Seeing the Bull in Red: A Conversation with Susan Scafati about Art and Bullfighting

If you’ve visited the Blanton’s latest exhibition Goya: Mad Reason, you might have heard audio recordings scattered around the galleries that juxtapose modern reflections on themes in the exhibition with words by Goya and his contemporaries. One of these recordings feature both the words and work of Susan Scafati, an Austin-based American contemporary artist. Exhibition curator Douglas Cushing sat down with Scafati to discuss her work and the visual culture of bullfighting, both in Goya’s time and today.

Cushing: In 2004 you began making bullfighting images in Southern France, where the Spanish style is performed. You titled your 2010 installation of thirty-six chromogenic prints from this body Taureau Noir, or “Black Bull.” Yet, the living animal is absent from the work. Instead you offer indices of the bull: blood in the sand, horn marks on the walls of the ring, and butchered meat. What prompted you to choose bullfighting as a subject and what meanings does it carry for you?

Taureau Noir, 2004, (2010 installation view), thirty-six chromogenic prints composed in a 6 x 9 ft installation.

Taureau Noir, 2004, (2010 installation view), thirty-six chromogenic prints composed in a 6 x 9 ft installation.

Scafati: Part of what drove me to make art about the bullfight was photographing for the New York Stock Exchange. I was fascinated by the antiquity surrounding the financial markets’ bull symbolism. That epitomization of the bull being almighty, wild, and sacred permeates our culture: in game-playing, fighting, hunting, eating, entertainment, superstitions, and from Wall Street to Air Jordan “toro bravo” sneakers. My work led me to a shoot at the World Trade Center for the few weeks leading up to September eleventh, and my experience that day and as part of the recovery effort planted seeds that continue to inform my work. These include notions of right and wrong in our collective global conscious, the way meaning is organized and subject to change, and life’s ability to transform so rapidly that your mind is unable to simultaneously rationalize what you see. Those experiences and iconography shaped a narrative in my work that is inherent in the bullfight, and an award from the International Center of Photography granted me the opportunity to explore it.

Cushing: How did you reflect upon the ethics of bullfighting throughout your project and how do you situate this work within the greater history of bullfighting’s representations?

Scafati: I resonate more with a cultural anthropologist’s position than that of a social activist. I aim to observe and record without judgment. Of course, the work reflects my discretion in how it’s edited, printed, and curated. Perhaps my most significant decision was to remove the bull and bullfighter altogether.  Before my project, I met Andres Serrano, whose abstractions of milk, blood, urine, and semen, challenges viewers to confront their preconceived notions of beauty. Similarly, I stripped away the cultural ornament of bullfighting, revealing its raw artifacts: blood, sand, and meat. This gesture broadened the dialogue beyond bullfighting alone, accessing broader culture and human experience. Sometimes first-time viewers of Taureau Noir say, “wow, these paintings are beautiful,” and then they realize what they are really looking at, and they must ask themselves if they still think it is beautiful. It was my objective to create an installation that evokes simultaneous, polarized reactions like the bullfight does, because there are different sides to any story.

Taureau Noir, 2004 ( 2010 installation detail; blood on sand), one of thirty-six chromogenic prints composed in a 6 x 9 ft installation.

Taureau Noir, 2004 ( 2010 installation detail; blood on sand), one of thirty-six chromogenic prints composed in a 6 x 9 ft installation.

Exploring the bullfight in art inspired me to remove the bull and bullfighter, which are so prominent in the works of Goya, Picasso, Pedro Almodovar, Lucien Clergue (who was a mentor), and others. The man-bull relationship is always moving and primal, but it’s not what I am interested in. After a few bullfights I realized that I am interested in the elements informing the central action. I fall closer conceptually to the sentiment I see in Rineke Dijkstra and Bruce Conner’s artworks referencing bullfighting. I’ve mostly seen Djikstra’s Bullfighters portraits presented with her New Mothers portraits, which strike me altogether as rooted in contemplations of ritual, trauma, and gender, while Conner’s avant-garde film REPORT pivots around those themes surrounding the spectacle.

In my art I explore universalities that connect us around the world and throughout time. My visual language breaks down conceptual and physical elements of my subjects and reflects patterns and interconnections that emerge. Driven by a personal meditation on life’s constant flux, a stanza from Rainer Maria Rilke comes to mind: “let everything happen to you, beauty and terror, just keep going, no feeling is final.” Photography as a time-based medium is a tool I use to process change and impermanence.

Cushing: “Story” is a compelling word here since the bullfight unfolds as a three-act condensed epic with a prescribed arc. How do you think the bullfight’s aesthetics help audiences access these philosophical, spiritual, or mythic questions?

Scafati: I’m glad you brought up the number three! It’s fitting that Goya chose thirty-three images for his Tauromaquia. I also based my Taureau Noir, a grid of six images by six images, on a factor of three. Six is important since in one corrida three matadors fight two bulls each; the fate of six bulls unfolds at one sitting.

Goya depicted the evolution of bullfighting’s cultural constructs masterfully over his series, taking his sequence from nature to culture. I hadn’t realized how similar my own impulse was to Goya’s—considering fighting within the context of nature and mythology—until seeing this exhibit. His last Tauromaquia image, depicting the death of Pepe Hillo, strikes me as a link back to the beginning in a cyclical pondering of why we fight. I always want to go back to the first image again and look at the more innocent, freer time. The increasing embellishment of the spectacle’s costuming, staging, and theatrics, combined with the reactions on the audience’s faces, establishes a critical framework with which to consider bullfighting as a stylized, operatic drama where one can tap into existential questions. Contrastingly, my work removes culture and returns to nature. Presenting all parts together as one, Taureau Noir functions as synecdoche. The performance is absent yet the theater remains.

