From Blanton Museum of Art

Beyond All Reason: Goya and his Disparates

One of my joys as a Mellon fellow has been researching the prints of Francisco Goya (1746–1828). Produced after the artist’s fiftieth birthday, Goya’s four mature etching series are emblematic of his technical mastery and inventiveness. The first series, Los Caprichos (1797-99), is exemplary of the artist’s satirical social criticism. Los Desastres de la Guerra (1810-20) followed Caprichos, expressing the artist’s anguish at the events of the Peninsular War and its aftermath. Shifting subject matter, Goya’s La Tauromaquia (1815-16) series then portrayed the history of bullfighting as an Iberian ritual played out between humankind, nature, and fate.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Disparate general [General Folly], plate 9 from Los Proverbios, circa 1816-1824, 13 1/4 in. x 19 3/4 in., Etching and burnished aquatint, The Teaching Collection of Marvin Vexler, ’48, 1994,
Having spent many hours with these series—all worthy of careful consideration—it is Goya’s next series, Los Disparates (1816-24), that most captures my interest. And it is that series which I wish to explore here. The twenty-two works that make up Disparates date to after the war but before the artist’s move to Bordeaux in 1824. Goya did not publish the series during his lifetime. Instead, in 1864 The Royal Academy of San Fernando produced an edition, issued under the title Los Proverbios, from the eighteen plates in their possession. Because of this appellation, scholars long sought to match the works with common sayings. Proofs discovered in the twentieth century, however, bore titles in the artist’s hand, all beginning with the word disparates (follies/ absurdities). With that revelation, the works’ meaning suddenly appeared incomprehensible. Difficultly in deciphering the series likely contributed to the comparable lack of attention, relative to its predecessors, that the series has received ever since.

Los Disparates teems with uncanny chimeras: beings at once familiar and unfamiliar. Recognizable things also inhabit the prints—cats, horses, people in sacks, soldiers, etcetera. Nonetheless, any promise of clear symbolic meaning that these things might offer is empty. Such strangeness is not unique in Goya’s output. Painted on the walls of the artist’s Madrid home (Quinta del sordo), around the same time that the artist etched Disparates, Goya’s “Black Paintings” are equally difficult to understand. Unlike those paintings, however, Goya made Disparates in a reproducible and distributable medium. For me, this suggests an important question: who did Goya make Disparates for, and what ideas did he hope to impart to that audience?

Rather than trying to discover hidden meanings in the symbolism of Disparates —a futile task, I believe—I want to consider Goya’s space. More to the point, I have been thinking recently about Goya’s backgrounds. Throughout the series, Goya typically places his action against (or in) an amorphous darkness, as with Disparate General, or else in a realm falling from light into obscurity and emptiness.

In our daily lives, background is a relative thing that supports the way we see the world. Physically near or distant, it is always that which shifts always away from our focus, acting as a substrate for reality as well as a part of it. The laptop in front of me, for instance, stands out as a form only because my mind separates it from everything else that I call background. To put it simply, without background there is no foreground.

Giorgio Ghisi
Giorgio Ghisi, The School of Athens, after Raphael, 1550, 20 3/16 in. x 16 1/8 in., Engraving, The R. E. Lewis Memorial Study Collection, 2010.

In order for the world to appear as something stable and intelligible, our mind makes use of such systematic arrangements. Were we to experience the world in its specificity, nothing would make sense. A river flows, constantly renewed, different from moment to moment, and yet we recognize it as the same entity across expanses of time. We represent things with names and generalized ideas of their forms. Similarly, we unconsciously organize the space around us. In art, this basic need to regulate our world through representation becomes most obvious. Humanity has invented countless methods for organizing space: hierarchal registers, the upturned and flattened space of Japanese prints, the geometries of Renaissance perspective where paintings became windows, the abstracted spaces of maps, and many others.

When I look at Giorgio Ghisi’s School of Athens after Raphael (1550), I feel as if I could climb those steps and pass under those archways. The perspectival method that produces this space is a convention. Background here is a diffuse spatial symbol, reliant upon a vanishing point—a mathematical twinkling star. Every diagonal line in the print relates to an invisible point of convergence, like railroad tracks receding into the distance and meeting on the horizon. The artifice of Ghisi’s space functions only if the viewer possesses the perquisite understanding of such coded space. By contrast, the darkness of Disparates severs the tether of that old logic. Goya sets us adrift. His vanishing point fills the world.

