Assembly at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin: How to view the exhibition


On a south wall of the Blanton Museum of Art, flashing red and blue neon lights alternate from “Illuminate you” to “Illuminate your life”. It’s striking and it commands attention.

The neon banner is for Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in a 2015 Waller County jail after a traffic stop. He uses the words that a state soldier, Brian Encinia, said to Bland during the shutdown.

“I wanted to play with that threat, ‘I’ll enlighten you’, by finding an answer that neutralizes it. … And so that flashing neon is a dance, a sing-a-thon, a battle, a protest, a memento mori which collectivizes the resistance of Sandra Bland, claims its sovereignty and reifies the way black culture is inextricably woven into national identities and cultures, ”said artist Cauleen Smith, quoted in a label displayed near the coin .

“Light Up Your Life (For Sandra Bland)” is one of 19 pieces that Blanton has acquired through contributions from an anonymous donor over the past three years. The pieces are presented in “Assembly: New Acquisitions by Contemporary Black Artists”. The exhibit, which is in the Huntington Gallery, is open now and ends May 8.

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The exhibition presents 12 black artists and an assortment of mediums: paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and textiles. The donor, who is female, has given the Blanton $ 200,000 each year for three years to be devoted to contemporary black artists.

Robert Pruitt's pieces are part of

The majority of the works in “Assembly” are by living artists, including Deborah Roberts, an artist based in Austin. Deborah Roberts had a solo exhibition at the contemporary downtown Austin Jones Center this year.

The museum also has more black artists than ever in its contemporary collection, said Veronica Roberts, curator of modern and contemporary art at Blanton.

The donor thought the museum would end up showcasing maybe six artists, but they ended up with a dozen, Roberts said. She said anonymous donations happen very rarely.

“What will happen most often is that I will identify an artist or a colleague will identify an artist and say, ‘We would like to have this artist in our collection’, and we will actively go to some donors and see if we can withdraw. money. It takes months and sometimes it doesn’t work. It’s very rare for someone to give us money, ”said Roberts.

The Blanton was one of three or four other museums considered by the donor, Roberts said.

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“She was planning on talking to three or four different museums, and she met us and said, ‘Yeah, it’s done. This is the right solution, “” said Roberts. “It’s because she saw that there was a long-term commitment to social justice in our collection.”

The donor visited the Blanton and saw a play by Sonya Clark titled “Madame CJ Walker”. Clark created a portrait of Walker, a black woman who became the first self-made female millionaire in the United States, using black combs.

“I think (the donor) was really struck by this particular job and felt that it was really powerful, and that there was something we could lean on. something that we had ignored, in terms of social justice, ”said Roberts. .

When the museum hosted its Vincent Valdez exhibit in 2018, Roberts said they received comment cards from visitors saying it was the first time they had seen an artist with a similar last name to theirs. She said no one should walk into a museum without feeling seen or represented.

Le Blanton was among three or four other museums that an anonymous donor considered for the donations that made the museum's new exhibit possible.

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“This is something we think about a lot and want to improve, and I hope (‘Assembly’) will also inspire other people to help us create a better collection that better reflects the community, and that is fair. dynamic and forward thinking – think and spark conversations, ”said Roberts.

She added: “To me, art is like a big book. You get a glimpse of a totally different perspective than yours, so it’s not just about identifying yourself. be introduced to totally different perspectives from yours and challenge your own beliefs, thoughts and preconceptions. “

About Margaret L. Portillo

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