Taureau Noir, 2004, (2010 installation detail, meat), one of thirty-six chromogenic prints composed in a 6 x 9 ft installation.

Taureau Noir, 2004, (2010 installation detail, meat), one of thirty-six chromogenic prints composed in a 6 x 9 ft installation.

In terms of the visual devices that constitute bullfighting’s aesthetics, I have to start with the bull. Toro bravos—the species used in the Spanish-style corrida—weigh no less than a thousand pounds. It is startling to see a human next to this huge animal. I think of the Cave of Lascaux, which contains the largest animal painting ever found in cave art: depicted at seventeen feet in length and in motion, its immensity is overwhelming. There is something primal in our relationship to the bulls that the spectacle of the bullfight triggers: they are large; they are moving quickly; I have fear and I need to conquer it.

The presentation of the torero/a and toro also signifies a socially ingrained story of boyhood passing to manhood. The first time I saw the bullfighters Sebastian Castella and Cesar Jimenez they were both just twenty years old. Their slender frames alongside the aggressive bull were provocative, and their slow, controlled, elegant techniques reminded me of New York City Ballet performances

The ring’s circular form is echoed in the targets on the arena walls, the curve of the bull’s horns, and the tradition of pulling the bull’s body around the sand in a big circuit, leaving a trail of blood in a loop. The circle is symbolic, referencing the cycle of life and death.

Taureau Noir, 2004, (2010 installation detail, target on arena wall), one of thirty-six chromogenic prints composed in a 6 x 9 ft installation.

Taureau Noir, 2004, (2010 installation detail, target on arena wall), one of thirty-six chromogenic prints composed in a 6 x 9 ft installation.

Lastly, red is the color of the arena walls, the muleta, the blood. It is seen before you enter the arena in advertisements, throughout the demise in each corrida, and in displays of meat in the butcher shop windows. It is a lush, seductive red that harkens to Caravaggio paintings and the way blood looks in sunlight. The significance in my Taureau Noir installation of the “black” bull being presented in sanguine reds is a reference to that spectacle. Yet, the bull is color-blind. The red is for us.

Goya: Mad Reason is on view at the Blanton through September 25, 2016. 

Susan Scafati is an Austin-based American contemporary artist. She has been featured as an emerging artist by jurors Cindy Sherman, Adam Fuss, Jack Pierce; award recipient from International Center of Photography, Lucie Foundation, Silvermine Guild Arts Center; and top pick by Hammer Museum, Austin American Statesman, Photo District News online. Clients have included New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan, Bloomberg News, Port Authority, Archer Hotel, New York Fashion Week, Pasqual Maragall Presidential Campaign, among others. She is a member of Lakes Were Rivers, which has won awards and accolades— including recently as commissioned artists in The Contemporary Austin’s Strange Pilgrim exhibition which received a Critic’s Pick (Artforum) and Best Museum Show (Austin Critics’ Table Awards). Scafati currently teaches at The Contemporary Austin museum and was formerly the Art Talks Chair for Art Alliance Austin. To see more of Scafati’s work, visit her website.

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A Foodie’s Guide to Goya

Every time I step into the Blanton’s stunning exhibition of prints by Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, all I can think about are tapas and ice-cold cerveza Moritz. As one of the museum’s educators, I feel a little guilty admitting this, but hey, I have ancestors from San Sebastian and I’m sure it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.

The origin story of tapas is a little murky. Depending on your sources it either began in the 13th century with the Spanish King Alfonso X or with field workers. (Alfonso had a habit of snacking between meals.) More people seem to agree that tapas started with the field laborers, who would cover their jugs of wine with pieces of bread and jamon. The hours between meals were long and this combination of drink and food was meant to hold the workers over. Whoever started the custom, Spaniards love snacking. (Just as they have a tradition of serving tapas as a late afternoon snack, there is a mid-morning snack custom called “onces.”)

The word tapa comes from the verb “tapar” which translates into English as “to cover.” And that’s what they do—cover folks who want a little something as they have a drink after work, before dinner. In Spain, this is especially helpful, since dinner is typically served around nine or ten at night. Stateside, tapas often cover for dinner entirely. Here in Austin, we have three go-to spots for straightforward Spanish tapas: Barlata, Bullfight, and Malaga. (Barlata has a terrific Fiduea Negre, BTW.) But instead of telling you where to go for sangria, this post is going to save you money by sharing a few favorite tapas recipes that you can enjoy at home.

Like Austin, summer in Spain can be scorching hot. To cool down in the late afternoon, Catalonians up and down the Costa Brava will indulge in their version of a shandy: a combination of a pilsner and super-tart lemonade or straight lemon juice. I’ve never had this drink in Spain without also being served anchovy-stuffed olives and potato chips. I don’t know if that’s a thing or just my luck, but I completely back the combo. You can find jars of these olives at Central Market or Whole Foods and Zapp’s brand potato chips are a salty approximate for Spanish papitas.

