For the past couple of decades, Austin measured the growth of its cultural landscape by bricks and mortar.
As the city experienced enormous growth, the ambition for its arts infrastructure grew accordingly. A major performing arts center, new museums, new theaters — Austin wanted it all. In the end, it got some of what it wished for.
The Long Center for the Performing Arts gives Ballet Austin, the Austin Lyric Opera and Austin Symphony a graceful permanent home. Zach Theatre landed itself a new venue for its entertainments. And if a grand downtown museum was never realized, the University of Texas’ now-large Blanton Museum of Art — with its comprehensive permanent collections and scholarly efforts — nevertheless provides the important academic ballast for the visual arts scene.
This Friday, we’ll publish our annual arts season planner, a curated list of the exhibits and events happening through next summer.
And a look ahead at what this season has to offer reveals an interesting development: Austin’s cultural scene is deepening, well beyond the bricks-and-mortar flurry of the past decade, setting the groundwork for a smart, nuanced cultural profile.
Highlights on the slate this season include intriguing exhibitions of international importance and innovative public art projects, both permanent and temporary.
As the season unfolds, keep an eye out for the following happenings.
“Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age,” Sept. 10-Jan. 5, 2014. Ransom Center, www.hrc.utexas.edu.
The results of an unprecedented artistic windfall for Austin now go on exhibit.
In 2010, MSD Capital — the private investment firm of Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Inc. — bought the entire archive of Magnum Photos, the agency whose photographers have created some of the most iconic images of the past century.
The acquisition totaled some 200,000 photographs and negatives, and an agreement with MSD put the archive at the University of Texas’ Ransom Center, already one of the world’s leading photography repositories.
Now, a monumental exhibition culls more than 300 images from Magnum’s leading talents, including legendary photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, David Seymour and George Rodger.
Liam Gillick and Marianne Vitale, Sept. 22-Jan. 5, Contemporary Austin, www.thecontemporaryaustin.org.
Making resourceful and innovative use of its two unique venues, the art museum now known as the Contemporary Austin begins exercising its new artistic vision, commissioning sophisticated temporary, site-responsive projects that take advantage of both its downtown Congress Avenue gallery and the historic 12-acre Laguna Gloria lakeside estate.
British artist Liam Gillick will bring his sleek architectural style to the Laguna Gloria grounds, where he will install a multi-colored steel platform right at the base of the historic 1916 Driscoll Villa — a strikingly minimal and modernist intervention juxtaposed with the Italianate villa and romantic garden landscaping. Visitors will be able to sit and lounge on the platform to contemplate how the historic beauty of Laguna Gloria is delightfully and temporarily challenged by Gillick’s very contemporary intervention.
And on the lakeside meadow at Laguna Gloria, New York-based artist Marianne Vitale will install a series of rugged yet iconic sculpture made of 1,000-pound railroad steelworks, while in the gallery at the Jones Center, she displays two massive sculptural burned-wood bridges.
“Thirst.” Sept. 28-Dec. 20, Lady Bird Lake, www.thirstart.org
It’s a monumental leap for Austin’s civic public art profile — a temporary, privately funded work of art that will grab attention in one of the city’s most public spots. (Think of Christo’s “Gates” project in New York’s Central Park.)
For three months, a spectral tree — a drought-ravaged 35-foot cedar elm painted white — will seem to hover over Lady Bird Lake as it bears witness to the more than 300 million Texas trees lost to the exceptional drought of the past several years.
“Thirst” will occupy a spot on Lady Bird Lake between the Lamar Boulevard bridge and the Pfluger pedestrian bridge. On the shore, a 2.5-mile chain of 14,000 white Tibetan-style prayer flags will loop through trees. Each white flag will be silk-screened with an image of the tree.
Commissioned by nonprofit organization Women & Their Work, “Thirst” is a collaboration between artist Beili Liu, architects Emily Little and Norma Yancey and landscape architect Cassie Bergstrom.
“Thirst” bears the potential to not only call attention to water and its scarcity in Texas but also to open the door for the city to try out a more sophisticated kind of temporary public art project.
“The Color Inside,” opening Oct. 19, Rooftop Garden, UT Student Activity Center, www.landmarks.utexas.edu.
In 2007, UT joined the ranks of other universities around the country when it adopted a public art master plan that included a funding program that earmarks 1 to 2 percent of the money for new building and capital improvement projects for public art.
And as UT adds buildings to its campus, the percent-for-art plan has begun to yield some breathtaking permanent projects.
Now, Austin joins the ranks of other international cities that are home to one of visionary and highly esteemed American artist James Turrell’s “skyspace” installations. With exquisite finesse, Turrell creates intimate architectural spaces that are open to the sky, framing views of the changing natural light augmented by LED lights inside the structure.
Atop the new student activities center, “The Color Within” features an elliptical structure that can accommodate about 25 people. Through an aperture open to the sky, visitors will be able to experience Turrell’s poetic vision of light.
“The Color Within” will be on permanent display after its opening Oct. 19.
“The Nearest Air: A Survey of Works by Waltercio Caldas,” Oct. 27, 2013 - Jan. 12, 2014, Blanton Museum of Art, www.blantonmuseum.org
Years before other museums in the country began any serious consideration of Latin American art, the Blanton Museum of Art was already leading the charge.
Now, the Blanton is the premiere U.S. institution for a retrospective exhibit on the career of groundbreaking conceptual Brazilian artist Waltercio Caldas.
“Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt,” Feb. 23 - May 18, 2014, Blanton Museum of Art, www.blantonmuseum.org
Two the most significant artists of the post-war era, Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse, were also good friends whose work invariably — though not readily apparent — influenced each other.
Organized by the Blanton, “Converging Lines” will reveal a unique creative exchange that’s not been illuminated before.