different staff members and exchanging new ideas. That energy definitely makes its way into grant proposals.

Morgan McCammon crying at a Celine Dion concert

The photo in question.

And finally: what’s a weird thing about you that people wouldn’t normally guess? Any unusual hobbies/collections/talents?

Hmm, I openly appreciate music that is often labeled as “cheesy” and people always seem surprised by that. I’ve seen Celine Dion (sincerely) in concert and have the pictures of me sobbing to prove it. My biggest talent is probably my ability to quote any Christopher Guest mockumentary from beginning to end. As far as hobbies, I collect fountain pens and I wake up to watch Wimbledon live at 5am every summer. Actually, I’m really into all sports. I’m generally a relaxed person until a game is on. People don’t like watching with me because I’m a yeller. I completely transform.

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5 days, 5 films: Matthew Barney’s The CREMASTER Cycle

Matthew Barney, CREMASTER 4, 1994 Production still ©1994 Matthew Barney Photo: Michael James O’Brien Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Matthew Barney, CREMASTER 4, 1994, Production still, ©1994 Matthew Barney, Photo: Michael James O’Brien, Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

In 1995, when The New York Times first reviewed of one of artist Matthew Barney’s CREMASTER Cycle films, his indulgent and elaborate five-part film epic, critic Michael Kimmelman asked, “What’s the idea? Who knows for certain, besides Mr. Barney? Maybe if you squint hard enough, you can read into the film some abstract fertility ritual… It’s frustrating and prolix, but also alarming and amusing. It has an elaborate and opaque symbolism, involving ancient myths… which Mr. Barney has adapted to his own mysterious purposes.”

In conjunction with the current exhibition Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s, the Blanton is pleased to present a series of special screenings of Matthew Barney’s The CREMASTER Cycle from March 15-19, during the week of SXSW. Filmed out of sequence from 1994 to 2002, and produced in tandem with related sculptures, photographs, and drawings, CREMASTER takes its name from the male cremaster muscles, which regulate testicular contractions due to external stimuli such as temperature and arousal.

From this conceptual point of departure Barney creates epic, dramatic scenes that build off historical and biological models: a chorus line of dancers forming the outlines of reproductive organs on a football field (CREMASTER 1); a gothic Western featuring line-dancing and a prison rodeo staged in a cast salt arena (CREMASTER 2); elaborate scenes of destruction and creation from New York’s Chrysler building and the Guggenheim’s Frank Lloyd Wright building to the shores of the Scottish Hebrides, starring Richard Serra and Aimee Mullins (CREMASTER 3); musings on the notion of drive, featuring a motorbike race set on the Isle of Man (CREMASTER 4); and a lyric opera starring Ursula Andress complete with a Baroque Budapest opera house and hermaphroditic water fairies in a pool of pearl bubbles (CREMASTER 5).

Matthew Barney CREMASTER 1, 1995 Production still ©1995 Matthew Barney Photo: Michael James O'Brien Courtesy Gladstone Gallery

Matthew Barney, CREMASTER 1, 1995, Production still, ©1995 Matthew Barney, Photo: Michael James O’Brien, Courtesy Gladstone Gallery

Arguably some of the most elaborate and significant artworks of the 1990s, The CREMASTER Cycle films employ a unique symbology and an indulgent, complicated approach to narrative that are each inherent to the Barney’s practice. Not to be missed!

Evan Garza
Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Screenings are held daily at 12 noon beginning Tuesday, March 15 and ending Saturday, March 19.
Free with museum admission. 
These films contain mature images and are intended for adult audiences.

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Feel Like a True Insider with These Blanton Hacks

If you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet, you’ve probably seen articles with titles like, “10 Home Life Hacks to Make Your Life Simpler,” or “This One Simple Trick Will Blow Your Mind.” Life hacks—or simple, cheap solutions to common problems—are becoming more and more popular in our online sharing culture. But did you know there are also life hacks……for the Blanton? We’ve left no stone unturned in bringing you the best ways to get the most out of your trip to the museum—follow these tricks to feel like a true Blanton insider!

Screenshot of the Do512 website with B scene ticket giveaway

We know you want to visit the museum for free—and you can, every Thursday. But did you know that there are also ways to score tickets to other events, like B scene? The PR & Marketing team at the Blanton often teams up with outlets like Do512 to hold ticket giveaways, contests, and more—keep an eye out on social media for ways to attend events for free.

Not into being jostled by other visitors as you try to have a one-on-one commune with the art? We hear from top secret sources that Saturday mornings around 11am, or Friday afternoons around 3pm are the quietest at the Blanton. Check out these tips for visiting a museum alone, then head on over to enjoy a meditative experience in our galleries.

Hilary Elrod

Game-ify your visit! One way to make your experience more exciting is to play games in the galleries. Walk up to a piece of art and DON’T read the wall label. First, look at the artwork and come up with your own name for the piece. Then, see how closely you can guess what year or decade it was made in. Once you’ve figured out as much as you can (a minimum of 3 minutes of looking), then read the wall label and see how close (or not close!) your answers were to the information provided.

Looking for a more guided experience? Curators routinely give tours in the galleries as part of our Perspectives talks. You can find them on our website on our calendar of events.

Woman holding up her phone taking a photo of an artwork

Photo by AzulOx Photography

The Blanton really likes social media. And we know you do, too. There’s a real live person behind our accounts, and she keeps track of who mentions the Blanton online. Always post something to your snapchat story about your museum visit? Maybe you get a couple stickers. Consistently tag the Blanton in your Instagram posts? Maybe you get invited to an Instameet. We’re not saying the most active followers get sweet Blanton swag…but we’re not saying they don’t, either.