Reminiscing about sitting on the Mediterranean with a lemony beer and aceitunas de anchoa makes my mind wander back to Goya’s Still Life with Golden Bream. The freshly caught fish, glassy eyes blankly staring at the viewer, have been compared to the victims of the Spanish civil war. Unfortunately for Goya, I’m too distracted by food to contemplate the disasters of war (apologies to our curator). In this moment all I can think of are the little fisherman’s boats that line up along Calella de Palafrugell to bring in the daily catch. (Boquerones fritos anyone?)

If you have over-ripe tomatoes this summer and crusty white bread, another great tapa is pan con tomate. It’s simple and fun to make with friends—perfect for a party (just put out the fixin’s so everyone can help themselves). A lot of restaurants in Spain will grill their toast, which gives it great dimension and is totally worth trying. Here’s the recipe:

Pan con Tomate

Pan con tomate, manechgo, y jamon serrano
Toast with Tomato, Manchego, and Serrano Ham

Lightly toast or grill some thick slices of crusty white bread.

On each slice rub these things in this order: ½ clove garlic, ½ ripe tomato.

Then, on each slice, sprinkle some Spanish olive oil and coarse sea salt.

Garnish with a thin slice of manchego cheese and jamon Serrano.

Goya spent most of his life in Madrid, where hot tapas hold court. Don’t kick a girl out of Texas for saying this, but meat’s not my thing. So, this post will finish with a recipe for setas en jerez that even King Ferdinand would like. Buen provecho!

Setas en jerez
Mushrooms in Sherry

Get a really big skillet super hot and add about a tablespoon each butter and Spanish olive oil.

Add a basket of white button mushrooms (cut in halves or fourths), and cook until they are brown and crispy, add salt to taste.

Reduce heat, add about 3 cloves minced garlic and ¼ cup Almontillado sherry.

Once sherry cooks down, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Quieres más? Visit A Tapear for tons of great recipes, visit Tienda.com to shop for Spanish goods online, and be sure to visit Goya: Mad Reason at the Blanton this summer.

Andrea Saenz Williams manages the Blanton’s school and teacher programs. Get in touch or ask her for other tapas recipes on twitter: @andreasaenzwill

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Madam C.J. Walker lives on at the Blanton

In February of 2017, You Belong Here: Reimagining the Blanton opens at the Blanton. There is so much that we are excited to share in this new presentation of our collection. I’m delighted to introduce some very important recent acquisitions that we will be exhibiting for the first time. Here’s a sneak peek at one of the stars of the installation—that we are still raising funds to be able to purchase—a work I have dreamed about bringing to the Blanton since I arrived here as the curator of modern and contemporary art nearly four years ago.

Sonya Clark, Madam C.J. Walker, 2008, Combs, 10 ft. 2 in. x 7 ft. 3 in. Photo: Taylor Dabney

Sonya Clark, Madam C.J. Walker, 2008, Combs, 10 ft. 2 in. x 7 ft. 3 in.
Photo: Taylor Dabney

This formidable ten-foot portrait by artist Sonya Clark depicts Madam C.J. Walker. Just who was she? Born shortly after the end of slavery, Madam Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) is said to be the nation’s first self-made female millionaire. Orphaned at age seven and widowed with a daughter at twenty, Walker earned fortune and fame by building a prosperous beauty empire, best known for its hair care products. As a businesswoman, she employed thousands of African-American women who would have otherwise been relegated to low-paying jobs.

Madam Walker was also a philanthropist and passionate public speaker. At significant conventions sponsored by major black organizations, she was often the only woman at the podium alongside Booker T. Washington and other black leaders. Walker flourished as an entrepreneur despite the odds, before Women’s Suffrage and long before the Civil Rights Movement. Her life is captured in one of her most famous statements: “I am a woman from the cotton fields of the South. I was promoted to the washtub. I was promoted to the kitchen. I promoted myself to the business of hair…on my own ground.”

1998 U.S. postage stamp, photo: Addison Scurlock

1998 U.S. postage stamp, photo: Addison Scurlock

I first learned about Madam Walker in a history class in college and remember feeling surprised I hadn’t already learned about this trailblazing entrepreneur and social activist. How had the fact that the first self-made female millionaire was an African-American woman escaped me until then? How was she not in the encyclopedias that I devoured in the basement as a kid or in my American history class in high school?

The year I graduated from college, Madam Walker appeared on a postage stamp, in a 1912 photo by African-American photographer Addison Scurlock. An avid letter writer, I still remember buying sheets of the stamps. Ten years later, I came across Sonya Clark’s portrait of Madam Walker in an exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design in New York. Clark used the same photo as the basis for her portrait, made entirely out of hair combs.

Sonya Clark’s decision to assemble the portrait out of combs was a powerful choice. As she recently explained to me, “I used 3,840 fine-toothed pocket combs to assemble this image of Walker. Combs speak to Walker’s career as a pioneer of hair care. I also used them because they capture our national legacy of hair culture, and the gender and race politics of hair. As disposable objects, they parallel the low social status of African-American women born in the late 1800s. But together, the thousands of combs become a monumental tapestry, signifying Walker’s magnitude and success despite her humble beginnings.”

Detail of the combs used in Madam CJ Walker artwork

A detail of the combs that make up Sonya Clark’s portrait of Madam C.J. Walker

The first time I saw this work was one of those stop-you-in-your-tracks art experiences: finally, Walker had been commemorated at a scale befitting her larger-than-life accomplishments and in a lasting way. Now, nearly ten years later, I feel so fortunate to have the chance to offer a similar experience to the thousands of visitors who come to the Blanton each year.

