Stories on Building a Collection

Cao Fei

Cao Fei, Whose Utopia, 2006, Single channel color video with sound, Promised gift of Jeanne and Michael Klein, 2007.

It was mid-afternoon and I was already woozy from too-much-information. My eyes, on autopilot, scanned the packed room one more time as I marched down row after row of booths, looking for visual connection. Wait, what was that? The man on the high-up monitor floated above the crowds, body focused in precise, graceful movements as he passed through the aisles of some kind of empty manufacturing lab. I was mesmerized by his gestures, his dance completely at odds with his own surroundings, yet even more so with mine, the frenzied scene of Art Basel Miami Beach. The images transported me; all hubbub disappeared as I stood closer, intent on that screen. What followed was 20 looped minutes of one of the best contemporary art videos I had ever seen: Cao Fei’s Whose Utopia, made a few months earlier in spring 2006 by one of China’s rising art stars.

Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, Curator at Large

Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, Curator at Large

It happened to be (dear friend, museum supporter, and art collector extraordinaire) Jeanne Klein’s birthday and, after taking a deep breath, I called her and asked if she and Mickey (ditto the above) wanted to mark it by purchasing the video for the museum. (Cheeky me!) At my insistent request, the good folks at Lombard-Freid Gallery had put it “on hold” for us for just a few hours so that I could try to wrangle some funds with which to purchase it. And by the end of the day, after flight-controlling a flurry of phone calls to Mickey and Jeanne and the gallery director, who was at that point at one of those late-night South Beach dinners that follows the day’s sales (as was I, probably just a few blocks away with an Austin entourage), the deal was clinched and the last available copy of Cao Fei’s editioned work was procured. During the following year, Whose Utopia would be featured in the Carnegie International, both the Lyon and Istanbul Biennials, and several other important contemporary art exhibitions, even as it entered the collections of a few enviable museums worldwide, including the Guggenheim, the Tate Modern, and ours.

How do the works of art in the Blanton’s contemporary collection get here? I had the pleasure and privilege of leading that process from 1996 until roughly 2013, with a few meaningful additions since. Now our astute curator of modern and contemporary art, Veronica Roberts, leads that charge. As collection curators we’re often asked which are our favorite works: an impossible question, because the potential replies are so various. (It’s like being asked to choose a favorite child.) But on the occasion of my retirement from the museum, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite acquisition stories, like the one above.

What made that acquisition so special? So many factors, here are just a few:

  • Whose Utopia’s unexpectedly poignant window onto one of the most complex social issues of our times—the individual in relationship to the newly globalized economy.
  • I’m grateful for the nimble, always passionate commitment of our patrons, especially the Kleins, who repeatedly put their faith in our judgment and regularly help the museum acquire important works for the collection. “For the students,” as Mickey and Jeanne like to say. (See La linea continua, our current exhibition of works in the Judy and Charles Tate Collection for another superb example of collection-building assistance.)
  • And of course, there’s no surpassing the urgency of the discovery scenario itself: the thrill of first encounter with the artist’s masterful storytelling; the split-second yet highly choreographed negotiations that lead to the financial deal; the unplanned but hugely fortuitous acquisition of the very last available copy of what would later become one of the most sought after works of 2006. Curators, especially contemporary curators, have to be on constant alert for opportunities to build collections that will stand the test of time. That was a day when I felt like I’d done a really good job!

Most visitors to our impressive collection galleries probably don’t know that the Blanton does not have recurring funds for acquisitions. We curators spend much of our time cultivating gifts—bringing selected works to patrons who might find them compelling enough to buy for us, and building relationships that might yield gifts from already established private collections. However we can, we search for cash: our colleagues and we write grants to foundations that sometimes make funds available for museum purchases, and we frequently steward affinity groups whose membership dues help us buy works of art directly. Only the most well endowed museums have ample budgets for curators to spend on acquisitions, though even for those lucky institutions and their staffs, the prices of today’s art market can still stun and surprise.

Louise Nevelson

Louise Nevelson, Dawn’s Presence – Two Columns, painted wood, 116 in. x 67 in. x 31 in., Purchase as a gift in memory of Laura Lee Scurlock Blanton by her children, 2005.

Curatorial vigilance and resourcefulness aside, occasionally an amazing, unforeseen opportunity occurs; one of mine came during the year preceding the opening of our new building in 2006. The children of Jack Blanton Sr., the museum’s new namesake (what a wonderful man he was!), had offered, through their family foundation, to underwrite a “major acquisition” that would bolster the modern and contemporary collection. Such a boon! For several months I searched high and low, calling art dealers I knew and trusted in Texas, New York, Los Angeles, Cologne, and London, trying to find something special that would befit the unique occasion and fill a gap—any one of many!—in our still-forming collection. Sculpture was a great love of Jack’s and his late wife, Laura Lee, and we certainly needed three-dimensional works to complement our fine paintings and prints, so that seemed the best focus for my search. Further, I knew the work should be beautiful and timeless. But the circumstance of how the final selection transpired is, in my mind, forever tied to a precise, historical moment: On the morning that Al Gore conceded the presidency to George W. Bush (I saw the televised press conference at my Southwest Airlines gate), I flew to Houston to make my presentation to the Blantons at River Oaks Country Club; our director, Jessie Hite, was already there. I don’t think any of us had slept well the previous night; the weight of our national fate hung heavy over all. An elderly cabdriver and I talked politics as we drove over from Hobby, and I arrived with a mind appropriately clear on life’s priorities. How can publicly held works of art help enrich our lives? By communicating values that are necessary and true. I had assembled images of a dozen masterworks from around the world to show the family group, each extraordinary and potentially transformative for the museum’s collection. At the end of a brunch that I certainly did not eat, the Blantons made possible the purchase of not one, but two exceptional sculptures: In honor of Laura Lee, Louise Nevelson’s Dawn’s Presence—Two Columns, 1969-75, and in honor of Jack, Richard Long’s Summer Circle, 1991. These two majestic sculptures are on view in our collection galleries today, standing among our most prized works, embodying the fine spirits of those they honor.

Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer, Sternenfall [Falling Stars], Mixed media on canvas, 183 in. x 208 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Martin, Jr., 2009.

Sometimes works of art find their way to us through moments of pure serendipity. Acquiring Anselm Kiefer’s Sternenfall,1998,—first on long-term loan, and ultimately as a full gift to the collection—felt like that (even though transporting the work requires two 18-wheelers, so there’s nothing spontaneous about it!). Back in 1999, when we still showed our collection on the first two floors of the Ransom Center, I called a former colleague, an art dealer from New Orleans with whom I hadn’t been in touch for several years. For the life of me I can’t recall what small matter led me to call her that day, I don’t actually spend much time on the phone and prefer to catch up with colleagues face to face during my frequent travels. But, I called Donna Rosen that day and we chatted, filling each other in on our respective, comparatively new cities—New York for her, Austin for me. As soon as I reminded her of my current position, she got quiet and said, “Hmm, that’s interesting. I’ve been working with new collectors in Austin who’ve just bought a large painting that’s too big for their home and they need a place to loan it until they can create just the right space for it. It’s an Anselm Kiefer, and I was just about to call the Fort Worth Modern to see if they might want to house it, given their interest in the artist and proximity to Austin.” “We’ll take it,” I said as calmly as I could. I’d seen the painting abroad, and knew it was magnificent. What Donna didn’t know at the time was that neither did the Blanton have a likely space to show such a monumental construction (more than 15 feet tall and 17 feet wide). But our new building was in the planning stages and that was our moment, so it was a phenomenal thrill to grab it, so to speak. (We ended up showing the Kiefer in the stairwell of the Huntington space at the Ransom Center until it took its rightful pride of place in the new building. And the owners generously gave it to us as a full gift at that time, recognizing its power and that it needed to be shared with the public.) Hard to believe but it’s actually true that Luis Jimenez’s Progress II, 1976, another knockout work of art on view in the second floor galleries, came to us in a similarly serendipitous manner. I loved hearing composer Graham Reynolds say awhile back that those are his two favorite works in the collection.

Oliver Herring

Oliver Herring, Patrick, 2004, Foam core, museum board, digital c-print photographs, and polystyrene, 42 in. x 18 in. x 27 1/2 in., Partial and pledged gift of Jeanne and Michael Klein, 2005.

Miraculous days aside, the bulk of my collection-building time was spent constantly canvassing works of art by emerging artists in their studios, in gallery and museum exhibitions, and starting in about 2000, at art fairs (though most all curators will complain about the fairs as venues for seeing and considering art). Some advantages—and the very real excitement—of this labor-intensive search for the relatively unknown are that early work is often expressive of artists’ formative ideas, the prices are more affordable at the early stages, and if we choose well, we establish our institutional acuity and heighten our reputation in the field, enabling more partnerships with donors and colleagues. Two of the many contemporary masterworks that came to our collection that way include Emily Jacir’s From Texas with love, 2002 and Oliver Herring’s Patrick, 2004. Other great works arrived through exhibition projects, like the signature works we own by Fabian Marcaccio, Paul Chan, and Matthew Day Jackson.

David Reed

David Reed, #476, 2001, Oil and alkyd on linen canvas, 34 3/16 in. x 110 1/4 in., Michener Acquisitions Fund, 2002.

And sometimes the long working relationship a curator builds with an artist leads to an institutional determination to add a significant work of theirs to the collection; case in point, our brilliant abstract painting by David Reed. David accepted my invitation to serve as a visiting scholar in the collection of modern and contemporary paintings after we got a grant from the Henry S. Luce Foundation for an extended study of the Michener Collection holdings. I went to his studio several times over those years to see his new works before they were shipped out to solo exhibitions in Europe. In those days David’s studio was in downtown Manhattan, on the edge of Chinatown, and my most unforgettable visit to see new works in formation was directly preceded by the tragedy of 9/11. I recall being stopped for identification by police officers on my way to meet with him that early October evening; the haze of particulates from the implosions were still floating in the air, lending the whole neighborhood a surreal, anxious air. #476 was the work that I felt compelled to select from the many he was working on: its saturated greens and pale pinks reminded me of new life, even as we all struggled to make sense of the carnage nearby. Art works that way. It’s been a privilege to spend my days at the Blanton engaged with such matters.

Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, Curator at Large

The Blanton announced the retirement of curator Annette DiMeo Carlozzi at the end of this month. Annette joined the Blanton in 1996 as the museum’s first curator of modern and contemporary art and served thereafter as the director of curatorial affairs, deputy director of art and programs, and most recently, as curator at large. She has played a critical role in helping to build the Blanton’s contemporary art collection and program. Annette has been a leader at the Blanton and within the art community for many years. The museum’s diverse audiences have all benefitted from her passionate and thoughtful approach to engaging with art and her dedication to the visitor experience. She leaves behind a wonderful legacy at the museum. To read more about Annette’s tenure at the Blanton, please visit our website.

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The Blanton’s Holiday Gift Guide

Visit the Blanton Museum Shop this holiday season to find unique gifts for everyone on your shopping list. From handcrafted jewelry and accessories to whimsical games and contemporary home décor, the Museum Shop offers a variety of specialty items that range from playful, out-of-the-ordinary stocking stuffers to timeless gifts for someone special. Museum Shop Manager Justin O’Connor shares some of her favorite gift ideas:

7_bellroy-whsd-cocoa-bellroywebsite-10_2.1401257422Bellroy Wallets: These beautifully crafted leather wallets are from a company in Australia that almost feels like family. They not only focus on quality, function and design but are also passionate about the environment and their carbon footprint. My husband and I are both proud Bellroy wallet owners, I carry the Slim Sleeve in Blue Steel and he carries the Note Sleeve in Java. $54.95-$129.95

mellisaborrellMelissa Borrell: I discovered Melissa during the East Austin Studio Tours and fell in love with with both her jewelry and her larger than life paper sculptures. Her Pop Out jewelry line is one of my favorites, not only because it looks great, but because it has an element of interaction and surprise. There’s just something fun about popping the forms out of their metal card and deciding where you want to attach the chain or ear hooks. An added bonus is how easily they slip into a card and can be mailed! $34-$55

Sunflowers_Collage_grandeHotSox: Socks are this year’s “it” accessory! There is nothing more fun and surprising than a bright, bold sock peeking out from underneath a pair of slacks. Choose from a wide array of famous art masterpieces designs in both men’s and women’s sizes. $8-$12

hands-rattle-300-2-e1394040333406innerSpirit Rattles by J Davis Studios: The perfect gift for the person who has everything. Handmade in Alpine, Texas they capture the free spirit of West Texas. Each shaker comes in a gift box with a story card to inspire the receiver. $28

Sabre-Glitter-Flatware-Cutlery-for-Christmas-Kaleidoscope-Blog-2

Sabre Paris Cutlery: Add sparkle to your holiday table with a selection of Sabre cutlery and serving ware. Made just outside of Paris, these little gems make a great hostess gift or stocking stuffer. Available in teaspoons, cake servers, bread knifes and salad serving sets. $6-$36

giftboxBlanton Membership: A membership is an artistic, eye opening, and personally moving experience that can be enjoyed for an entire year. When you purchase a gift membership for a loved one, they will enjoy unlimited free museum admission, a 10% discount at the Museum Shop (plus an additional 10% off during several Double Discount Shopping Days throughout the year), a 10% discount at the Blanton Café, invitations to Members-only tours, Members’ discounts for classes and special events, FREE admission to B scene, the Blanton’s after-hours art party, and a subscription to the Blanton’s newsletter, Articulate. Purchase your gift in person at the Visitor Services Desk and receive a gift box with a Blanton magnet and 2 guest passes!* Memberships can also be purchased online, or by calling (512) 471-0236.