Speaking of social media, if you’re wandering around the galleries and your phone starts to die, keep an eye out for outlets in the floor where you can plug your charger in. There are also outlets located under the desks in the eLounge on the second floor. With lots of comfy seating and a view of the Capitol Building, the eLounge is a perfect place to sit and rest your feet while you wait for your device to charge, or if you have little ones that need to take a break during their visit.

Do you have a life hack for the Blanton that isn’t listed here? Let us know over social media or at the front desk the next time you drop by—we’ll add it to this post!

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Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon

Join us Friday afternoon, March 4th, for the Art+Feminism Wikipedia-edit-a-thon at the UT Fine Arts Library (map).  The edit-a-thon, hosted by UT student organizations the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) and Advocating for Women in Technology (AWIT), is an event to bring together diverse communities to expand the coverage of women artists on Wikipedia.  We are very excited to be working on Wikipedia articles featuring women in the arts as well as providing expertise and support to participants during the event.

The Wikipedia Edit a Thon from 2013 at the iSchool at the University of Texas

So, what is an edit-a-thon?

Simply put, it’s a bit like a marathon. Get together with a bunch of like-minded people working towards a single goal. This particular -thon is about bringing together diverse communities to create and work on Wikipedia articles related to women in the arts.

The event was started by a group in New York called Art+Feminism, with the goal of increasing female participation in Wikipedia editing as well as increasing the coverage of women artists on Wikipedia. You can learn more about the gender gap at WikiProject Women and read more about the Art+Feminism campaign on their website.

the flyer for the wikipedia edit a thon

Who can participate?

Anyone! We are inviting members of the UT and Austin community at large to come join us.

We’ll have trainers and subject-matter experts on hand to help with your Wikipedia and art history questions.

Why participate?

Wikipedia is constantly changing and growing, and it can be daunting to consider trying to participate. But it’s a great skill to have and Wikipedia needs diverse contributors like you! Join us to learn where to get started.

A little bit more…

  • Don’t forget to bring something to edit on (laptops, tablets—and for the super tech-savvy, mobile devices can work too).  
  • We’ll have friendly folks from the Blanton on hand to help with researching artists and citing references!
  • Also, we’ll have food during the event—sandwiches, snacks, coffee and soft drinks—so no one will go hungry!

The details:

a map of the fine arts library at the university of texas

When: March 4th from noon to 4:30pm (come for the whole time or just drop by for a little while)
Where: Fine Arts Library (Address: Fine Arts Library, Austin, TX 78712)
Facebook event | Wikipedia Event Page
Twitter handles (AWIT and ASIS&T): @awit_ut  ; @asistUT
Hashtags for event: #artandfeminism #atxeditathon
Parent event: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup/ArtAndFeminism
Learn more about Art+Feminism: http://art.plusfeminism.org

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Be Kind, Rewind: A Look Back at the 1990s with “Come as You Are”

As I put my nineties mixtape playlist together recently, I was reminded just how many cultural points of entry there are into the nineties. I spent the first half of the decade scouring for clothes for my grunge wardrobe at thrift stores and spent the latter half on AOL Instant Messenger, writing HTML on my Compaq Presario for my local ska website in Houston (hosted by Geocities), followed by a very sharp turn into house/rave culture in the late nineties. (See what I mean?) Everyone came out of the nineties from a different experience, and in many cases, from several experiences.

A man standing in the galleries looking at art

Photo: AzulOx Photography

It’s with this in mind that the Blanton opens Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s, the first major museum exhibition to historically examine artworks produced during this tumultuous decade and the first to specifically examine emerging artists from this period. The exhibition explores everything from the AIDS crisis to Internet art that emerged from the Silicon Vallery dot-com bubble in the mid-to-late nineties.

So many of the art world and art-making precedents that exist today were born in the 1990s — from digitization of artworks and the art market to diverse, international rosters in major group shows and museum programs to the notions of institutional critique and social practice. The kind of visibility that artists of color, women, LGBTQ and international artists enjoy now increased dramatically in the early 1990s.

Installation view of Come as You Are featuring Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Placebo), 1991, Candies individually wrapped in silver cellophane, endless supply Overall dimensions vary with installation, ideal weight: 1,000–1,200 lbs The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Elisa and Barry Stevens

Installation view of Come as You Are featuring Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Placebo), 1991, Candies individually wrapped in silver cellophane, endless supply, overall dimensions vary with installation; Installation view of: Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s, Blanton Museum of Art, 2016, Managing Cur. Evan Garza. Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

Come as You Are, which takes its name from the famous Nirvana track, includes a large candy pile installation by Felix Gonzalez-Torres; major works by Gran Fury, a New York artist collective active during the AIDS crisis; photographic prints by Catherine Opie, Gabriel Orozco, Sharon Lockhart, Vik Muniz and Mariko Mori; paintings by Glenn Ligon, Byron Kim, Shahzia Sikander, Gary Simmons, Karen Kilimnik, and more; video works by Andrea Fraser, Doug Aitken, Diana Thater, Alex Bag, and Cheryl Donegan; installations and sculptural work by Jason Rhoades, Pepón Osorio, and Mark Dion; and much more.

With the birth of the Internet, the nineties was the first decade to splinter off into countless new genres and subgenres—some real, some digital—and the artworks in the exhibition reflect this new global melting pot. Now that more than 25 years have passed since the dawn of the nineties, we can chart the history and influence of the emerging art of the decade in a powerful way. Come check it out, it’ll be rad. And bring us your mixtape! 

Evan Garza is the Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Blanton, and the Managing Curator of Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s.

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Bring Your Own Boombox: Mobile Music at the Blanton

Kids born in the 21st century won’t remember a time when music wasn’t mobile—a time when we encountered music almost exclusively through objects in our living rooms. But the rise of the boombox in the late 80s and early 90s began the shift toward mobile music, when our phones and streaming services make music ubiquitous. Early boomboxes were still analog, not digital, but they hinted at the future world of mobile music.