Several generous community members have made contributions to the Blanton to help us purchase this work of art so that it can forever be a part of our collection and the story we tell in the galleries. Marilyn Johnson, one of our Blanton National Leadership Board members, beautifully articulates the transformative potential of this work: “I have long been inspired by Madam C.J. Walker’s incredible life as a businesswoman, philanthropist, and activist who empowered so many others to achieve success. Seeing this work for the first time was such a powerful moment for me. Moreover, what I find most moving is that having it on view at the Blanton means that this important woman and her national legacy will be shared with our community—conveying to the public that this museum, and art, is something all of us can enjoy and learn from. I believe this will be a highlight of the Blanton collection.”

Support is still needed for the museum to acquire this work and we would welcome your help! Gifts of any size are appreciated and will ensure generations of visitors like you may see and learn from Madam C.J. Walker. You can make a donation here or contact the museum’s development team at development@blantonmuseum.org to learn more.

And don’t forget to keep an eye out for Madam C.J. Walker on view upstairs at the Blanton beginning in February…you can’t miss it!

Veronica Roberts is the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Blanton.

About the Artist:

Photo: Taylor Dabney

Photo: Taylor Dabney

Sonya Clark was born in 1967 in Washington D.C. to a psychiatrist father from Trinidad and a nurse mother from Jamaica. She is a first-generation American and has drawn extensively upon her Caribbean, Scottish, and African ancestry in her work. Her maternal grandmother, a professional tailor, taught Clark how to sew and helped instill an appreciation for craft and the value of the handmade. Her interest in hair emerged at an early age: “When I was growing up in D.C., my family lived across the street from the Ambassador of Benin and his family of fourteen. They lived in a large mansion and always welcomed us. My sister and I would go over there to play and return home with elaborate hairstyles.”[1]

Clark received her BA in psychology from Amherst College in 1989 and her BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993: “My formal training as an artist began at the Art institute of Chicago with Ann Wilson, Nick Cave, and Joan Livingstone, and cemented the artful connections between hair, craft, and design.” In 1995, she obtained an MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Her work has been exhibited in over 300 museums and galleries throughout the world. She has received many prestigious awards, residencies, and fellowships including a Pollock-Krasner Award, a Rockefeller Foundation Residency in Italy, a Red Gate Residency in China, a Wisconsin Art Board Fellowship, and a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, and, most recently, she received the two awards at ArtPrize 2014. Currently, she is the chair of the Department of Craft/Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond.

[1] http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/CultureShock/archives/2014/09/04/1858-prize-profile-sonya-clark

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Goya: Mad Reason | An Interview with Curator Douglas Cushing

On June 19, the Blanton opened Goya: Mad Reason, an exhibition featuring nearly 150 prints and paintings by renowned Spanish court painter Francisco de Goya. These works illustrate the artist’s mastery of forms and concepts as he grappled with the changing political and intellectual landscape of his native Spain in the early nineteenth century. To learn more about the show, we recently sat down with Curator Douglas Cushing to get an inside scoop on all things Goya.

Douglas Cushing giving a tour of Goya: Mad Reason

Douglas Cushing giving a tour of Goya: Mad Reason

How did you become interested in researching Goya and his print series?

When I was an art student undergrad at RISD, I developed a love for Goya in tandem with my love of the Surrealists and Dadaists. With his humor, humanity, and strangeness, as well as his very distinct style, Goya seemed very modern and very much a predecessor to those later movements. While my art history masters and PhD research has remained with the modernists, for me, avant-garde movements of the twentieth century like Surrealism owe much to the art and ideas of the Romantic artists. Goya is, in many ways, a Spanish proto-Romantic. That is one of the many ways in which Goya has remained so perennially relevant—in a sense he is still there in the work of the twentieth century. Finally, my partner is an artist and printmaker, and since I came to Austin for grad school, I’ve spent many hours at Slugfest Printmaking Workshop in Austin, printing and socializing. Being around so many artists has only redoubled the respect I have long had for Goya’s technique, artistic production, and ideas. In many ways, he is an artist’s artist, but that assertion leads to other pastures.

Can you explain the significance of the exhibition’s subtitle, Mad Reason?

The title, for me, began with an observation made by philosopher Michel Foucault. He wrote,

The Goya of the Disparates and the Quinta del sordo (the house where he painted his famous black paintings, now at the Prado) addresses another madness altogether: not that of the mad who were thrown into prison, but that of man cast into his own night. He renews a connection, beyond memory, with the old worlds of enchantment, of fantastic rides, of witches perched on the branches of dead trees.

from History of Madness

Foucault’s point is that the madness that Goya shows to us is not pathological madness, not mental illness (though he did paint those imprisoned in asylums), but rather the madness that is a necessary condition of modern thought.

Goya lived through Spain’s limited entry into the Enlightenment, a movement that valued principles of individual liberty, progress, religious tolerance, and above all, the power of rational thought. Because the movement prioritized reason over irrational thought, a division emerged between the Enlightenment’s “light” and the darkness of irrational thought that preceded it. In a sense, the Enlightenment aimed to contain the irrational by naming and categorizing it. This thought process that emerged in Goya’s day became the framework that we continue to navigate in contemporary life today.

Especially in his prints, Goya allows us to see that this division is deceptive. The irrational night we work so hard to separate from ourselves still rises to the surface of reason precisely because it is a part of it, because it is always part of us. This “unreason” emerges in creativity and imagination, in war, and the thrall of certain spectacles, and even in our cultural rituals and values. Goya’s “mad reason” is ours as well.

