The Art and Sound of Free Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can listeners expect in future episodes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The year was 1995.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you at the Blanton for Come as You Are!

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

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Choosing the Blanton Museum for Your Special Day

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

1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stacey Hoyt CSEP, CMP
(512) 475-6516

Lily Alpern
(512) 471-8698
events@blantonmusuem.org

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We’re on Vine!

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

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

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

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Road Trip: Upcoming Kelly Installation Inspires Art Pilgrimages

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

Panoramic photograph of Austin model (Photo by Milli Apelgren)

Panoramic photograph of Austin model (Photo by Milli Apelgren)

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

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

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

Donald Judd

Image via Chinati Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

Rothko Chapel ( Melissa Phillip / Houston Chronicle )

Rothko Chapel ( Melissa Phillip / Houston Chronicle )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Make it Count: One Blanton Volunteer’s Experience

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

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

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

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

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

Kate with Martha Bradshaw, Manager of Visitor and Volunteer Services

Kate with Martha Bradshaw, Manager of Visitor and Volunteer Services

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

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

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

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

Kate with Tessa Krieger-Carlisle, PR & Marketing Manager

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

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

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

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

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The Varied Fortunes of a Princely Bible

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

The Crusader Bible

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

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

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

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

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

Crusader Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Tis the Season for Gifting

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

Membership mugs

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

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

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

Blanton Gift Guide

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

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

Happy holidays from all of ours to all of yours!

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

 

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Behind the Blanton: Stephanie Ruse, Collections and Exhibitions Assistant

Stephanie Ruse is the Collections and Exhibitions Assistant at the Blanton. In our latest installment of Behind the Blanton, a series where we profile different Blanton staff members, we sat down with Stephanie to learn a little bit about what she does here at the museum.

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What does a typical workday look like for you?

Stephanie: As the Collections & Exhibitions Assistant, I help with caring for the objects in the Blanton collection and planning for upcoming exhibitions. On any given day, I might be adding records for new acquisitions to our collections database, formatting wall labels for the next exhibition, writing to artists for permission to publish their artworks, or making travel arrangements for a courier accompanying a work of art that the Blanton is borrowing from another museum.

If you had to pick a favorite exhibition you’ve helped with while working at the Blanton, what would it be?

I would have to pick Through the Eyes of Texas: Masterworks from Alumni Collections (Spring 2013) for the range and quality of the almost 200 artworks in the show. It was very challenging to organize an exhibition of that scale, but so worth it to see such outstanding artworks (including ancient Mayan vessels, Renaissance and Impressionist paintings, and massive contemporary installations) all in one place. The generosity of the UT Austin alumni lenders and the collective efforts of the Blanton staff made for a very special exhibition.

Young Woman Holding a Wine Flask

Giacomo Ceruti, called Il Pitocchetto, Young Peasant Woman Holding a Wine Flask, circa 1737-38, Oil on canvas, The Suida-Manning Collection

What’s a piece that always draws your attention in the Blanton’s collection?

I often stop to look at Il Pitocchetto’s Young Peasant Woman Holding a Wine Flask, circa 1737–38. I love that the artist gave this unnamed peasant girl such dignity and distinction. The details in her ring, necklace, and patched dress contribute to her individuality and make me wonder about what her life and personality were like.

Favorite thing to do in Austin on a summer day?

I like to either embrace the heat at one of Austin’s great swimming pools (Deep Eddy is a favorite) or escape the heat and enjoy a movie and a cold drink at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Thank you to Stephanie for taking time out of her busy day to talk with us about her work here at the Blanton.

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Shopping with a Conscience

As the holiday season approaches, we often take the opportunity to both indulge in some well-earned treats and gifts, but also to give back to those less fortunate. Whether that means donating to a children’s holiday gift drive, serving at a local shelter, or shopping for socially and economically conscious presents for your loved ones, there are a variety of ways to give back during the holidays.

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That’s why the Blanton Museum Shop has partnered with fair trade organization, Ona Mission, to organize a Fair Trade Holiday Trunk Show. Before jumping in to all of the awesome reasons for shopping for fair trade products (and giving a sneak preview of what to expect!), here are the basics:

What: Fair Trade Holiday Trunk Show
Where: Blanton Museum Shop, MLK at Congress
When: TODAY! Thursday, November 19 from 11am – 8pm

1Now let’s back up a step and take a look at what “fair trade” really means. According to the Fair Trade Federation, “fair trade is an approach to business and to development based on dialogue, transparency, and respect that seeks to create greater equity in the international trading system. Fair trade supports farmers and craftspeople in developing countries who are socially and economically marginalized. These producers often face steep hurdles in finding markets and customers for their goods.” So essentially, by shopping fair trade, you can be assured that the items you purchase are made with materials that were manufactured and acquired fairly, by companies that do not exploit foreign or domestic laborers. Pretty cool, right?

2Let’s take it a step further. If you shop the Blanton Museum Shop’s Fair Trade Holiday Trunk Show, not only can you be positive that all of your purchases are fair trade, but many of the featured vendors also take additional steps to give back to the communities with whom they work. For example, Papillon Haiti provides job training to help employees learn to create new items out of recycled goods, while She Has Hope rescues and rehabilitates human trafficking survivors in Nepal.

Now that you know your purchasing power will be used for good, here’s a sneak peek of featured vendors and what they will have to offer today: 

Liz Alig: Fair Trade clothing and accessories

Liz Alig was created with the hope of providing consumers with fair trade clothing that is both ethical and fashionable.

Papillon Haiti: Jewelry, metalworks, wall hangings, Christmas ornaments and nativities

Papillon Haiti provides hope to the people of Haiti through the dignity of jobs, training them to create something new out of recycled materials and natural resources that might otherwise seem unusable.

Haiti Design Co-op: Leather goods, jewelry, totes, keychains, stuffed animals, etc.

Haiti Design Co-op is a socially conscious artisan cooperative based in Port Au Prince, Haiti. It is dedicated to business development, skill training, job creation, and fostering a positive and uplofting work environment for its local artisans.

She Has Hope: Jewelry, Totes, Stuffed animals, keychains

She Has Hope rescues and rehabilitates human trafficking survivors in Nepal with the goal of restoring them to a life full of hope.

Peace Gospel: Jewelry, accessories, Nativities

Peace Gospel is empowering sustainable, native-led, mercy-based programs in Asia and Africa by caring for orphans, child trafficking victims, at-risk women and destitute children of the slums.

Emi B Bad: Hand-crafted jewelry

All things vintage, all things different, all things fun! Emi B Bad is run by a local artisan out of Tomball, TX.

I don’t know about you, but to me this looks like a one-stop holiday shopping experience! See you at the trunk show!

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

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Love and the Brain

This is the final week to see the exhibition, Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm on view through Sunday, November 15. For this blog post, we asked Dr. Juan Dominguez in the Psychology Department at the University of Texas at Austin to share a little bit about his class’s visit to the exhibition.

The topic of love and mating has been of great interest throughout human history. Yet, only recently have the brain sciences provided great insight into the biology of this most important behavior. This Signature Course in the Neuroscience Department—Love, Mating and the Brain, UGS 302—helps students explore the neuroscience of love and mating.

Why are these things important to us and how does our brain make them happen? Emotions that are involved with love and mating are often preceded by the integration of sensory information. For example, seeing a loved one or feeling the caress of someone close to you are things that elicit emotional responses. The brain is responsible for integrating this information and then facilitating an appropriate emotion.

For this class students need to understand brain mechanisms responsible for this integration. In lieu of the sight of a loved one or the caress of someone close to them, they experienced this through viewing art. In visiting Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm for the first time they were naïve to the experience. It was important that they write down as much about their initial experience as possible, and then link the experience with the neural mechanisms involved in the regulation of that experience. In their writing assignment we expected them to both describe the emotions elicited by the sight of their favorite drawing and also describe the neuroscience behind that experience—providing the students with a new perspectives into both art and science. The students were also asked to submit one question that they would like to ask to Natalie Frank, who generously answered their questions. You will find excerpts from their essays and a few of the questions below.

Student excerpts

Natalie Frank

Natalie Frank, The Ungrateful Son, 2011-2014, Gouache and chalk pastel on Arches paper, Courtesy of the artist.