Leonora Carrington
Leonora Carrington, Casting the Runes , 1951, Oil tempera with gold metallic paint on wood, 0 3/16 x 17 7/8 in., © 2014 Leonora Carrington / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Shifting from the Renaissance to the modern era, what other comparisons might we make? A German contemporary of Goya, the Romantic poet Novalis wrote, “I turn away from the light to the holy, inexpressible mysterious night.” This same nocturnal womb would later haunt the Surrealists. It emerges clearly in Casting the Runes, 1951, by Leonora Carrington (1917-2011). Like Disparates, Carrington’s painting dispenses with perspectival space. Her boundless twilight-green ground supports a cast of uncanny beings. This darkness is a magical field where irrationalism speaks, and where dream and wakefulness might be reconciled.

In contrast to Carrington’s work, I suggest that Goya’s backgrounds in Disparates can be read as negations of rationalism, bereft of the Surrealist optimism for reconciliation. If Goya’s artwork retains any conceptual residue of the renaissance painting as window, it now opens onto madness and the failure of reason. Goya witnessed firsthand the challenges to the Spanish Enlightenment, ranging from abuses of power to the superstition, intellectual conservatism, and jingoism of the masses. And while the Bourbon monarchs managed halting reforms, the war caused this to falter and cease. Goya’s experiences surely shook his belief in the idea of human perfectibility under reason. After all, unreason had brutalized Spain in the name of Napoleon, France, and enlightened principle.

Nevertheless, I do not read Disparates as mere catharsis. The “Black Paintings” might have been that, but these were prints, meant to reach out into the world. It seems to me that Goya had a purpose in setting his Disparates in non-places, evacuated of coherent, rational meaning. By doing so, he revealed the unknowable void beneath civilization and world. With Disparates, Goya stood upon the threshold of the world, showing it the reflection of its essential, underlying madness.

I say “essential” because the artist knew that the formless night is equally generative and destructive. It is the primordial material from which reason and light first emerged, and it is the only background against which the rational mind can discern itself. Still, it is troubling. In glimpses of the borderless night, did Goya recognize the dissolution of all that we are? Was he unwilling or unable to forget (as we habitually do) that such darkness persists, a leviathan just beyond every limit of reason? Writer Georges Bataille once mused, “The philosopher through his discourse . . . ‘mirrors the empty sky’ with less honesty than the madman. . . .” Goya—who painted the inhabitants of Spanish asylums—might have added that since the madman’s irrational honesty is unintelligible from this side of reason, art is left to bridge the gulf, communicating the most difficult truths.

Douglas Cushing earned his BFA at the Rhode Island School of Design and his MA in art history at the University of Texas at Austin. His master’s thesis, written under the supervision of Linda Dalrymple Henderson, examines Marcel Duchamp’s relationship with the writings of the Comte de Lautréamont. Douglas is currently a PhD student in art history at the University of Texas at Austin working on exchanges between art and literature in the avant-garde. He is the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Prints and Drawings, and European Paintings at the Blanton Museum of Art.

For further reading:

Bataille, Georges. “Nietzsche’s Madness.” Trans. Annette Michelson. October, special issue: George Bataille: Writings on Laughter, Sacrifice, Nietzsche, Un-knowing. Vol 36 (1986): 42-55.

Breton, André. Manifestos of Surrealism. Trans. Richard Seaver and Helen Lane. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1969.

Fort, Ilene Susan, Teresa, Dawn Ades, and Terri Geis. In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2012.

Michel Foucault, History of Madness. Trans. Jonathan Murphy. London: Routledge, 2006.

Goya and the Spirit of Enlightenment. Exh. Cat. edited by Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez and Eleanor A. Sayre. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1989.

Harris, Tomás. Goya: Engravings and Lithographs. Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1964.

Herr, Richard. The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1958.

Hughes, Robert. Goya. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.

La Tauromaquia: Goya, Picasso and the Bullfight, Exh. Cat. edited by Verna Curtis and Selma Holo. Milwaukee Art Museum, 1985.

Paquette, Gabriel B. Enlightenment, Governance, and Reform in Spain and Its Empire, 1759-1808. New York: Plagrave Macmillan, 2008.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., and Julián Gállego. Goya: The Complete Etchings and Lithographs. New York: Prestel, 1995.

