The Austin Chronicle

Blanton Museum of Art

Grand opening, take two

By Robert Faires, November 14, 2008, Arts

Since opening in 2006, the Blanton Museum of Art's Michener Gallery Building has been a major success for the University of Texas institution, drawing record crowds and national attention. Still, it's only half the home that has always been intended for the Blanton; another building was planned to house administrative offices, classrooms, and those crucial revenue streams for the modern museum, the gift shop and cafe. For the 30 months that the gallery has been up and running, the 56,000-square-foot companion facility has been under construction, but this month, the Edgar A. Smith Building – named for the Houston businessman and Chancellor's Council member who contributed $4.5 million to the project – is finally complete. It'll be another few weeks before the Blanton staff can emerge from its cramped quarters in the art building basement to claim its new digs, but this weekend, the Smith Building opens to the public with a celebration featuring a special art lecture, film screenings, and concerts between the two Blanton buildings.

Since the Smith Building was always planned as a counterpart to the Michener, its design by architects Kallman McKinnell & Wood isn't radically different from its neighbor. That said, it has a much more open feeling. Without the need to filter sunlight to protect the art, the architects could really let the sunshine in. Windows abound, and you're never far from a great expanse of glass – such as the multistory curved section that rises above the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Grand Foyer – that provides a sense of connection to natural light, to the campus, even to the Capitol.

The showpieces of the Smith Building are the 299-seat auditorium, the cafe, and the museum shop. The auditorium is a welcome upgrade from its predecessor in the art building – nothing ostentatious, just a spacious, nicely curved room with a steep rake, which really directs focus down to the stage area and enhances visibility for projections and film screenings, which will benefit from state-of-the-art equipment.

The cafe, anchoring the first floor's south end, seats 88 inside and another 20 outside. The menu, developed by former Driskill chef Josh Watkins, covers mostly breakfast (pastries, bagels, fresh fruit, yogurt, smoothies, coffee drinks) and lunch (sandwiches such as smoked ham and Brie with caramelized onions; sides that include wasabi potato salad, peanut coleslaw, and balsamic roasted vegetable salad; 10 different flat-bread pizzas; salads; and signature desserts), with dinner on Third Thursdays and at B Scene, when the Blanton is open evenings. (See "Blanton Museum Cafe.")

The 1,680-square-foot museum shop will handle a lot of standard-issue merchandise (visual-arts books and magazines, jewelry, handbags, high-end chocolates, kids toys, and audio/visual items) along with note cards and posters featuring art in the Blanton collection and totes, umbrellas, and other items tagged with the Blanton's "Art Is ..." catchphrase. But it will also carry items by local artists/artisans, including Chandra Michaels of Sugarluxe and jewelry from Ingrid Kuper, and a wealth of glassware artfully showcased in a circular nook.

The opening celebration begins at 1pm Sunday, Nov. 16. Building tours, art activities, and film screenings are planned, with two major events:

2pm: Jed Perl, celebrated critic and art historian, gives a lecture related to his new book, Watteau's World: The Mysterious Life and Magnificent Afterlife of an 18th-Century Painter. Booksigning follows.

3:30 & 4:45pm: Guy Forsyth Trio plays on the Larry and Mary Ann Faulkner Plaza between the buildings.

Visit for more information.

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