Upon viewing the Ungrateful Son drawing by Natalie Frank, it was clear that she employs both vibrant colors and specific mark making to reflect the story related to the piece, and her tactics stimulate a variety of emotions. As I examined the drawing, I found myself feeling an overwhelming amount of sympathy for the subject of the piece. The person was clearly exhibiting signs of discomfort, which was evident in the contortion of his facial features. His eyes glimmer with tears, and the slope of his mouth made me experience sadness on his behalf. The reaction I experienced is due, in part, to the way the human visual system receives and translates stimulus that comes from a person’s physical surroundings.

Natalie Frank

Natalie Frank, Snow White V, 2011-2014, Gouache and chalk pastel on Arches paper, Lent by Elizabeth Sackler

After a visit to the Blanton Museum of Art and viewing Natalie Frank’s paintings of  Grimm fairy tales, I came upon a scene of Snow White’s evil stepmom as a skeleton in a room full of weird objects. When I first saw this work, I felt a sensation of fear. The skeleton is a stimulus, causing me to interpret the image as scary or terrifying. I experienced fear and tunnel vision.

Natalie Frank

Natalie Frank, Rapunzel I, 2011-2014, Gouache and chalk pastel on Arches paper, Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Purchase through the generosity of the Houston Endowment, Inc., in honor of Melissa Jones, 2014

The work that particularly caught my eye and evoked the strongest emotional response was Rapunzel I. I experienced a plethora of emotions. The first emotion that I experienced was a feeling of disturbedness. Likely, this emotion was experienced in my right cerebral hemisphere, because this is where emotional states of stimuli are interpreted in normal people’s brains. I then felt perplexed. I was confused by parts of the drawing. Following a sense of perplexity, I began to like and take interest in parts of the picture. This sense of interest typically occurs when the viewer understands the piece of art that they are viewing, and the artwork fits into their knowledge and expectation, but still provides a new experience.

Natalie Frank

Natalie Frank, Rapunzel II, 2011-2014, Gouache and chalk pastel on Arches paper, Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Purchase through the generosity of the Houston Endowment, Inc., in honor of Melissa Jones, 2014

Preceding the trip to the Blanton, I had already heard the tale of Rapunzel many times before, so I had an understanding of Rapunzel’s setting prior to reading the original Grimm tale. Her bright eyes reflect the amber sun and I can’t help but to feel for her. I felt empathy for Rapunzel trapped helplessly while her eyes screamed for the world beyond. Empathy is a rather complex emotion that is entirely a social emotion rather than a survival emotion. How did this emotion come about at all? The answer is actually very simple, empathy trumps rules of survival.  We rely more on what we feel than what we think when solving moral dilemmas and consequently allowing emotions like empathy to be given high status.

Questions:

Dear Ms. Frank,

My question to you is regarding your style of painting. I noticed that you had a very elaborate and colorful way of expressing the images, but the messages and stories behind each painting are very dark and twisted. I was curious as to why you decided to express these images in such an opposite manner than how most people would display them, and why you decided to use these bright colors and painting style?

This is a wonderful question and a big consideration of my palette and such a bright and high-keyed one, was the chance to foil the darkness of the tales. The stories felt hallucinatory in many ways, surreal, otherworldly, and I wanted to portray this feeling through color.

How did you decide to take from the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales for your inspiration, and what inspired you to make your pictures even more gory and disturbing than the stories already were?

Paula Rego, a friend and artist I much admire suggested I look at the unsanitized versions of the tales, which aren’t widely known. They struck me immediately: their humor, the beauty of the language of the stories and the many wonderful roles for men and especially for women in the tales. I don’t think of my drawings as disturbing or gory but realize others do! Truly, I drew from the stories and my imagination.

What was your intention or purpose of portraying Hansel and Gretel in such a gruesome way? What are the themes?

They push the witch into the oven. Granted, the witch was fattening Hansel in order to kill him, but to my mind, no one in this story behaved well. I wanted to show both sides of the characters’ depravity: it wasn’t just the witch who displayed poor human character.

Did the original Brothers Grimm tale, Rapunzel, seem flat in emotional depth when you first read it? If so, does Rapunzel II speak for her internal conflict in ways not portrayed in the original tale?

Yes! Exactly! Many of the heroines (also Snow White) felt flat. I wanted to try to embody them and tell the stories from their perspectives and explore or interject some humanity into these representations of women.

Why do all of your paintings include eyes that aren’t even attached to bodies? Are they supposed to represent the concept that someone is always watching the characters’ actions?

Yes! The reader, the viewer and the characters, themselves. It’s a way to link all of the actors involved and also make the figures feel somewhat human.

Who is an artist that your style/technique is inspired from?

So many! I love the color of Tiepolo, the drawing of Degas, the sensitivity and brutality of Velazquez and the assertion of self of Käthe Kollwitz. I’ve been fortunate to be able to see a lot of art in museums and churches and it all informs my hand. These artists are constantly in my thoughts.

What is your favorite fairy tale?

The Ungrateful Son. It has it all!

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On Technology and the Museum of the 21st Century

Over the weekend, I found myself chewing over Holland Cotter’s excellent NYT article “Toward a Museum of the 21st Century” and thinking about some of the open-ended questions it asks. If you haven’t read the article yet, I highly recommend it. It’s rare, and wonderful, to see someone take on the idea of a museum in this way. Cotter asks the hard question: is the museum ready for the 21st Century? Spoiler: it isn’t.

BlantonModernoSocial-85

But why not? I think it has to do with the curious way that museums define innovation. Evolution in museums is a slow, deliberate process. As an example, two relatively recent innovations in museum practice (the emergence of education as a key component of museum programming, and the integration of conservation into collections stewardship) took most of the 20th Century to be realized. It’s hard to imagine a museum that moves this deliberately becoming the “structurally porous and perpetually in progress” place that Cotter hopes for; what he wants is essentially a new way of thinking about the museum’s business model.

Which sounds great, except that museums don’t do “business model innovation” very well. We’re good at integrating emerging ideas into what we already do, but we’re not good at assessing whether what we already do is actually what people want. This is nowhere more evident than with the clumsy way so many museums attempt to address visitor needs with technology. When our patrons started asking for blogs and websites and mobiles and stuff, museums did what they always do: waited around, hoping that the demand would go away, and then finally acted, creating brawny Digital Media departments that would make the blogs and websites and mobiles that everyone demanded.

Blanton VisitorThe problem is that we didn’t define that demand correctly. We thought that our visitors were asking for technology, but what they really wanted was a different way of interacting with the museum altogether. I’m reminded of Witness Voices, the website we created for Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, which we’d hoped would be a way for visitors to ask questions and express thoughts related to the show. Turns out, almost no one used the website for that purpose, but lots of people used the pen-and-paper notebooks we left out in the lounge to do that. The technology we provided to encourage an interaction mostly didn’t work, but that didn’t mean the need for the interaction wasn’t still there.

Paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke: to a museum, any sufficiently advanced idea is often indistinguishable from technology. Our visitors didn’t want blogs, they wanted us to be “structurally porous and perpetually in progress.” We’re misinterpreting that desire as a demand for more capital-T Technology: websites, mobile apps, interactive kiosks. But this is wrong; the tech itself is incidental to the solution. And what this means is that we’re not innovating in the way we need to be to survive. Instead, we’re just making a bunch of flashy junk.

Koven is the Director of Digital Adaptation at the Blanton Museum of Art. His focus is on the adoption of digital values throughout the museum. He has opinions about things, and overuses quotation marks. Tweets at @5easypieces.

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European Paintings Get a Check-Up

Every painting in the Blanton’s collection has a history. Before it found its way to Austin, it might have made a centuries-long trek across the globe, through various owners and situations. Today, it has a good home in a clean, well-lit place where admirers can visit it. But what has this painting been through? And does it need help?

Conservation

From left to right: Kristin Holder, Jeongho Park, Francesca Consagra, and Jennifer Paulson examine a painting.

The stewards of the Blanton’s collection, its curators, have undertaken a project to give one group of these works — the European Paintings collection — a check-up. They want to diagnose any problems the works have today and learn as much about their past as possible.

