Date Archives November 2018

The Elisabet Ney Museum of Austin, TX

Today you are going to learn about the absolute badass Elisabet Ney. Born in 1833 and educated in Germany, Elisabet was so certain she wanted to pursue sculpture as her life’s work that she went on a weeks-long hunger strike to otherwise persuade her reticent parents. They eventually relented, and Elisabet became the first female student at the Munich Academy of Art. She was a very talented sculptor; her forms are exquisite and her expressions are subtle and lifelike. Elisabet was also a dedicated and outspoken women’s rights activist, riding horses astride like men, refusing to take her husband’s name, and her dedication to avoiding housework was so strong that she slept in a hammock just so she wouldn’t have to make a bed. What. A. Badass.

After her death in her studio in Austin, the studio and its contents were donated to the University of Texas Austin, under the condition that the contents would not be removed. Now, these originals and replicas are on display for the public to view for free five days a week, and appears to be a popular place for artists to come and sketch the grounds and her work. How wonderful that although it’s no longer an artist’s studio, art continues unabated.

Antique shopping around Austin Texas

When I was a kid, there was almost nothing worse than being dragged along on my mom’s antique hunting trips. Room upon room of stinky old things that I couldn’t touch, and the only redeeming feature was that occasionally we’d go to the antique shop that was inside a converted barn so I could go out to the yard and try to lure the wary horses over to the hot wire fence with a handful of grasses. (Verdict: none of them wanted to eat grass out of my grubby hand so badly that they were willing to risk a shock, but I kept trying.) So of course now that I’m an adult, I spend my time in antique shops touching EVERYTHING with my older-yet-still-grubby hands. I visited three while I was in the Austin area: here’s the lowdown on each.

Uncommon Objects

Uncommon Objects is an antique mall with a real knack for arranging items in an appealing way, especially via color palette: red and teal or all white or emerald or primarily light blue. It’s a striking effect and shows off everything to its best advantage, which make the store feel more like a boutique than a vendor collective. No photos are allowed inside and I respected that, hence no interior photos to show here, but if you look online you can see plenty of examples of what I’m talking about. The boutique feel comes at a cost, however, as it seemed to me that many items were priced significantly higher than they should have been. I bought a beautiful art nouveau picture frame from Uncommon Objects and have since seen it twice at other shops, both times for half of what I paid at Uncommon Objects which is a hell of a mark-up.

Austin Antique Mall

Now I’m gonna see these baskets everywhere, aren’t I? Damn Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon!

The Austin Antique Mall is a VERY large space, and it’s not as well-curated as either of the other two options here, but there are some real gems here at all price points if you’re willing to spend the time and do some digging (and if you’re not, you’re probably not in the mood to go antiquing anyway!).

Old World Antieks

The “moss” in his hand is the perfect touch.

Old World Antieks is about an hour outside of Austin in La Grange and it is worth the drive, with two showrooms, two warehouses, and an open-air barn stuffed full of amazing inventory: ornate carved doors and windows from around the world, stunning light fixtures, and basically everything else it would take to build an elaborate gothic temple. I had neither the funds nor the hauling capacity to bring home the vast majority of the things I oohed and aahed over (it tends toward the large and upscale, Willie Nelson mannequin and raccoon wearing chaps aside) but I was glad I’d made the last-second decision to pull over and check it out, and now that I know they have a website and they ship, I can look forward to never having money again. 

 

Blanton Museum, Austin, LBJ Presidential Library, and Skyspace

All of these places are on the University of Texas Austin’s campus, so I paid for parking, stuffed a raspberry kolache in my maw, and made a day of it.

Blanton Museum

Jacob Asking for Laban, Frencesco Castiglione, ca 1660-1710

The informational placard next to this piece identified it as representing “the Genoese fondness for animals in artwork, a taste stimulated by Northern European genre painting and depictions of keenly observed animals.:” I have keenly observed a lot of horses, and, not being familiar with this Biblical tale, can only assume that Laban is Jacob’s horse dealer and Jacob is REAL mad about the deformed horse Laban sold to him.

