A Side Trip
When I visited Austin in mid-November, I took a side trip to the Blanton Museum of Art. I had a few extra hours to spend, and I thought, what better way to spend them than to visit the museum? After all, it is always in the back of my mind to visit an art museum any chance I get.
There was a lot of construction going on outside the museum. They are re-imaging the grounds and patio area with the goal to integrate the patio into the whole museum experience.
I parked across the street at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum which is dedicated to the history of the state and housed in a beautiful sprawling building.
My First Discovery
I found my way across the street to the current entrance of the Blanton only to discover the location of Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin. From the patio outside the chapel, you have a wonderful distant view of the State Capitol dome.
An Unexpected Treasure
As you enter the museum there is a large room with an enormous sculpture hanging from the ceiling not to be outdone by a grand staircase that leads upstairs to the permanent collection. Designed by Teresita Fernández the staircase is called Stacked Waters.
Up the stairs you will find both European paintings, prints and drawings, modern and contemporary American and Latin American art. The Blanton is part of the University of Texas, and it is the largest university art museum in the country. I was impressed with not only the building, but the art that was displayed while I visited.
Art to Think About
Downstairs is where the temporary exhibits are found. While I was there, the museum was hosting Border Vision: Luis Jiménez’s Southwest. Luis Jiménez, 1940-2006, moved from his home in El Paso Texas to live and create art in New Mexico. His work celebrates the people who inhabit the borderlands. Colorful and iconic, his work is powerful and not easily dismissed.
My favorite piece was an enormous fiberglass sculpture of a man carrying a woman on his shoulder as he crossed the border. It spoke to me of the determination and the strength that it takes to make such a journey.
Art that Makes a Statement
Along with Jimenez’s work was Pop Crítico/Political Pop: Expressive Figuration in the Americas, 1960s-1980s. The work as the title suggests was political in nature. I am familiar with this type of art because a professor I had at the University of Texas at Dallas was very much into making political statements with his art. In fact, as I entered the room, I thought to myself, “Greg would love this.”
I was attracted to one piece called Criminal Being Executed by Peter Saul, 1964. It was a statement piece against the death penalty, a subject of much debate in the 1960’s. Most of the work in this exhibit requires that you have a grasp of the context of the work and an understanding of the politics of the time. But I believe that art can also become an introduction into a period of history and the complex struggles of the time.
A Connection to a Prior Exhibition
Upstairs I found many works of American art from the mid-century by artists who helped shape contemporary art. I found many of the same artists that I encountered when I went to see Changing Times: Art of the 1960’s at the Dayton Art Institute over the summer. I wrote a blog about that exhibit, and you can read about it here.
One person of interest that I noticed in the Dayton exhibit was Helen Frankenthaler. I remember walking past one of her paintings and stopping to take a photo. I had a subconscious reaction to the work. This happens when we connect to art. I didn’t know why, I didn’t think about it, I just moved on.
The Work I Made a Connection With
I was very pleased to see a whole room upstairs at the Blanton devoted to Helen Frankenthaler’s printmaking. The exhibit was called Without Limits: Helen Frankenthaler, Abstraction, and the Language of Print. When I saw the work, joy erupted in me. I took a photo and a video of a wall of work that showed her progression through the various stages of working out a final print. (See the video below.)
It wasn’t until I decided to write about my side trip to the Blanton and studied her art, that I understood and appreciated the connection that I have with her art.
There are aspects of Frankenthaler’s art and process I align with. In her painting and printmaking she was very experimental. Often asking the question, “what if I do this?” or “what if I do that?” She painstakingly worked out her ideas until she created something of beauty.
Those questions are very much a part of my process as is the desire to create something beautiful.
What I Discovered Later
Frankenthaler believed that creative work should have a spiritual quality pointing to a world that we sense but cannot see. That is very true of me too, and like Frankenthaler I can’t explain how it happens, but I know I must start with a desire to create art that does possess that quality.
I think Frankenthaler’s careful execution of her ideas, her willingness to spend months, even years developing one piece, flows into her idea of spirituality and beauty. To pour so much of yourself, your time and talent into a work of art can’t help but elevate it above the ordinary and commonplace. Frankenthaler believed that this willingness to indulge the work was missing from so much of the art produced in her time. Her approach was opposed to the style that allowed the creative process to flow without much thought about it. Because of her approach, Frankenthaler identified not as an abstract expressionist, but as a traditionalist.
I have enjoyed a longer break from writing than I intended to. But my time away has been refreshing and reflective.
During a time of reflection, I decided to concentrate on writing blogs that are more involved but take longer to write. I want to allow myself the time to let them develop, like this one on the Blanton Museum side trip. I am taking the same approach to painting, allowing myself more time to develop the work. And I came to that conclusion before I began to study Frankenthaler’s art. But I think what I discovered confirmed the thoughts I was having about my work and the decisions I have made. It was a wonderful discovery.
Learn More About Helen Frankenthaler
Ink | The Unabashedly Beautiful Prints of Helen Frankenthaler – Art21 Magazine