The Blanton holds over 300 European paintings, mainly from the Italian Renaissance and Baroque eras. Most are from the Suida-Manning Collection. It includes, amongst others, masterworks by Parmigianino, Veronese, and Rubens.

I chatted with one of the Blanton’s curatorial staff about what prompted this check-up of the European paintings, Kristin Holder. Holder not only runs the study room and storage areas for the print and drawing department but she also worked as a paintings’ technician at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

“Most of the collection had been in private hands before coming to the Blanton,” said Holder says. “The more that we know about the objects, the more that we can explain them to our audience.”

In addition, the more that’s known about the works’ physical conditions, the better the museum can interpret them, care for them, and preserve them for future generations.

turning painting

Jennifer Paulson and Kristin Holder carefully turn a painting over

In June, a curatorial team of Senior Curator Francesca Consagra, Research Associate Jeongho Park along with Holder and preparator Jennifer Paulson, began their project to study about 130 works from the European collection. This group of paintings includes works currently on view, as well as some in storage. The team is surveying about four paintings per week, Holder says, and the project will continue through next December.

The team works through a multi-step process with each painting.

First, they lay the painting flat on a table. Holder examines the front of the canvas, looking for cracking, paint loss, scraping, or other types of damage, including any problems caused by the frame. She also looks for evidence that the painting may have been cut down and re-stretched from its original configuration.

UV light

A painting is examined under UV light

Looking at the work under ultraviolet light, Holder can detect old restorations like fixed cracks or filled-in areas of paint loss. UV light also reveals how thick the varnish is atop the painting.

Throughout their investigation, Paulson makes notes and Holder takes photos to document any areas of the painting that are in need of attention.

Once this initial exam is complete, they remove the painting from its frame and examine the back.

Francesca Consagra and Kristin Holder looking at a painting taken out of its frame

Francesca Consagra and Kristin Holder looking at a painting taken out of its frame

The back of a painting often holds a bonanza of information about its history. Holder and Park look for things like collector’s marks, inventory marks, auction stickers, exhibition stickers, and panel-maker stamps (for works painted on wood panels). Paintings can also have customs stamps on the back, showing when they left specific countries. Sometimes framers also tag pictures, giving a clue to when and where it was framed. What’s more, the back of a painting can reveal whether someone has relined the picture using new canvas.

As Holder examines the back of the picture, Paulson takes a careful look at the empty frame.

“In a sense, the frame is its own object, independent of the painting,” she says. “The frame is often made at a later date than the painting or originally made for another work and reused.”

Paulson notes the frame’s physical condition. Has it been cut down from a larger size to fit its current painting? She also checks its structural integrity. Is it doing its job and supporting the work well?

Park meanwhile looks carefully at the paintings for the artists’ characteristic styles and iconography. He also studies the painted additions and restorations so that he can better understand what the original painting might have looked like.

Senior Curator Francesca Consagra is called in when something of interest turns up. She says. “I get very excited about new discoveries.”

Holder agrees. “Francesca — she’s all about the story” behind the works of art, and how they make a narrative. And learning more about the stories behind all of their paintings will help the Blanton share them better with audiences.

“The more information that we have, the more the collection is more accessible to the public,” Holder says. “A small change … can bring a work to life.”

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

 

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B scene: Bossa Nova

Join us this Friday October 23rd for B Scene Bossa Nova, our after hours art party, to celebrate the opening of Moderno: Design for Modern Living in Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela, 1940-1978. This new exhibition showcases how design deeply transformed the domestic landscape in Latin American during a period marked by major stylistic developments in art and architecture. B scene: Bossa Nova celebrates the cultural and social aspects of the exhibition through the culture of Bossa Nova.

B scene bossa nova

So what is Bossa Nova all about?

The phrase literally translates to “new trend” in Portuguese and references the fusion of samba and jazz into a single genre that became widely popularized in the 1950’s and 60’s. Notable names in the early world of Bossa Nova include Joao Gilberto, Carlos Lyra, Ronaldo Boscoli, Vinicius de Moraes, Tom Jobim and Nara Leao. More than just “The Girl from Ipanema,” Bossa Nova music provided a soundtrack for Brazilian life that reflected love and beauty as well as political notions.

Perhaps the spirit of Bossa Nova can best be exemplified through music and dance. Come let the sultry sounds of Brazilian singer and songwriter Paula Maya entice your ears and then try your own hand (well, foot) at Samba lessons with Go Dance! DJ Michael Crockett, host of KUT-FM Austin’s Horizontes, Music of Latin America, will also be with us to share his in-depth knowledge of the music of the time. A celebration of Brazilian culture would not be complete without a surprise visit from Austin Samba!

audreyNot sure what to wear? Mid-century attire was both classic and stylish, polished yet glam. Think Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly and her on-screen romance with Brazillian Jose da Silva Pereira in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. B Scene is the perfect excuse to show off your more glamorous side, so channel your inner Audrey or Carmen and come dressed to impress! Be sure to get your photo taken in our mid-century modern photo booth provide by SUM Booth.

ModernoDon’t forget to take advantage of our docent lead tours of Moderno starting at 6:30pm, 7:00pm, & 7:30pm. As a special treat, tours of Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm will also be given at 7:00pm and 7:30pm. Come see Natalie Frank’s work before it leaves us on November 15. Tickets are limited for all tours so we recommend arriving early!

Inspired by Alexander Calder’s evocative mobile creations that have become iconic symbols of mid century design, guests are invited to try their own hand at mobile making in an interactive art activity on the loggia. Calder credited as the originator of the mobile, hosted two highly successful exhibitions in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janiero in 1948.

Complete your immersive experience by sipping on Caipirinha’s, the national cocktail of Brazil while enjoying some traditional Brazilian street faire provided by our friends at Boteco ATX.

If you’re a Blanton Member, you know you get the VIP treatment! After you’ve breezed through the doors without having to pay the $12 admission, picture yourself draped on comfy seating in our exclusive Member Lounge, sipping on a cocktail from a private cash bar, and enjoying complimentary mmmpanadas as sizzling samba rhythms float through the air. Not a member? We recommend joining as one! If not, however, $12 tickets are available online or at the door!

Special thanks to our sponsors, RBC Wealth Management and Tribeza.

Lily Alpern is a native Austinite and graduate of the University of Texas where she studied Art History and now works in the Special Events Department at the Blanton.

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Romance on a Reel

Museum galleries are natural incubators for romance. After all, when you have nymphs and satyrs gamboling through Renaissance paintings in one wing, and heart-wrenching emotions radiating from the Abstract Expressionists in another, how can you resist falling in love?

It worked for Annie Nguyen and her boyfriend Daniel, who came to the Blanton on their first date two years ago and have been coming back ever since.

The couple met through the Vietnamese Student Association, Annie says, when both were just starting out at the University of Texas at Austin.

Annie and Daniel at the Blanton

Annie and Daniel at the Blanton

“We didn’t talk until the organization was having its end-of-the-year field day competition,” she recalls. “After a couple hours into intense field game events in the hot sun, Daniel and I ended up sitting out on the bench. (I felt like I was going to pass out, while Daniel had sprained his ankle. Typical us.)”

“Though we hardly knew each other, Daniel was kind enough to hobble on one leg to his car to kindly grab me some Advil, and I thought it was the sweetest thing.”

They didn’t really get to know each other for a few more years, though, when she says they “became the best of friends.”

Daniel picked the Blanton for their first date, Annie says. “I think Daniel knew I loved art and wanted to impress me.”

It was 2013 and they visited the Lifelike exhibition, which featured works from the 1960s through today showing how dozens of artists, from Andy Warhol to Chuck Close to Ai Weiwei, approached Realism in art.

Annie and Daniel on their first date to see Lifelike

Annie and Daniel on their first date to see Lifelike

“We had a blast,” Annie recalls. The couple decided to try to see every new exhibit thereafter.

“Daniel is a big fan of the In the Company of Cats and Dogs exhibition, and I absolutely loved James Drake’s Brain Trash,” Annie says.

But in all of the Blanton, the couple’s favorite painting is Sternenfall, she says, noting that they always make time to see it when their visit. The 1998 work by German artist Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945) tranlates to “Falling Stars.” Romance, indeed.

Another activity they do on each visit is head to the museum’s eLounge after they finish exploring the museum. This is a relaxing space where visitors can research the museum’s collection through books and computers, or just take a break on the comfy furniture.