Schulz, Andrew. “Moors and the Bullfight: History and National Identity on Goya’s Tauromaquia.” The Art Bulletin, Vol. 90, No. 1 (June, 2008): 195-217.

Tomlinson, Janis A. Francisco Goya Y Lucientes, 1746-1828. London: Phaidon, 1994.

Tomlinson, Janis A. “Francisco José Goya y Lucientes: Approaching Los Disparates.” Romance Quarterly, Vol. 54m No. 1 (2007): 3-8.

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Volunteering Provides Insights for Career Choices

Volunteers at the BlantonVolunteers at the Blanton have a variety of opportunities to see first-hand what it takes to run an art museum. Currently, there are nearly 60 university students from UT and other Austin-area colleges and universities who are exploring options for museum careers by helping us operate the Blanton on a daily basis. If museum work is something that interests you, spending time at the Blanton will help you learn what our various departments do, what individual staff members work on, and how it all comes together for an exhibition opening or day-to-day school tours.

Volunteer jobs are often as simple as providing visitors with information or monitoring galleries during parties and events. Even though they are easy to do, we couldn’t run the museum’s programs and events without this extra help. In exchange, volunteers get to experience the programs, events, films, lectures, etc. and learn more about how we do what we do. It’s like having an appointment twice a month to come to the museum and catch up on the latest exhibitions while helping us keep things lively and engaging for various audiences.

One story of a current volunteer involves an early decision to pursue a career as a curator. As a high school student, being a museum curator seemed like a fascinating career journey that would combine complex ideas, travel, visual creativity, administration of projects, and working with high level donors. After several years of helping in various routine jobs around the museum, this volunteer is still at the Blanton and now a junior at UT. After a summer on a Fulbright scholarship to Russia she is back again, this time for a different type of volunteer job. She will be helping in the Prints and Drawings department with research and background work on various works of art and exhibitions. She is one step closer to her dream and also to finding out if this is the career path for her.

FiftyFest_IMG_4812Something great about volunteering that might seem to be a bummer at first glance is finding out you DON’T want to work at a museum. I recently heard from a summer intern who let me know that her experience here was very valuable. She learned about the museum and the various career opportunities in general that a museum offers and decided that these careers were not a perfect fit for her. She says now that it helped her so much to rule those possibilities out of her career journey.   She wrote:

I know it has been a while, but I just wanted to thank you for giving me such a positive internship experience. Although I’ve decided to pursue another career path in art, I really think my time at the Blanton gave me the push towards assessing my professional strengths and interests. Because it was my first internship, I might have been too anxious to really appreciate the time you took to explain things to me. I have had a few more internships since then and have learned that not all places properly mentor their interns let alone engage with them. I know this e-mail seems quite out of the blue, but I’ve just been thinking about my experiences lately and wanted to share some of my thoughts.

Having worked in art museums for over 16 years, I know that I enjoy the culture, staff members and visual stimulation that this environment provides. If you know someone who is considering a museum career, encourage them to spend time in a museum on the other side of the information desk. It will help them to imagine if museums are a good fit for their career or not. Every personality and every set of skills can be utilized at a museum. It’s more about the type of work we do that may stand the test of time and feel like the right fit.

Martha Bradshaw joined the Blanton in 2005, where she has been Manager of Visitor and Volunteer Services for almost ten years. For information about volunteering at the Blanton, email Martha at

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Conceptual Art and Politics in Latin America

On November 7, internationally recognized sculptor and installation artist Doris Salcedo presented a lecture at the Blanton on her work and its connection to political history. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Salcedo makes art using specific historical events—both from Latin America and abroad—as entry points for issues of global resonance, like political violence and discrimination. A small installation of Salcedo’s work is on view in conjunction with the talk. Though international in scope, Salcedo’s body of work is in dialogue with a vital history of political and conceptual art from South America—an area well represented in the Blanton’s collection. Many artists began using conceptual or subversive strategies in earnest during the 1970s and ’80s, when oppressive military dictatorships emerged across the region.