During the process of planning our upcoming SoundSpace program—which takes place at the Blanton on Sunday, February 28 at 2 p.m.—we looked for ideas that connected contemporary music to the cultural trends of the 1990s, as depicted in the museum’s new exhibition Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s. And indeed, boomboxes are all over the cultural landscape of 1989–2001, the years that the exhibition covers.

Film screenshot

For instance, boomboxes are central to the denouement of two iconic American films of 1989: Do the Right Thing, in which the film’s climactic riot sequence is sparked when the white pizzeria owner destroys a young black man’s boombox; and of course the emo boombox serenade of Peter Gabriel in Say Anything. The two films are completely different in tone and politics, but in each the boombox carries incredible power within the film’s story. Radio Raheem’s boombox in Do the Right Thing literally spins Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” over and over again, encouraging the black patrons of the pizzeria to stand up for their cultural heritage against the racist owner. In both films, the boombox is a medium for communication between its operator and its audience—it makes listening to music a social experience.

Music videos provide other examples: find a 90s music video with a boombox and you’re bound to find a party, or at least someone looking to connect with other people. There’s the talking dog toting his boombox and looking to meet friends in Daft Punk’s “Da Funk,” and the dancers with their contraband boombox at the movie theater in Fatboy’s Slim’s “Praise You”—the world’s first flash mob? Compare both of these with 90s music videos featuring characters listening in private, such as Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” or David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans.” These songs’ titles tell you all you need to know about how their videos’ protagonists encounter strangers out in the world. Boomboxes are for making friends and sharing public experiences; listening solo creates anxiety, paranoia, and menace.

Boomboxes are a central component to our upcoming SoundSpace show for precisely this reason: to emphasize the social potential of music. We’re encouraging visitors to bring their own boomboxes to the museum to participate in two compositions for “boombox choirs.” These works evoke experiments from the 1990s by artists like The Flaming Lips, who designed participatory concerts to be played on multiple stereos in parking lots, and even released an entire album on 4 CDs to be played simultaneously.
One piece to be performed at SoundSpace is by the American composer Phil Kline. The work, Premonition, is designed for 25 boomboxes and was actually recorded to CD in 1998, though the two-channel recording only approximates the layers of the 50-channel live performance. The second boombox piece is a premiere by Austin-based composer Laura Brackney. And although each piece is based on the technological limitations of the 20th century, there’s a boombox ethos alive in these works—to enhance the social function of music through our programs at the museum and through our current exhibition.

Where there’s a boombox, there’s a party.

Where there’s a boombox, there’s a party.

Make sure to drop by the Blanton this Sunday, February 28 from 2-4pm to experience SoundSpace: Music of the 1990s.

Adam Bennett organizes the music, film, and lecture series at the museum in his role as the Blanton’s manager of public programs. He also writes about arts and culture and practices law in Austin.

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Out on the Edge with Kate Perez

The Blanton’s Art on the Edge black-tie party is coming up this Saturday. Launched for the first time as a stand-alone event, it promises to be an unforgettable night of live music, dancing, cocktails — and art! — in support of the museum. We caught up with host committee chair Kate Perez about her two-year involvement with Art on the Edge, and her history with the Blanton and arts in Austin.

Kate PerezHow did you become involved volunteering with the Blanton?

I’ve been visiting the museum since I was in college at The University of Texas at Austin. Back when the collections were split between the Huntington Gallery and the Harry Ransom Center, I would spend an afternoon wandering around or writing papers on the works for my art history classes.

I joined formally as a member when the new building opened, and have been involved ever since. I volunteer for several arts organizations in Austin and I love how they all support each other and promote the arts to residents and visitors alike.

You champion a variety of arts institutions here in Austin—what sets the Blanton apart? 

I think that the Blanton is often missed as an arts destination because of its location on campus. Many people don’t realize how easy and convenient it is to get to the museum—I wander the galleries on a routine basis! When you take the time to stop in and really spend some time among the collection you’ll find there are so many impressive artists and works represented in the various galleries.

I believe that art really feeds the soul. So many beautiful things — music, design, art, dance — are like a breath of fresh air. Art also opens you up to new perspectives and makes you consider something you may have never noticed in the past.

Kate Perez

Kate and Hector Perez at the 2015 Art on the Edge Photo: Waterloo Studios

Last year was your first time as Host Committee Chair for Art on the Edge—what was your favorite part, and what was the most challenging?

I love that this event brings together such a diverse group of people. You see people you know, but also make new connections, all while sipping cocktails and dancing the night away. (Speaking of dancing, the other great thing is Memphis Train Revue who will be performing for the second year in a row. They certainly know how to get a party going!)

All in all, the best part is the experience. You’ll also get a preview of Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s, a new exhibition opening in conjunction with the party.

As for the most challenging? There isn’t one really, except maybe that you can’t bring your champagne into the galleries!

What are your duties as Chair of this year’s Art on the Edge?

I really love advocating for events and organizations that serve the community. Since Art on the Edge is relatively new, we mostly focus on awareness and encouraging others to purchase tickets and spend some time getting to know the museum.

It’s been an honor to work with the Blanton over the last two years. We put together a great host committee last year and several of them returned this year, in addition to some new faces. The host committee is really about reaching out to different and diverse circles in Austin to introduce people to the museum—you always get to meet people you wouldn’t normally run into.

It’s also been a pleasure to work with the museum’s development staff. Sarah Burleson and Lindsey Bloch make this committee work like clockwork, and having that support allows the committee to focus on spreading the word about the event.

2015 Art on the Edge

Guests at the 2015 Art on the Edge. Photo: Waterloo Studio

What would you tell people who are on the fence about attending Art on the Edge?