When visiting the eLounge, Annie and Daniel liked to look through a Viewmaster there. The plastic toy was left over from the Blanton’s 2014 “Curiosity Welcome” marketing campaign, in which Viewmasters were distributed around the city for unsuspecting Austinites to find and explore. (Finders were encouraged to play with the Viewmasters and share them, and also to take photos of themselves using the Viewmasters to post to social media.)

On each visit to the eLounge, Annie says, “we made it an unintentional habit to always look through it together. It’s a fun, nostalgic novelty.”

And not long ago, the plastic novelty led Annie to a surprise idea for their second anniversary.

“I was looking through our photos for some kind of inspiration for a gift, and I found some images of us at the Blanton looking through the Viewmaster,” she says.

Annie's custom reel for Daniel

Annie’s custom reel for Daniel

She remembered Image 3D, a company that makes custom photo reels for Viewmaster. “So I quickly rediscovered the company, signed up for an account, uploaded all of the photos, and a bought a view finder and reel for Daniel. It was perfect.” She had loaded the reel with photos of the two of them.

Next, Annie had to lure Daniel back to the Blanton.

“I snuck the Viewmaster into my purse, and after our round about the museum, before we entered that back room, I told Daniel to wait outside as I attempted to set up the Viewmaster. He entered shortly and was pleasantly surprised to see two view masters, and I quickly urged him to look at the one I made.”

Annie shared their experience on Instagram. “For the last two years Daniel has been taking me on dates to my favorite place — the Blanton,” she wrote. “And every visit we have this little tradition where we take turns looking through the Viewmaster at the same photo reel that’s always there. But this time, Daniel discovered a new Viewmaster and reel. And he was pretty surprised.”

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetLater, she shared this secret with us: “He won’t admit it, but I am pretty sure it made him tear up after he flipped through the reel.”

Happy anniversary, Annie and Daniel! We look forward to seeing you at the Blanton on your next date.

Rebecca Johnson is the editor of McDonald Observatory’s StarDate magazine at The University of Texas at Austin, and a guest blogger for the Blanton.

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Modern Living: At Home with the Future

The Blanton’s new exhibition, Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940-1978, opens this Sunday. We asked Florencia Bazzano, Curatorial Research Associate in Latin American Art, to share her experience of working on the show.

Quinta Perla House interior

Living room of the Quinta Perla house with a chair by Miguel Arroyo and three BKF chairs produced by Tienda Gato, with the Mendoza-Guardia’s Dalmatian, 1954. Photo by Sara Guardia de Mendoza. Courtesy of Centro de Estudios de Archivos Audiovisuales y Artísticos and the Mendoza-Guardia Family.

Two of the images that spoke to me directly as I began to work on Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940-1978, were first, a view of a private home, rather relaxed in appearance; and second, a formal living room set, standing a bit forlorn in the huge lobby of a government building.

The first image shows the interior of Quinta Perla, the home that designer Miguel Arroyo owned in the Caracas suburb of San Antonio de los Altos in northern Venezuela. When I first saw this black and white photograph I thought, “this living room reminds me of my graduate student days.” It has that quality of modernity, informality, and coolness that would be attractive to an audience that is still young but educated enough to begin thinking about furniture styles.

The bright interior of Quinta Perla reflects the tropical light coming from an unseen large window to the right designed by Arroyo and his friend, the artist Alejandro Otero. The broad floor tiles, also light in tone, must be wonderfully cold to the touch during the long Caribbean summers. The furniture is a blend of smart design in simple lines, and suitable materials for the warm weather. The wood slats of the Butaca Pampatar (Pampatar Chair), the well-known design by Arroyo that appears on the left, allow the air to pass through for extra comfort.

The other three metal chairs with bright, breathable fabrics, are examples of the Butterfly Chair or BKF, named after the initials of the last names of the designers—Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy—who created this chair in Argentina in 1938. Hugely popular and inexpensive, BKF became as ubiquitous a presence throughout the region as an Ikea sofa in the United States. As in my old students days, the back wall is taken over by a large bookcase, an uncomplicated geometric grid, bursting with books and papers and decorated with luscious ferns and creeper plants.

Moderno explores a moment in Latin American history when modern art, already accepted as an artistic language, entered the private home and turned it into a site for creative experimentation. The artists and designers involved in this grand experiment were young and the style they pursued also appealed to the young. These days, modern furniture has become so globally accepted that many of these pieces would look at home in our homes.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s, most large-scale architectural projects in Latin America involved the design of modern furniture. One of the best-known examples is Brasília, the  federal capital of Brazil. Oscar Niemeyer, the project’s leading architect along with urban designer Lucio Costa, commissioned furniture for the administrative buildings from Sérgio Rodrigues, Joaquim Tenreiro, Sérgio Bernardes, and Bernardo Figueiredo.

Roberto Stuckert Filho

Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR

While learning about this more official aspect of Brazilian design, I found a fascinating photograph of a living room furniture set designed by Sérgio Rodrigues for the lobby of the Palácio do Planalto (Planalto Palace), where the country’s president has his or her office. Rodrigues’s Poltronas Vronka or Vronka Chairs are made of local jacarandá wood and beautifully upholstered in warm yellow fabric. The formal set, including lounge chairs and ottomans, is arranged around a glass-topped coffee table over a rectangular carpet.

What is most dramatic about this image is the contrast between the intimate scale of this stylish living room, and the empty vastness of the surrounding lobby, with its slick marble floors and dramatically rising ramp.

Designers like Rodrigues attempted to create a bridge between human scale and the vast scale of these buildings so full of hope for the future. The recently elected Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek had promised “50 years of progress in 5.” Brasília, with its monumental vistas and futuristic architecture, rose at that moment of relative political and economic stability when modern styles and economic modernization were seen as inter-related paths to progress. Historical realities would show otherwise, yet the optimism of the moment is reflected in the modern lines of the furniture that both echo the sweeping lines of the architectural design and anchor the Planalto Palace to the human presence in its midst.

Modern furniture and architecture in Latin America, as in many other places, attempted to bring broader sectors of society into a new way of living. These two photographs show two different moments of that project, going from the private home as a site of experimentation for the emerging new modern styles, to the ultimate institutionalization of modernism in the centers of political and cultural and power.

Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940-1978 opens October 11 at the Blanton.

Florencia Bazzano, PhD, has recently joined the Blanton Art Museum as Curatorial Research Associate for Latin American Art. Previously she worked at the Cantor Art Museum at Stanford and at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A graduate of UT Austin and the University of New Mexico, she taught Latin American art for many years.

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Behind the Blanton: Meredith Word, Graphic Designer

If you’ve seen Blanton ads in the Austin Chronicle or Statesman, or maybe a billboard on I-35 or South Lamar, then you’ve seen the work of graphic designer Meredith Word. In our latest installment of Behind the Blanton, a series where we profile different staff members, we sat down with Meredith to learn a little bit about her graphic design process and role at the Blanton.

meredithword

How did you originally get into the graphic design field? What drew you to it?

Meredith: I have always loved design and typography, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me as a career option. I enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin as a Liberal Arts major and after two years realized I wasn’t where I wanted to be. So I took a year off, during which I spent a few months traveling through Europe, and after that I knew I wanted to pursue a career in art. I enrolled in Studio Art and soon after one of my professors told me about UT’s design program—which was relatively new—and thought it would be a great fit. And it was!

1What does your graphic design process look like?

Once I have a sense of the project I dive into research. If I’m developing an identity for an exhibition I research the artist(s) and relevant history, typography, etc. Then I start sketching. Every once in awhile I can visualize exactly what the design should look like as soon as I get started. But usually I produce a LOT of rejects before developing three or four good options. Those are circulated to relevant departments for review, followed by a few rounds of revisions and fine-tuning before the design is finalized.

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly, High Yellow, 1960, oil on canvas, Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1991

What’s a piece of artwork at the Blanton that you can’t stop looking at?

I vividly remember field trips to UT to see the Blanton’s collection when I was young, and Ellsworth Kelly’s High Yellow always mesmerized me. I found it so serene and hypnotic. I’m still drawn to the vivid colors and graphic simplicity.

How does living in Austin influence your work?