Suicide of Lucretia, Luca Cambiaso, 1565

Medieval animals are so ridiculous, I love them.

Casting the Runes [Tirando las Runas], Leonora Carrington, 1951

On its lower floor, the Blanton Museum featured a large exhibit by Ellsworth Kelly (the artist who also created the Austin installation on campus). I’m not much of a fan of minimalism or geometric color blocks, so Kelly’s work does not speak to me and I was much happier when I went upstairs and found their other galleries, particularly when I found some surrealism which was and is and probably will forever be my artistic movement bae. I was particularly thrilled to see a piece by Leonora Carrington, one of my favorite Surrealists, who infused her work with alchemy and Celtic mythology and the subversion of the feminine role.

Looking at their website now, I’m bummed that I missed their exhibit on photography and the American road trip, because that one also would’ve been right up my alley. 

Austin

This is a permanent structure on the University of Texas Austin’s campus, with the design concept gifted to the university by Ellsworth Kelly in January 2015. It was subsequently constructed and opened to the public in February 2018. It’s constructed like a chapel, with stained glass on three sides. The building’s exterior is striking, it transcribes Kelly’s work from the wall into the world. Rendered in this way, Kelly’s blocks of color are luminous and luscious, candy-like in their appeal. From the inside as light blazes through the glass, color plays over the walls. It’s not an easy structure to linger inside–the heat was oppressive even in March, and there’s nowhere to stand that doesn’t feel like it’s in the way of someone else’s camera, but it’s a rare thing to be able to stand inside of a non-architect’s artistic vision.

LBJ Presidential Library

I only had a brief thirty minutes to visit the LBJ Presidential Library and I spent five of them convincing the person at the front desk that, yes, I did want to buy a ticket at this late hour. I’d never been to a presidential library before and didn’t know what to expect, because apparently I didn’t have the intellectual curiosity to investigate the idea beforehand, satisfied to laugh without context at jokes like “Trump’s presidential library is just going to be 50 copies of The Art of the Deal“.

No, Melissa, a presidential library is meant to preserve papers, speeches, and essentially be the ultimate informational center about a given president. So the LBJ Presidential Library had floors and floors of materials only available to researchers, and then several floors accessible to visitors dedicated to the Johnson presidency (1963-1969), including replicas of both Lyndon B. Johnson’s office and the first lady, Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson’s office.

There were also examples of the white house china, campaign ephemera, and gifts that were given to the Johnsons on behalf of other nations–two that I took note of were golden swords from the UAE and Morocco, respectively. The gifts are there in part due to the Foreign Gifts and Declarations Act of 1966, which limited the dollar value of gifts presidents could accept ($390 in 2018) from foreign nations. Anything over that value is filed in the National Archive, and later is transferred to the Presidential Library when the president retires. These swords have to have been among the very first items to be affected by this rule change. And in doing some rudimentary research, I’ve found a lot of sources talking about how Johnson received a Burberry coat as a gift from the UK prime minister, tried it on, and upon finding the sleeves too short, sent his aides out running into the streets with the coat to chase down the prime minister to ask him to exchange it for the right size. However, I cannot find a single source that pinpoints the date upon which that coat was gifted and if it was the camelhair coat that made Congress act. Luckily, I know of a place in Texas where I could research this. 

My final stop on campus was at The Color Inside, a skyspace by James Turrell at the Student Activities Center. It’s a naked eye observatory (a room with a hole cut in the ceiling), and for an hour at sunrise and sunset, colored lights illuminate the walls inside the dome, creating an ever-changing colored frame around the sky that influences how you perceive its color. Reservations are required as the dome can only accommodate roughly thirty people. Silence is requested in the dome, and it’s unusual to be in a space with other people where everyone is silent as is the room. No music, no talking, just you and a couple dozen other people and the sky. People started to filter out after fifteen minutes or so, and nearer the hour mark, there were only four people left in the room. It was a true pleasure to take the time to mark the sunset in a different way, to watch the sky and not have anything else I should be doing, or could be doing.