This is just the tip of the iceberg! Stop in and we will be happy to help you find the right gift for everyone on your list.

*Please Note: Due to the University Holiday Schedule, membership cards will not be mailed after December 17. After December 17, all gifts must be purchased in person at the museum during regular hours.

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Decoding the Details: Madonna and Child with Angels

Decoding the Details is a four-part blog series investigating works in the Blanton’s permanent collection. Each post will focus on a single work of art and explore the importance of details that many might not notice at first glance. When we delve into an object’s unassuming elements or look beyond what is immediately apparent, we often discover something unexpected and come away with a greater connection to both the work and the world from which it came.

Sarah Celentano is the fall 2014 PR & Marketing intern at the Blanton. She is also a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art & Art History and specializes in the art of the Middle Ages. In this inaugural post for her blog series, she takes a close look at Giovanni dal Ponte’s Madonna and Child with Angels, on view in the Blanton’s European art galleries.

Madonna and Child with Angels 1410s 15th century 88.3 cm x 57.8 cm (34 3/4 in. x 22 3/4 in.)

Giovanni dal Ponte, Madonna and Child with Angels. 1410s, tempera and tooled gold leaf on panel, 88.3 cm x 57.8 cm (34 3/4 in. x 22 3/4 in.), bequest of Jack G. Taylor, 1991.

Giovanni dal Ponte was a Florentine painter who worked primarily in the first third of the fifteenth century. A number of frescoes and altarpieces attributed to him survive. Although he worked in a time when his contemporaries were moving toward Renaissance painting techniques, dal Ponte maintains a medieval approach to his subject here. This does not mean that dal Ponte was ignorant of new developments in style; the shading around the Virgin’s and Child’s faces shows that he did attempt to create an illusion of three-dimensional space and therefore was very aware of the artistic movement of his own time. However, the gold leaf on the panel and the punchwork patterns in Christ’s and the Virgin’s halos show continued inspiration from earlier Byzantine works, and the floral motifs on the Virgin’s dress and the cloth of honor seem to float over these fabrics rather than conforming to their folds. This work suggests a greater interest in conveying the idea of power rather than naturalistic representation. This approach to images, one that is ultimately concerned with concepts rather than formal issues, is also apparent in the objects associated with Christ in dal Ponte’s painting.

We learn from the label for the Madonna and Child with Angels that the finch that the Christ Child holds and the coral necklace around his neck are symbols of his Passion—his suffering and eventual death on the cross. But why might a bird and a branch of coral symbolize these things? What is the connection?

Madonna and ChildThe finch had been associated with Christ’s Passion since appearing in the Etymologiae (Etymologies), a collection of learning from all disciplines that was compiled Isidore of Seville (died 636 CE). According to Isidore, the goldfinch survived on a diet of thorns and thistles (Etymologiae Bk. XII). For this reason, the finch came to be associated with Christ’s Crown of Thorns, and therefore his Passion. Dal Ponte has depicted the finch in Christ’s hand with outstretched wings, almost as if the bird is replicating the way that Christ’s arms will eventually stretch out on the cross. The bird’s head also inclines towards its chest in a way that recalls images of the dead crucified Christ. According to later medieval legend, the red markings on the finch’s head derive from Christ’s blood, which splashed on the finch’s head as it pulled a thorn from the Crown of Thorns.

Interestingly, the finch may have another layer of meaning that relates even more specifically to dal Ponte’s particular time and place. Since the early medieval period, the finch was thought to have the gift of healing sight. It was said that a finch could cure a person’s disease just by looking at him or her. Since dal Ponte lived in a time still rocked by the Black Death, the bubonic plague that wiped out a third of the population of Europe by the 1350s, the altarpiece featuring this painting likely offered solace to those who saw it. Thus, the Christ Child presents us with a symbol not only of his eventual suffering and sacrifice, but also the healing power—presented here in both physical and spiritual terms—of that sacrifice.

The coral in Christ’s hand also speaks to both his death and his role as savior while referring to a widespread medieval tradition. Like the finch, coral was thought to have protective abilities. The ancient Romans believed that red coral grew from the blood of Medusa and could ward off harmful powers. The association of red coral with blood and protective abilities persisted into the Middle Ages, however instead of Medusa’s blood it was now associated with the blood of Christ and its saving powers. Coral necklaces were popular jewelry for children in the medieval period, and, in addition to their protective qualities, they were also valued and used as teething rings. Dal Ponte’s Christ Child therefore wears the symbol of his sacrifice and the protection it ensures, but also appears as a typical baby of the fifteenth century.

Madonna and ChildWe also might ask why the angels have rainbow-colored wings. Their wings aren’t pure white, like what many of us think of when we imagine angel wings. Instead, they’re multicolored like peacock feathers. This is in fact what they are meant to be. Like the coral and finch, the peacock was another part of the natural world that held great symbolic meaning for medieval and Renaissance people. This bird was a symbol of eternal life, and people associated the “eyes” of its feathers with the all-seeing power of angels. For these reasons, medieval and Renaissance painters would often depict angels with peacock-feather wings.

When we focus on the seemingly minor details in this work, we come away with a fuller understanding of how powerfully dal Ponte addresses his fifteenth century audience. In understanding the significance of the various components in this painting and the uneasy time in which it was created, we discover layers of meaning that enhance our experience of the work.

Bibliography

Amulets.” The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture. Ed. Colum Hourihane. Vol. 2. Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

“Coral.” The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art. Ed. Gerald W.R. Ward. Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Gill, Meredith G. Angels and the Order of Heaven in Medieval and Renaissance Italy. Cambridge University Press, 2014. Print.

Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae. Trans. W. M. Lindsay. Oxford University Press, 1911. Print.

Signs and Symbols: The Goldfinch. The Fitzwilliam Museum, n.d. Web. 17 November 2014.

Werness, Hope B. Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in World Art. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2007. Print.

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Can You Solve the Riddle?

14-12-holiday-family-daysThis Saturday, December 6, marks the first weekend of the Blanton’s Holiday Family Days. This year, instead of one weekend immediately following Christmas, there will be two chances (December 6th and 13th) to enjoy some special family programming!

Riddles are popular pastimes for families around the world during holidays and special celebrations. During the Moon Festival in China, Taiwan, and Vietnam festival-goers bring lanterns with riddles written on them and have children try to guess the answers. If the children guess correctly, they receive a prize. In Sweden, families attach riddles to wrapped Christmas gifts alluding to the present inside.

Exchanging riddles for prizes is a tradition that spans across the globe and takes many different forms, including that of a game. In Norse legends, the god Odin would have ‘wisdom contests’ with King Heidrekin and take turns telling riddles back and forth. One of the most well-known ‘wisdom contests’ from popular culture today comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, in which Bilbo and Gollum exchange riddles for high stakes. A similar tradition exists in Kenya today where young people sing an elaborate, competitive duet called a gicandia.

Carlos Mérida, Abstract (detail), 1953, glass mosaic on composite matrix, 33 1/8 × 72 × 1 1/8 in., Gift of Judy S. and Charles W. Tate, 2014. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City

Carlos Mérida, Abstract (detail), 1953, glass mosaic on composite matrix, 33 1/8 × 72 × 1 1/8 in., Gift of Judy S. and Charles W. Tate, 2014. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City

This year for Blanton Holiday Family Days, we challenge our families to come together and solve a series of riddles we’ve designed about works in our galleries. In the atrium there will be a table where families can pick up their riddle cards and begin their journey in any gallery they choose. The three riddles can be solved in any order and are designed to lead our families and guests throughout the museum. Once the riddle has been solved, and the specific work as been found, a volunteer will be nearby to give the group their sticker. On the riddle card there is a reproduction of Carlos Merida’s mosaic Abstract with some of its pieces missing. Each sticker that is earned will correspond to one of those missing pieces. The challenge is to solve all three riddles and reconstruct the mosaic.

Across the plaza in the Edgar A. Smith building there will be an art-making activity in the WorkLAB Studio. At the studio our families have the opportunity to make mosaic decorations for their homes, or to use as gifts, together.

In addition, the Blanton has partnered with the Butler School of Music’s Chamber Music Group to have pop-up performances of holiday music throughout the day. We will also be hosting a special holiday-themed Story Time tour at noon on each Saturday.

Can you figure out the riddle below? The solution is something you will need to use at Holiday Family Days this year!

I have billions of eyes, yet I live in darkness. I have millions of ears, yet only four lobes. I have no muscle, yet I rule two hemispheres. What am I?

Elizabeth Srsic is a first year MA student in the Art History Department at the University of Texas, specializing in Medieval art. She is the Graduate Fellow for Family and Community Programs at the Blanton.

Answer: the brain

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Spotlight on the Collection: Dawoud Bey

In 2014, the Blanton Museum of Art acquired two works by the Chicago-based photographer, Dawoud Bey. Many might know Dawoud Bey from his recent inclusion in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, which prominently featured his 2007 portrait of Barack Obama. The portrait, taken in the Senator’s Chicago home, is modest in size and intimate: it highlights the humanity of the man who would soon become President of the United States. This is one of Bey’s trademarks—his ability to create a sense of enhanced familiarity with the person in the picture. The same respect and attention he gives to the man who would go on to become the leader of the free world is the same care he gives to all of his subjects.

Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey (b. 1953, New York; lives and works in Chicago)
Oris, 1996
Four Polacolor ER photographs, each 30 x 22 inches
Installed 60 x 44 inches

When Bey first started photographing the streets of Harlem in 1975 with his 35mm Argus C3 camera, he would spend time sitting in neighborhood barbershops, listening to the customers, and getting to know people in the area. He made a point of sharing the photographs he made with his sitters. [1] This exchange was important to him:

I began to want a more sustained contact with the people I was photographing. I also wanted the process to be more reciprocal, and create dialogue that allowed the subject to both confirm my intentions and gain possession of the image I was making of them. [2]

In the mid 1980s, Bey shifted to working with a 4-by-5 inch Polaroid. This new format allowed the artist to instantly provide his subjects with an image while he retained the negative, and gives them the opportunity to voice their opinions the moment their likeness is taken. For Bey, it was an ideal way to combat the inherent hierarchy of photography, which traditionally privileges the photographer or the person in possession of the image. [3]

In 1991, Bey started using a 20-by-24-inch format camera. The two new works in the Blanton’s collection, Kenosha I and Oris, both from 1996, are portraits of individuals each comprised of four unique 20-by-24-inch photographs. Bey created these portraits using one of Polaroid’s largest cameras. The 20-by-24-inch Polaroid camera stands five-feet tall, three-and-a-half-feet wide and weighs over 200 pounds. Only five of these cameras exist in the world today.[4]

Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey (b. 1953, New York; lives and works in Chicago)
Kenosha I, 1996
Four Polacolor ER photographs, each 30 x 22 inches
Installed 60 x 44 inches

Since the camera is not very portable, Bey’s practice underwent a dramatic shift from working in the streets and meeting people randomly to a studio practice that entails a more sustained relationship with his sitters. Formal concerns (an interest in producing a larger image, and working in color versus black and white photography), were important motivations for Bey’s change in camera but there were other crucial reasons for this shift. According to the artist:

After making portraits in the streets, I found that the reading of the photograph is largely influenced by environment. The environment becomes our key to figuring out who this person is, but it’s not necessarily a true reading. I wanted to put the person in the foreground and force an engagement that was free of the encoded readings suggested by the environment. [5]

Sitting for a Bey Polaroid portrait often takes as much as four hours. [6] This is because Bey enjoys the process of collaborating with each sitter and the large format camera requires long exposures and processing time. According to the artist, he tries not to give his sitters too much direction, preferring that they relax and find a private space in front of the camera. [7] These large scale Polaroids allow Bey to work with lush colors and to highlight the individuality of his sitters. In the case of both Kenosha I and Oris, Bey focuses on teenagers, a group of people he has always enjoyed photographing:

My interest in young people has to do with the fact that they are arbiters of style in the community; their appearance speaks strongly to how a community of people defines themselves at a particular historical moment. I want that sense of specific time to be present in the photographs. [8]

These photographs lavish attention on African American teenagers, a group historically excluded from the genre of portraiture, and often represented in very negative ways in the media. [9] Bey says, “I wanted the subjects…to be possessed of the power to look, to assert oneself, to meet the gaze of the viewer. Having had so much taken from them, I want my subjects to reclaim their right to look, to see, and to be seen.” [10]

Kenosha I will be on view in the 2nd floor collection galleries through January 2015.
The Blanton would like to thank UT alumnus Barry Hammer, and his wife, Lorri, for generously donating these works to the museum.