A visitor looks at prints hanging on a wall in goya mad reason

Goya was severely ill and suffered from deafness throughout the later part of his life and career. How do you believe these conditions affected his work?

This is a difficult question. As an art historian I try to separate facts from speculation, without completely discounting the latter. We can say that Goya’s health problems both isolated him and made some of his friendships more intense. The enlightened statesman Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, for instance, learned signing to communicate with Goya. On the other side of things, Goya had to step down from teaching duties at the royal academy, a position he worked hard to attain, because he couldn’t hear his students. This wounded him. It is tempting to say that Goya’s isolation made him more introspective and empathetic. He was never broken by these hardships, however; he continued to be enthralled by learning and experimentation in processes, techniques, and ways of conceiving of visual representation.

Beyond Goya’s emotional responses to his illness and deafness, his long convalescence might have had a profound effect on his mature work. During this time, Goya remained in Cádiz in southern Spain with his friend Sebastián Martínez. Martínez had a collection of over seven hundred paintings including old masters such as Titian, Rubens, Velázquez, and Ribera, artist’s whose work greatly affected Goya’s artistic outlook. Moreover, Martínez had a collection of thousands of prints, including works by William Hogarth and William Blake. Both artists’ work took ethical positions and Hogarth’s humor as well as Blake’s imagination must have offered remarkable insights for Goya. Given that historical footnote, Goya’s extensive painterly use of tonal etching, as well as his affinity for social commentary and fantastic invention, might have found some grounding in the worst period of the artist’s illness.

Works in the print series Los Disparates [Follies] are known for lacking clear symbolic meaning, making them difficult to decipher. What do you hope visitors will take away from this series in particular?

I hope that audiences take time to reflect on how Goya’s Disparates affect our way of thinking and knowing today. If we confront the idea that the irrational is something that cannot, or should not, be entirely overcome, maybe we can find a new way of engaging with our world. We might explore the irrational where it produces great cultural works or promotes inventiveness, and we might recognize and restrain our irrational tendencies where they lead to unbelievable destruction.

The act of spending time with Goya’s Disparates is challenging. We assume that even the most difficult puzzles have correct solutions. Goya gives us puzzles without such guarantee. We are so used to trying to quickly find truth and meaning in art and media that these works are in a way uncomfortable to deal with. Living with that discomfort is an opportunity to grow, I think. It helps us to recognize that some portion of our experience of being human always eludes language and rational thought. No matter how hard we try, no description of a feeling will ever wholly capture the experience.

Moreover, the Disparates represent a high point in Goya’s mastery of printmaking. Even though a printmaker published the series after Goya’s death, it’s apparent just how far the artist pushed intaglio printmaking to produce subtleties of painterly tone and expressiveness of line. There’s just one black ink color used to make all of these prints, and yet there are a rainbows of colors and tones that we might discover in Goya’s blacks and greys, visually and emotionally.

Si resucitará? (Will She Rise Again?), Plate 80, from Los desastres de la guerra (The Disasters of War), circa 1814-15, pub. 1863, Etching and burnisher, The Arthur Ross Collection

Si resucitará? (Will She Rise Again?), Plate 80, from Los desastres de la guerra (The Disasters of War), circa 1814-15, pub. 1863, Etching and burnisher, The Arthur Ross Collection

How do the themes in Goya: Mad Reason remain relevant to viewers today?

I think that many visitors will be surprised to learn how contested the place of bullfighting was in Spain even in Goya’s day. Looking at Goya’s growing ambivalence towards the pastime in his Tauromaquia [a series depicting bullfights], we might reflect upon our own violent sports and rituals—claimed by many to be essential to our culture. Similarly, many among us, myself included, recoil at the abuse of animals and yet we still eat meat. We constantly make choices that appear rational on the surface, but the ethical ground these decisions rest on is less secure, and often come down to a series of arbitrary choices or our ability to simultaneously hold contradictory ideas. Through Goya, we might also ask: where can the line can be drawn between essential culture and empty spectacle? I think that was a question Goya wrestled with after the Peninsular War as he thought about the bullfighting he loved so through much of his life.

Goya’s treatment of conflict in his Disasters of War is, unfortunately, all too relevant today. Goya unflinchingly depicts war’s savage brutality, sexual violence against women as weapon, the horrors of military occupation and martial governance, the mindless violence of mob justice, famine, and the mass migration of refugees escaping war. In the series, Goya denies us the easy comfort of a hero and villain. Everyone is complicit in the violence, and Goya refuses to clarify explicit boundaries between good and evil.

Despite all of these abuses, Goya ends his series on the war with two images of Truth personified. In the first, Truth is dead, but in the second he asks if she will rise again. Even in the midst of a country transitioning from war to repression, Goya retained a sense of hope for the future. Knowing ourselves better by knowing the limits of our reason, as explored in the Disparates, is one path towards progress and the better world that Goya sought for humanity. Rather than taking away only Goya’s despair and outrage, I hope that visitors will recognize his optimism, even in the face of some of Spain’s darkest hours.

Goya: Mad Reason is on view at the Blanton through September 25. On Saturday, July 16, the Blanton will hold a printmaking workshop in conjunction with the exhibition. For more information and to register, please click here.