Cildo Meireles, Zero Dollar, 1984, offset lithograph, 2 3/4 x 6 1/4 in., Anonymous gift, 2003
Cildo Meireles, Zero Dollar, 1984, offset lithograph, 2 3/4 x 6 1/4 in., Anonymous gift, 2003

In Brazil, artists endeavored to make works that could circumvent official state censorship. One such artist was Cildo Meireles, who Blanton visitors may know best through his permanent installation Missão/Missões [Mission/Missions] (How to Build Cathedrals). Rather than make paintings or prints to hang on a gallery wall, Meireles utilized everyday objects and existing circuits of exchange—like the circulation of currency and the recycling system—to disseminate his art. Zero cruzeiro (1974-1978) and Zero Dollar (1984) are two such works in the Blanton’s collection. The two “counterfeit” banknotes question the value ascribed to currency and underscore its symbolic link to the nation. They also carry more historically specific meanings: in the case of the cruzeiro, the repeated devaluation of Brazil’s currency beginning in the late 1960s; and, in the case of the dollar, U.S. domination of the global economy. With the intent of stimulating conversation and debate, Meireles distributed versions of his Zero cruzeiro (and corresponding Zero centavo coin) within Brazil.

Eugenio Dittborn
Eugenio Dittborn, No Tracks (Airmail Painting No. 13), 1983, photo screenprint, 68 7/8 x 57 5/16 in., Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1991

Another South American artist working to evade government censorship during this period was Eugenio Dittborn of Chile. In 1983, a decade into the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Dittborn developed a form of circulating art that would become his trademark. The artist applied found images and texts, using various artistic processes, to large sheets of brown wrapping paper. He then folded the compositions down to a fraction of their size and mailed them to international destinations. For one such “Airmail Painting,” No Tracks (Airmail Painting No. 13), Dittborn transferred mug shots of women found in old detective magazines on to the paper. The portraits evoke images of desaparecidos, those mysteriously abducted or killed under military regimes in Chile, Argentina, and elsewhere. By distributing his work on inconspicuous materials via the postal service, Dittborn bypassed the normal barriers to entry of the art market (such as the high cost of shipping a work on canvas). He also succeeded in communicating coded messages about Chile’s political climate to the outside world, thereby, in his words, “[salvaging] memory within a political climate that attempted to erase virtually every trace of it.”

Luis Camnitzer
Luis Camnitzer, He feared thirst, plate 18 from Uruguayan Torture Series, 1983, four-color photo etching on chine collé, 29 3/8 x 21 3/4 in., Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1992

Artists living abroad were able to respond more freely to the political instability in their native countries. Luis Camnitzer, a Uruguayan artists and activist, was living in New York when Uruguay fell under a repressive military dictatorship. He was deeply affected by the regime’s human rights abuses, which he learned about from friends and colleagues who had remained there. Camnitzer’s commitment to socially responsible art led him to create the Uruguayan Torture Series, in which he subtly employed visual and textual devices to evoke the psychological trauma of torture. Closely cropped and printed in a soft, ethereal palette, the images seem inviting on first glance. It is only upon another look that text and image interact to reveal more ominous implications. Camnitzer hoped that these images would awaken a world audience to the crimes being committed in his home country.

An installation of Salcedo’s work will be on view in the Blanton’s Klein Gallery from Nov. 7 to Feb. 22, 2015.

Beth Shook is the Blanton’s Curatorial Associate for Latin American art. She holds an M.A. in Art History from George Mason University, where she specialized in 20th-century Latin America.

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Enio Iommi
Línea continua, c. 1949-52
Stainless steel,
9 5/8 x 11 ¾ x 11 ¾ in.
Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate

Celebrating Latin American Art at the Blanton this Fall

As you may have seen in the Houston ChronicleHyperallergic, and elsewhere, we are thrilled to share that the Blanton has been gifted approximately 120 modern and contemporary Latin American artworks from UT alumni Judy and Charles Tate of Houston. In addition, the Tates have made a major contribution towards the endowment that supports the museum’s Latin American curatorship. Their collection—the entirety of which will ultimately come to the Blanton—includes painting, drawing, prints, sculpture, and mixed media works by artists Tarsila do Amaral, Lygia Clark, Frida Kahlo, Carlos Mérida, Wifredo Lam, Armando Reverón, Diego Rivera, Alejandro Xul Solar, and Joaquín Torres-García, among others. Spanning the early 20th century to the present, the gift features many of the artists who were key to the creation of modernism in Latin America. 