Amethyst Beaver is a curatorial assistant in modern and contemporary art at the Blanton.

[1] Jock Reynolds, “An Interview with Dawoud Bey,” in Dawoud Bey: Portraits 1975-1995, ed. Rob Dewy (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1995): 102, 105.
[2] Ibid., 106.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Kellie Jones, “Dawoud Bey: Portraits in the Theater of Desire,” in Dawoud Bey: Portraits 1975-1995, ed. Rob Dewy (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1995): 42. For more information on the Polaroid 20-by-24-inch camera see 20×24 Polaroid (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1982); Susan L. Brown, “Sandi Fellman: Against the Grain,” Camera Arts, September 1982: 64-79.
[5] Reynolds, “An Interview with Dawoud Bey,” 110.
[6] Ibid., 111.
[7] Ibid., 107.
[8] Ibid., 106.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid., 107.

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Artist Toni Ardizzone on her Work, E.A.S.T., and the Austin Art Scene

unnamedNow in its 13th year, the East Austin Studio Tour is a free, annual, self-guided art event where participants can discover new artistic talent, see working studios, and explore unique exhibition spaces and local businesses. Many of the Blanton’s employees are artists and exhibit work in the Austin area. We sat down with Manager of Security Toni Ardizzone to talk about her work, her participation in E.A.S.T., and the Austin arts community.

What made you decide to become an artist? Do you have any specific mentors or artists who you look to for inspiration?

I’m not sure that I consciously made that decision. My earliest memories are filled with coloring or making art in some fashion. I suppose art chose me. Books, music, history and my own life experiences inspire and influence my work. I’ve always been inspired by German Expressionism and activist art. More than ever, I am looking at rock posters, album covers and murals. John Dyer Baizley is a favorite. Cecily Brown, Jenny Saville and Dana Schutz have all heavily influenced my approach to painting.

What brought you to Austin? How has the arts community here differed from other places you’ve lived?

I moved to Austin almost 5 years ago. I was seeking a much more liberal town than I had been familiar with and more opportunities to exhibit my work. The sense of community is great here and translates to the art community as well. The Midwest art scene can be very competitive at times, while Austin artists are willing to collaborate and share opportunities with one another. Being in a liberal-minded city also lends itself to a larger platform for expression. The artwork doesn’t have to play it safe. My work tends to illustrate the darker side of life and I would describe it as intense. This past weekend at E.A.S.T. I received a really positive response to my paintings and some great conversations. Austin is vibrant and alive. Knowing that there is an audience passionate about the arts provides the catalyst to keep producing work.

Falling Stars

Anselm Keifer, Sternenfall [Falling Stars], 1998, 183 in. x 208 in., mixed media on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Martin, Jr., 2009.

Has working at the Blanton influenced your art or creative process? What is your favorite work in the collection?

Absolutely. Many of my colleagues are artists and all of us share an appreciation for visual art. It’s a very supportive environment to be immersed in and keeps me engaged in the art community. Anselm Kiefer’s Sternanfall (Falling Stars) remains to be my favorite piece in the museum. It embodies both beauty and sorrow. I have looked at that piece close to everyday for the last 3 years. It amazes me that it retains so much emotion and power.

Aside from your own studio, what other stops on E.A.S.T. would you recommend?

Canopy, Blue Genie and Art Post are great spots. Matthew Winters has an intriguing and extensive list of individual artists on Austin Culture Map. These smaller places can be gems. I would definitely check out a few on that list.

The second and final weekend of E.A.S.T is this Saturday and Sunday, November 22-23. Toni will be at Pump Project Art Complex (702 Shady Lane) Studio V on Saturday from 11am – 6pm. View more of her work online at www.toniardizzone.com. For more information and for a full list of E.A.S.T. stops, visit the Big Medium website.

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An Interview with Marjorie Schwarzer

On Thursday, November 13, the Blanton welcomes museum historian Marjorie Schwarzer to present her research on contemporary museum practices in the United Arab Emirates. In advance of her lecture, Adam Bennett, Manager of Public Programs, sat down with Schwarzer to discuss her work.

How did you get involved in researching these museum projects in Abu Dhabi?

Marjorie SchwarzerIn 2009, the Smithsonian invited me to participate in a consultancy in Abu Dhabi. The new museum building projects had just been announced and an effort was underway to explore how to train their future museum workforce. I confess I couldn’t even find Abu Dhabi on a map back then!

As luck would have it, my museum colleague Salwa Mikdadi soon ascended to the directorship of the Arts and Culture division of the Emirates Foundation. She hired me the next year to develop and deliver the first museum studies seminar ever in the country: a week-long series of workshops and lectures supplemented with online curriculum.

Since offering that initial course I’ve been going regularly. The museum professional culture has transformed considerably in a short time frame, in no small part because of Salwa’s leadership in developing curriculum and hiring people to mentor Emiratis. The Sorbonne and New York University, among others, have started offering certification and I’ve also been working with Emirati students to help prepare them for the rigors of opening their new museum complexes. It has been a tremendous learning experience and a real honor to work with emerging Emirati professionals.

How is the general public reacting this these new museums? Will they be accessible to people currently living in the region, or are they designed more specifically as tourist destinations?

Well, the museums aren’t open yet so we won’t know how the public will react. But there is a lot of conversation about just who the audience will be. We know that in nearby Qatar and also in the emirate of Sharjah, museum audiences are a combination of families and tourists. There is a lot of work going on in Abu Dhabi to make sure locals feel welcomed and excited to visit the museums. Programming that is appealing to children and families is especially important because Emiratis are very family-oriented.

How is the museum culture in the United Arab Emirates different from what we are used to here in the U.S.?

That’s a complex question. I’d like to say that people all over the world want the same thing from museums: to be places of education, memory, aesthetic and social experience and enjoyment. But that would be simplistic. There are profound cultural differences in the way that public museums are valued and perceived in different parts of the world.

That said, the students and young professionals with whom I work over there are very interested in American trends: from the spectacle of art fairs to interactive programming to the Maker movement. They are really plugged into technology, social media and globalism and very aware of the significance of these new building projects internationally.

Marjorie Schwarzer’s lecture is free and open to the public and will take place on Thursday, November 13 at 3pm. For more information, please visit our website.

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Conceptual Art and Politics in Latin America

This Friday, internationally recognized sculptor and installation artist Doris Salcedo will present a public lecture at the Blanton on her work and its connection to political history. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Salcedo makes art using specific historical events—both from Latin America and abroad—as entry points for issues of global resonance, like political violence and discrimination. A small installation of Salcedo’s work will go on view in conjunction with the talk. Though international in scope, Salcedo’s body of work is in dialogue with a vital history of political and conceptual art from South America—an area well represented in the Blanton’s collection. Many artists began using conceptual or subversive strategies in earnest during the 1970s and ’80s, when oppressive military dictatorships emerged across the region.

Cildo Meireles, Zero Dollar, 1984, offset lithograph, 2 3/4 x 6 1/4 in., Anonymous gift, 2003

Cildo Meireles, Zero Dollar, 1984, offset lithograph, 2 3/4 x 6 1/4 in., Anonymous gift, 2003

In Brazil, artists endeavored to make works that could circumvent official state censorship. One such artist was Cildo Meireles, who Blanton visitors may know best through his permanent installation Missão/Missões [Mission/Missions] (How to Build Cathedrals). Rather than make paintings or prints to hang on a gallery wall, Meireles utilized everyday objects and existing circuits of exchange—like the circulation of currency and the recycling system—to disseminate his art. Zero cruzeiro (1974-1978) and Zero Dollar (1984) are two such works in the Blanton’s collection. The two “counterfeit” banknotes question the value ascribed to currency and underscore its symbolic link to the nation. They also carry more historically specific meanings: in the case of the cruzeiro, the repeated devaluation of Brazil’s currency beginning in the late 1960s; and, in the case of the dollar, U.S. domination of the global economy. With the intent of stimulating conversation and debate, Meireles distributed versions of his Zero cruzeiro (and corresponding Zero centavo coin) within Brazil.

Eugenio Dittborn

Eugenio Dittborn, No Tracks (Airmail Painting No. 13), 1983, photo screenprint, 68 7/8 x 57 5/16 in., Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1991

Another South American artist working to evade government censorship during this period was Eugenio Dittborn of Chile. In 1983, a decade into the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Dittborn developed a form of circulating art that would become his trademark. The artist applied found images and texts, using various artistic processes, to large sheets of brown wrapping paper. He then folded the compositions down to a fraction of their size and mailed them to international destinations. For one such “Airmail Painting,” No Tracks (Airmail Painting No. 13), Dittborn transferred mug shots of women found in old detective magazines on to the paper. The portraits evoke images of desaparecidos, those mysteriously abducted or killed under military regimes in Chile, Argentina, and elsewhere. By distributing his work on inconspicuous materials via the postal service, Dittborn bypassed the normal barriers to entry of the art market (such as the high cost of shipping a work on canvas). He also succeeded in communicating coded messages about Chile’s political climate to the outside world, thereby, in his words, “[salvaging] memory within a political climate that attempted to erase virtually every trace of it.”

Luis Camnitzer

Luis Camnitzer, He feared thirst, plate 18 from Uruguayan Torture Series, 1983, four-color photo etching on chine collé, 29 3/8 x 21 3/4 in., Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1992

Artists living abroad were able to respond more freely to the political instability in their native countries. Luis Camnitzer, a Uruguayan artists and activist, was living in New York when Uruguay fell under a repressive military dictatorship. He was deeply affected by the regime’s human rights abuses, which he learned about from friends and colleagues who had remained there. Camnitzer’s commitment to socially responsible art led him to create the Uruguayan Torture Series, in which he subtly employed visual and textual devices to evoke the psychological trauma of torture. Closely cropped and printed in a soft, ethereal palette, the images seem inviting on first glance. It is only upon another look that text and image interact to reveal more ominous implications. Camnitzer hoped that these images would awaken a world audience to the crimes being committed in his home country. Delve deeper into the intersections of art making and political conflict this Friday at the Blanton. Doris Salcedo’s lecture will take place at the museum’s Edgar A. Smith (EAS) building on Friday, Nov. 7 at 6 pm. An installation of Salcedo’s work will be on view in the Blanton’s Klein Gallery from Nov. 7 to Feb. 22, 2015.

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

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Haunted by History: The Context of Raimondi’s Witch

Linda maestra!

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Linda maestra! [Pretty Teacher!], plate 68 from Los Caprichos, 1797-1999, Etching, burnished aquatint and drypoint, Gift of Jonathan Bober in honor of Julia and Stephen Wilkinson, 1993.

Around Halloween, thoughts turn to jack-o-lanterns, costumes, trick-or-treating, and lighthearted frights. Originally, the holiday marked crossings and connections. It was a transition between the autumnal harvest and the desolate winter months to come, and it marked a proximity to the supernatural. Spirits, goblins, and ghosts drew closer to this world for a short while. Many of Halloween’s ambassadors, who persist in our visual culture today, possess histories dating back millennia. Black cats, devils, and witches have long occupied an important place in Western iconography. The witch’s history, especially, is fraught with issues of religion, metaphysics, power, and gender, casting some women as heretical and evil. In modern history, enlightened artists like Francisco de Goya depicted witches in order to satirize common superstition. Goya had learned to be afraid of the supernatural in childhood, he explained, but as an adult he had “no fears of witches, goblins, ghosts . . . nor any sort of body except human. . . .” During the Renaissance, however, artistic intentions were not always so clear. Interpreting the witches depicted by artists like Albrecht Dürer, Hans Beltung, Salvator Rosa, and Marcantonio Raimondi—artists living in the transition between Middle Ages and Enlightenment—presents challenges.

