The Austin Chronicle


By Robert Faires, October 6, 2000, Arts

Arts Forward

It's been a good week for two of the city's big arts projects. UT took a step forward in its drive to build a new campus museum, and two of the city's theatres moved a step closer to becoming partners. The action on the 40 Acres concerned the Blanton Museum of Art -- you remember, the museum that's supposed to be getting a new world-class building to house those thousands of works of art at UT, that had a big-deal architectural firm and then didn't have a big-deal architectural firm, and so had to go looking for another big-deal architectural firm? Well, it has a new big-deal architectural firm. And it's not the guy who designs stuff for Target. Apparently, the media star power generated by Michael Graves' connection to the popular department store chain didn't hold any allure for the UT System Board of Regents, or not enough. On Tuesday, October 3, the regents decided to go with the other finalist in the Blanton architect hunt: the Boston firm of Kallmann McKinnell & Wood. In one sense, the decision was almost a foregone conclusion. The regents place a high premium on being listened to -- a point not lost on anyone familiar with the bloody clash between the museum's first architects, the Swiss firm of Herzog & de Meuron, and flat roof-hating regents Rita Clements and Tony Sanchez. In looking for a successor to Herzog & de Meuron, the search committee was intent on finding an architect that was clear on the concept of UT being the Client. In other words, "We're hiring you; you design the building we want, not the one you want." Sanchez acknowledged as much when the decision was announced. He told The Daily Texan, "We felt that [Kallmann McKinnell & Wood] understood what we wanted a little bit better." And as the Chronicle's Mike Clark-Madison noted in these pages this summer ("Classical Revival at the Blanton," August 25, 2000), "There may be no American architect who outdoes McKinnell at satisfying university regents and donors." Does that mean the new Blanton will be an undistinguished building, lost in the architectural jumble of the Perry-Casteñeda Library, the Sanchez Education Building, a big honkin' parking garage, and -- shudder -- Jester Center? Not at all. While Kallmann McKinnell & Wood might not be envelope-pushers à la Herzog & de Meuron, they're still architects of sensitivity and style. And as Clark-Madison noted, when the semi-finalists made presentations, "McKinnell alone addressed the need of the Blanton building to respond to the artwork inside."

The development on the theatrical front concerned the State Theater Company and the Paramount Theatre, which have been considering an alliance for the past year. Shortly after running a cover story on the proposed union -- coincidentally enough in that same August 25 Chronicle referred to above -- the rumor mill began to buzz with stories that the match was in trouble, the theatres were reconsidering. There may have been fire behind that smoke, but whatever misgivings the partners-to-be were having, they have apparently been worked out. On Thursday, September 28, the Paramount and State boards voted to finalize the merger now. Details are being completed, and the Austin Theatre Alliance will soon be a reality. More details as we learn them, but here's one more nugget of news: The State has replaced its previously announced production of A Christmas Carol with Virtual Devotion, a dark comedy by Eric Coble about a family seeking connections in a world of electronic communication. The production will run December 1-23, and will feature the directorial debut of the State's new artistic director, Scott Kanoff.

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