They should absolutely come! My favorite response to last year’s event was that “this is what a dance party looks like in an art museum” and it’s true. It’s black tie, but it has the energy that’s all about letting loose and having a great time with your friends. Last year I loved just standing to the side and watching the crowd—everyone was laughing and dancing and greeting their colleagues.

If you can’t make it to Art on the Edge, be sure to visit the Blanton another time — whether for a quiet stroll through the galleries on a weekday or one of their fantastic public programs, like Third Thursday!

Art on the Edge is this Saturday, February 20, from 8 p.m. – Midnight and features tunes by DJ Mel, live music by Memphis Train Revue, complimentary light bites and desserts, an open bar, an interactive photobooth, and more! Tickets are available online.

Rebecca Johnson is a volunteer blogger for the Blanton, and editor of McDonald Observatory’s StarDate magazine.

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The Art and Sound of Free Beer

In his free time, Blanton preparator Dave Culpepper produces, with several friends, the local arts podcast Free Beer. The show has been around for a year, and has received a Cultural Engagement grant from the City of Austin for 2016. Last week, I spoke with Dave about his work, his art, and Free Beer.

Can you tell me a little bit about what you do at the Blanton?

Free BeerI’ve been at the Blanton four and half years now. I started working there as a guard in the galleries, and did that work for about three and half years. Then I started working on the tech crew, installing artwork, fabricating pedestals, and creating build-outs for exhibitions.

You’re also a contemporary artist. How long have you been doing that?

I graduated in 2010 from Virginia Commonwealth University in Virginia. I moved to Austin with my at-the-time girlfriend, now wife, when she got into grad school at the University of Texas for Museum Education. I got the job at the Blanton, made some friends there, and my wife met a lot of people through the master’s program. So we created a group called Ink Tank—an artists’ collective.

I work on my own personal stuff, too. I got an Austin Critic’s Table Award last year for solo gallery exhibition. That was the last show I did.

What made you want to do a podcast? Was it difficult to get it started?

Free BeerIt started with being a guard at the Blanton. You’re allowed to listen to headphones while you’re patrolling the galleries. A portion of the people I started Ink Tank with also were guards at the Blanton. The four of us [Culpepper, T.J. Lemanski, Landon O’Brien and Nate Ellefson] developed a real appreciation for podcasts through that experience. We wound up listening to countless hours of them. A full breadth of them, too, from very popular ones to very off-the-beaten-path, more experimental podcasts.

Last year we decided, let’s spend 2015 and see if we can make a podcast. We put out an episode a month. Not that hard to put together, though, a podcast. The amount of equipment that we have is pretty minimal. We have a field recorder and we’ll take that to artists’ studios and events to collect a lot of recordings. Then we’ll go through all of those and pick out what we want.

How would you describe your podcast to someone who’s never heard it?

It’s a contemporary arts podcast that focuses on studio practice, artistic ideas and mediums, and also we’ll do event coverage for things that are happening in town, like the East Austin Studio Tours, or the Art Bash, or Pop Austin, these kind of larger art-party events.

It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek—to go and record at an opening like that is kind of silly sometimes. You know how when people interview folks that are standing in line for three days at a movie? That kind of like quick, choppy, fast content.

And that’s where our name sprouts from, too. Being called Free Beer is revolving around the concept of socializing at these events. Even if you don’t like the [art] work, or the person making it, you can still go get a free drink, and hang out with your friends and talk about maybe the thing that you hate at the show, or the thing that you love at the show, or maybe just what’s going around in Austin, the climate of the scene.

Free BeerWhat is the strangest experience that you’ve had making an episode of Free Beer?

We did an interview with [artist] Erica Nix, and I think that was one of the more oddball interviews that we did because of the structure of it. She teaches workout classes. They’re in the vein of Richard Simmons, so they’re very energetic, very enthusiastic. You know, she tries to get you out of that “I’m uncomfortable working out in front of a lot of people” bubble.

And [in her artwork] she’s also very into sex workers, and she’s very into free expression. She also does performance art pieces where she does these kind of exhibitionist-style workout routines. One night, we went to her workout. We had a short conversation with her, and then we recorded an entire workout of us doing the workout with her. So you got to hear the music, you got to hear her enthusiasm, and you got to hear us panting and flopping all over the floor.

What can listeners expect in future episodes?

This year’s programming is going to start in February Our first episode is going to be with Zac Traeger. He’s a musician, and is one of the organizers of The Museum of Human Achievement.

What’s the best way for people to listen to your podcast?

Subscribe on iTunes is the easiest way. We have a website where you can stream everything off of there; you can also download off of that, too. There are things you can buy online, too. There’s coozies, and fun stuff like that. We have stickers now. And that helps us out, for the costs of keeping the thing on.

To hear episodes of Free Beer, visit their website at http://freebeerpla.net/.

Rebecca Johnson is a volunteer blogger for the Blanton and editor of McDonald Observatory’s StarDate magazine.

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Your mixtape is a masterpiece, and we want to hear it.

The year was 1995.

Gas was $1.09 a gallon. OJ was found innocent. A broken laser pointer was the first item that sold for $14.83 on a brand new site called eBay. Pedro Martínez pitched a perfect game (kind of). Kid ‘n Play broke up. Microsoft released Windows 95, and people camped out in lines to get copies, for some reason. A plucky new intern named Monica Lewinsky began working at the White House. George Lucas began writing The Phantom Menace, which we all knew was going to be great.

Opening February 21, Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s explores the art that emerged in this pivotal decade.The comprehensive survey includes works created from 1989 to 2001, and explores a range of social and political issues as diverse as the decade from which they emerged. But the 90s were about so much more than just art and the Contract With America; they were about the music, man! Specifically, they were about music recorded off the radio onto Maxell XLII-90 cassettes that you decorated yourself. That’s right, Mary Sue; we’re talking about mixtapes. Whether you thought that Stone Temple Pilots were the best thing since Alice In Chains, or intensely followed the careers of Heavy D as well as his Boyz, mixtapes were the soundtrack of your 90s life.