The Witches Procession

Marcantonio and Agostino de Musi called Agostino Veneziano Raimondi, Lo Stregozzo [The Witches' Procession], after Raphael or Giulio Romano, 1520s, engraving, The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002.

Raimondi’s Lo Stregozzo (The Witches Procession) offers a useful case study in this history. The engraving is visually arresting, and its meaning and creation are mysterious. Scholars are divided regarding the identity of the printmaker—Marcantonio Raimondi or his student Agostino Veneziano—as well as the designer of the overall composition. Raimondi would have had commercial reasons for making the print himself. The subjects of witchcraft and the supernatural reflect a savvy business decision, since they would have appealed to both pious and humanist audiences alike.

Lo Stregozzo [The Witches' Procession] (detail)

Lo Stregozzo [The Witches' Procession] (detail)

The print’s iconography is cryptic. A retinue of bizarre creatures and ephebes [an ancient Greek term for young men undergoing military training] accompanies a witch, seated atop a huge dragon-like skeleton. Together, they traverse a marshy landscape. The witch holds a cauldron and grasps at a baby. Common belief held that witches murdered infants for making certain potions. Such superstitions were widespread among the public, but the Church’s views of witchcraft were complex. According to the canon Episcopi from 906 CE, the transformations attributed to witches and their “wild rides” to Black Masses in the dead of the night were products of imagination or mental illness rather than actual realities. Only the Creator could alter material things, and the nature of God informed future skepticisms as well. In 1475, theologian Johannes Nider protested that a loving God would never allow witches to murder unbaptized babies, damning them eternally. By contrast, in 1487 Dominican clergymen Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger published the Malleus Maleficarum, challenging the canon Episcopi and seeking to prove that witches’ interaction—and sexual congress—with demons was theological fact. Similarly in 1523, Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola’s Strix, sive de ludificatione daemonum recorded incidents of witches’ transformations, infanticide, and fraternization with demons.

Lo Stregozzo [The Witches' Procession] (detail)

Lo Stregozzo [The Witches' Procession] (detail)

In this climate, Raimondi’s print surely represented reality for the superstitious and some of the pious. Its sources, however, also reflect humanists’ interests in mysteries and antiquities. The work’s processional model was likely pagan, resembling a Dionysian retinue from Roman sarcophagi. Additionally, the flower at bottom left is asphodel, which Homer placed in underworld’s meadows. Such allusions suggest the association of Raimondi’s witch with ancient models like Hecate (goddess of witchcraft, linked to Diana), Medea (Jason’s wife and murderer of her children), Canidia (Horace’s grotesque potion-making witch), and Apuleius’s Meroe (who changes lovers into animals). These gendered classical portrayals of magic-using women were engrained in Renaissance culture (where a folk-healer might be accused of witchcraft by a slighted neighbor), even if most did not know the ancient sources of these archetypes.

Raimondi likely knew about classical themes such as the procession directly from antique sources and indirectly from the work of artists such as Andrea Mantegna. Notably, Mantegna’s depiction of Invidia in his Battle of the Sea Gods (c. 1480s) was the probable source for one of Dürer’s witches, which in turn informed Raimondi. Mantegna demonstrated rich invention and possessed a wealthy, learned, and humanist clientele who enjoyed puzzling through the master’s inventions. In Raimondi’s day, these buyers would have potentially understood witchcraft as superstition, fantasy, dream imagery, or as a mere metaphor for evil. For such persons, the follies in Lo Stregozzo would have been legible. Given the superstitious belief that witches used babies in producing flying potions, a problem emerges in this work. Despite the witch’s apparent use of infants and potions, her skeletal-ride is not so much flying as it is being lifted off the ground and pulled by her escort. This locomotion points to reliance upon natural laws rather than supernatural powers. Ultimately, Lo Stregozzo’s ambivalences allow for many readings. The work was a cipher and a potentially shrewd business decision. Today, we have largely reformed our view of witchcraft, yet we still harbor other unsubstantiated beliefs. Halloween’s witches are cartoonish rather than supernatural. They are also historical reminders to examine social tendencies that unjustly judge classes of people, forcing them to wear masks born of our own irrational fears.

Douglas Cushing
Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Prints and Drawings, and European Paintings at the Blanton

For further reading:

Albricci, Gioconda. “‘Lo Stregozzo’ Di Agostino Veneziano.” Arte veneta 36, no. 1982 (1982): 55-61.

Boorsch, Suzanne, Jane Martineau, Keither Christiansen, Ekserdjiian, Charles Hope, and Martin Landau. Andrea Mantegna. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1992.

Bury, Michael. The Print in Italy, 1550-1620. Exh. cat., London: British Museum, 2001.

Davis, Bruce. Mannerist Prints: International Style in the Sixteenth Century. Exh. cat., Los Angeles, Calif.: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1988.

Emison, Patricia. “Truth and Bizzarria in an Engraving of Lo Stregozzo.” The Art Bulletin 81, no. 4 (1999): 623-36.

Hults, Linda. The Witch as Muse: Art, Gender, and Power in Early Modern Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005

Institoris, Heinrich, Jakob Sprenger, and Christopher S. Mackay. Malleus Maleficarum. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Landau, David, and Peter W. Parshall. The Renaissance Print, 1470-1550. Exh. cat., New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Rabinowitz, Jacob. The Rotting Goddess : The Origin of the Witch in Classical Antiquity’s Demonization of Fertility Religion. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 1998.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1972.

Shoemaker, Innis H., and Elizabeth Brown. The Engravings of Marcantonio Raimondi. Exh. cat., Lawrence, Chapel Hill: Spencer Museum of Art, Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, 1981.

Stephens, Walter. Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Symmons, Sarah. Goya: A Life in Letters. London: Pimlico, 2004.

Tietze-Conrat, E. “Der Stregozzo.” Die graphischen Künste N.F.1. (1936): 57-59.

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B scene: Exquisite Corpse

Here at the Blanton, we’re so excited about Halloween that we decided to start the celebration a week early! On Friday, October 24, join us for B scene: Exquisite Corpse. We’ll be celebrating the mind-bending world of the exquisite corpse and the astounding brain of artist James Drake, the focus of our new exhibition, James Drake: Anatomy of Drawing and Space (Brain Trash). For two years, Drake, a Texas native, committed to drawing every single day. The resulting 1,242 compositions (depicting anatomy, animals, scientific formulas and other “brain trash”) provide the perfect setting for our quarterly art party!

B sceneBased on an old parlor game, “exquisite corpse” invites participants to write a phrase or draw a picture on a sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal part of it, and pass it on to the next player for his or her contribution. The idea originated with the Surrealists in Paris in 1925 when the first compiled phrase was, “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau.” (“The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.”)

At B scene: Exquisite Corpse, Big Medium, the team behind the East Austin Studio Tour,  will help you summon your subconscious with an exquisite corpse art making activity. They will also distribute advance copies of the 2014 E.A.S.T. catalogue. And be sure to stop by our media sponsor table where Tribeza will showcase their latest issue.

Dead Music Capital Band, Austin’s favorite zombie marching band, will provide some macabre music mashups that will boggle your brains. And THAT Damn Band will scare up some exquisite corpses on the dance floor with their musical stylings.

B sceneThe event will transport you back to one of the Surrealist parlour gatherings—picture aubergine velvet drapes and Gothic candelabras—and we invite you to subvert the norm like the Surrealists by dressing in your most creative and uncanny costume. Imbibe the End of the World Blantini, the Blanton’s spookiest specialty cocktail, and, as with all of our B scene events, there will be cash bars featuring beer, wine, and mixed drinks. Food will be available for purchase including BBQ brisket sliders with crispy tobacco onions, a mashed sweet potato bar with your choice of mix-ins, a fall composed salad, and skewered devil’s food cake. Members can trick or treat themselves to caramel corn from Cornucopia and macaroons from Elizabeth Street Café. Not a member? Join today!

Tours of James Drake: Anatomy of Drawing and Space (Brain Trash) will take place at 6:30pm, 7:00pm, and 7:30pm. Please note that the galleries will close at 9:00pm, but the party will live on until 10:00pm!

B scene is FREE for members/ $12 general public. Tickets are available online or at the door. To learn more about B scene, visit our website.

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Art21 Screening: Legacy

On October 30 from 5-8 p.m., the Blanton is pleased to host a special evening of public events including an early screening of “Legacy,” an episode of PBS’s primetime Art21 series, Art in the Twenty-First Century. This Peabody-award winning series showcases some of the most interesting and engaging contemporary art to a broad public audience. In addition to this sneak preview, the evening will include a self-guided visit of the Blanton’s galleries before the screening and a panel discussion on the many roles contemporary art can play in the classroom.

Art 21 eflyer

The evening’s episode features three very different approaches to the concept of legacy by artists Tania Bruguera, Abraham Cruzvillegas, and Wolfgang Laib. Cuban-American artist, Tania Bruguera, blends the space of performance and daily life to consider our political inheritance. Abraham Cruzvillegas forges sculptures from found materials from his home near Mexico City as an exploration of transformation and place. Working with natural materials like pollen, beeswax and milk, Wolfgang Laib’s process demonstrates an engagement with ritual and repetition.

Wolfgang Laib

Image still from Legacy of Wolfgang Laib at work

“Legacy” is a hot topic at the Blanton right now. In keeping with this theme, the event’s self-guided materials will feature several stops in the exhibition La linea continua. La linea continua highlights Latin American artwork from the recently gifted Judy and Charles Tate Collection. From the enduring impact of works by Joaquin Torres-Garcia to the resonance of scientific discoveries about perception in the mind-bending kinetic art of Jesús Rafael Soto, the story of Latin American art can be found throughout the exhibition. The theme is echoed in the legacy of the Tates’ generosity and its contribution to the many students and teachers who utilize the Blanton’s collections.

Continuing Art21’s aim towards a broad audience for contemporary art, the panel discussion following the screening will consider how to dynamically integrate contemporary art into the classroom as well as engage museum visitors of all ages. Featuring art educator Samantha Melvin, Blanton Curatorial Assistant Amethyst Beaver, and Associate Professor of Art Education at UT, Dr. Christina Bain, the panel will explore how audiences of all ages can engage art from a variety of disciplinary angles.

This free event is made possible with the generous support of Mobius Risk Group. 

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The Art of Snapchat

bma-snapchatWorking in social media is a pretty awesome job. As the Blanton’s Digital Communications Coordinator, it’s my responsibility to oversee all of our online social media profiles including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and more. In August, we decided to go out on a limb and become one of the first museums to join Snapchat, a popular mobile app where users send pictures and video to each other. But there’s a catch—the image disappears after a set amount of time (at most, 10 seconds).

Why Snapchat? As an image-based network, the fit between Snapchat and art history seemed natural. Buzzfeed listicles with titles like “29 Art History Snapchats That Will Give You Life” had already attracted thousands of views, demonstrating the popularity of this content in spaces beyond just the art world. However, unlike other social networks, Snapchat doesn’t offer a profile page where you can see all the content a user has created. This may seem to undermine all the hard work put into carefully writing tweets, designing images, and coming up with content that I post on our other profiles, but there is a draw: 77% of college students use Snapchat at least once a day. As an art museum on the University of Texas at Austin campus, what if we were able to reach students where they already are—on their phones? Here was my chance, as a proud UT art history major, to prove wrong all those who saw museums as stuffy or boring!

Keeping in mind the idea that many images shared on Snapchat were tongue-in-cheek, and drawing off the art history snaps that had proven so popular on Buzzfeed, I roamed the Blanton’s galleries trying to think of funny or slightly raunchy captions I could add to images of our permanent collection. Drawing on my knowledge of all things meme and tumblr-related, I stood in front of various paintings, trying to figure out how to best explain them in 21st century terms.

Nicolas de Largillière’s Portrait of a Man immediately stood out as the main character in the LMFAO song I’m Sexy and I Know It, while Francesco Guarino da Solofra’s depiction of five female saints became a Mean Girls reference. Bartholomaeus Spranger’s Saint Margaret was afflicted with a troubling phenomenon that many modern women can relate to—resting bitch face—and a portrait of a gentleman in In the Company of Cats and Dogs bore a striking resemblance to Eugene Levy in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Part of the appeal of Snapchat is that it allows museums to poke fun at themselves. Humor is often a less intimidating gateway into more serious subjects, and writing Snapchat captions helps demonstrate that something created 100, 200, or even 300 years ago can still be relevant in today’s world. I’ve received snaps from people all over the world, often in other languages, who are able to interact with the Blanton’s collection and discover an art museum in Texas that they had probably never heard of before. Twitter user (and museum professional) Lindsey Marolt summed it up perfectly:

For more Blanton snaps, check out the photos below! If you’re a Snapchat enthusiast, make sure to add us: blantonmuseum.