Enio Iommi Línea continua, c. 1949-52 Stainless steel, 9 5/8 x 11 ¾ x 11 ¾ in. Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate
Enio Iommi
Línea continua, c. 1949-52
Stainless steel,
9 5/8 x 11 ¾ x 11 ¾ in.
Promised gift of Judy and Charles Tate

For over fifteen years, the Tates have built a collection that complements the museum’s existing holdings of more than 2,100 Latin American objects. Highlights include: an ethereal painting by Armando Reverón from the 1920s; a 1946 graphite drawing by Frida Kahlo and a cubist period drawing by Diego Rivera; two paintings and an ink drawing by Wifredo Lam spanning his time in France in the late 1930s to his return to Cuba in the 1940s; a 1951 surrealist painting by Leonora Carrington; a 1953 glass mosaic by Carlos Mérida—a playful fusion of abstraction and figuration; mid-20th-century kinetic and concrete works by important artists Jesús Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Lygia Clark, Willys de Castro, Lothar Charoux, Mira Schendel, and Hélio Oiticica; and contemporary works by Fernando Botero, Waltercio Caldas, Jorge Macchi, and Sebastián Gordín.

From September 20, 2014 – February 15, 2015, the Blanton will present a selection of approximately 70 works from the collection. Entitled La línea continuathe exhibition takes its name from an elegant sculpture from the collection by Enio Iommi: a stainless steel “line” that traces an infinite loop in space. The work is also a fitting metaphor for the continual and nourishing connection between Judy and Charles Tate, the University of Texas, and the Blanton.

To bookend and contextualize the works in La línea continua, the Blanton has organized two counterpart installations that together span much of the history, culture, and geography of Latin America.

Re-envisioning the Virgin Mary: Colonial Painting from South America features seven paintings on loan from two of the country’s most distinguished collections of colonial South American art—the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, New York, and the Marilynn and Carl Thoma Collection, Chicago. The paintings, created in what are now the countries of Peru and Venezuela, represent devotions to Mary that were popular in Spain in the 17th and 18th centuries and brought to the Americas by Spanish colonists.

On the contemporary front, a selection of works from internationally recognized artist Doris Salcedo will be displayed. Salcedo addresses themes of loss and mourning with works that cross international boundaries. Employing domestic objects such as furniture and clothing—once activated and personal—her sculptures explore the history of violence and oppression in her native Colombia and beyond, giving voice to the marginalized, missing, or deceased.

Looking for more Latin American art from our collection? Visit our website, or check out our Pinterest board with works from the collection and the Tate gift. Don’t miss seeing these incredible works of Latin American art at the Blanton this season!

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WorkLAB Satellites: An Interview with Artist Leslie Mutchler

To further its efforts to serve as a hub for inspiration and site for creativity, the Blanton has commissioned artist Leslie Mutchler to create new works of art to be used as creativity stations within the museum. Titled WorkLAB Satellites,the 40 x 90 inch mobile and flatpack workstations will supplement the Blanton’s WorkLab program—a series of open studio experiences offered to children and their families each summer.

Photo by Deborah Cannon for Austin360
Leslie Mutchler in front of the WorkLAB Satellites. Photo by Deborah Cannon for Austin360

Cut from birch plywood on a CNC router, each of the workstations is designed to be configured and reconfigured in a multitude of ways; changing the look of the work environment in conjunction with new projects. Window-like openings will enable visitors of all ages to engage in conversation as they create.  The stations will be stocked with everyday materials such as tape, paper, pencils, stencils and chipboard. Simple directives in English and Spanish will offer instruction for creating paper sculpture, collage and weaving, among other projects.

To introduce the project, we sat down with Leslie to interview her about her creative process and how WorkLAB Satellites came to be.

How did the idea for these creativity stations originate? What drew you to collaborating with the Blanton on this project?