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Austin is changing, and so is the Blanton

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might have noticed that Austin is changing. Rapidly. Sitting in traffic is now officially Austin’s #1 pastime ( “tweeting about sitting in traffic” comes in at a close second). You can’t swing a cat without hitting a craft brewery or fair-trade coffee “haus.” New start-ups are everywhere, taxing Austin’s hard-working foosball table manufacturers. Cat-swinging is inexplicably in vogue. And now $9 million is suddenly a totally reasonable amount to spend on advertising for a single ballot initiative. Sure.

Given that the Blanton is at least as Austin-esque as backyard chickening, it’s only natural that we change too. On July 5th, we’ll be embarking on the first major changes to the Blanton’s second-floor, permanent collection galleries since we opened our building to the public in 2006. These changes will involve a complete re-configuration of our galleries and will feature artworks that have been recently acquired or that have rarely or never been on display, new labels in the galleries to help provide better context, new doorways to improve the flow between galleries  and new signs to help you get around. Think of it as like the MoPac Improvement Project, but under budget and with somewhat less of an impact on your morning commute.

Artwork with a grumpy woman next to the caption sitting on mopac like

What does this mean for you? A lot, actually. In the short term, it means that from July until February 2017, our upstairs galleries will be closed. We will still have three mind-expanding exhibitions downstairs, and our usual spate of top-shelf events and programming. But some of Austin’s old favorites, including Cildo Meireles’ How to Build Cathedrals, Joan Mitchell’s Rock Bottom, and pretty much everything else you normally see upstairs will be off view until February of next year. During this period, our admission fees and hours will remain [exactly] the same—no worries about figuring out weird hours! We’ll still be open Tuesday Sunday for your viewing pleasure. However, for a short period in early 2017, the entire museum will be closed to the public while we put the finishing touches on the new Blanton (don’t worry, we’ll let you know well in advance when this will be happening so you can add reminders to your Apple Watch or whatever). In the long term, these changes mean that Austin will have unprecedented access to a world-class collection of art, presented in a way that we can say, without hyperbole, will be literally the greatest thing you will ever see in your entire life.

View of Blanton galleries with old master paintings

In February of 2017, the galleries won’t look like this.

Why are we doing this? Well, frankly, it’s time. Museums are always acquiring new artworks, learning new things about those artworks, and re-thinking the best ways to present them. The Blanton is no exception. Our permanent collection (that’s the term that museums use to refer to the objects they own and are responsible for caring for), as it is displayed upstairs, has remained mostly unchanged since the Blanton opened to the public in 2006. We felt that many of our signature artworks could be presented better, and that many of our strongest collections (such as our Latin American artworks) were difficult for visitors to find. This re-imagining of the museum will allow us to finally present our collection in a way that makes more sense to visitors.

Our recommendation? Make sure to visit in the next two weeks to get a final look at what’s on view right now. While many artworks will still be there when we reopen, a few fan favorites will be rotated out of the galleries for the time being (most notably, Progress II by Luis Jímenez). Pick a day, drop by, climb the stairs, and take one final look around—everything will be totally different starting next year. And while change is hard, it’s also good—and we promise that this new version of the museum will make the Blanton better than ever.

Make sure to follow the Blanton on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as we share more information about this project over the coming months, including a behind-the-scenes look at what will be changing in the museum.

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SoundSpace: In Memoriam

SoundSpace: In Memoriam

The avant-garde French composer Pierre Boulez died on January 5 of this year. He was 90 years old, and had retired from public life, so while many of us admired his innovative electronic music, as well as his iconic recordings as a conductor of Mahler, Debussy, and Wagner, we were saddened but not shocked at the news of his passing.

Pierre BoulezDavid Bowie’s death five days later was quite different, as we only then learned that one of our most public celebrities and gregarious artists had kept his terminal illness private for the previous 18 months. His latest album, a striking work that recast Bowie’s alternate interests in industrial and ambient rock into a tightly curated 41-minute barrage, seemed to be yet another reinvention by the master of reinvention, and we couldn’t wait to see what would come next. But of course, he’d made the album knowing all along that he’d never be able to record a successor.

David Bowie

And then this April, as we were beginning to plan the upcoming installment of our music series SoundSpace, it was saddening to receive news in rapid succession of the deaths of two other leading figures in the last 50 years of recorded music: Tony Conrad, the composer and sound artist whose work with John Cale and Faust has influenced numerous musicians, from drone rock to techno to commercial film soundtracks, and Prince, whose virtuosic guitar licks were matched only by his catalogue of perfect pop songs.

Prince

These figures have an especially strong connection to SoundSpace, a series that explores the connections between visual art and contemporary music, in that all four were known for their works’ interactions with other media. Boulez wrote extensively about contemporary art and was friends with Joan Miró and Francis Bacon; Bowie was deeply embedded in visual culture and was a pioneer of the music video form, as well as an actor in films such as The Man Who Fell to Earth; Conrad was a film director whose works such as The Flicker are central to the American experimental film canon; and Prince’s performative adaptations of gender, race, genre, and color in his live performances are almost as striking as his virtuosic craft as a musician.

Tony Conrad

We thought that the intersection of these artists’ work with the tradition of the SoundSpace series would provide a fitting recognition and celebration of these and other recently departed musicians. SoundSpace: In Memoriam is less about cover versions of famous songs or the tradition of the tribute concert. What we love about tribute concerts is their ability to function as wake and saturnalia: they’re a place for us to acknowledge our collective grief, while remembering the energy and commitment of the artists’ lives. But we’re more interested in a tribute concert that brings Boulez, Bowie, Conrad, and Prince into a contemporary context by showing how their work continues to inspire new musicians and new music.