To enjoy the music of the 90s alongside the art of the 90s, visitors to Come as You Are will be able to hear the sweet, sweet sounds of the 90s the way they were meant to be heard—on cassette mixtapes played on portable Sony Walkmans*. You heard us right—visitors to the show will be able to check out real Walkmans (get excited!) and listen to mixtapes of 90s music as they walk through the exhibition. Because there’s no better way to experience the art of the 90s than with those hurt-y foam headphones on.

But hey, you may ask, where will these mixtapes come from? Why, from you, of course! All sorts of people will be contributing mixtapes for visitors to listen to (including some artists represented in the show), but it’s you, the visitor to the Blanton who still has a cassette deck in your home, that we want to hear from the most! Visitors who bring a 90s cassette mixtape with them will receive free admission to the Blanton and to Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s. Here’s how this will work:

  1. You make a cassette mixtape of 1990s music at home.
  2. You bring that cassette mixtape to the Blanton Museum of Art.
  3. We let you in for free.
  4. You enjoy the hell out of Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s.

For those of you who like to frequently ask questions, here are some Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: I don’t have a cassette deck at home. Can I just send you a playlist on Spotify or something?
A: Sure! Only the cassette will get you a free admission (limit one admission per mixtape), but we’d love to hear your playlist. Send it to us on Twitter: @blantonmuseum and include the hashtag #Artofthe1990s.

Q: So, what do you consider to be “music of the 1990s”?
A: Music on your mixtape must have been created and released between 1989 and 2001.

Q: Will you judge and/or make fun of the music I put on my mix tape?
A: Probably, but not necessarily.

Q: What kind of tape should I use?
A: Any standard compact cassette (60 minutes, 90 minutes, 120 minutes) will do.

Q: Can I decorate the tape with glitter and stars and stuff?
A: Yes. Proclamations of eternal love are also strongly encouraged.

Q: Is it okay if I put Montell Jordan’s 1995 hit “This Is How We Do It” on my mixtape?
A: Of course.

Q: Will I get my mixtape back?
A: No, so please make sure your tape is something you can part with.

Above all, have a good time making your tape! Remember Nick Hornby’s advice from High Fidelity: “To me, making a tape is like writing a letter—there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do.”

See you at the Blanton for Come as You Are!

*Yes, the plural of “walkman” is “walkmans.” We checked.

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Choosing the Blanton Museum for Your Special Day

The question has been popped, and the ring sized—all that’s left to do is start planning your wedding! With so many choices in the Central Texas area and around the country, choosing an event venue is one of the most daunting tasks in the planning process. Located in the heart of downtown Austin, the Blanton Museum of Art is available for evening special event rentals—and we love weddings!


Interested in getting married at the Blanton but don’t know where to start? We have you covered! Your first (and most important!) step is determining how many people you will have at your wedding.

The Rapoport Atrium, famous for its beautiful Stacked Waters installation by artist Teresita Fernández, comfortably seats up to 150 at tables or up to 300 for a standing reception. Brides have the option of extending seating onto our upstairs mezzanine, but for a more intimate experience we recommend planning to seat no more than 150 guests.

We understand that keeping that count down can present quite a challenge when it comes to making sure no family member or friend gets left out. Many couples are opting for a more relaxed reception that incorporates mixed seating with some cocktail tables and a few traditional round tables with seats reserved for family and elderly guests.

Blanton WeddingKnowing your guest count is also a key factor when selecting a caterer. Choosing the right caterer for your day may seem like a daunting task, but here at the Blanton we’ve done the ground work for you and already vetted a list of pros! All of our approved caterers have solid reputations and go through a contracting process with us, so you can be assured that they’re familiar with our unique venue and are trusted to provide top notch quality food and service. Our current list includes:

Blanton WeddingWhat is included? Our $5,000 venue rental fee includes the use of the Rapoport Atrium, outdoor loggia, and “get ready room” for your wedding party, along with a catering kitchen and back of house area for event staff. It also includes 2-3 venue managers, security for the building and custodial staffing. The rental price is based on a four-hour event with an additional two hours for set up and an hour to break down. If you think you need additional time for your event, you can arrange additional time for $500 per hour.

While we don’t have any furniture in house, we work closely with a couple of great local companies. Both Premiere Events and Marquee have some useful online tools to assist with your planning needs, but keep in mind that your caterer is typically happy to handle the rentals for you.

We also include a complementary portrait session in the museum on a Monday when we are closed to the public. This can be a fun way to take your engagement pictures or bridal portraits in an intimate private gallery experience. It’s also a great opportunity walk through the space with your photographer in advance of the big day so that special shots can be planned.

Blanton WeddingDo I need an event planner? While hiring an event planner is not currently required for a wedding at the Blanton, we highly recommend it. If a full service planner is not in the budget or you’re more of a DIY bride, do yourself a favor and consider a day-of coordinator to handle the moving parts on your wedding day. Not only can a planner help to reduce your stress, they will take the pressure off of well meaning friends or family members and make sure all the details are handled while you enjoy yourself. Our staff will of course be on hand to assist with logistics and provide additional support.

Blanton WeddingHow do I decorate in a museum? One of the benefits of choosing the Blanton is that you don’t need to bring a lot of décor. A few personal touches, perhaps some special linens, and pretty floral arrangements are all you need to customize the space to your tastes. A couple things to keep in mind when planning with your florist is that we unfortunately cannot allow any potted plants inside the museum—this is to protect the stunning artwork that will surround you on your wedding day. Balloons, confetti, glitter, and votive candles are other prohibited items, but we suggest LED lights as a great alternative! While bringing in supplemental lighting is not essential, it is a great opportunity to further personalize the atmosphere. Consider a monogram for the floor or wall, up-lighting in your chosen colors, and disco lights to get the party going.