For the last six years, my work has become more and more participatory. I installed a project titled tumblrEAL at Gensler Global Architecture in Austin in the spring of 2012. The project consisted of cardboard (temporary) furniture (shelving, sawhorses, and wall frames) that housed a large assortment of digitally printed images sourced from my personal tumblr site. I installed the project as a way to give the architects at Gensler (sitting behind computers and surrounded by gray cubicles) something visually striking to look at and also something to physically engage in. All of the prints were hole punched and could be easy moved from one location to another, providing endless ways in which an interested viewer could sort through and curate visual information. This level of participation has been increasingly more important in my work in the last few years as I am invested in collaboration and the notion of flux within my work. In late 2012 I developed TrendFACTORY as a production-based participatory project, in which I ask the audience to make three-dimensional forms from printed and pre-scored chipboard using limited materials and tools. I provide the maker with simple instructions and ask that the final object be documented (by the use of a smartphone or camera) and uploaded to an online archive.

Ray Williams, Director of Education and Academic Affairs at the Blanton Museum, approached me in the late spring of 2013, after he had seen TrendFACTORY at the Visual Art Center on UT Campus. He and I talked at length about the project, our interests in creating a work space for people to make and share with one another, and thus he asked me if I was interested in proposing a similar project to the Blanton, but on a larger scale. I was thrilled to engage in such a challenge- and we were off and running.

Can you explain the significance of the name “WorkLAB Satellites?” What do you hope to connote with this title?

I think there is a common misconception that an artist spends time in their studio messing around in hopes that something good might come from the time spent. While play is an important aspect of the artist’s studio practice more important is the notion of work. When I go to my studio, I work. I read, I research, I study materials and processes, I calculate and imagine outcomes and most importantly I work hard to design and create installations or projects that will invite a particular response and read from my viewer. In short- working in my studio is work. It’s the work that I’m most happy to engage in, but it’s work none-the-less. The word “lab” is in reference to the idea of the laboratory- or a place where experimentation and play takes place.

The word “satellites” references the modularity and ever-changing composition and make-up of the work environment. WorkLAB Satellites can be installed and deinstalled quickly; it can change formation; house different materials and processes; and is in constant dialogue with the Blanton’s permanent hands-on studio for making, WorkLAB.

Photo by Deborah Cannon for Austin360
The WorkLAB Satellites installed at the Blanton. Photo by Deborah Cannon for Austin360

Why are these artworks designed to be interactive, and what do you hope participants will get out of the experience?

It is my hope that through these guided projects, making use of simple but rich materials and processes, the user can experience a high-level of engagement with the making of a creative work. I believe a person, regardless of familiarity with the art world, can bring a wide range of aesthetic and cultural knowledge to their creative work practice. Essentially, they put themselves into that thing. This too is what artists do; it’s why we become so attached to the things that we make. As artists we know that work starts with an idea (whether that be small or grand). One can imagine and perhaps see it in their mind, but ultimately the thing that they are making/ writing/ composing never ends up looking like what was imagined. This, I think, is the lynchpin of creative practice; learning to see and appreciate results that might not have been planned. I want to give that experience to a person (a non-maker/ non-artist) so that they might find a new appreciation for the trials and tribulations of the creative practice.

The IKEA effect, coined by Associate Professor, Michael Norton at the Harvard Business School, is a study that proves the increase of valuation for handmade products. This psychological phenomenon essentially tells us that our labor leads to love. People that make an object with their hands (from baked goods to IKEA furniture) are inclined to be more attracted to their results as opposed to those results stemming from external efforts. By giving an individual materials and guidelines for making I am empowering that person to find value in using their hands.

What role does social media play in the artwork? What is the importance of documenting the work, and how do you achieve that in your directions?

The photos I ask the maker to take and upload exist as a way to document what happens in the work space. The online archive serves as a way for people to revisit that experience of making and for people from around the world to view that experience without actually having to be there or participate. The archive also serves a cross-section of the cyclical nature of aesthetics and a look into the current hand skills of the public.

We are surrounded by social media in all other aspects of our lives. We document experiences, travel, events and moments and send it out into the world for instant gratification. Why shouldn’t we want the same from our creative endeavors and struggles. It’s my belief that social media, while primarily is a social tool, also facilitates learning and investigation. We research, seek and engage with like- minded people and projects, and we seek to connect to a larger world to achieve greatness.

WorkLab Satellites is made possible by a grant from Texas Women for the Arts.


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Sol LeWitt Comes to Campus

23-smallIn February, the Blanton Museum of Art opened a new exhibition exploring the art and lives of Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt. Converging Lines showcases the artists’ work and highlights how their friendship had a significant impact on each other’s artistic output.

