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


Gwen and I were wondering about those plaster panels. We were speculating that eventually, murals or bronze plaques would be placed in them. They looked like placeholders to both of us.

I knew that the history of the Blanton's construction has been tortuous, but I had no expectations of what it might be, so I guess I wasn't as let down.

I was let down by the contemporary art exhibit on the first floor, especially the Paul Chan stuff (and I thought it was kind of funny the banner for his exhibit looks like the flickr logo). Gwen wondered "how does a curator decide what goes into a show?" since the stuff on display was not particularly unified in theme or of an excellence that could transcend my plebeian capacity to appreciate it. And some of the explanatory cards really set my teeth on edge—when it explains that the art is "subversive" or "transgressive," it becomes unintended self-parody.

But I also enjoyed seeing some of the stuff that was on display at the HRC back when I was a student.

Adam Rice [adamrice cxe 8stars punkto org] • 2006.05.01
I work with a number of architects, and the overall commentary on the architecture of the new Blanton was a sigh of lost opportunity. Personally, I have a thing about bathrooms in public buildings, and I always inspect them for both details of construction and follow-through on design. The Blanton was *hugely* disappointing -- where the 1" x 3" granite tiles met wallboard, one could see that the wallboard was so wavy that it varied by as much as a quarter of an inch (and that was filled in with, you guessed it, liberal use of putty). On the plus side, the prints collection/library was solidly crafted with beautiful woods.

Gwen Rice • 2006.05.01
This is nice: another Flickrnaut at the Blanton opening caught a shot of U and me -- me looking goofy, she looking like the delight she is.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2006.05.01
So...while I would prefer a building as spectacular as the Kimball...I can't help but be totally, forever in love with the Blanton. For me...the building is merely a great place to hang magnificent art...and interact with that art and the people around me.

Watching you play with your daughter in the eLounge while reading the ArtGame Book was awesome...even though I didn't realize it was you!!!

And as for the comment above about the Paul Chan exhibit...I reserve my judgement until I've had a docent or curator explain the exhibit to me. I'm blown away by how a piece I thought was goofy can transform me when I "get it".

goodwitch [gsims cxe mail punkto utexas punkto edu] • 2006.05.03
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