What else should I consider? An important and often over looked element to consider when planning is your power needs. Photo booths, bands, DJ’s, lighting—it all takes power. Determining the electrical needs ahead of time allows us to help you plan your layout and make sure everything runs smoothly on the day of the event.

Blanton WeddingWhat are some more resources I can use to help me plan? The International Special Events Society directory is a great resource for finding vendors like planners, photographers, cakes, DJs, florists and even invitation designers.  Also, make sure to ask the vendors you hire for suggestions on folks they enjoy working with. For more wedding inspiration photos at the Blanton, visit our Pinterest page or click on the photos above to link to the photographer’s websites.”

Interested in learning more? Contact our friendly events team for more information and to check availability:

Stacey Hoyt CSEP, CMP
(512) 475-6516

Lily Alpern
(512) 471-8698

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We’re on Vine!

Unless you’re under 25, or firmly entrenched in millennial culture, you probably haven’t heard of the social media platform Vine. Founded in 2012 and acquired by Twitter shortly before its launch, this network’s claim to fame is short—and we’re talking extremely short, like, 6 seconds short. Vine posts are (6 second) video clips that are created and shared by users. Home to memes, comedians, singers, artists, and more, the platform is a perfect place for experimentation. Incredibly, some vines have even been sold as digital art.

Over the last few months, the Blanton has been playing around with our own clips on the platform. Animated exhibition images, new ways of moving through the museum space, unusual musical juxtapositions, and a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at the Blanton are all fair game for our vines.

Check out a few examples below (make sure to turn your sound on!), and see the full collection on our profile page.

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Road Trip: Upcoming Kelly Installation Inspires Art Pilgrimages

I was amazed and ecstatic when I heard that the Blanton — that UT —that Austin was going to be the site of a major installation by Ellsworth Kelly. I’m a huge devotee of his work. I find its simplicity really powerful. Kelly’s recent passing shortly before the New Year will no doubt inspire art lovers from all points of the compass to begin making pilgrimages to the Blanton as soon as the doors to Austin open.

Panoramic photograph of Austin model (Photo by Milli Apelgren)

Panoramic photograph of Austin model (Photo by Milli Apelgren)

While we wait, though, why not check out some of the other art destinations in the Lone Star State? Paving the way for Kelly, twentieth-century giants Donald Judd and Mark Rothko have made long-lasting marks in Texas.

In the mid-1980s, minimalist artist Judd founded the Chinati Foundation and turned the small town of Marfa into an art Mecca. He chose the site, a former Army base which sits on more than 300 acres, to have room to spread out and so his works could enjoy a permanent home.

“It takes a great deal of time and thought to install work carefully,” he said. “Somewhere … a strict measure must exist for the art of this time and place.”

Donald Judd

Image via Chinati Foundation

I visited Chinati about a decade ago, on work travel to the McDonald Observatory. In Texas terms, Chinati is relatively nearby to the Observatory (about 45 minutes). The deserted landscape of West Texas provides a perfect backdrop for Judd’s stark art. Once you’ve seen this site, you’ll never forget it. Outside it’s hot and dusty, and inside much of Judd’s art—and that of the few fellow artists included, like light artist Dan Flavin—is sleek and shiny. Chinati is not like anywhere else.

Judd’s foray into Marfa attracted other artists and art organizations in the ensuing decades. Today, in addition to half a dozen contemporary galleries showing everything from lithographs to sculpture to canvases, several other arts nonprofits share the Marfa art scene with Chinati.

Housed in a converted 1920s dancehall, Ballroom Marfa holds gallery shows, hosts live music, screens films, and puts on educational programs. Marfa Contemporary hosts exhibitions and events, and supports an artist in residence.

So much for the west — let’s turn and look to the rest of Texas. A few months ago, I made an art pilgrimage to a site that seems close in spirit to what Kelly is creating at the Blanton. I’d heard about the Rothko Chapel in Houston for years, but had never seen it.

In the 1960s, art collectors John and Dominique de Menil commissioned Mark Rothko to create a non-denominational chapel. Now known simply as the Rothko Chapel, it opened in 1971 on the grounds of the Menil Collection (an amazing, free, museum in its own right).

Rothko Chapel ( Melissa Phillip / Houston Chronicle )

Rothko Chapel ( Melissa Phillip / Houston Chronicle )

The chapel physically sits in the same neighborhood as the main museum but is miles away mentally. An imposing brick structure designed by Philip Johnson, it looks a bit plain on the outside. The nondescript exterior kind of makes you wonder what’s within. What’s the big deal?

I was lucky enough to be there on a Thursday when almost no one was around. The chapel opened at 10 a.m., and I was waiting when the doors opened.

Inside—alone but for a single docent—I was surrounded by enormous Rothko paintings. Awed and overwhelmed, I sat on a bench and stared. No photos are allowed, so I took out a little notebook and started scribbling impressions: canvases, deep aubergine, black, monumental, dark wood benches (12), black mediation cushions, skylight. I drew a page after page of doodles showing the eight sides of the chapel’s interior and sketching the scale of the canvases on those walls, estimating their height and width.

Then I decided to just go for it. I came all this way, and I was going to see if I could have an art experience. Sitting on a meditation cushion at the chapel’s dead center and trying not to feel self-conscious, I took up a cross-legged pose with my palms upturned on my knees, thumb and first finger together. I stared softly at the Rothko triptych in front of me. It was calm. It was peaceful and still.

I’d like to tell you that the secrets of “life, the universe, and everything” were revealed to me in that moment, but that didn’t happen. What did happen was that I felt a kind of calm, and peace, and blankness. I was not thinking about any problems, mine or anyone else’s. I wasn’t thinking about how it was 100 degrees outside, or how I still had to drive back to Austin and get back to work. I was not thinking about anything. I was at rest — and that’s a pretty damn good experience to have with a work of art. I count that particular art pilgrimage as a success. I was able to experience the chapel as it was intended—as a place of reflection and meditation. Rothko and the de Menils created something extraordinary.

Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, too, is slated to become a place for meditation and reflection. But in the meantime, there are lots more Texas art sites to see. Why not make your own list and start day tripping?

Rebecca Johnson is editor of McDonald Observatory’s StarDate magazine, and a volunteer blogger for the Blanton.

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Make it Count: One Blanton Volunteer’s Experience

I picked up the phone in a frustrated fury and dialed the number of the person who is always there to field my complaints and provide good advice when I need it the most—my dad. As a sophomore in college at the time, I was knee deep in the search for the “right major” and my personal answer to that all-too-common question: “So, Kate, what do you want to do when you graduate?” On this particular day, I was feeling pressure from every direction to make myself marketable, build my resume, and learn new skills by piling on activity after boring activity. I felt that I was headed nowhere good, or fun, for that matter. That’s when my dad gave me the best advice that I have heard to this day:

Kate looking at art“Just do what you enjoy doing and work hard at it. Everything else will fall into place.”

The first thing I thought of was art. After a quick Google search, I found the volunteer program at the Blanton, and I filled out an application that day. My training started soon afterwards, and before I knew it, I had my very own Blanton name tag.

That was in fall of 2014. I have now been volunteering at the Blanton for over a year. As a volunteer, I have had many unique opportunities. I started out by assisting at fun community events, like Austin Museum Day, and also performed operational duties, such as handing out maps and answering questions at the Information Desk. My absolute favorite experience as a volunteer was helping to put on “B scene: Exquisite Corpse” last October. It featured a zombie band, ink drawing stations, and incorporated elements from James Drake’s brilliant Brain Trash exhibition.

As a business student, my interests naturally lie in the inner workings of an organization—especially a place like the Blanton. With this in mind, I approached Martha Bradshaw, the museum’s Manager of Visitor and Volunteer Services. Would I be able to volunteer in the Blanton administrative offices?

Kate with Martha Bradshaw, Manager of Visitor and Volunteer Services

Kate with Martha Bradshaw, Manager of Visitor and Volunteer Services

In early Spring 2015, I began volunteering weekly in the Membership Department at the Blanton. I had the privilege of organizing documents, filing paperwork, and sending out personalized membership letters to our donors. Knowing that I was a part of helping the Blanton to uphold the member experience through my work was so fulfilling.

This fall, I have been spending time as a volunteer in the PR & Marketing Department. I have gotten to assist with radio copy, update online event pages, and help out with the Blanton Blog. Next semester, I will be embarking on a project to re-label and reorganize the department’s archival exhibition files. I can’t wait to dive into the history of art at the Blanton as well as introduce more efficient ways to preserve those records.

When I began volunteering at the Blanton, I had no idea that I would be able to work directly with the Blanton’s Membership Associate or the PR and Marketing Manager. But that’s how it goes around here. The Blanton will help you find where you belong. Working in the offices and learning more about the underlying business of a museum is right where I should be. If you’re not convinced by my diverse experiences at the museum, here are some other reasons students might like to volunteer with the Blanton:

  • The Blanton is a sanctuary of learning—bout art, about new and valuable skills, and about oneself. Volunteers can observe different career paths in action and discover their desires for their own future.
  • Volunteering at the Blanton gives you an opportunity to take a break from your studies, meet new people, and contribute to Austin’s unique art scene.
  • If nothing else, giving your time to something you care about is absolutely worth every minute.
Kate with Tessa Krieger-Carlisle, PR & Marketing Manager

Kate with Tessa Krieger-Carlisle, PR & Marketing Manager

The art world doesn’t just need more people who have their masters degrees in art history (well, they do)—they also need you. Volunteering in the Blanton offices has taught me that it takes many people of many talents to run a place as complex as an art museum. As a business student, I’ve found that I have a place here, and I love it.

Being at the Blanton has never been a chore for me—it’s a joy. As I am writing this blog, I am sitting in the offices above the Blanton Café surrounded by creative souls who live and breathe art and Austin culture. It’s a peaceful atmosphere—I get lost in my work and forget for a few hours that I’m only a 3-minute walk from the classrooms at UT. In short, it’s the best. I will continue to enjoy donating my time to this organization until I graduate. I hope you’ll join me.

Interested in the Blanton Volunteer Program? Learn more here or email volunteer@blantonmuseum.org for more information. Orientations are held once a month at the museum.

Kate Barnhart is a junior at UT studying Marketing and Psychology. She has been volunteering with the Blanton since Fall 2014.

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The Varied Fortunes of a Princely Bible

Opening Saturday, December 12 at the Blanton, The Crusader Bible: A Gothic Masterpiece features over forty unbound pages from the one of the most celebrated French illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. We asked Curatorial Research Associate Jeongho Park to explain the impressive journey of the Crusader Bible throughout the centuries. 

The Crusader Bible

Saul Destroys the Amalekites, MS M. 638, fol. 24v. The Crusader Bible, The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased by J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1916.

Medieval knights on horseback charge from the margins of a parchment folio into the scene where they are immediately met by foes. In the chaos of exchanged blows that cleave several heads, a prominent figure in orange knocks an opponent off his horse with his spear. To get the extra thrust from the horse, he kicks the animal’s side with a prick spur (a primitive type of spur used until the fourteenth century), causing the horse to bleed.

The remarkably detailed, lively representation of the scene makes us think that it is a visual record of a medieval battle. It is, however, an illustration from the Crusader Bible—specifically, an episode from the Old Testament, where Saul, king of Israel, defeats the Agag, king of Amalec.

