In the Eye of the Beholder

By: Emily Fritz, youth and family program manager on February 14th, 2024

Last week while enjoying a girl’s trip to Texas with a childhood friend, I had the chance to explore the art scenes in Austin and San Antonio. Nine years ago, I lived in Austin during the summer months when the city was booming with art festivals and live music. I was constantly surrounded by different opportunities to explore the “Keep Austin Weird” vibe that the city is so well known for. While Austin and San Antonio are much quieter in the winter months, this trip brought opportunities to explore art in the cities that I missed when I resided there, now with the bonus knowledge I gained through my time here at the Woodson Art Museum.

Our first stop was one of the top university art museums in the country, the Blanton Museum of Art. Situated in the heart of downtown Austin, and on the University of Texas – Austin campus, this museum features more than 21,000 works in their permanent collection ranging from Greek pottery and European paintings to abstract expressionism and contemporary American and Latin American art. Upon entering the building, a hush falls over the space, encouraging you to take time to investigate the art around you, dive deeper, and question your interpretation of what’s before you. Even the docent-led tours exploring the space while we were there spoke in quieter tones and encouraged students to snap their fingers in appreciation of the art works after discussions were through. Occasionally, artworks would include a QR code that allowed viewers to participate in an experience called “Soundscapes” where Austin musicians, dancers, and performers responded to visual artworks with performances of their own.

Left to right: "Vivir: a saltos [To Live: By Leaps and Bounds]" by Rómulo Macció and "Missāo/Missōes [Mission/Missions] (How to Build Cathedrals)" by Cildo Meireles

Left to right: “Vivir: a saltos [To Live: By Leaps and Bounds]” by Rómulo Macció and “Missāo/Missōes [Mission/Missions] (How to Build Cathedrals)” by Cildo Meireles

One of the most unique installations on the Museum’s campus is Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, a building located between the visitor center building and gallery spaces. The only building designed by Ellsworth Kelly, and the last project before his death in 2015, this chapel-esque building challenge the idea of what art is for many who experience it. Entering it with my friend, who was ready to leave shortly after, was a remarkable experience as I felt I could sit and marvel at the building for the rest of the afternoon, watching the colored glass in each window shift and reflect in new ways as the day passed. I left itching to learn more about the history of the 2,715 square foot building, while my friend was itching to explore all the “weird” art that Austin had to offer, like the raccoon band displays we encountered as we ventured farther downtown.

Ellsworth Kelly's Austin at the Blanton Museum of Art.

Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin at the Blanton Museum of Art.

After Austin, we made our way to San Antonio, where we took in a very different artistic experience. Near the Alamo, lives the oldest cathedral in the United States, the San Fernando Cathedral. Every week, from Tuesday to Saturday, visitors are welcomed to view an art projection developed by international artist Xavier de Richemont that guides viewers through the historical discovery, settlement, and development of San Antonio. The Saga covers 7,000 square feet on the front of the cathedral, and features a light show using visual and audio narration to the story of this beautiful city. While we were prepared for this to be a “tourist trap” experience, we were struck by the intensity of the story and the immense detail depicted. It may have been starkly opposite to the work we experienced at the Blanton Museum of Art, but was striking in its own way.

San Fernando Cathedral displaying portions of The Saga

San Fernando Cathedral featuring The Saga

Each time I visit Texas, I find new experiences that I was to share with folks back home and am re-invigorated to explore diverse ways to present experiences to those in my community. While the experiences in Texas were worlds apart, it was an incredible reminder that art is in the eye of the beholder. Back at the Museum, I am excited to continue creating artistic experiences for visitors that allow them to explore a variety of works in ways that encourage investigation and curiosity. Anyone up for seeing a raccoon band?

Raccoon band featured at Allen's Boots in downtown Austin, Texas.

Raccoon band featured at Allen’s Boots in downtown Austin, Texas.

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