Prentiss Riddle: Art

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The new Blanton: eh

I wanted to forgive the Blanton for the sins of the Regents, I really did. It's not UT's fault that the philistines who control its purse strings shot down the museum UT wanted and required a new design devoid of troublesome personality as the Chronicle once put it. It would have been nice to have a building there that made a notable artistic statement in its own right, but hey, I was willing to believe that one could design a good museum within the conservative bounds of UT's venerable Texas Mediterranean style.

Alas, I set myself up for disappointment. Unveiled, the new Blanton is a big anticlimax. I know I've been spoiled by other Texas museums -- in particular the Kimbell in Ft. Worth and the Menil in Houston -- but the Blanton has less flavor than your typical shopping mall food court.

If you look closely at those museums, you'll see materials, even humble ones, used with great mindfulness: in the Kimbell, for instance, Louis Kahn famously anticipated the textures that his concrete would pick up from the wood forms in which it was poured. But if you look closely at the Blanton, you see pink granite and burnt orange plaster (two colors which should never be used together without antinausea medication) and liberal use of putty to hide the sloppy joints between them. The Blanton is as true to its materials as the fake foamboard "bronze" on its neighbor across the street, the Bullock Texas History Museum.

Blanton Museum, exterior detail Blanton Museum, interior

Inside the Blanton aims for Texas-sized drama and fails. After an unremarkable entry, you come to a vast and no doubt expensive atrium which somehow manages to look small and cheap. For lack of anything more interesting to see, the eye rests on the grilles of the air conditioning system. Maybe the intention for the space is to find some proportionately massive art to hang there. Let's hope it's not a Texas flag or a Bevo.

Fortunately the Blanton as an institution is not synonymous with its earthly shell. The 24-hour opening schedule was inspired, even if I didn't get to attend until the family-friendly hour of midday Sunday. What I found was the grand incongruous mix of the classical, the kitschy and the contemporary that the art in the Blanton has always been. It was good to see some of the old favorites that I wrote student papers about 25 years ago settled into their new home, and good to see even better stuff that was new to me.

Cildo Meireles, Missão/Missões

I didn't expect it but the permanent installation of Cildo Meireles' "Missão/Missões (How to Build Cathedrals)" turned out to be a crowd pleaser -- 600,000 pennies, 2,000 bones and 800 Communion wafers as a hands-on allegory about the inversion of heaven and earth that was colonial Catholicism. Take that, Madonnas! Take that, Remington cowboys and six-guns! Take that, Regents! We'll find a way to sneak in our artistic subversion anyway and we'll even make it interesting to seven-year-olds.

Congratulations, Blanton, and many happy returns.

art 2006.04.30 link