Money Chicha is an especially exciting group to have kick off the show because they’ve performed live as Prince’s backing band. There’s a trio of Austin bands—Aux Aux, Mediums, and Linen Closet—presenting work from a recent Austin-centered Bowie tribute album. There will be Boulez works that demand virtuosic solo performance and other works played from pre-recorded tapes. There’s even a world premiere composition that manages to mash up the influences of neurologist Oliver Sacks and Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister.

Ethan Frederick GreenFinally, we’re proud to present three works by the late composer Ethan Frederick Greene, who tragically passed last year at age 32. Ethan had only recently moved from Austin to central Florida to work on the digital art faculty at Stetson University, after receiving his doctorate in the Butler School of Music here at UT. Ethan had performed in the very first SoundSpace in 2011, and was beloved here at the university and within the Austin music community. I remember very vividly that the news of his death was arriving via text messages while many of his friends and collaborators were performing at SoundSpace on September 13, 2015. This Sunday, we’ll present works for cello (Aerial Ballet), for percussion trio (Sewn), and for rotary phone and electronics (My Parents’ Phone Number)—in recognition of the brilliant careers of Ethan, and of these other artists whose memories and whose music remain with us.

SoundSpace: In Memoriam is June 19 from 2pm – 4pm and is included with museum admission. Learn more about the event on Facebook.

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Choose Your Own Heist: A Blanton Summer Caper

School is out. It’s time to explore, play, and have adventures. The Blanton’s family and community programs team crafted just the thing for anyone who wants make the most out of their visit to the museum— a good old Choose Your Own Adventure story, with a mysterious plot.

The Sea Choose Your Own Adventure Book CoverIf you were a kid in the 80s, you are probably familiar with the Choose Your Own Adventure series. With titles like The Cave of Time (the very first Choose Your Own Adventure book) and Journey Under the Sea (about an expedition to the lost city of Atlantis), they were easy to pick up and hard to put down. In all cases of Choose Your Own Adventure books, readers are confronted with momentous choices. An example from Journey Under the Sea: “If you put up the energy repulsion shields to try and escape the black hole, turn to page 22!” I mean, wouldn’t you want to turn to page 22? Millions of children sure did.

The Blanton’s variation on a Choose Your Own Adventure comes in the form of The Royal Heist, which launched this past Saturday and will be available through the month of June. To write a Choose Your Own Adventure for an art museum takes quite a few steps, from storyline and artwork research, to considerations for how different ages will engage with the story, and how users will traverse walking paths through the museum. Family and community programs fellow Elizabeth Srsic managed the project. “My favorite part about making The Royal Heist was the writing and research. In the evenings I watched the BBC’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot with David Suchet or Murder She Wrote and in the mornings I came into the office and wrote like crazy.”

Map for choose your own adventureOn the wall next to Elizabeth’s desk was a map of the works of art included in Heist with string, arrows, and notes linking them to one another (basically, making her work area look like an art crime scene investigation unit). The entire Blanton education team pitched in by attending rehearsal readings of the script to trouble-shoot and brainstorm plot lines. For example, it was decided that a magnifying glass icon should be added to help very young detectives search for clues.

What all this looks like in practice is a lot of fun, for any age. It starts with checking out the book from Visitor Services. They might hand it over with a knowing wink, “We’re so glad you’re here to help solve the mystery.” With that, you’re off! You read a few quick tips and instructions and start the story. Suddenly, you are not standing in the atrium of the Blanton, but on an island, with the ocean swirling around you. The note on this page of your booklet begins: “Detective, I am entrusting you with a most terrible secret….” The plea comes from Queen Blantina. You, a famed detective, have been hired to put a stop to the robberies that have been plaguing the small country. From here, you have two choices: do you attend a party, or do you search the palace grounds? Depending on what you chose, you go to your next stop, a work of art on the museum’s second floor. You suddenly find yourself both immersed in the mystery, and roaming the galleries, looking at works of art in unexpected ways. The Royal Heist has five possible endings and we are certain that once you get to the end of one path, you will want to start over to experience the rest.

The Royal Heist Choose Your Own Adventure book cover

When asked if she would write another Choose Your Own Adventure, Elizabeth replied, “I think it would be interesting to do a story from the perspective of a creature with no concept of human art and culture. The visitors would have to use their own knowledge of Earth culture to fill in the gaps.” She is not the only Blanton staff member who would like to see a science fiction themed Choose Your Own Adventure come to fruition. (Looks like we have a series in the making!) In addition to the fun-factor of having these for the galleries, the Blanton education team believes this kind of engagement will assist visitors with developing looking and thinking skills that they can use whether they have a Choose Your Own Adventure book in hand, or not.

The Royal Heist can be checked out, for free, from Visitor Services the entire month of June.

Do you have questions about the Blanton’s family and community programs? Email familyprograms@blantonmuseum.org. What would you like the Blanton’s next Choose Your Own Adventure to be? Share with me on twitter: @andreasaenzwill

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Member Appreciation Month Spotlight

MemberApprciationMonth2016b

Some museums might have a member appreciation day, or maybe even a week—at the Blanton, we have an entire Member Appreciation Month! Over the course of June, we’ve set up special perks, treats, and tours to thank our members for all they do for the Blanton. Some members enjoy being at the Blanton so much that they choose to donate their valuable time as volunteers, helping to keep the museum running smoothly and our visitors happy. In honor of Member Appreciation Month, we wanted to highlight one Marcia and Richard Jinkins, who have spent over 10 years as super-volunteers and members—even after a decade, they’re still as happy and eager as ever to be involved in the arts in Austin! We sat down with this art-loving couple to get some insight on their routines and see what makes the Blanton so special to them.