Austin is such a creative city and I am surrounded by so many talented people who inspire me daily: my husband is a landscape designer, my sister is an interior designer, my best friend is a designer/photographer/illustrator, just to name a few. This forces me to constantly challenge myself to create work that is thoughtful and hopefully successful.

Thank you to Meredith for sitting down and chatting with us about her graphic design work and process. Now next time you see a gorgeous image for the Blanton, you’ll know to thank Meredith for it.

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The Art of Fashion

Works of art can move us, enlighten us, spark imagination, and serve as a source of inspiration for many ideas—even for fashion. Fashion? Yep! Many of you know Hilary Elrod as the voice behind our Membership Department. When not at work, Hilary is an up and coming blogger in the Austin fashion scene, which is why we asked her to put together outfits that were inspired by and respond to the art hanging on the walls of the Blanton.

Hilary Stacked WatersWhen I was approached to put together outfits inspired by the art at the Blanton, the first work I immediately thought of was Teresita Fernández’s Stacked Waters. I always love when visitors discover that the amazing blue walls of our atrium actually comprise an art installation—so many people walk around admiring it without knowing the artist designed this site-specific piece to fill the empty walls of the Blanton’s atrium.

It would seem like an obvious choice to pull together some sort of cool-colored outfit to play off the beautiful blue color of the tiles. However, my favorite part of this piece is how gleaming and reflective it is—you can see your reflection shimmering back at you when you stand next to the wall. (Pro tip: this makes for a great photo!) Inspired by the wall’s reflective quality, I decided to choose a shiny, metallic clutch paired with a simple pink dress. The bright pop of pink holds its own against the blue wall, and I also liked how the high-low hem of the dress complements the ombre-type feel of Stacked Waters as it gets lighter as the wall gets higher. To finish the outfit, I picked out a pair of leopard-print heels to bring a subtle layer of pattern that mimics the swirls inside each acrylic tile of the installation.

Outfit details:

Dress: Old Navy
Shoes: Charlotte Russe
Purse: Rebecca Minkoff

Hilary Regina BogatFor my next outfit, I ventured into the Modern and Contemporary galleries and was immediately taken by this colorful work by Regina Bogat, Cord Painting 14. Even before reading the wall label, it was clear that this artwork was created during the 70s!

Since the 70’s are making a comeback this fall, a few weeks ago I bought a pair of bell bottoms—my first pair since the 8th grade! No self-respecting psychedelic outfit would be complete without flared jeans, but I brought the bell-bottoms into the modern day with a suede, pointy toe pump. I love that Bogat used yarn to create a fringe on the painting, calling into question whether the work is a painting or more sculptural. In the fashion world, fringe is everywhere right now, so I had no trouble finding a fringe hobo bag that perfectly mimicked the hanging threads. In a serendipitous twist of fate, I only noticed after posing for these photos that each piece of yarn is tied off in a knot, while each piece of fringe on the bag is finished off with a metal stud: another great example of how art and fashion draw inspiration from each other! I finished off this look with a dark, floral blouse that provides a nice contrast of textures and stand out in front of the strips of the yarn.

Outfit details:

Top: Gibson
Pants: Genetic Denim
Bag: Deux Lux
Heels: Franco Sarto

Hilary PassageFor my final outfit, I drew inspiration from one of the most striking (and largest!) works in the Blanton’s collection: Paul Villinski’s Passage. This soaring airplane is created from recycled and repurposed materials, just like the way you can mix and match different items of clothing to create a completely new look.

Enveloping the plane are 1,000 delicate black butterflies (again, all created out of recycled materials). When perusing my closet for the perfect top to complement the dainty butterflies, I was immediately drawn to lace. It’s a delicate material that feels weightless, and has a similar interplay of light and shadow as the butterflies perched on the plane’s wings. To reinforce this connection, I also picked out a pair of black laced-up heels to accentuate how the butterflies are interlaced throughout the wooden structure of the frame. Tying everything together is a pair of jogger pants, which lends a “broken-up” or unfinished look that mimics the skeleton of the plane. This all black outfit allows an interplay of material and skin, keeping it from feeling too monochrome.

Outfit details:

Top: Francescas
Pants: Harlowe and Graham
Bag: Kelly Wynne
Shoes: DSW

The next time you’re planning to visit the Blanton, why not take a moment, think of your favorite work of art, and design an outfit inspired by it? The pairing of art and fashion is a natural one, and you might just discover connections between the art on the walls and the clothes on your body that you hadn’t realized before.

By day, Hilary Elrod is the Membership Associate at the Blanton Museum of Art with a Bachelors degree in Anthropology and Minor in Art History from the University of Texas at Austin. By night, she is an Austin fashion and lifestyle blogger.

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“Battle”-ing the Importance of Casts

Throughout our lives we are constantly reminded of the importance of original work—students are taught from grade school that plagiarism is a serious offense, and are always encouraged to come up with unique ideas. So what happens when an original piece of work is so important and so compelling that copies end up in a museum? I asked five members of the Blanton staff across five different departments to tell me in five (read: six) words or less what they think of the museum’s collection of plaster copies of famous Greek and Roman sculptures, also known as the Battle Casts:

“Footnotes from history”
–  Dalia Azim, Special Assistant and Editor, Director’s Office

 

“3-D printouts before 3-D printers”
–  Adam Bennett, Manager of Public Programs

 

“Sculptures that aren’t quite sculptures”
–  Alie Cline, Digital Content Strategist

 

“…Because classical antiquity had universal authority”
–  Jeongho Park, Curatorial Research Associate, Prints and Drawings and European Paintings

 

“Great resource for art students”
–  Meredith Sutton, Registrar

Battle CastsSo what are these things which, depending on who you ask, can be likened either to the highest ideal of classical art or to a 3-D printout?

The Battle Casts are a collection of about 70 life-size replicas of marble or bronze sculptures from Ancient Greece and Rome, currently housed in the Schweitzer Gallery on the second floor of the Blanton Museum. Purchased by Professor William J. Battle (1870-1955) between 1894 and 1923, the casts were acquired to expose students to the artistic and literary accomplishments of the ancient world. As replicas of classical prototypes, they also serve as ideal models for students in life-drawing classes, much as they did at famous art academies of centuries past.

The majority of the works were cast in the late 19th century by August Gerber in Cologne Germany, and by the Caproni Brothers in Boston. Professor Battle chose these skilled artisans because they produced the most authentic casts of the time period. Almost every museum and university participated in collecting plaster casts during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so quality was crucial. However, during the 1930s and 1940s, casts became unpopular and fell out of favor. Many museums and universities either destroyed their plasters, or gave them away (see here, here, and here), and the practice of creating these works by hand was lost.

Battle CastsDuring this time, the Battle cast collection shrank from approximately 100 pieces to about 70, and the remaining casts were dispersed in basements and storage areas around UT. The plasters were unearthed in 1977 by UT professor of Art History, Dr. Caroline Houser, who assembled a team from the classics, art history, and art departments to make a decision about how to proceed. Along with then-UT President, Lorene Rogers, Dr. Houser called on Arthur Beale, the head of conservation at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, to make a judgment about their worth. Beale concluded that they were important enough that they not only could be restored, but that they should be restored. Thus began the long process of restoration, resulting in multiple homes for the casts and continued conservation efforts, eventually landing the collection at the Blanton Museum.

So what can be said about the casts today? It can be surprising, and sometimes even disappointing, to visit a museum in hopes of seeing original works of art, only to find yourself confronted by a series of copies. Some believe that the Battle Casts leave something to be wanted – perhaps a certain sense of “aura,” which the famous philosopher, Walter Benjamin, believed was gradually lost in each new copy of a piece of art. But once a plaster cast is created, does it not take on a life of its own, and in turn acquire something of an “aura?” And further, in this time of turmoil, when the safety of ancient originals is in question, can we attribute new importance to the Battle Casts?

Instagram postAside from their individual histories, which saw them lost and forgotten, then re-discovered and given new life, the Battle Casts also share a common history with other plaster casts and with their marble and bronze originals, both those surviving and those that have been destroyed. The Battle Casts represent a traditional (if now outdated) ideal of classical beauty: the belief that ancient Greek and Roman sculpture was the singular source of artistic creation, making them pillars not only of classical antiquity, but also of the tradition of academic art and thought. Although being in the presence of the casts is not quite the same as being in the presence of the ancient originals, it can still be impressive to stand before emperors, gods, and ancient philosophers – especially when you consider the millions before you who have also stood in front of sculptural renderings of these same objects, whether copies or originals, for thousands of years.