Alie Cline is the Digital Communications Coordinator at the Blanton and holds BAs in Art History and English from the University of Texas at Austin. You can find her online as the voice behind all the Blanton’s social media profiles, or on Twitter at @aliecline.

Snap2 snap6 Snap8 Snap9 Snap11 Snap24 snap23 Snap21 Snap19Snap16 Snap13 snap17

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Kinetic and Optical Art in La línea continua

“Movement is a spark of life that makes art human and truly realistic. An artwork endowed with never-repetitive kinetic rhythm is one of freest things one can imagine.” – Pontus Hultén, leaflet for the 1955 Le mouvement exhibition in Paris

Julio Le Parc, Continuel Mobile [Continual Mobile], 1966, aluminum and color acetate with cloth, cardboard, and fishing wire on wood, edition 49/100, 38 3/4 x 15 3/4 in., Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate, 2014. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Julio Le Parc, Continuel Mobile [Continual Mobile], 1966, aluminum and color acetate with cloth, cardboard, and fishing wire on wood, edition 49/100, 38 3/4 x 15 3/4 in., Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate, 2014. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

As you enter the Blanton’s new special exhibition La línea continua: The Judy and Charles Tate Collection of Latin American Art, one of the first objects that might catch your eye hangs two galleries away ­– a stunning installation of painted wood and dangling metal wires by Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto. The work, titled Rombo cobalto [Cobalt Rhombus], is one of several mesmerizing examples of Kinetic and Optical (Op) art in the exhibition, the entirety of which was recently gifted to the Blanton. This Wednesday at 3:30 pm, Dr. James Oles of Wellesley College will be speaking at the museum about the influence of Cézanne on Latin American Kinetic artists. As a preface to that, this week’s post offers a brief primer on one of the most intuitively appealing artistic movements of the last century.

In the midst of the various strands of geometric abstraction that emerged in South America during the postwar period, Op and Kinetic art began with a community of Venezuelan and Argentine artists who made their way to Paris in the 1950s. These artists shared an affinity for industrial materials and technology and an interest in sensory perception, which they explored in art through the use of color, light, and movement. One of the first of these artists to arrive in Paris was Soto, who went on to participate in Le mouvement, a groundbreaking exhibition of Kinetic art there in 1955.

Jesús Rafael Soto, Rombo cobalto [Cobalt Rhombus], 1968, paint on wood mounted to fiberboard with metal and monofilament, 55.5 x 55.5 x 9.8 in., Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate, 2014. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Jesús Rafael Soto, Rombo cobalto [Cobalt Rhombus], 1968, paint on wood mounted to fiberboard with metal and monofilament, 55.5 x 55.5 x 9.8 in., Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate, 2014. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Though painted in 1968, Rombo cobalto features the same innovations that Soto developed over a decade earlier. The rhombus-shaped composition to which the title refers is divided in half, with the upper register painted blue and the lower painted in thin, horizontal black and white stripes. A small metal bar is inserted into a hole at top of the work, from which a set of nearly invisible lines of monofilament hang. These in turn suspend dangling pieces of blue wire in front of lower half of the painting. The effect of this complex construction is enthralling: the viewer’s eye attempts to differentiate between painted line and three-dimensional one, generating a dizzying but pleasant optical effect. Because the wires are capable of moving at the slightest breeze, the work is a prime example both of Op art (it simulates motion in the eye of the viewer) and Kinetic art (it literally moves).

Carlos Cruz-Diez, Vibraciones en el espacio [Vibrations in Space], 1958, oil on wood with paper, 26 x 29 7/8 x 1 7/8 in., Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate, 2014. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Carlos Cruz-Diez, Vibraciones en el espacio [Vibrations in Space], 1958, oil on wood with paper, 26 x 29 7/8 x 1 7/8 in., Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate, 2014. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

One attendee of the Le mouvement exhibition was Carlos Cruz-Diez, a Venezuelan ad man and illustrator turned painter. Cruz-Diez became primarily interested in the visual effects that could be generated by color and light, and the bulk of his work beginning in the late 1950s explores these themes. The Blanton’s exhibition includes one Op art example by Cruz-Diez, a 1958 painting in black and white titled Vibraciones en el espacio [Vibrations in Space]. The work depicts a tilted rectangle made up of thin, vertical stripes in black and white that serve as a background – or foreground, depending on how you look at – to geometric shapes filled with thicker, horizontalstripes in black and white. By juxtaposing the horizontal and vertical stripes and varying their thickness, Cruz-Diez created an unstable image whose forms, while two-dimensional, are challenging for the viewer to reconcile.

Luis Tomasello, Atmosphere Chromoplastique No. 210 [Chromoplastic Atmosphere No. 210], 1968, paint on wood, 45 3/16 x 45 5/8 x 2 1/2 in., Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate, 2014.

Luis Tomasello, Atmosphere Chromoplastique No. 210 [Chromoplastic Atmosphere No. 210], 1968, paint on wood, 45 3/16 x 45 5/8 x 2 1/2 in., Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate, 2014.

The works on view by Soto and Cruz-Diez, as well as those by their Argentine peers Julio Le Parc and Luis Tomasello, demonstrate another key criterion for Kinetic and Op art: active participation of the spectator. These artists worked to create an accessible and democratic experience, in which every viewer, through vision, touch, and position in space, is critical to the success of the artwork. Visit La línea continua to learn more about this radical group of Latin American artists and experience their work firsthand.

Dr. James Oles’ lecture “Cézannisme à la américaine latine: The Impact of Cézanne on Diego Rivera and Jesús Rafael Soto” will take place at the Blanton on Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 pm. La línea continua is on view until Feb. 15, 2015.

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

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Meet the Musicians of SoundSpace: Sound Construction

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

SoundSpace: Sound Construction will explore facets of tonal color and texture through the use of unconventional, newly constructed instruments and techniques. Artistic Director Steve Parker interviewed some of SoundSpace’s composers and performers in anticipation of this weekend’s event.

Sam Cusumano

Sam Cusumano

Sam Cusumano, Artist and Engineer

What will you be presenting during the next SoundSpace show?

Electricity for Progress – Modification presents a series of interactive exhibits featuring modified consumer electronics. Guests will be invited to push buttons and turn knobs to create soundscapes and to learn and explore the functionality of simple children’s toys using sound.  I will be onsite to discuss the exhibits and answer questions.

How do you explore timbre (the character or quality of a musical sound or voice) in your work?

An amazing variety of textures are available through the modification (or circuit bending) of sonic devices. I analyze the functionality of small samplers and musical toys in order to provide an environment of free play for guests to explore and question. The sounds produced can be musically beautiful, or are at times, quite alarming and grating; these modifications are meant to excite and inspire the interactive audience, as well as expand the expectations and understanding for guests of the possibilities hidden with common electronics.

applesDo you have any expectations about how audiences will experience your work in the Blanton versus in a conventional performance space?

At the Blanton, audiences will find a series of devices distributed throughout the space, each offering a unique experience framed in the context of the museum collection.  By challenging the “don’t touch – be quiet” rules assumed in a gallery setting, Electricity for Progress – Modification invites guests to touch and interrogate installations, producing a variety of strange sounds, and changing visitor’s perspectives on interactive installation and performance art.

What other projects do you have coming up?

I am an Engineer for the Arts, working with Artists, Musicians, Curators, and Business Owners to solve technological challenges and present solutions.  My latest project MIDIsprout.org, working with the amazing organization Data Garden, will fulfill orders from a successful Kickstarter in November.  After that, I am looking forward to working on a variety of educational and custom projects.  I really want to help people understand how their tools work.

Dan Lippel

Dan Lippel

Dan Lippel, Guitar

What will you be presenting during the next SoundSpace show?

I’ll be performing my friend and colleague Reiko Fueting’s solo guitar piece Red Wall. Reiko is a German composer based in New York and this piece was inspired by a hike he took in the Austrian alps, and the contrast between the majestic and dramatic heights and the pristine silence that one hears as you near the summit.

How do you explore timbre in your work?

In this particular piece, Reiko explores the subtle timbral and pitch discrepancies between different locations of playing the same note on the guitar. On the guitar, there are sometimes six different ways to play the same pitch, fretted on different strings and with harmonics. The delicate timbral differences between these different fingerings are the basis for Red Wall’s exploration of the resonance of the instrument. Generally, timbral contrast is a central parameter of many new works for the guitar, and composers have really exploited this strength of the instrument either to paint a sonic picture or to create a sort of implied counterpoint between different timbres.

Do you have any expectations about how audiences will experience your work in the Blanton versus in a conventional performance space?

My experience is that playing in a gallery often facilitates a kind of openness to unfamiliar sounds that is harder to come by in a concert hall. An art gallery is a familiar context for experimentation, and that translates to a musical performance in the same space.

What other projects do you have coming up?

On September 29, I’ll be playing a solo recital of contemporary classical guitar music at UTSA (The University of Texas at San Antonio) as part of a residency I’m giving there. After that, I’m preparing for a solo recital of electric guitar and electronics music for the Sinus Ton Festival in Magdeburg, Germany at the end of the October. We’ve put together a really great program including new pieces written for me by Dai Fujikura, Sidney Corbett, and Morris Rosenzweig along with a really wild piece for guitar and loop pedal called Trash TV Trance by Italian composer Fausto Romitelli. Rounding out the program is my performance of Steve Reich’s iconic Electric Counterpoint in which I am trying to emphasize the connections between Reich’s work and the music of West and Central Africa that inspired him.

Travis Weller, Composer

What will you be presenting during the next SoundSpace show?

23-skiff-prototype1I’ll be presenting my new program-length piece Symmetrographia for an ensemble of 10 musicians playing traditional string instruments alongside instruments that I built. This piece is really important to me in that it ties together a lot of the sounds and ideas I’ve been working with for the past few years. The custom instruments involved were all created for past projects, but it has been really satisfying hearing them all in the same context. And since I’ve had a good deal of time to develop their sounds and techniques, I feel like they have really come into their own. This is a big piece for me and I’m thrilled it is being premiered at the Blanton.

How do you explore timbre in your work?

The character of sound coming from an instrument is something I’m really fascinated by. Historically, a major goal of traditional instrument design and playing technique has been to produce an even and consistent tone across the entire range. That way, composers have a stable reference point to work with harmony and melody in a predictable way. But I’m more interested in an interesting palette of sounds than making sure they all sounds uniform. So I stretch string players into different sonic territories using the naturally idiosyncratic behavior of strings, and build new instruments that make new sounds to add into the mix. At each point in the piece performers are given specific instructions about the tone quality I’m looking for. There are fewer notes than you might expect from an hour- long piece, but the individual textures and timbres and how they work together are the focal point.

Travis Weller

Do you have any expectations about how audiences will experience your work in the Blanton versus in a conventional performance space?

I really want the audience to feel free to move around the space and experience the piece from a variety of perspectives. The atrium at the Blanton has so much going for it: audience members will have a 360-degree view of the musicians. Walk up the stairs and look down from the mezzanine, listen nearby the ensemble, walk around behind the columns, or just grab a chair and stay put. The most important thing to me is that you be comfortable enough to really experience the sounds to their fullest.

Do you have a favorite work or gallery in the museum?

Well, it isn’t in the museum currently, but the first thing I thought of was Bremen Towne by Keith Edmier which stopped through the Blanton a year or so ago. The artist recreated his childhood kitchen from 1971. It was great.

What other projects do you have coming up?

I’m writing a piece for New York-based Ensemble Pamplemousse. It will be performed in the spring of 2015.

Natalie Zeldin

Natalie Zeldin

Natalie Zeldin, Flute

What will you be presenting during the next SoundSpace show?

I will be playing Density 21.5 by Edgard Varèse, and then inviting visitors to explore and improvise the piece with me.

How do you explore timbre in your work?

Well, the timbre of the flute comes in large part from the material of the instrument. Basically, the denser the metal of the flute, the more power and energy the flute can deliver. Most flutists today play on either silver or even denser gold instruments, depending on what sound quality they prefer.

Density 21.5 was written as a premiere performance on a platinum flute. (The density of platinum is 21.5) Even denser than gold or silver, playing on platinum is heavy, deep, and powerful. Playing on platinum is the flute equivalent of driving a Hummer. To play this piece well, you have to let out your inner monster and go a bit wild. It gets pretty loud.

