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Blanton Museum of Art breaks ground on first new home uniting collections, programs, educational facilities and public spaces

The University of Texas at Austin and the Blanton Museum of Art held a groundbreaking ceremony today (Oct. 19) for the Blanton’s new home.

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AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin and the Blanton Museum of Art held a groundbreaking ceremony today (Oct. 19) for the Blanton’s new home.

The new museum encompasses state-of-the-art facilities for presenting the Blanton’s exceptional collection and dedicated spaces for teaching and research. Blanton officials also presented an updated design for the new museum complex, which is being designed by Kallmann McKinnell and Wood Architects, Inc. Providing increased gallery space for the presentation of the Blanton’s permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, the new facility will also include spaces for traveling exhibitions, lectures, classroom instruction and conservation. It includes community gathering places, a bookstore, café, and sculpture garden.

The Blanton’s collection—the foremost in central Texas—has been growing rapidly. It has most recently been enhanced through the gift of more than 3,200 prints assembled by Leo Steinberg, one of the preeminent art historians of our era. The new museum facility will allow the Blanton to display more of its collection for the benefit and enjoyment of students, scholars and faculty at The University of Texas at Austin, as well as the people of Austin and visitors from around the world. The new Blanton is scheduled to open in fall 2005.

The new facility will profoundly enhance the Blanton’s multiple roles as a center for teaching and study, a laboratory for innovative curatorial and educational research, a catalyst for cultural enrichment and the exchange of ideas across disciplines, and a leading destination for visitors to experience and enjoy art.

Composed of two buildings that face one another across a landscaped pedestrian passageway and plaza, the new facility will create an inviting public gathering space and form a gateway between the historic university campus and the Austin community. A 100,000-square-foot gallery building will house the museum’s collections and exhibitions. A 35,000-square-foot education, visitor services, and administration building (education building) will be the center of the museum’s programs that serve a range of audiences, including university students, school children and the public.

The Blanton has received significant support from patrons across the state and the country. During the groundbreaking ceremony, Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, president of The University of Texas at Austin, announced the naming of a number of spaces in the new facility in honor of individuals who have played pivotal roles in the museum’s progress toward completion of its capital campaign.

The gallery building will be named after Mari and James A. Michener in recognition of their longstanding support of the Blanton. In addition to their remarkable collection of 20th-century American paintings, the author and his wife made a very generous lead gift toward construction of the new museum.

The dramatic grand atrium in the gallery building will be named after Audre and Bernard Rapoport. Longtime supporters of the museum and the university, the Rapoports also made a significant leadership gift to the building campaign. Bernard Rapoport is vice chair of the Blanton Museum Council and was chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents from 1993 to 1997.

To date, the campaign for the construction of the new Blanton has received nearly $60 million in public and private funds toward its goal of $83.5 million. As the Blanton moves forward with construction, it continues to receive strong support.

During the ceremony, Faulkner also announced a new gift from the Susan Vaughan Foundation. The foundation is donating $250,000 to name the seminar room in the gallery building after Betty Osborne of Austin, Texas. Ms. Osborne, who serves on the board of the Susan Vaughan Foundation, has been a vocal advocate, an active volunteer, and a supporter of the museum for more than 20 years. Her role as a member of the Blanton Museum Council is the latest of many accomplishments. Betty helped found the museum’s most important membership group, the Director’s Circle, and was instrumental in the success of the Blanton’s inaugural gala in February 2002.

“We are delighted today to celebrate this milestone in creating a dynamic new home for the Blanton Museum of Art and its collections, programs, scholars, and visitors,” Faulkner said. “I want to thank the individuals who have been longtime stewards of this vision, especially Jack Blanton, the Rapoports, Betty Osborne, and the late Mari and James Michener. Their support of this vital resource for university students and faculty, the people of Austin, and our friends across Texas, is visionary. I know generations will be thankful for your commitment.”