So next time you ask yourself why plaster copies adorn the halls of an art museum, you must also consider what you believe to be the purpose of a museum: Is it to educate? To display original artwork and exhibitions? To aid in conservation and restoration? To preserve the history of art? All of the above?

That’s a discussion for another time…but if I had to pick my words to describe the casts, they would be this: “Essential to the History of Art.”

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

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Listening to Everything All the Time: The Music of Pauline Oliveros

What are you listening to right now? Doom metal? Beethoven’s Fifth? Afro-Cuban hip-hop? Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” on repeat?

There’s no single right answer to this question, but there is a wrong answer: if you tell us that you’re listening to “nothing,” then you’re not doing deep listening. There’s sound all around us, from the bass tones wafting from the air conditioning vents to the creaking floorboards from the toddler birthday party upstairs, from the cacophony of car horns on South Congress, to the crunching granite under your sneakers on the Hike and Bike Trail.

po1

Houston-born composer Pauline Oliveros has been one of the most influential figures from the last 50 years in contemporary music. The idea of “deep listening” is central to her work as an artist. As we anticipate the world premiere of a new piece written by Pauline Oliveros, to be presented at the Blanton during SoundSpace on September 13, here’s an overview of the composer and her importance to contemporary art and music:

Who is Pauline Oliveros? One of the most influential figures in contemporary music and art, she’s primarily known as a composer but is the rare musician who’s just as likely to be profiled in Yoga Journal or Artforum as in Pitchfork or The Wire. You’ll find her compositions performed in concert halls and on recorded anthologies, but you’ll also find her teaching, writing, and interacting with a wide range of collaborators from any discipline you can imagine. She’s shared the stage with Cecil Taylor and DJ Spooky but also with karate instructors and entomologists.

She’s also notable for her committed political stances on feminism (see her provocative New York Times editorial from 1970, “And Don’t Call Them ‘Lady’ Composers”) and environmentalism, and for her prolific writings as well as her long career teaching at Mills College and Oberlin College.

po2

What is “deep listening”? Oliveros has described deep listening as “the seemingly impossible task of listening to everything all the time.” As a young composer of electronic music in the 1950s, Oliveros discovered that the act of recording found sounds (via a tape recorder placed on the sill of an open window) focuses our attention on the ordinary sounds during our everyday lives that we’ve missed because we weren’t paying attention. Deep listening, similar to other forms of mindfulness, seeks to make us more closely aware of our environment. It draws on traditions of meditation used for physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits, but it also ties those traditions to creativity, collaboration, and experimentation. Deep listening can be calming but it can also help you to think more creatively.

Where can I hear this? On September 13, we’re producing a program in our award-winning series SoundSpace that explores deep listening. We’ve assembled a large cast of Oliveros’s collaborators and students, performing classic pieces as well as a new, world premiere piece written by Oliveros specifically for SoundSpace, with the whole program culminating in a massive site-specific piece that will fill the entire museum with sound. Several of these pieces are interactive, allowing audience members to participate in the sonic experience.

Turning the Blanton into a 124,000 square foot chamber of sound fits into the tradition of past Oliveros performances in unique spaces—the album of the Deep Listening Band was recorded inside a massive cistern near Seattle. She’s also written compositions that are not only site-specific but time-specific: for instance, her pieces written for accordion, clarinet, and live singing cicadas, performed outdoors. It’s only possible to recreate this piece while the periodical cicadas are active, which happens only once every 17 years.

SoundSpace

Okay, but how can I hear this on my phone right now? Well, of course you can visit Oliveros’s website, bandcamp page, etc., but you can also hear her influence all over experimental and pop music of the last 50 years: Brian Eno’s site-specific compositions in the 70s, the droning cello of Arthur Russell in the 80s, 90s British IDM like Autechre and Boards of Canada, doom bands from the 00s like Sunn O))) and Earth, and contemporary ambient artists Grouper and Actress. These musicians are very diverse, but all share an interest in developing their compositions through tone clusters held for extended periods of time, in which the development of the entire piece relies upon the listener’s close attention to how notes, chords, pitches, and tempos mutate and shift.

A simpler pop song might repeat the same chords—Taylor Swift’s ”Bad Blood‘s” F/C/G/A minor—so that you’ve figured out the entire 3-minute song in the first 10 seconds. The deep listening approach, by contrast, is more about giving the listener a sonic palette that develops and envelops, repaying focused attention over the duration of the piece.

I’m not a musician—can I practice deep listening if I can’t read music or play an instrument? Yes! There are a number of text-based deep listening pieces that you can perform at home.

Here’s one you can use to warm up for the participatory pieces at the Blanton this month or simply to cultivate mindfulness and creative engagement with your environment. It’s titled Urban and Country Meditations:

Urban Meditation

Listen to a roadway–eyes closed–distinguish size shape make of car by sound–also speed and health of engine.

Country Meditation

Sit by the trees–what kind of tree makes what kind of sound?

Make sure to drop the Blanton this Sunday, September 13 from 2-4pm to experience SoundSpace: Deep Listening.

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

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Are you a UT student who hasn’t visited the Blanton? Read this.

It’s the advice always given to incoming freshmen: college is the time to try new things and challenge yourself. Luckily for students at the University of Texas at Austin, that something new might be right around the corner on campus.

Blanton galleryDespite being on campus and free for those with a UT ID, many students have never been to the Blanton Museum of Art. Why not escape the Texas heat before the semester starts? The museum is located on campus behind the PCL, across the street from Jester dormitories, and is a great place to visit when you aren’t in class or want to take a break from all things school related. I think that some students are a little afraid of visiting an art museum because they don’t know what to expect. But take it from a currently enrolled college student who loves the Blanton: you can visit without fear and have plenty of fun.

What should I wear to the Blanton?

The words “art museum” may conjure up images of fancily dressed ladies and gentlemen strolling through galleries, peering at paintings while whispering their interpretations of artworks to each other. Showing up to any event or place underdressed or overdressed is a nightmare no one wants to go through. To help fellow college students avoid the attire nightmare, remember that the Blanton is a museum open to people of all ages and walks of life. Art might be fancy, but you don’t have to dress like an Italian fashion icon to view art from the Italian Renaissance: Birkenstocks and Nike shorts are just fine. As long as you’re comfortable in what you have on and it’s an appropriate outfit for going out around town, you’re on your way to a successful trip to the museum!

What should I bring to the Blanton?

Besides yourself, I recommend bringing an open-mind and willingness to experience something novel—you never know what you might find.

I like bringing a small notebook and a pencil (no pens allowed!) with me because it could come in handy. If you stumble upon a work that you really like, check out the name and write it down. If you’re artistically inclined, you might want to take some time to create a sketch. There are benches inside the gallery spaces for visitors to gaze at works, take a break from walking, or give themselves a minute to sketch.

Blanton galleriesI’d also recommend bringing a friend (or a few friends) to see what the Blanton has to offer. I believe that beautiful things are even more beautiful when shared with people you care about and enjoy being with. But for those who like to fly solo, there is absolutely nothing wrong with going to the Blanton by yourself.

Don’t forget to bring your phone! If you think you can’t take a #hookem selfie or make your roommate get a snap of you in front of fruit paintings, think again—the Blanton allows photography and loves when visitors share their experiences at the museum on Instagram. Just don’t forget to tag #BlantonMuseum in your caption!

What if I don’t know anything about art?

Don’t worry about it! Art isn’t created for just experts, so you can still enjoy the exhibitions even if you don’t have a background in art history. You probably aren’t the only person in there that doesn’t know a thing about art.

But if you do feel uncomfortable with the idea of touring the gallery yourself, find a friend to come with you or visit during a drop-in tour so you have a guide through the gallery.

AirplaneWhat kind of art does the Blanton have?