Varèse writes the piece to explore the full tonal spectrum, pushing the limits of the instrument and the performer. Whenever I practice it, I learn a new lesson about what sounds the flute is capable of producing.

Do you have any expectations about how audiences will experience your work in the Blanton versus in a conventional performance space?

Even though the piece was written in 1936, it is fresh and powerful. I want to give the audience a chance to really grapple with the piece because I have learned so much each time I dig deeper into the work. So, Steve and I thought it would be fun to introduce a component for audience interaction. After I play the piece, I will invite visitors to perform a reflection/improvisation on the piece with me on electronic instruments made by Sam Cusumano. There may or may not be a yodeling pickle.

Do you have a favorite work or gallery in the museum? 

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ve always loved the Portrait of a Man by Sebastiano Luciani (c.1516). He just looks like such a nice guy.

What other projects do you have coming up? 

My flute and guitar duo (Duo Epsilon) has some upcoming projects–stay tuned!

 

SoundSpace: Sound Construction takes place on Sunday, September 28 from 2pm to 4pm and is included with museum admission. For more information, visit our website.

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Celebrating Latin American Art at the Blanton this Fall

Lothar Charoux

Lothar Charoux
Composicao I, 1950
Oil on canvas,
23 13/16 x 19 1/16 in.
Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate

As you may have seen in the Houston Chronicle, Hyperallergic, and elsewhere, we are thrilled to share that the Blanton has been gifted approximately 120 modern and contemporary Latin American artworks from UT alumni Judy and Charles Tate of Houston. In addition, the Tates have made a major contribution towards the endowment that supports the museum’s Latin American curatorship. Their collection—the entirety of which will ultimately come to the Blanton—includes painting, drawing, prints, sculpture, and mixed media works by artists Tarsila do Amaral, Lygia Clark, Frida Kahlo, Carlos Mérida, Wifredo Lam, Armando Reverón, Diego Rivera, Alejandro Xul Solar, and Joaquín Torres-García, among others. Spanning the early 20th century to the present, the gift features many of the artists who were key to the creation of modernism in Latin America.

For over fifteen years, the Tates have built a collection that complements the museum’s existing holdings of more than 2,100 Latin American objects. Highlights include: an ethereal painting by Armando Reverón from the 1920s; a 1946 graphite drawing by Frida Kahlo and a cubist period drawing by Diego Rivera; two paintings and an ink drawing by Wifredo Lam spanning his time in France in the late 1930s to his return to Cuba in the 1940s; a 1951 surrealist painting by Leonora Carrington; a 1953 glass mosaic by Carlos Mérida—a playful fusion of abstraction and figuration; mid-20th-century kinetic and concrete works by important artists Jesús Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Lygia Clark, Willys de Castro, Lothar Charoux, Mira Schendel, and Hélio Oiticica; and contemporary works by Fernando Botero, Waltercio Caldas, Jorge Macchi, and Sebastián Gordín. 

Enio Iommi

Enio Iommi
Línea continua, c. 1949-52
Stainless steel,
9 5/8 x 11 ¾ x 11 ¾ in.
Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate

From September 20, 2014 – February 15, 2015, the Blanton will present a selection of approximately 70 works from the collection. Entitled La línea continuathe exhibition takes its name from an elegant sculpture from the collection by Enio Iommi: a stainless steel “line” that traces an infinite loop in space. The work is also a fitting metaphor for the continual and nourishing connection between Judy and Charles Tate, the University of Texas, and the Blanton.

To bookend and contextualize the works in La línea continua, the Blanton has organized two counterpart installations that together span much of the history, culture, and geography of Latin America.

Doris Salcedo Untitled, 1995 wood, cement, steel, glass and cloth Diane and Bruce Halle Collection

Doris Salcedo
Untitled, 1995
wood, cement, steel, glass and cloth
Diane and Bruce Halle Collection

 Re-envisioning the Virgin Mary: Colonial Painting from South America features seven paintings on loan from two of the country’s most distinguished collections of colonial South American art—the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, New York, and the Marilynn and Carl Thoma Collection, Chicago. The paintings, created in what are now the countries of Peru and Venezuela, represent devotions to Mary that were popular in Spain in the 17th and 18th centuries and brought to the Americas by Spanish colonists.

On the contemporary front, a selection of works from internationally recognized artist Doris Salcedo will be displayed. Salcedo addresses themes of loss and mourning with works that cross international boundaries. Employing domestic objects such as furniture and clothing—once activated and personal—her sculptures explore the history of violence and oppression in her native Colombia and beyond, giving voice to the marginalized, missing, or deceased.

Looking for more Latin American art from our collection? Visit our website, or check out our Pinterest board with works from the collection and the Tate gift. Don’t miss seeing these incredible works of Latin American art at the Blanton this season!

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What Happens in One Place Affects Us All: A Conversation with Artist Adriana Corral

University of Texas at Austin MFA grad Adriana Corral has been working with themes of gender-based violence since she came to UT in 2010.  Based in San Antonio, she has exhibited at the Visual Arts Center at UT Austin, Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin, the Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton, New Jersey, the Bellevue Art Museum in Seattle and will be featured in the upcoming exhibition “Invasive Species: Landscapes by Justin Boyd, Adriana Corral, and Joey Fauerso” at Artpace, in San Antonio, opening September 11.  

Curatorial Assistant Amethyst Beaver caught up with Corral to talk about growing up in El Paso, her experience at UT, the first time she went to the Blanton, her process of breaking the silence about violence against women and her upcoming project at Artpace.

Amethyst Beaver:  Lets start from the beginning.  Who were some of your earliest influences?

Adriana Corral: There are four people that I think really shaped me into the person that I have become today: my mother, my father, my aunt Marti and my uncle Charlie.  My aunt Marti was an anesthesiologist and my uncle Charlie is a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon.

AB: You mentioned that your mother, aunt Marti and uncle Charlie all worked together and that you grew up in their offices.  When did you attend your first surgery?

AC: I went to one of the first surgeries when I was about eight or nine.  It was a family environment. My uncle performed the surgery, my aunt put the patients under and then my mom did the autotransfusions. One of their dearest friends was the nurse. They would play music and they would be in their environment.  Now looking back, watching them extend the lives of these patients really had a strong affect on me.

At an early age, the idea of life and death was an important thing that they taught us.  My mother fought with all of the physicians and nurses for my older brother and sister to be in the operating room when I was born because she said to watch life is extremely important.  It is the most beautiful thing that you could ever witness and that is life in its purest form.

AB: Did you witness death in the operating room?

AC: I didn’t experience that in the operating room.  My aunt Marti was the physician and then became the patient when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  During undergrad I would take her to chemo and radiation. I think going with her to chemo and radiation I was seeing the reality of it. And I was watching her body deteriorate, literally, in front of me.

As I was taking my aunt to chemo she would look over my drawing anatomy homework and say “Okay, the anatomy on that is not correct.” (Laughter) “You’re not doing this right.” And she knew it. She was very honest with no sugar coating.  She was probably the toughest person on me: her and my dad.  They were extremely critical. They pushed me in a good way.

AB: They were your advocates as well as your challengers.

AC: Yes. My aunt wanted me to pursue medical school.  She saw that I was an artist but she just wanted me to go to medical school. She said “you can do so much when you are in the medical field.  When you are a physician you can save lives and really help people.”  But I had this love to make art and once I proved my dedication she understood.

AB: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

AC: When I was junior in high school I fell ill with Epstein Bar—it’s when you have over exerted yourself and your body basically shuts down. I was out of school for three months. I started drawing, working with pastels, and I started painting. It was then that I decided this is what I want to do; I knew it.  During that time my aunt Marti gave me art books and she gave me my first journal.  And that has been a huge part of my practice; journaling, sketching and writing. I have so many, many, many journals and it all was because she gave me my very first one.

AB: How did your parents react to your decision to be an artist?

AC: I remember sitting down with my parents and saying, “I am going to go to undergrad, and then I am going to go to grad school and that is what I am going to do.”  They said, “what about pursuing medical school?” When I was young, my aunt would take me to conferences encouraging young kids to go into the medical profession.  And I loved it, but there was something that was just really pulling me to do art.

AB:  You completed your BFA at UT El Paso in 2008. When did you first look into UT Austin for grad school?

AC: I went to stay with my sister and her husband in Austin and I asked Margo [Sawyer, a UT professor] if she would meet with me.  She graciously did and I remember sitting with her in the sculpture studio. I asked her a lot of questions about the program, about her practice and her work.  I showed her my work and she said, “I am going to fight for you. I believe in you. I believe in your work.”

AB: This was your first meeting?

AC: It was an instant bonding and the conversation was wonderful. It was just an amazing connection with someone. I left so enthusiastic. I returned to El Paso and then a few weeks later I got into a severe car accident, which put me out of commission for almost two years.

AB: Oh no! That’s terrible. Someone was going to fight for you, you were going to apply to grad school, you were ready to take on the world and then—

AC:  —then the world said, “Whoa, slow down girl.” I had severe upper body injuries.  I was in physical therapy, Monday through Saturday, three hours each day for a year and a half.  When the accident happened, I wrote an email to Margo and told her that I wouldn’t be applying to any grad schools, I can’t even lift myself out of bed, we’re going to have to put everything on hold.  Probably the most amazing thing to come of that was an email from Margo who said, “If we can’t physically do anything, mentally we can prepare you.” She would send me TED talks, lectures and artists to look at.

Margo Sawyer and Adriana Corral in front of Momento, 2012 at the VAC.

Margo Sawyer and Adriana Corral in front of Campo Algodon Cuidad Juarez, 21 Febrero del 2007.

AB: That is incredible.

AC: I lived for those emails. My dreams of being an artist were not lost.

While I was recovering, I went to Austin to visit my sister and Margo told me that the one thing I had to do was go to the Blanton.

AB:  Really? 

AC: She said, “I think that this artist is going to inspire you.” That was in 2009 and that was when I first discovered Teresita Fernández’s work.

AB: That was the exhibition, Teresita Fernández: Blind Landscape (November 2009—January 2010)It was in the downstairs gallery, right?

AC: Yes. My sister said, “Well, we have to go see it.” And we went with my two nephews and I was shuffling around in my neck brace. I thought, “Who is this person? This is amazing!”

AB: Was that your first time at the Blanton?

AC: I think it was the first time.

AB: What most inspired you about the exhibition?

AC: I think it was the fact that she was a strong woman making work of this magnitude. Her use of materials blew me away!  It was just so hopeful for me. I felt like I could do it, that I had to keep fighting for this. And so for me, it was that moment of thinking, “yes, you have to apply to school. You need to get through this.”  I remember leaving the Blanton and just being floored.

Installation shot of exhibition Teresita Fernandez: Blind Landscape (November 2009-January 2010), photo by Rick Hall.

Installation shot of exhibition Teresita Fernández: Blind Landscape (November 2009-January 2010), photo by Rick Hall.

AB: So then there seems like it wasn’t even a question, you had to go to UT? 

AC: Of course I considered other schools; I wanted to go outside of Texas!  But when I applied to grad school, I decided that I wanted to work with someone who had already invested so much time in me. If Margo had a commitment like that, she was going to have a lifelong commitment to me.  She introduced me to other art faculty and grad students and told me about amazing resources on campus.

AB: You mentioned that you had family in Juarez and you would travel frequently back and forth.  Can you talk a little bit about your personal experience of living in El Paso and your relationship to Juarez?

AC: We would go to Juarez to eat, to be with family.  My father became a site selector for American companies looking for maquiladoras [factories] in Juarez and New Mexico. There were times when I would go with my father and he would show me what they were making in all of the maquiladoras. But the questions started to arise, “Well, what kind of conditions are these people in? What are they doing? Why do American companies have to go somewhere else to make something?” Being young and constantly asking these questions “Why? Why? Why?”  I think my dad wanted to say, “Why are you asking so many questions?”  (Laughter.)

Adriana Corral

Adriana Corral transferring the revered names of the women slain in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, for her installation at Artpace, San Antonio. Photo by Vincent Valdez.

AB: When did you begin focusing your work on violence against women and the femicidios (women murders) in Juarez?

I would constantly read about the slain women in the Diario or the El Paso Times and to me it was just unbelievable. It wasn’t just an issue in Mexico; I saw it as a universal issue. I was reading about what had and has happened to women in parts of Africa and Pakistan.  To me there weren’t these separations; it was the question of “Why is this happening, overall? Why are women targets weather it’s a drug war or a civil war?”  I kept seeing in the newspaper about what was happening in Juarez and I remember thinking, “Why aren’t people doing anything about it?”  I knew that it was a complex issue and yes there was some work being done about it, but I felt that there needed to be more awareness.

