Blanton Museum’s ‘Assembly’ Highlights New Acquisitions by Black Artists

Like mainstream museums and cultural institutions around the world, the Blanton Museum of Art works to align its activities with today’s consideration of racial justice and systemic inequality.

Although the University of Texas Museum pioneered the collection and study of Latin American art, its permanent collection of more than 21,000 works of art is, unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly white, masculine and eurocentric.

With 19 works by a dozen artists, “Assembly: New Acquisitions by Contemporary Black Artists” is not a substantive corrective. But it’s a smart sample of art made over the past few decades.

The acquisitions come to the Blanton thanks to an anonymous donor who gave the museum $200,000 a year for three years for the express purpose of purchasing works by contemporary black artists.

“As a descendant of slavers, she was keen to support art that sparks critical thinking and conversations around race,” the Blanton offers in her official language, adding that a catalog is planned that “will amplify voice of emerging writers and conservatives of color”. ”

“Assembly” includes stars like Lorna Simpson and Nari Ward, and rising stars like Kevin Beasle. There are also important alumni, like Noah Purifoy, the late co-founder of the Watts Towers Art Center, and two quiltmakers from Gee’s Bend, Arie Pettway and Sally Mae Pettway Mixon,

Kevin Beasley’s “SlabX II” (2019) is a double-sided sculpture, from the artist’s series of large-scale “slabs” made primarily of raw cotton harvested near his family home in Virginia, as well as clothing found and other materials. Image courtesy of the Blanton Museum of Art.
Nari Ward’s ‘Spellbound’ (2015) features a salvaged upright piano covered in Spanish moss and hundreds of used keys, evoking ‘lost’ spaces that no longer exist. On the back of the piano is a video documenting the sounds, sights, and people the artist encountered in Savannah, Georgia, what the artist calls the city’s “forgotten stories.” Image courtesy of Blanton Museum of Art

It’s perhaps unsurprising that several of the “Assembly” artists have Texas connections.

The Blanton already has a few pieces of Austin’s hometown heroine Deborah Roberts in its collection. Now he adds the collage painting “It’s not feminine no. 1” (2019).

Installation view of “Assembly: New Acquisitions by Contemporary Black Artistswith photographs by Genevieve Gaignard, left, and “That’s not ladylike no. 1″ (2019) right. Image courtesy of Blanton Museum of Art
Genevieve Gaignard, “Blackish”, 2018, chromogenic print, 81 x 121 cm. Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Purchase through the generosity of an anonyme citizen, 2020 (photo: © Genevieve Gaignard, courtesy the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles)

Geneviève Gaignard had a stunning solo exhibition at UT Art Galleries at Black Studies in 2019, so it’s great that the Blanton now has some of her fascinating large-scale photography. Her highly scenic self-portraits challenge stereotypes of race, class, gender and beauty.

Robert Pruitt
Robert Pruitt received an MFA from the University of Texas in 2003. Left, ‘Untitled (Canneling Uhura)’, 2016. Conté, pastel, colored pencil and charcoal on tea-dyed paper, and right , “Sup”, 2018 Conté and pastel on coffee dyed paper. Image courtesy of Blanton Museum

Houston native Robert Pruitt earned an MFA from UT in 2003, at the time one of the few black graduates from the university’s master’s-level visual arts program since its founding in 1961. Always focused on black body representation, Pruitt has done some impressive things. , masterfully large-scale figurative drawings as a graduate student, and he continues this practice. Pruitt was included in the Whitney Biennial in 2006 and in 2013 had a solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Cauleen Smith
Cauleen Smith, “Light Up Your Life (For Sandra Bland)”, 2019. Neon, plexiglass, faceted hematite and aluminum chain. Image courtesy of the Blanton Museum of Art.

Cauleen Smith served on the faculty of UT’s Department of Broadcasting from 2001 to 2007 and was prominent in the Austin arts scene at the time. More recently, she created her neon piece “Light Up Your Life” during a 2019 residency at Artpace in San Antonio, moved by the death of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in police custody after being arrested. during a traffic check. Smith’s neon banner alternately flashes an “I will light up your life” and “I will light up you”, the latter statement shouted at Bland by Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia.

Smith will give an online artist talk at noon on February 16. Register on Curated Conversations: Cauleen Smith

“I wanted to play with that threat, ‘I’ll enlighten you,’ by finding a response that neutralizes it,” Smith wrote of his post. “And so this flashing neon is a dance, a song, a battle, a protest, a memento mori that collectivizes Sandra Bland’s resistance, reclaims her sovereignty, and reifies how black culture is inextricably woven into the national. identities and cultures.

“Assembly: New Acquisitions by Contemporary Black Artists” continues through May 8 at the Blanton Museum of Art,

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