The Blanton’s permanent collection holds over 17,000 works and is made up of a wide range of genres. The museum has something to offer everyone and you’re bound to find something you love. You can see works by well-known artists, such as Warhol’s portrait of Farrah Fawcett, as well as intriguing and stimulating art by artists that you may have never heard of, like Jorge Eielson’s Quipus 58 B.

The Blanton also has rotating exhibitions throughout the year, so there is always a new presentation to enjoy. The museum strives to bring its visitors visually-arresting and thought-provoking art all year long. This summer, for example, the Blanton has Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World (#OllerATX) and Natalie Frank: Brothers Grimm (#NatalieFrank). You can always find information regarding current (and past) exhibitions and the museum’s permanent collection on the Blanton’s website.

What other things are there to do or see in the museum?

SnapchatThe Blanton has a variety of events that go on every month. The museum offers workshops and hosts events like SoundSpace (there’s a large number of UT students planning on attending September’s SoundSpace) and Yoga in the Galleries. Most of the events hosted by the Blanton are free to the public or are included with museum admission, which is free for UT students. You can keep yourself always up-to-date on the latest Blanton news and events by following the museum on Instagram and/or liking the Blanton Facebook page. This is one social media savvy museum so make sure to also find the Blanton on Tumblr, Snapchat, and Twitter!

How do I know if I’m doing the “visiting an art museum” thing correctly?

There’s no real way of gauging whether or not you’ve met some standard for a museum visit, because there isn’t one. There’s no right or wrong way to visit a museum. Did you find something cool? Did you learn something new? Did you have fun? Asking yourself questions like those might help answer whether or not you visited the museum like you are “supposed to.” Museums and the art they hold can be a source of inspiration, an invitation to see the world in a new way, and can even provide a way for you to learn more about other people or cultures. You can experience and take from your trip to the Blanton (or any art museum) what you want, but at the end of the day, have fun and enjoy your time with the art.

Next time you find yourself with nothing to do on a weekday or weekend, consider a trip to the Blanton Museum of Art instead of binge-watching Netflix. You never know what you might discover if you step outside your comfort zone and try something new.

Jenny Zheng is a third-year marketing major in the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin set to graduate in the fall of 2016. She had the opportunity to work as the PR and marketing intern at the Blanton Museum of Art this summer and enjoys writing in her free time.

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Behind the Blanton: Koven Smith, Director of Digital Adaptation

kjs museumnextYou may have seen him around on our blog, but Koven Smith is actually the Blanton’s Director of Digital Adaptation. In our latest installment of Behind the Blanton, a series profiling different Blanton staff members, we sat down with Koven to learn a little bit about what he does in and outside of the museum.

You’ve previously worked at the Denver Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art, among other places. Is there something that sets the Blanton apart from other museums you’ve worked at?

Koven: The sense of purpose among the staff here is particularly strong–from the beginning I could feel a strong motivation among everyone on staff to do something really special and wonderful with this museum. The fact that (relatively speaking) we’re still a fairly young museum also motivates everyone. The possibilities are wide open.

convertWhat prompted you to found Drinking About Museums in 2011?

Drinking About Museums started as a low-key meetup for people who work in museums. When I first moved to Denver, I used to have regular lunches with Kate Livingston, who was then at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and we’d have these wide-ranging conversations about museum futures and strategy and whatever. At some point we figured that it would be a good idea to invite other Denver museum people to be a part of these conversations, and one meetup at the Cheeky Monk later, Drinking About Museums was born. I thought up the name while watching an episode of “Doctor Who.”

After we did our first one in Denver, Ed Rodley, an old colleague/friend of mine from Boston called up and asked if he could steal–he probably said “use”–the name for a meetup they already had going. At that point it had never occurred to me that this would be replicable anywhere else, so I was like, “oh yeah, sure!” Once the Boston crew did it, Drinking About Museums started popping up everywhere. I just saw that there was one in Italy, which to my knowledge is the first one in that country. They’re in Russia now, South America—I think the only continent that there hasn’t been one, to my knowledge, is Antarctica. Turns out people who work in museums like to talk about museums while they drink beer.

How does your background in music fit into what you do here at the museum, if it does at all?

It kind of does. My background in music is actually as a composer–that was what I studied at Berklee. I suppose that when a project is going really well at the Blanton, it feels very similar to the process of composing or rehearsing a large group of musicians. I’m constantly scoping in and out to figure out what needs to be adjusted to make something work, or how to change direction on a large project so that it has the impact we hoped it would. When a project is going well, it feels like a great rehearsal when every musician is at the top of his or her game, and everybody’s on the same page. So it’s more of a conceptual similarity than something more direct.

What’s your favorite part about your job at the Blanton?

I love when I’m able to see a new way of looking at a problem. Museums by nature are pretty tradition-bound and generally speaking are not always willing or capable of addressing a problem in a different way. One of the things that appeals to me about the Blanton is that there’s a real willingness to do that. So the part that I love is saying “Oh, let’s take this thing that most people take for granted and let’s pull it apart and look at it in a very different way and see if that enables us to come up with a solution that makes more sense for us.”

I’m happiest when I feel like I’m able to do something that enables [the Blanton] to move faster or get ahead of the field. For instance, we’re starting to look at different ways of delivering text information in gallery spaces and researching how information density affects visitor experience. The willingness among the Blanton’s staff to look at issues in new ways means that we might be able to find a better (or at least more deliberate) way of doing this that could be useful for other museums as well. It’s really cool.

The best part about living in Austin is…?

I love 91.7 KOOP. I love Deep Eddy. I love that I can come to the Blanton on a Saturday afternoon and see Line Upon Line Percussion play, and then see some Nancarrow player-piano pieces performed “live.” I love that even grocery stores here have bands playing. That’s just amazing to me. I love that Black Star Co-Op is a short bike ride from my house. Austin is just filled to the brim with wonderful things.

Extra big thank you to Koven for taking time out of his busy day to chat with us. You can also visit him online.

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Up Close and Personal with Artworks on Paper

Prints and DrawingsYou spot it down the hallway, past the plaster casts. You wonder what kinds of artworks abound behind the two glass doors. You approach and read the lettering over the entrance: “The Julia Matthews Wilkinson Center for Prints and Drawings,” and the H-E-B Study Room. Great! You are pumped to see some prints and drawings. You open the door, step inside, and…where are they?

This is the Wilkinson Center, which contains curatorial offices, a small library, and a study room for, yes, prints and drawings. Occasionally these works of art will be displayed in special exhibitions, but most of the time, the museum keeps them in storage. Why wouldn’t curators want to keep these works on display all year round? Because they need special protection.

“These works are like textiles,” says Kristin Holder, the Print Room Manager at the Blanton, “They are very vulnerable to light, humidity, and temperature.”

studyroom3Light hardens the fibers in the paper and makes the artwork more vulnerable to breakage, deterioration, and discoloration. Therefore, museums must provide special treatment for prints and drawings, keeping them in a cool, dark place for storage.

But what’s the point of art if it just sits in boxes, never to be seen by a human eye? We agree, so the print study room was born to solve that problem. The Wilkinson Center offers free art-viewing appointments in the H-E-B Study Room to any member of the public.

“We have one of the most active study rooms in the country, with about 2,500 visitors a year,” says Francesca Consagra, the Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, and European Paintings. “This is extraordinary, especially since our visitors are divided almost equally between university and non-university audiences.”

studyroom4Kristin manages appointments in the print room and serves as the facilitator between visitors and the collection. Visitors contact her, tell her what they’re interested in seeing, and she pulls works from storage based on the information provided. Some visitors come with a particular work or artist in mind, but others may simply be interested in seeing artworks related to a certain topic. For example, a recent visitor was researching human rights and sought a cover image for his book, and another group of visitors, a class in the nursing program at the University of Texas, were researching HIV.

Kristin says that professors often visit the center with their students to provide visual aides for understanding.

“Professors want to get students to read an object like they would read a book,” Kristin says. “You can tell a whole story around one image.”

Though UT students are the most frequent guests in the print room—they made up 44% of all the room’s visitors in 2014—our fastest-growing group is K-12 students and teachers from Austin. 23% of visitors last year were K-12 students, and 9% were involved in K-12 teacher training.

Study RoomKristin says that classes in the print room often give students an opportunity to have a voice and chance to express themselves thanks to the ability to interact closely with the works of art.

