The Ransom Center celebrates the homecoming of one of its most famous and frequently borrowed art works, the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s “Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” (1940).
The painting is on display in the Ransom Center’s lobby through December 31, 2017.
Since 1990 the painting has been featured in exhibitions in more than 25 museums in the United States and around the world, including Australia, Canada, France, Spain, Mexico and Italy.
The painting was most recently on view at the New York Botanical Garden’s exhibition FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life, which had record-breaking attendance of more than 525,000 visitors.
Kahlo (1907-1954) taught herself how to paint after she was severely injured in a bus accident at the age of 18. For Kahlo, painting became an act of cathartic ritual, and her symbolic images portray a cycle of pain, death and rebirth.
Kahlo’s affair in New York City with her friend, the Hungarian-born photographer Nickolas Muray (1892-1965), which ended in 1939, and her divorce from the artist Diego Rivera at the end of the year, left her heartbroken and lonely. But she produced some of her most powerful and compelling paintings and self-portraits during this time.
Muray purchased the self-portrait from Kahlo to help her during a difficult financial period. It is part of the Ransom Center’s Nickolas Muray collection of more than 100 works of modern Mexican art, which was acquired by the Center in 1966. The collection also includes “Still Life with Parrot and Fruit” (1951) and the drawing “Diego y Yo” (1930) by Kahlo.
Enjoy programs related to the current exhibition, Frank Reaugh: Landscapes of Texas and the American West, including:
• Curator’s Tour with Peter Mears (September 16)
• Poetry on the Plaza with poems inspired by the American West (September 24)
• Discussion of Frank Reaugh’s life and work with contributors to the exhibition’s companion publication, Windows on the West (October 1)
• Twenty-Four Hours with the Herd performance featuring music by Graham Reynolds, projections, and 4-D effects (November 13; tickets required)
Join us for these literary events:
• “’Hearts with One Purpose Alone’: W. B. Yeats and the Irish Revolution” lecture by Roy Foster, with reception (October 22)
• A talk by Salman Rushdie (October 28; tickets available in September)
• Discussion with Jonathan Bate about his new biography, Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life (November 18)
Members receive exclusive invitations to deepen their engagement with the collections. Become a member for these opportunities.
• Director’s Reception and Open House featuring conservation, theater and performing arts, and more (November 4)
• Behind-the-scenes building tour with Cathy Henderson, Associate Director of Exhibitions (November 14)
Frank Reaugh (1860–1945) is one of the Southwest’s earliest and most distinguished artists. Working in the vein of American Impressionism, Reaugh (pronounced “Ray”) devoted his career to visually documenting the immense unsettled regions of the Southwest before the turn of the twentieth century. A restless and intrepid traveler, Reaugh sketched scenes while riding with cattlemen during the height of Texas’s historic roundups, and he led annual sketch trips to some of Texas’s most spectacular and remote locations. Drawing on more than 100 artworks from the Harry Ransom Center’s collection, as well as public and private collections across the state, the exhibition showcases Reaugh’s approach to landscape painting and his mastery of the pastel medium.
Join the online conversation with the hashtag #Reaugh.
The Visual Arts Center celebrates students of the Department of Art and Art History with three thesis exhibitions. The exhibitions will be open through May 16 and May 22–23 for the UT Austin graduation ceremonies. For more information about the shows:
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. LosDesastres 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.
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.
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.
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.
As you may have seen in the Houston Chronicle, Hyperallergic, 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.
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 continua, the 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!
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.
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.
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.
The Harry Ransom Center recently launched a new platform of digital collections on its website, which includes the World War I poster collection. More than 120 items from that collection can be viewed on the new platform. Some of these posters can also be seen in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition The World at War 1914–1918, which is on view through August 3.
In the era before broadcast radio and television, posters were one of the simplest and most powerful ways to coerce or inform the public. During the First World War, all the major powers produced posters to convey messages rapidly and efficiently.
The Ransom Center’s World War I poster collection illuminates the lived experience of the war from the point of view of everyday people worldwide. Lithographs in English, French, German, and Russian illustrate a wide spectrum of sentiments from military boosterism to appeals for public austerity. (English translations of foreign-language poster titles are available in the description of each item.) The posters document geo-political events and the social and economic transformations set in motion by the war. The role of women, new technologies, international aid, wartime economy, and food supply all feature prominently in the collection.
Explore the World War I poster collection to see more examples of artists using lithography to transform political ideas into persuasive compositions of image and text.
Ransom Center public services intern Elizabeth Lovero contributed to this blog post.
Please click on the thumbnails below to see larger images.