AB: It seems like this relationship between Juarez and El Paso is a vital part of your work.

AC: It is, it is extremely important.  I think that growing up next to another country is very important to consider. Even though El Paso and Juarez are considered sister cities, twin cities, there is still a division.  There is that line. I think that had a huge impact on me.

Why is Juarez one of the most dangerous cities in the world when El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation?  That dichotomy, that juxtaposition, that really made me start questioning things.

Voices of the Lost

Adriana Corral, Quebrar el silencio [Break the Silence], performance, 2011. Four hundred and fifty one ceramic body bag tags.

AB:  In 2011 you performed Quebrar el silencio [Break the Silence] where you smashed approximately 451 clay tiles that you had specifically made to look like body bag tags with the names of the victims. What brought you to this work and how did you start doing performance art?

AC: I had first heard about one of Yoko Ono’s performances when I was in undergrad. It was where she was in a white–

AB: –Cut Piece?

AC: Yes, Cut Piece. And for me that was just the power behind that. For me, that was just amazing. The fact that she was left nude and in such a vulnerable state due to the actions of others.

AB: That is a really powerful work, also because she asked other people to cut her clothing off of her.

AC: Yes. They were using scissors to cut and just that closeness of a blade, something caressing you that is so threatening, right?   That really resonated with me.

At that point I had done Voces de las perdidas [Voices of the Lost] (2010) at Mexic-Arte in Austin.  For that installation I worked with a tile company based out of Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico.  They made me clay body bag tags from the soil collected from the site of the Campo Algodonero (cotton field) murders.  The tags are suspended from the ceiling.

Quebrar el silencio

Adriana Corral, Voces de las perdidas [Voices of the Lost], site-specific installation, 2010. Ceramic body bag tags, soil from crime site, dimensions vary.

[UT Professor] Teresa Hubbard was conducting critiques and she pulled me aside. I remember we were right in the middle of all of these hanging ceramic body bag tags—and she held one of the tags and she said, “You know, this piece is really quiet. Now, to go forward with this, what if something happens to these?  What if they’re not so silent anymore?  What if there is a break of some kind?” I thought, “This is great!” (Laughter) I thought, “What if I can work with this company again and they can make me more tags and I can break them?”  Literally breaking that silence.

AB: Could you describe the sound of the breaking tiles?

AC: When I first started to break them, you hear that loud crashing break and inadvertently, this circle started to form from all of the shards evenly cascading out into the space. As I continued, that circle started to close and it became harder to break those tiles. The sound became muffled.

The performance concludes after I have finished picking up all of the pieces of the broken tiles and put them back in the boxes that I received them in. I was thinking about how we have to be vocal about this but we need to be tactful in the way we address this.  It is the mothers, the fathers and family members who often have to clean up after these atrocities. Of course there was anger that came over me, but it was also about letting go of that anger and looking towards solutions and continuing to bring an awareness.

The other works I was creating were quiet.  They were more contemplative spaces, a way to mourn the loss of these women.  So this point for me was the breaking of the silence.  There is this fear too.  When you are vocal about these issues, things can happen.

AB: You mean you bring danger to yourself when you speak out?

AC: Yes, and I think about that. Look at what has happened and is currently happening to journalists. I try to be very strategic because you have to be cautious.  It is not only in Juarez. When you are vocal, you have to be very careful at the same time, because threats can accompany exercising rights.  This piece was really important in that I was trying to break that silence too.

AB: Would you ever want to perform Quebrar el silencio in Juarez or redo that performance in other locations? 

AC: Yes, yes and yes.  After I had done that performance, I really wanted to go back to Juarez and actually wanted to go back to the site where the eight young girls were found, regarding the Campo Algodonero case. But right at that time, you had the drug war in its prime. It would have been a great opportunity but not the right time.

AB: What are some of the questions your professors would ask you about your work?

AC: They would ask me questions about authenticity: Why are you doing this?  What is the importance of it? Think about how the universal is in the specificity.

My second year I met [former UT professor] Michael Ray Charles and I worked with him my last two years. He became another amazing mentor for me. He would sit with me and talk about writers or music. One day I was with Michael Ray and he said, “We need to listen to some music,” so he put on Jimi Hendrix’s The Star Spangled Banner. He said, “Listen to that. Do you feel that? Do you feel the intensity?” He had me put earphones on and said, “You got to listen to it really, really loud.”  We would listen to Billie Holiday, old blues! Gosh! Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk are some of my faves. And we would sit there and listen to this music and you would feel it in your gut. And he said, “You want your work to do that to your insides.” He was another one who pushed me.  No sugar coating. Always asking me “How can you propel this work further?” He was just so incredible to have and still have in my life.

AB: You mentioned to me earlier that you had a dream team of professors that you worked with during your time at UT.  Can you tell me a bit about them? 

AC: In the art department I worked closely with Beili Liu, Jeff Williams, Mike Smith, Amy Hauft, Michael Mogavero, Michael Ray Charles, Ann Johns, Jack Stoney, and Ken Hale.  I worked very closely with Ariel Dulitzsky from the law school and he introduced me to Luis Cárcamo-Huechante who was the lead in creating a human rights working group at the Rapoport Center. Ariel also put me in touch with Cecilia Balli, an anthropology professor at UT who has been working in Juarez for many years and Héctor Domínguez-Ruvalcaba from the Spanish and Portuguese department. I had so many supporters throughout campus. I should also mention Charlie Hale the LILAS director. He was great.

Adriana Corral

Adriana Corral installing Per legem terrae [By the Law of the Land] at Artpace, San Antonio, 2014. Photo by Vincent Valdez.

AB: It seems like you have had some significant mentors and advocates in your life. You met Amada Cruz, the director of Artpace in San Antonio and she has asked you to be a part of a group show.  Can you tell me a little more about the work you are currently installing, Per legem terrae [By the Law of the Land] and the process you go through when creating site-specific work?

AC: Amada has been an amazing advocate. It is a tremendous honor to be in this exhibition. Amy Hauft, Jeff and Margo really helped me greatly when it came to site-specific work.  They provided great readings and advised me to sit in the space. It is important to be aware of your environment, to be very considerate of the space, to study the architecture. At Artpace I would go and I sit in the space for periods at a time, then I photographed it, and I made mock ups of my ideas in the studio.  Then I would put it all into Photoshop to see the layout. I finalized some images and I took those to Amada and we had a discussion about the work.

I wanted to create a counter-monument. For this work I have created a rhombus (diamond) shape of the names of the women who have been murdered. Once the names were transferred to the wall, I obliterated, erased and blurred them. For me the obliterated text is commenting on the failure of a system that is not prosecuting these violent acts.

On the floor, mirroring that wall of names, I have installed a large rectangular shape made of half ashes and half soil. I obtained the soil from along the border.  I was thinking about this line that divides us, this unnatural line. And just because these atrocities are happening in our neighboring country doesn’t mean, like you said, that it doesn’t happen here or concern us. What happens in one place affects us all.

Invasive Species: Landscapes by Justin Boyd, Adriana Corral and Joey Fauerso” will be on view in the Artpace Hudson (Show)Room from September 11, 2014 through January 4, 2015.

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Play, Investigate, Interpret, and Explore: Outdoor Odysseys at the Blanton

Backpack for Outdoor Odysseys: Fountain Expedition

Backpack for Outdoor Odysseys: Fountain Expedition

About 10,000 K-12 students visit the Blanton Museum of Art each year, and for most, it’s their first trip to an art museum. Sometimes groups are so large that they cannot be accommodated for gallery lessons at the same time. In these cases, half of the students wait outside on the Blanton’s plaza, while the other half of the group explores the museum with gallery teachers and docents. After an hour, the groups switch. What do teachers and students do while waiting in this “plaza purgatory?” Typically they eat a sack lunch and then have free time to lounge and linger. Noticing this lag time got the Blanton’s education team asking: What can we do to make waiting more productive and engaging for young visitors? What if they learned about UT with the aid of a walking map? Could a scavenger hunt across campus help kids envision themselves as college students?

A design-thinking workshop was convened to figure out where a map could guide K-12 students and what they might do along the way. Meredith Word, the Blanton’s graphic designer, and education staff and interns trekked around campus putting themselves in the shoes of the average fifth grader. This small team of “design thinkers” came up with four distinctive activity maps that could each be completed within thirty minutes. The design-thinking team also decided that the activity maps should have the common feel of campus exploration and investigation. Each path would engage K-12 visitors with important aspects of campus life and get them curious about college.

Francesca Balboni and Sarah Abare

Francesca Balboni and Sarah Abare discuss
post-it comments during the design process

The ideas from this initial design-thinking session have evolved into a series of Outdoor Odysseys, which the Blanton will be launching this September. Each Outdoor Odyssey includes a map with activities; two backpacks containing supplies will also be available for groups to check out at the Blanton’s Visitor Services Desk (one per group). Outdoor Odyssey maps will include activities that can be accomplished with and without the backpacks. The maps, available for download on the Blanton’s K-12 webpage, highlight Landmarks (public sculptures around campus) and promote the development of looking skills.

Outdoor Odyssey: Go Green will be the first of the series available and focuses on green spaces adjacent to the Blanton Museum of Art. There are team-building games like Zip-Zap-Zop as well as classic field games like sculpture tag and keep-away Frisbee. Another game, Investigator, asks students to use magnifying glasses to make observational drawings and oil-based clay to create relief prints. Through these activities, participants are encouraged to play, investigate, interpret, and explore.

Francesca Balboni

Francesca Balboni jots down ideas for what will become Fountain Expedition

Next in the series will be Outdoor Odyssey: Longhorn Loop. While Outdoor Odyssey: Go Green concentrates on staying near the Blanton to engage in play, Outdoor Odyssey: Longhorn Loop walks in the steps of those who attend UT, taking K-12 students to Gregory Gym, the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, and around the dorms at Jester Center. The accompanying Texas orange backpack includes compasses, binoculars, and sketching materials. The third and fourth installments of the Outdoor Odyssey series will be released in the spring— with Outdoor Odyssey: Library Lookout (a scavenger hunt) and Outdoor Odyssey: Fountain Expedition (a longer walk with a worthwhile payoff). Each of these four maps and backpacks will encourage teachers and students to view the UT campus in new and empowering ways. Curiosity is welcome, inside the galleries and outside.

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Austin’s Felines

At the beginning of our exhibition, In the Company of Cats and Dogs, we invited Austinites to submit photos of their kitties and pooches to be included in a slideshow alongside the works of art in the exhibit. The response was incredible, with over 450 submissions, underscoring how animal-friendly Austin is! Although we couldn’t include stories of the animals on the slideshow, we wanted to highlight a few that were submitted. Having already spotlighted some of Austin’s dogs, this installment focuses on two special cats in the Austin community, as described by their owners.

Novio

NovioIn my experience, orange male cats have always been the sweetest cats. They love to cuddle and I had always dreamed of adopting one, but my finicky older cat, Pipoca, always kept me from going for it. One day, I saw a little kitten tumble into the street (out of a car?) and I immediately adopted her and took her home. Tenten, the new kitten, was so sweet, and although Pipoca was annoyed with her, they were able to coexist, which gave me hope to add an orange kitten to our family.

Months later, still kitten obsessed, my boyfriend at the time, Jonny, took me to the animal shelter to “just look” and I fell in love with this tiny, 8 week old orange male kitten. The kitten was a little sick and underweight, and the counselor almost didn’t let us take him home that day, but we promised we would take good care of him.

Juliana and Novio after the proposal

Juliana and Novio after the proposal

While waiting for our adoption paperwork to be wrapped up we were thinking of names, and Jonny suggested Novio, which means boyfriend/fiance in Spanish. I agreed that it was a great name and that I wouldn’t mind calling my orange male dream cat mi Novio. We brought Novio home and Jonny started setting up a room for him to begin acclimating to a new home.

Next thing I know, Jonny is on his knee and presents to me Novio and asks me to marry him. Novio was carrying the engagement ring on his collar! I said yes.

A few months later, Jonny and I got married and now I feel like the luckiest woman to have gained a husband and kept my boyfriend!

– Juliana Castillo, Southeast Austin

Peeks

PeeksIn May 2011 Peeks was about 4 weeks old when a friend of mine, Barbara (who has 2 cats), was on the 183N feeder at the Oak Knoll light behind an SUV. When the light turned green, she noticed a tiny kitten that fell off the top of the SUV in front of her! She came to a dead stop right over the kitten that was scrambling underneath the car behind her, crawling up into the wheel well. Barbara got out of her car to look for the kitten but couldn’t see her. Luckily a homeless man at the corner was watching the whole thing and ran to the car, grabbed the kitten from the wheel well and gave it to Barbara. Barbara immediately called me because I had recently lost a cat about six months prior. She brought over this tiny, scared kitten and I was hooked.