The New Blanton Museum Complex

Near the heart of the city, at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Congress Avenue, the new Blanton will form a gateway between The University of Texas at Austin and the city of Austin. The two-building facility, along with its landscaped plaza, will be a gathering place for students and the public. The orientation of the museum complex will frame dramatic views of the State Capitol to the south and the university to the north. The museum will occupy more than 135,000 square feet, a dramatic increase from the 80,000 square feet used by the Blanton previously. The design will complement the more than 17,000 works of art in the Blanton’s collection, provide significant space for temporary exhibitions and enhance the range of experiences that visitors have with works of art.

The 100,000-square-foot gallery building will provide much-needed gallery space for the presentation of temporary exhibitions, as well as the Blanton’s growing permanent collection. On the ground floor, the interior space will transition gradually from the outside to a soaring, glass-covered atrium with a balcony on the north and west sides. Surrounding this light-filled space will be a 7,000-square-foot temporary exhibition gallery, where the museum will show major traveling exhibitions organized by the Blanton and other institutions.

Adjacent to this gallery is a dynamic, 1,500-square-foot “focus gallery” in which guest curators, faculty and graduate students can organize innovative, frequently changing exhibitions drawn from the museum’s expansive collections. In addition, the ground floor will house several dedicated teaching spaces: a seminar room and a multipurpose conference room each of which will be equipped with wireless technology and picture rails for viewing original works of art. Also on the first floor, the print and drawing study center will allow for the teaching and independent study of the Blanton’s encyclopedic collection of more than 15,000 works on paper. The center will include a state-of-the-art storage area, seminar room, viewing room, preparation areas, curatorial offices, and intern workstations, aiding the use of the museum’s resources by students and scholars across disciplines.

On the second floor, 28,500 square feet of permanent collection galleries will be organized in two concentric rings, with the more intimate inner galleries displaying prints and drawings and the larger outer galleries displaying paintings, sculptures, and other large-scale works. This distinctive arrangement will suggest links between works from different cultures and in different media, allowing the Blanton to display a larger portion of its permanent collection than was possible before and to present the collection from a range of different perspectives. A highly flexible lighting system will combine reflected natural light and artificial lighting to accommodate the stringent requirements of works in a variety of media. The second floor galleries include:

  • two large galleries and three smaller galleries dedicated to the collection of 20th-century American art, which encompasses nearly 400 works from 1900 to the present;
  • two large galleries and four smaller galleries showcasing the collection of 20th-century Latin American art, one of the largest and most significant public collections of Latin American art in the U.S. and one of the few in the world;
  • a corner gallery at the intersection of the 20th-century American and Latin American spaces that will be dedicated to exploring connections in the evolution of artistic techniques and movements from this diverse range of historical and cultural environments;
  • a suite of seven galleries for the presentation of European Old Master paintings, including the renowned Suida-Manning Collection of Renaissance and Baroque art;
  • five adjacent galleries to display the museum’s collection of more than 15,000 prints and drawings, the largest and most historically balanced collection in the South and Southwest;
  • galleries for the C.R. Smith Collection of Art of the American West and the museum’s focused teaching collection of ancient art;
  • intimate spaces among the galleries with views of the Texas State Capitol and The University of Texas at Austin campus, including a handsome library rotunda, that will be a comfortable and attractive place to relax and reflect or learn more about the works on view through printed and electronic resources, and a larger classical rotunda that will display the Blanton’s collection of 19th-century casts of Greek and Roman sculpture.

The 35,000-square-foot education building will include a range of spaces to encourage educational and social interaction, enabling Blanton staff to fulfill the museum’s dual role as a teaching and research institution and as a gathering place for the Austin and central Texas communities. This building will be the center for all of the Blanton’s educational functions and will include a 299-seat auditorium, a 60-seat lecture hall, and several classrooms, including a hands-on children’s classroom.