Sol LeWitt was a pioneer in minimal and conceptual art. His instruction-based wall drawings redefined the concept of artistic authorship, which LeWitt defined as the artist’s ideas rather than the stroke of the artist’s hand. The wall drawings featured in the exhibition were created by representatives from LeWitt’s estate and students from UT, following LeWitt’s instructions to install the work.

LewittLandmarks, the public art program, brought two LeWitt pieces to the University of Texas campus. Both are located at the Bill and Melinda Gates Dell Computer Science Complex. Outside of the Speedway entrance to the building, LeWitt’s Circle with Towers greets students as they enter. Directly inside the north building of the complex is Wall Drawing #520: Tilted forms with color ink washes superimposed. In keeping with LeWitt’s philosophy that that the concept behind a work of art was more important than its execution, both works were drafted by the artist and originally constructed or drawn at a different time and location. When acquired on long-term loan by Landmarks, the two works were executed by a team of art professionals here on campus.

Converging Lines is on view at the Blanton Museum of Art until May 18, 2014. View a map of Landmarks’ artworks, on view at all times at

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Sebastian Smee at the Blanton Museum

It is rare when a speaker absolutely grabs you the moment he or she opens their mouth, but Sebastian Smee did exactly that.  As an expert storyteller, and a smart and lyrical writer, the audience was smitten.  This past Saturday April 12, the Pulitzer Prize winning, Boston Globe art critic, Sebastian Smee, presented a portion of his working manuscript for his book on artistic friendships at the Blanton Museum of Art. While the forthcoming book will focus on four sets of artistic friendships including: Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning, Smee presented only a portion of his research on the lesser-known and extremely complex friendship between Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon. The story he wove was fascinating and filled with unexpected twists. Smee’s ability to convey the details and nuances of a personal and complex relationship allowed his listeners to deeply connect to the characters and maybe even make connections to their own lives and histories. Although he apologized for reading parts of his manuscript, the audience was unfazed and hung on his every word.

Freud's Wanted PosterSmee began his story by focusing on a troubling event. In 1988, Freud’s portrait of Francis Bacon was stolen from a Lucien Freud retrospective at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. The stolen portrait, a study of Bacon’s face, was a small painting, seven inches by five inches, and bursting with latent tension. The art critic, Robert Hughes, compared the intensity of the likeness to that of a grenade a fraction of a second before it explodes. As Freud was preparing for his 2002 retrospective at the Tate Modern in London, he made an uncharacteristic plea in the press for the return of the painting, politely asking, “would the person who holds the painting kindly consider allowing me to show it in my exhibition next June?”  Freud even created a wanted poster featuring plain lettering, a black and white image of the stolen work and a generous reward. The publicity team tasked with trying to recover the painting, plastered 2,500 of these posters throughout Germany, and it was reproduced in international newspapers and websites. Freud’s painting of Bacon was never returned and the Tate retrospective took place without it.

The painting was important to Freud not only because it bridged the divide between his early work and his later, more mature style, but also because it was Freud’s connection to—as Smee asserts—the most important relationship of his life.  From Smee’s description, Bacon was the charismatic and spontaneous life of the party whose penchant for gambling often led him to the roulette tables of Monte Carlo. Bacon’s ability to charm and gather people around him mesmerized Freud.  His artwork was revolutionary and captured his electrifying emotion and grenade-like tenacity that was not only his painting style, but also his lifestyle.

Bacon portrait of Freud
Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud (detail), 1969, oil on canvas, © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved.

Freud himself professed that it was Bacon’s attitude that he admired most and commented that the way in which Bacon worked as an artist related to how he felt about life.  Bacon believed that “only by going too far can you go far enough,” which is how many describe his artwork.  According to Freud’s friend and early lover, Ann Dunn, Freud harbored a hero, worshipping crush on Bacon.  Smee made it clear that Freud was very different than his boisterous friend, quoting the critic Laurence Gowing who said that Freud’s effect on others was not social or intellectual, but rather visceral; a “coiled vigilance, a sharpness which one could imagine venom.”

Smee reminded the audience that both men carried the names of their famous relatives; Lucien Freud was the grandson of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and Francis Bacon was a descendant of Sir Francis Bacon, the English Renaissance philosopher and chancellor.  Freud had arrived in London in 1933; he and his family had narrowly escaped Nazi Germany, due, in large part to his family name and high-level intercessions at the government level. Bacon had arrived in London in 1926 at the age of sixteen when his father, a belligerent, retired army captain, had thrown him out of the house when he caught his son wearing women’s clothes.