PeeksAbout two years ago I gave Peeks to Stephanie, my daughter who needed a therapy pet after losing a very close friend in an auto accident. I get to visit Peeks often, and see she’s being loved and cared for beyond belief. Stephanie and Peeks are perfect for each other. Peeks is obsessed with hair bands and climbing to high places. Her nickname is hair bandit because no matter where you hide your soft hairbands (the $$ ones that look like elastic ribbons), she’ll find them! She loves to nap at the top of “cat castle” (a six foot tall cat tower). Stephanie is in her final year of college, and Peeks is the perfect roommate for her.

– Sharon Barrett, Hyde Park

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

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An Interview with Filmmaker Nancy Schiesari

Canine SoldiersOn Thursday, August 21 at 6:30PM, award-winning filmmaker and University of Texas professor Nancy Schiesari presents a sneak preview of her film-in-progress, Canine Soldiers, which tells the story of military working dogs and their relationships with their soldier handlers. Schiesari will speak about her experience researching and shooting the film, which documents the usage of dogs in the U.S. Army in recent military actions in Afghanistan, and will also screen excerpts. Adam Bennett, Manager of Public Programs at the Blanton, recently sat down with Schiesari to discuss the film.

When did you realize that this idea would translate into subject matter for a film?

I tend not to think in terms of narrative or individuals, but about the ideas behind a film. I learned about military working dogs in 2005 when I was working on Tattooed Under Fire [Schiesari’s most recent documentary] I heard that if a Military working Dog is caught and killed by the insurgency—they’ll have their ear cut off because the serial number of the dog is written there, and this proof can fetch up to $15,000 per dog. So that piqued my interest.

Canine SoldiersBut I was also thinking about how dogs are essential in these wars, in which two out of three American deaths are the result of improvised explosive devices—bombs hidden under the ground. Robots cannot detect them, but a dog can. So here we have another species leading our species through danger, almost like Saint Christopher leading us to safety. So that image of humans being led by another species stayed with me for a long time.

It’s incredibly humbling to think about humans depending on another species—it just shows us that we’re not top dog in everything on the planet, and how much we owe other animals. This is something that the biologists we’ve featured in the film talk about, that humans survived over time because of their cooperation with dogs. That we have evolved with dogs as a companion species over thousands of years brings us to this point where our survival in these wars depends on them.

And then I learned about the strong bond between the dog and the handler, which they need in order to function as a team, and that the bond is based on love and trust: the dog helps the handler because he or she wants to, they want to please the handler. So handlers have to keep this bond of love alive in a situation which is surrounded by death and danger, and where everybody else around them has a kill-or-be-killed mentality. The dog handler and the dog have a completely different relationship.

offlimitsWhen I started meeting dog handlers, I was so struck by the way they looked, they had a very different quality about them from regular soldiers. But then I learned that they all had been regular soldiers first. Every handler I talked to had first-hand experience in the infantry in Afghanistan or Iraq, had seen what bombs had done to their friends, and decided to go back and train as dog handlers, because they wanted to save lives. The handlers whole mentality is about saving lives—they have a saint-like quality. I don’t mean to idealize them, but they really have an extraordinary aura. That could be because they have to get into the sensory world of the dog in order to be a good dog handler, so they’re using their intelligence in a different way, outside of the military mindset where you do what you’re told.

That’s so interesting that you could detect that difference between the handlers and the non-handlers, even though these handlers are soldiers and used to serve in that very different role. 

caninesoldiersThey actually still have to carry a gun, and be able to defend themselves and shoot back if they’re in a firefight, so they’re still wearing two hats—handler and soldier.

There are a lot of people who object to dogs going to war. We have a volunteer army, so soldiers have a choice about whether to enlist or not, but dogs are bred to do this or are selected and don’t have a choice. So there’s a question of ethics about including dogs in human violence. The biologist Marc Bekoff talks in the full-length film about this; he’s very opposed to using animals in war.

Why did you make the choice to shoot in 3-D?

About three years ago, I was thinking about different ways to represent a dog’s perspective. So I thought: wouldn’t it be nice to shoot in 3-D to bring the audience into that world, which isn’t eye-level with human perspective but is further down and has a lot more movement. So it’s interesting to create a different sort of movement through space that we experience from a non-human perspective, not your typical point-of-view shot of a 6-foot person looking across a landscape.

I also felt that the war had been represented for the last ten years on television in two-dimensional, very flat images that are khaki- and sand-colored, and perhaps we had become numb to what the war was really like. So I wanted to try 3D to increase realism and the sensory experience of the film.

This event is hosted in conjunction with In the Company of Cats and Dogs, currently on view at the Blanton. For more information, visit our website.

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Five Ancient Andean Objects Not to Miss

The Blanton’s special exhibition Between Mountains and Sea: Arts of the Ancient Andes closes this Sunday, August 17. If you have only half an hour to peruse the show between now and then, here are five objects you shouldn’t overlook: 

Mantle Peru, south coast, Paracas culture,  c. 300-100 B.C. Camelid fiber 51 1/2 x 110 in. (130 x 279.4 cm) Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Fund in Memory of John O'Boyle, 1972.4.McD

Mantle
Peru, south coast, Paracas culture,
c. 300-100 B.C.
Camelid fiber
51 1/2 x 110 in. (130 x 279.4 cm)
Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Fund in Memory of John O’Boyle, 1972.4.McD

Paracas culture, 900–200 BCE
Mantle with birds (first gallery) 

Though it is displayed under low light to protect its natural dyes and fibers, the oldest and largest textile in Between Mountains and Sea is impossible to miss. This exquisite mantle from the Paracas culture consists of an embroidered checkerboard of squares in indigo and red that is densely populated with an intricate, stylized bird design–likely a representation of the majestic Andean condor. Mantles like this one were sometimes used to adorn the bodies of the dead, forming a “mummy bundle.” The incredible state of this textile owes in part to the extremely arid desert in which it was buried and to the alpaca or vicuña fibers from which it was woven, which are highly effective at retaining dye.

-800 CE Stirrup spout bottle of Supernatural Crab Being

Moche Culture, 100 -800 CE
Stirrup spout bottle of Supernatural Crab Being
Ceramic, slip paints
Collection of The University of Texas at Austin, courtesy
the Department of Art and Art History

Moche culture, 100–800 BCE
Stirrup spout bottle of Supernatural Crab Being (third gallery)

Peer into the mirror positioned behind this ceramic vessel to fully understand its enigmatic designation as a “Supernatural Crab Being.” The figure depicted on the bottle boasts a human face, a decorated shell for a back, both human and crab legs, and pincers for hands. Its feline headdress and protruding fangs connect it to a Moche deity known today as Wrinkle Face. Moche ceramicists often drew upon local fauna, particularly marine life, to depict supernatural beings in a highly narrative and naturalistic style. Though seemingly readable to the modern eye, such objects are embedded with religious and secular symbolism, much of which remains a mystery to archaeologists and historians.

Single spout bottle with Sicán Lord and two attendants

Sicán Culture, 750–1350 CE
Single spout bottle with Sicán Lord and two attendants
Ceramic
Collection of The University of Texas at Austin, courtesy the Department of Art and Art History

Sicán culture, 750–1350 CE
Single-spout bottle with Sicán Lord and two attendants (fourth gallery)

The Sicán culture is known in part for its advancements in metalwork, and blackware ceramics like this one reflect that interest. The bottle was made using a reduce-fire technique: during firing the amount of oxygen entering the kiln was limited, allowing smoke to darken the clay of the vessel. The surface was then burnished, or polished, to create a striking metallic sheen. The heads depicted on the bottle belong to the Sicán Lord, a mythical ruler, at center, and two attendants, who flank him on either side. 

Anthropomorphic Effigy (cuchimilco) Peru, Central Coast, Chancay culture, Late Intermediate Period  (900-1400 CE) ceramic, slip paints

Anthropomorphic Effigy (cuchimilco)
Peru, Central Coast, Chancay culture,
Late Intermediate Period
(900-1470 CE)
ceramic, slip paints, Collection of The University of Texas at Austin, courtesy the Department of Art and Art History

Chancay culture, 900–1470 CE
Anthropomorphic effigy (fourth gallery)

The Chancay produced some of the largest human-like figurines, known today as cuchimilcos, in the Andes. This figurine was likely made to accompany a funeral bundle and may have been dressed in textiles, which explains its undecorated nude torso. The holes along the head crest are typically associated with female figurines. Though technically crude, such effigies are visually appealing, with their outstretched arms, anatomical detail, and black painted decorations, which sometimes represent tattoos or have animal associations.

Sea Lion, Chimu Culture

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

Chimú culture, 900–1470 CE
Stirrup spout bottle as sea lion (final gallery)

Like the Moche culture that preceded them on the northern coast of what is now Peru, the Chimú demonstrated an affinity for naturalistic renderings of local marine life. This sea lion bottle is remarkable both for its elegant simplicity and the ceramicist’s sensitivity to detail, from the whiskers to the earflaps. North coast cultures like the Chimú placed symbolic importance on this sea mammal, which relied on the same marine resources as humans and was equally disrupted by the climatic changes brought on by El Niño events. 

Beth Shook is the Blanton’s Curatorial Research Associate for Latin American art.

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Volunteering at the Blanton

Huzefa Sakerwalla

Huzefa Sakerwalla standing next to the WorkLAB Satellites at the Blanton

As a UT student studying business and science, it made absolutely no sense for me to apply for an internship at the Blanton Museum of Art. Even after accepting the internship, I was still worried I would not be able to fit in the museum environment.  I am as far from artistic as you can get. I think paintbrushes are best used for cleaning dust. Oil painting is when I pour vegetable oil in a frying pan. The most artistic I get is tying my shoelaces every morning.

Yet two months after working there, it was nothing like I thought it would be. There were no upper class intellectuals discussing how Picasso’s brushstrokes at 35 degrees give a painting a guileless nature, or Edward Hopper’s sketch of a cat showed that he preferred Petco over Petsmart. There were just kind, sweet, down-to-earth staff members and volunteers who were focused on one thing: how to get everyone to enjoy the art.

UntitledAn art museum is a unique place to volunteer. The environment is serene and soothing. Stacked Waters, the immersive art installation within the museum’s atrium, and the architecture of the building promote tranquility. It’s a place built to calm you and isolate you from the busy outside world. People take their time and stroll around at their own leisure, quietly inhaling the beauty. There is hardly any sense of urgency. Naturally, the environment provokes creativity and thought. The mix of culture and color leaves you in a daze, with your head spinning as you move from one exhibit to the next. In one room you can be surrounded by Greek plasters and feel like throwing on a toga, and within a few steps you are in an ancient time period where you suspiciously check your shoes for sand. If you enjoy working with children, you can help at the stations that are set up for them to make their own art. Their creativity is contagious; just walking by, you feel like making something meaningful of your own. Even I managed to pick up some skills, using my free time to learn origami.

There are numerous places you can give your time to help the community: food banks, homeless shelters, hospitals. But at the Blanton Museum of Art you will find a place of peace and quiet that will help you learn about cultures and their art as well as yourself. If you get a chance to volunteer there, I recommend you take it because the museum and the art can make you a more colorful person.

Huzefa Sakerwalla is a student at UT studying business management and pre-med classes. He found the Blanton internship opportunity on the AccessUT web site for students and alumni and is working with Visitor Services helping to manage summer volunteers.

 

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Let’s Talk: Gallery Teaching and Conversations about Art

Villinski_Passage

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

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

My mind raced with terrifying thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Matias Duville,

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

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

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

Sarah teaching in the galleries

Sarah teaching in the galleries

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

I have a feeling you’ll learn something.

– Sarah Abare

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

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George Gershwin In An Imaginary Concert Hall

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

George Gershwin

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

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

The Faces on the Left Side

photo 1

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

The Faces on the Right Side

photo 2

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

Kay Swift and George Gershwin 

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

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

– Ray McLeod, Blanton Museum of Art Volunteer

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Artist Claude van Lingen on Art of the Moment

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

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

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

Frederic Emile Jean Baptiste Ragot

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

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

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

Max Weber

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

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

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

Joan Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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Curiosity Unbound: Docent Training at the Blanton

Storytime tour at the Blanton

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

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

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

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

Jeannie, Blanton DocentJeannie:

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

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

Rosie, Blanton DocentRosie:

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

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

Michele:

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

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

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

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

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

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