The state-of-the-art auditorium will be equipped for slide, video, or computer projection and is fundamental to the Blanton’s role as a multi-disciplinary teaching resource. It will become the premier space in which the museum will host a range of interpretive programs, including: lectures by visiting scholars, curators, artists and faculty; symposia; film screenings; community programs; concerts; docent training; and training for teachers in the public schools. The lecture hall and other classrooms will be used for university classes and public school groups, which bring thousands of students to the museum annually as part of course work in fine arts, liberal arts and the sciences. They will also be widely used for other Blanton educational programs, including: symposia and lectures by visiting artists, curators and scholars; docent training; and orientation for K-12 classes.

The Blanton’s position as a popular cultural destination will be enhanced by an elegant café and a bookstore and gift shop, along with spaces inside and surrounding both buildings that will be used for formal and informal gatherings and events. This building will also house offices for education and administrative staff.

“As one of the leading university art museums in the nation as well as a cornerstone of the Austin cultural community,” said Jessie Otto Hite, director of the Blanton Museum of Art, “this new facility will catapult the growth, study and presentation of our collections and serve as an inviting destination for the enjoyment of art. In fulfilling these needs, the new museum supports our mission and also establishes the Blanton as a vital center for interaction between the campus and broader community.”

The exterior of the buildings will elegantly integrate a range of rich materials, including multiple varieties of limestone, Texas granite, teakwood, and Venetian plaster, in façades that complement signature elements of the Spanish-Colonial Revival architecture seen throughout the campus. A tiara of skylights will crown the Spanish tile roof, bringing natural light into the museum during the day and encircling the structures with a warm light in the evening.

Large, single-paned glass windows will punctuate the second-floor corners of the gallery building. Along the façades, 16-foot deep exterior arcades with built-in granite benches will provide cool, open-air gathering places. Additional outdoor spaces, including a central plaza defined by the two buildings and a landscaped sculpture garden on the south side of the gallery building, will invite students, faculty, and visitors from Austin and beyond to meet and linger for personal reflection or social interaction.

Michael McKinnell has had principal responsibility for the Blanton’s building project on behalf of Kallmann McKinnell and Wood Architects, Inc., which is working in partnership with Booziotis and Company of Dallas.

“For more than three decades the Blanton’s collection was presented in two separate buildings and neither was originally designed for the display of art” said Michael McKinnell, co-founder and design director of Kallmann McKinnell and Wood Architects, Inc. “The design for the Blanton’s new facility will strengthen the enduring legacy of the Blanton’s art collection as well as the heritage of The University of Texas at Austin.

“This new home will provide dynamic spaces that respond directly to the art, support the continued growth of the collections, encourage the professional staff’s research and enhance the museum’s public programming, while gracefully underscoring the Blanton’s pivotal position within the university and Austin communities.”

The Blanton has raised more than $60 million in private and public funds toward its building construction goal of $83.5 million. Continued fundraising efforts will be supported by an advisory board, the Museum Council. Co-chaired by Jack S. Blanton of Houston and Kit Moncrief of Fort Worth, the 21-member Museum Council represents regions from throughout Texas and the nation, demonstrating the broad-based support the museum enjoys. Members of the Museum Council will provide leadership in the completion of the museum’s capital campaign and will serve as advocates for the Blanton, encouraging its continued growth and raising awareness of the integral role the museum plays in Texas’ educational and cultural communities.

The Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art

The Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art is one of the foremost university art museums in the country and the leading art museum serving the city of Austin and Central Texas. The Blanton’s permanent collection spans the history of Western civilization with more than 17,000 works of art from Europe, the United States, and Latin America. As a teaching museum, the Blanton is an important center for scholarship, research, and professional training in the visual arts. It also presents a wide range of special exhibitions and educational programs to the university and surrounding region. As the only encyclopedic art museum in the city, the Blanton also serves as a vital cultural cornerstone for Austin, contributing to the high quality of life for which the city is known. Through its role at The University of Texas at Austin, a flagship institution of higher learning in Texas, the Blanton enriches the cultural life of the entire state, helping people throughout Texas appreciate the history and role of the arts in their lives, work and communities.

For more information contact: Nicole Chism Griffin, Blanton Museum of Art, 512-232-1988.