Probably created for King Louis IX of France in the 1240s, the Crusader Bible is filled with such colorful depictions of Old Testament stories set in the king’s time. The book originally did not have any text, so the artists took extra care to guarantee narrative clarity through compelling details. For instance, crowns on the helmets identify the two kings, and different types of headgear distinguish the opposing sides. The artist uses flat-top helmets of the most up-to-date design for the heroes (the Israelites), while illustrating the enemies in outmoded oval helmets with nasal guards.

The Crusader Bible had a wide appeal across different cultures beyond thirteenth-century France. It was taken to places that Louis IX would have never imagined, and at least three of its subsequent owners wrote extensively on the manuscript’s margins, demonstrating their active engagement with the images. In the fourteenth century, Latin captions were added in Naples where Louis’s brother Charles of Anjou probably brought the manuscript with him.

Crusader Bible

David slays Goliath and cuts off his head; David’s Vow to Saul Fulfilled, MS M.638, fol. 28v, The Crusader Bible, The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased by J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1916

The Bible then reemerged in 1604 when Cardinal Bernard Maciejowski, Archbishop of Cracow, gave up the prized manuscript and presented it to the Shah of Persia, entrusting it to papal delegates passing through Poland on their way to Isfahan. Pope Clement VIII had sent the delegates to negotiate an alliance with the Persian king against their common enemy, the Ottoman Turks. An account of the mission tells us that the king “turned the sacred pages with care and admiration.” He then ordered the Persian inscriptions to be added according to one of the missionaries’ explanation of each scene and kept the manuscript in his royal library.

The Crusader Bible changed hands again about a century later, when the royal library collection was dispersed. Sometime thereafter, a Persian Jew acquired the manuscript and added his descriptions of the pictures in his language, Judeo-Persian.

What would have been the reason for these additional captions? The Crusader Bible’s vibrant images of medieval European arms and armor, clothes, and architecture would have certainly appeared exotic and even fantastical to the viewers in Persia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, necessitating annotations.

But perhaps the more compelling reason would have been that the visual narrative was based on a religious tradition shared by Muslims and Jews. Shah ‘Abbas must have recognized the episodes of Joseph, not only from the Quran but also from Yusuf and Zulaikha, a hugely popular epic derived from the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.

The Persian-speaking Jew would also have been very familiar with the biblical stories depicted. (Interestingly enough, the Judeo-Persian captions are the most accurate of all the inscriptions.) Furthermore, the Jewish community in Persia had a rich tradition of illustrated manuscripts of religious literature like the Ardashīr nāmāh based on the story of Esther.

It is ironic that the Crusader Bible began its life as a lavish picture book for a zealous king who thought of himself as the defender of Christianity only to be owned and celebrated by the people he considered “infidels.” Their intellectual responses in the form of inscriptions, however, added unexpectedly rich layers of interpretation, which remind us of the active cultural interactions between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism throughout the centuries.

Jeongho Park is the Curatorial Research Associate, Department of Prints and Drawings and European Paintings.

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‘Tis the Season for Gifting

It’s the Monday after Thanksgiving, which means the holiday shopping season is in full swing! Whether you’re looking for the perfect gift for the first night of Chanukah, an ideal stocking stuffer for Christmas morning, or a festive way to ring in the New Year, the Blanton has you covered with creative gift ideas for everyone on your list.

Membership mugs

To gift a year filled with insightful exhibitions and engaging experiences, look no further than a membership to the Blanton. Not only do all of our members receive free admission to the museum year-round, they also get special discounts at the Museum Shop, free tickets to B Scene parties, and so much more! Check out our membership levels, which start at just $50 for a full year. (P.S. If you purchase a membership in the next few days, you could enjoy our Members Double Discount Shopping Week at the Museum Shop—a whopping 20% off! Details below.)

For something more immediately tangible, check out the Blanton Museum Shop. Located just across the plaza from the galleries in the Edgar A. Smith Building, the Museum Shop offers eco-friendly, socially conscious, and artful treasures from around the globe—including smart finds from local Austin artisans. As a Blanton Member, enjoy Double Discount Shopping Week, featuring 20% off your entire purchase, starting this Friday, December 4 through December 13.

To make your holiday season a little less hectic, we’ve put together a gift guide with picks for all on your list – happy shopping!

Blanton Gift Guide

  1. For the Eco-Friendly Fanatic, a Paperthinks handbag is the perfect fit. These beautiful, bold bags are made of 100% recycled leather and available in a range of eye-popping colors and multiple sizes. $50-110.
  1. For the Local Fashionista, consider a geometrically inspired, forged brass bangle by Son of a Sailor. This husband and wife team handcrafts all of their jewelry in a local Austin studio. A variety of colors and designs available. $32-$180.
  1. For the Minimalist Family, try these chic animal toys from Kid O. Mix and match common zoo animals in brightly colored pieces to create new versions of familiar friends. Sort and snap pieces together to produce funny puzzles that encourage early creative thinking and storytelling. Ages 2+. Set of 3 for $24.
  1. For the Wine Lover, this Kikkerland Design Inc. skull corkscrew makes the perfect stocking stuffer! It’s a unique, fun, and functional item that complements the Blanton’s current exhibition, Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela 1950-1978. $25.
  1. For the Design-Savvy Friend, look no further than these Finell “Spin” silicone vessels. Store anything, from food to jewelry, in these unbreakable, sleek and stylish containers. Available in a variety of shapes and colors. $90.

If the shopping gets tiring, have no fear! Just walk across the foyer, take a load off, and treat yourself to one of Jeanna’s tasty creations at the Blanton Café.

Happy holidays from all of ours to all of yours!

Tessa Krieger-Carlisle is the PR and Marketing Manager at the Blanton Museum of Art. She holds a BA in the History of Art from UC Berkeley and an MA in the History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.


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