Blanton members posing in front of stacked watersWere you both always interested in art?

Yes. One story I always tell is about my first date with Marcia. For several years, I had been interested in one local artist. It turned out that one of the protégés of this artist was having a show at the gallery I frequented. I saw a painting and it became the first original oil painting I purchased. So on our first date I took her to the gallery to show her what I had purchased. That painting still hangs in our home 29 years later.

What are each of your favorite pieces in the Blanton’s collection and why?

Marcia: My favorite painting is by Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Synchromy in Purple Minor. The colors hit me first, and then, the shapes and overall form. My immediate thoughts registered the movement in the painting as a combination of modern and jazz dance, as well as the martial arts.  As I enjoy all three forms of movement, I could hear music in my head as I looked closely at the shapes and colors. The artist created a place in my imagination where I could see free form dance expressing an assortment of moods. My ability to create art on canvas is limited to stick figures with smiling faces; however, this painting gave me the opportunity to be creative using my mind and spirit.

Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Synchromy in Purple Minor, 1918, Oil on canvas 61 cm x 51 cm (24 in. x 20 1/16 in.), Michener Acquisitions Fund, 1970

Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Synchromy in Purple Minor, 1918, Oil on canvas, 61 cm x 51 cm (24 in. x 20 1/16 in.), Michener Acquisitions Fund, 1970

Richard: Pastoral Landscape by Claude Gellee is my favorite painting because the first piece of original artwork I purchased was a pastoral setting. I still love this type of artwork because it brings me peace and serenity.

There are so many volunteer opportunities in Austin, why did you choose the Blanton?

When we retired in March 2006, we took some time to rest and then decided volunteering at the Blanton would be a new learning experience.  We like having the opportunity to enjoy fine art, not only with the permanent collections but also with the temporary exhibits as well.  As a retirement gift, Richard told Marcia having a Blanton membership would make him happy.  It was a logical decision for us to volunteer at the museum.

Blanton members stand in front of two paintings in the european galleries

What’s your favorite thing to do at the Blanton when you’re off duty?

We enjoy the Midday Music Series, attending the docent training sessions for a new exhibit, and any special program lectures.

What kept you coming back to volunteer every year?

Volunteering at the Blanton provides us so many opportunities to meet a diverse group of interesting people visiting the museum.  While we do our best to answer visitor questions about the Blanton as well as Austin, the visitors give us information about their various museum visits, which helps us plan our next museum trip.  Everybody we have met enjoys sharing their experiences of travel and we thoroughly enjoy listening as well as learning.

For a full list of what we have in store for our members during June, make sure to visit our website. Not a member? Join today!

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Old School Summer Reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conversations Before the End of Time by critic Suzi Gablik

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

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

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

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Behind the Blanton: Cassandra Smith

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

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

What made you pursue a job in the museum field?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In the Studio with Raimond Chaves and Gilda Mantilla

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

A view overlooking Barranco, Lima.

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

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

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

Gilda Mantilla (left) and Raimond Chaves (right)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok, so how does a bilingual gallery lesson work?

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

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

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

So why is the Blanton doing this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a few of the mixes we’ve received.

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite songs

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

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

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

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

I like the song “Hooch.”

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

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

Favorite artists

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

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

Here’s a pie chart.

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

Also, The Breeders.

*ABC, BBD.

Favorite Albums

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

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

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

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

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Felix Gonzalez-Torres, AIDS, and ACT UP

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evan Garza
Blanton Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

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Global Color: 90s Films From Outside America

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry

Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry

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

Bela Tarr’s Satantango

Bela Tarr’s Satantango

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children walking around the museum with their arms outstretched

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

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

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

Joan Mitchell Rock Bottom painting

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

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

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

Children work on an activity at the Blanton Museum of Art

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

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

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

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The Dark Ages Go Digital

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

Woman using ipad in Crusader Bible exhibition

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

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

20151221_CrusaderBible_126

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

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

20151221_CrusaderBible_139

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen capture of Party Girl

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

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

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

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

Screen capture of Julianne Moore in Safe

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

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

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

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

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Behind the Blanton: Morgan McCammon

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

Morgan McCammon poses in front of Stacked Waters at the Blanton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morgan McCammon crying at a Celine Dion concert

The photo in question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evan Garza
Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

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

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Feel Like a True Insider with These Blanton Hacks

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

Screenshot of the Do512 website with B scene ticket giveaway

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

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

Hilary Elrod

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

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

Woman holding up her phone taking a photo of an artwork

Photo by AzulOx Photography

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

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

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

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Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon

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

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

So, what is an edit-a-thon?

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

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

the flyer for the wikipedia edit a thon

Who can participate?

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

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

Why participate?

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

A little bit more…

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

The details:

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

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

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

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

A man standing in the galleries looking at art

Photo: AzulOx Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bring Your Own Boombox: Mobile Music at the Blanton

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

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

Film screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Out on the Edge with Kate Perez

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

Kate PerezHow did you become involved volunteering with the Blanton?

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Perez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 Art on the Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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