Smee expertly details the story of their intense friendship and honors his readers and listeners by not shying away from the complexity of it.  He notes that the relationship between Freud and Bacon was asymmetrical; Bacon was eleven years older and more established as an artist.  Since Bacon’s paintings were selling well, he would often give Freud money without hesitation.  They spent decades fostering a very intense friendship. There were periods of many years where they would see each other every day, spending hours in each other’s studios and homes. They both embarked on amorous relationships that sparked self-destructive behavior in each.  Freud left his wife for Caroline Blackwood, an heiress.  Bacon found himself in a sado-masochistic relationship with the ex RTA fighter pilot and accomplished piano player, Peter Lacey. When Freud’s marriage to Blackwood dissolved five years later, Freud spiraled into despair.  Bacon would ask mutual friends to keep an eye on Freud and make sure he didn’t hang himself.

Sebastian SmeeIt was clear that Smee had done his research. Throughout the lecture Smee quoted his interview with Freud, bringing the story to life by noting how the artist recalled his friendship with tenderness and sadness. According to Smee, Freud marks the beginning of the deterioration of the friendship to the moment when Bacon was hospitalized after Lacey threw him out of a window.  When Freud saw Lacey with Bacon in the hospital, he reacted angrily and Bacon was upset with Freud for interfering with his love life.  For many years they continued to see each other within their circle of friends, but they were never able to regain the closeness they once had.

Smee notes that life and relationships are messy and complex, and they are very rarely as reductive as they are often portrayed.  As is the case with Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse, Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon’s friendship was surrounded by a circle of friends and co-conspirators.  As Lucy Lippard points out, “Influence among artists is never as specific as art historical shorthand makes it out to be.” What we gain from multiple perspectives and accounts of history allows for a fuller, more nuanced depiction of a period of time and relationships between people.

I, like many in the crowd last Saturday, am anticipating the publication of Smee’s book so that I might learn more about the inner lives of other artists I have long admired.

Amethyst Beaver is a curatorial assistant at the Blanton Museum of Art.

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Save the date for annual ACC Concert Crawl!


WEATHER UPDATE, 4/6: It’s raining! This means we’re going with the inclement weather plan for today’s Austin Cultural Campus Spring Concert Crawl. Instead of one of the four spots being Mark di Suvero’s sculpture, we’ll be in the POB atrium (at Speedway & 24th) where Deborah Butterfield’s horse sculpture, “Vermillion”, is on view. All other locations are the same. See you soon! 

Austin’sCultural Campus (ACC) is looking forward to co-hosting the annual spring Concert Crawl on Sunday, 6 April with free admission and live music. This innovative and fun music concert series is co-presented with the Butler School of Music. A series of short, informal music concerts performed by talented students of the Butler School of Music will be presented at four of Austin’s most popular cultural destinations. Concert programs will begin at 1:00pm, 2:00pm, and 3:00pm at each venue. Each mini-concert will feature a variety of music masterworks specifically chosen to respond to the art and collections exhibited at the museums. Travel from each location to hear all four music programs, and enjoy an inspiring afternoon of music, history, art, and fun. Kick off the afternoon at whichever spot you like, and then visit the rest in the order that strikes your fancy. The weather is predicted to be sunny, beautiful, and in the low to mid 70s.

A trombone quartet will perform a selection of trombone quartets at Mark di Suvero’s Clock Knot in Landmarks’ public art collection (the tall red abstract sculpture located on the lawn at the corner of East Dean Keeton & Speedway streets). At the Harry Ransom Center (300 West 21st Street), a string quartet will perform Beethoven’s Opus 59, No. 1. At the Blanton Museum of Art (200 E Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard), a piano trio will perform Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons. And right across the street from the Blanton, The Bullock Texas State History Museum (1800 Congress Avenue, will feature a wind quartet performing John Harbison’s Quintet for Winds.

Mark di Suvero's "Clock Knot"
Mark di Suvero’s “Clock Knot”

We’d love to see pics of your experience! Share with us at #ATXCulturalCampus.

Rain or shine. See you there!




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