Other visitors to the print room include scholars, artists, art students, museum professionals from outside institutions, and individuals with an interest in certain artists, works, or topics.

“Our full-time staff is comprised of two artists and two historians,” Francesca says, “And we all love looking at wonderful and meaningful works of art with anyone who wants to learn and to think creatively in an intimate setting.”

If you’re interested in viewing artwork in the study room, please email Kristin Holder at Kristin.holder@blantonmuseum.org or give her a call at 512-471-9208.

Jeana Bertoldi is the assistant to the senior curator of prints and drawings, and European paintings at the Blanton Museum of Art. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s in English with a minor in photography from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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A Peek into the Blanton Café

IMG_2740As a new employee at the Blanton, I am naturally interested in nearby places to eat. What better place to start than at the Blanton Café? Located just across the plaza from the museum in the Edgar A. Smith building, the café offers visitors a peaceful place to enjoy delicious food like flatbread pizzas, soups, salads, signature desserts, a variety of “grab and go” items, and, of course, your daily dose of caffeine.

I sat down with the Blanton Café’s chef manager, Jeanna Lewis, to talk about her experience working at the café and to hear about its signature (and secret!) menu, which offers fresh and healthy food with a variety of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options.

Jeanna started working at the café two years ago after owning her own corporate catering company for 13 years and loves being affiliated with the Blanton and UT. She is inspired by the students and patrons who regularly come through the café: “I know a lot of people by name— we like to treat them like family,” Jeanna says. She is also influenced by the Blanton’s summer family programs such as WorkLab, Storytime Tours, and Deeper Dives, which she says have inspired her to add more “grab and go” items to the café menu, including dry cereal, goldfish, and cheese bento boxes for children, while her chef’s salads are a favorite for parents.IMG_2747The Blanton Café also offers off-menu specials for the museum’s Third Thursdays: a glass of wine and a slice of pizza for $5 (substitute beer for $6) – and the Midday Music Series: coffee and a cookie for $2.50 plus tax. Jeanna says that both specials have become increasingly popular—the Third Thursday special created a line out the door for a solid three hours last month, so get in early! Aside from the wallet-friendly special prices, Jeanna thinks the wine that the café features is a huge draw. The café currently offers two wines, the Lechuza granacha, a red blend from Spain, and the La Fiera pinot grigio, a classic white from Italy. Jeanna also teased the promise of a delicious rosé, coming soon.

Also popular are the breakfast tacos (which often sell out by 10AM, despite breakfast being scheduled through 11AM) as well as the Tomato & Avocado Grilled Cheese and the Grilled Portobello Stack, both of which can be made gluten free using “Udi’s Bread” or served over greens for a healthier option. Offering healthy and fresh food is a priority for Jeanna, who reminisces fondly on the café’s stint serving Fredericksburg peaches last month, which she says sold extremely quickly.

IMG_2754If you’re feeling a bit snacky or need to satisfy a sweet tooth, though, Jeanna has you covered. The Blanton Café secretly offers some of the best fries in Austin, and while they’re not on the menu, you can see them perfectly perched on a dish next to a sandwich once you’re in line at the café. Let me tell you: they are a perfect mixture of crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Jeanna also suggests their newest cookie, the “Royale,” which boasts chocolate, macadamia nuts, pecans, and coconut, and is baked in house, along with the rest of their cookies.

Above all, though, Jeanna has created a fun and lively environment. She tells me that her “awesome girls,” some of whom have worked at the Blanton Café for five or six years, help contribute to this atmosphere through their hard work and love for what they do. I will definitely be frequenting the Blanton Café and certainly will be on the lookout to try all of Jeanna’s new creations!

IMG_2772The Blanton Café is open Mon-Fri 8am-4pm, Saturday & Sunday 12pm-4pm (grab and go items only). A limited menu is served after 2pm on weekdays and on the weekends. The Café is open until 9pm on Third Thursday evenings and during B Scene. For the full menu, visit our website.

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

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Hitting the Road to Find Impressionism in Texas (But Not Texas Impressionism)

One Friday in February, I set out on a five-hour drive from Austin through the Piney Woods of far East Texas to a small, nearly forgotten town called San Augustine. I was headed there on a mission (though unrelated to the mission this town is best known for). I was looking for paintings by S. Seymour Thomas, a little-known but remarkably successful artist who happened to be one of the few Texans to study art in Paris in the 1880s and ’90s. My search had brought me to a historic house in Thomas’s hometown, where a collection of his work is now housed.

Thomas Studio

Detail of S. Seymour Thomas’s Studio in Paris, 1891. Photo by Beth Shook.

The Blanton’s special exhibition Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World, organized by the Brooklyn Museum, presents a broad view of the Caribbean basin. Rather than chopping up this region by language or political history, the exhibition juxtaposes images depicting Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Venezuela, St. Thomas, Dominica, the Bahamas, and Cuba, among other Caribbean locales. The basin extends into the Gulf of Mexico and as far west as the Gulf Coast—a region that during the colonial period became commercially and culturally bound both to the Caribbean islands and to the imperial powers across the Atlantic.

A map of the Caribbean sets the scene in the first gallery of Impressionism and the Caribbean.

A map of the Caribbean sets the scene in the first gallery of Impressionism and the Caribbean.

Because the exhibition was to debut here in Austin, curators and educators from the Blanton and the Brooklyn Museum hatched a plan to highlight this local connection by seeking out 19th-century artists who had both a Texas connection and transatlantic careers. We first selected two works by Julius Stockfleth, a German-born Galveston painter who depicted that city with naturalistic detail during its heyday. But we were still interested in including an artist from the region who had engaged with French Realism or Impressionism, and thus followed a similar career trajectory to that of Francisco Oller, the focus of the exhibition.

Julian Onderdonk

A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets Near San Antonio, Texas, 1918, by Julian Onderdonk, the major proponent of Texas Impressionism. Two decades too late for our exhibition.

As it turned out, finding artists who fit the bill was no easy task. In the 1860s, when painters in Paris were beginning to break away from the official academy by exploring avant-garde strategies, the newly annexed state of Texas was still being settled—not exactly the ideal atmosphere for a thriving modern art scene. On top of that, I quickly discovered the importance of distinguishing between Impressionists from Texas and participants in “Texas Impressionism.” Impressionism was slow to take off in the United States. In Texas, it was only in the first quarter of the 20th century that artists began to represent the effects of light and atmosphere in a manner that can be described as Impressionist. This regional movement reached its height between 1927 and 1929, when the Texas Wildflower Competitive Exhibitions were established to encourage depictions of the local landscape. This was, however, outside of the chronological range of our project.

I reached repeated dead ends until a colleague in Galveston pointed me to S. Seymour Thomas. The artist fit the bill: After training in Texas and at the Art Students League in New York, in 1888 Thomas set off for Paris, where he enrolled the Académie Julian, an art school popular among American expats. Not only did his time in Paris overlap with Oller’s—indeed they may have both exhibited work at the Paris Salon exhibition of 1895—Thomas’s work from the period demonstrates a clear awareness of Impressionist brushstroke and coloring.

Impressionism and the Caribbean detail

Installation view of Paris by Gaslight, 1890s, and Texas Landscape, 1897, both by S. Seymour Thomas. Photo by Milli Apelgren.

Hence my road trip. In San Augustine I found the two paintings I’d had my eye on: one a street scene from Paris, the other a wintry Texas landscape far removed from the fields of wildflowers that would comprise the bulk of Texas’s regional Impressionism.

While not as luminous or painterly as the works by French masters like Pissarro and Monet that are included in the exhibition, Thomas’s paintings from the 1890s evince his exposure to radical developments in technique and subject matter. And while, like Oller, Thomas never identified as an Impressionist, his career encapsulates the promise that transatlantic travel held for artists of the 19th century.

Beth Shook is the Blanton’s Curatorial Associate for Latin American Art and managing curator for Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World.

Sources:

Edwards, Katie Robinson. Midcentury Modern Art in Texas. Austin, TX: The University of Texas Press, 2014.

Pinckney, Pauline A. Painting in Texas: The Nineteenth Century. Austin, TX: The University of Texas Press, 1967.

Texas Impressionism: Branding with Brushstroke and Color, 1885-1935. Exh. cat. Canyon, TX: Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, 2012.

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