The University Art Museum

Newspaper Clipping, "Culture Center in Austin is Aim"

The University of Texas, College of Fine Arts. Newspaper Clipping, “Culture Center in Austin is in Aim” Box 2.325/W47, E. William Doty Papers 1923-1974. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

The Arts and Your Community

The University of Texas, College of Fine Arts. The Arts and Your Community. Box 2.325/W48, E. William Doty Papers 1923-1974. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Why art education? Brochure

The University of Texas, College of Fine Arts. Brochure, Why art education? Box 2.325/W48, E. William Doty Papers 1923-1974. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Texas Fine Arts Commission Brochure

The University of Texas, College of Fine Arts. Brochure, Texas Fine Arts Commission. Box 2.325/W48, E. William Doty Papers 1923-1974. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

The University Art Museum has seen great, but gradual change in becoming the current Blanton Museum of Art. Even from the progression, in title, from the University Art Museum, the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery and now, the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, there is a subtle shifting of focus from a display of art to an informative, creative space. From the initial inauguration of the University Art Museum, an awareness and acknowledgement of art in terms of culture has been specified, and has seen great evolution, with still a long way to go according to some interviews gathered with current curators at the Blanton Museum of Art. A newspaper clipping from the archive of E. William Doty, founding dean of the College of Fine Arts, reveals initial sentiment for making Austin the center of culture for the state of Texas through the school of fine arts. The author writes of Doty’s hopes to have “art exhibitions at intervals” along with various concert and theatre events. Additionally, documents such as “The Arts and Your Community” and brochures such as the “Why art education” and “Texas Fine Arts Commission” found in the Doty collection as well from a Texas Fine Arts Conference reveal early interest and attention to the intersection of fine art and society.

However, despite early efforts to increase art in the community, it is important to understand the said community at hand. While cultural diversity has largely increased since the founding of the University Art Museum, efforts to see this reflected in museums have been ongoing. In contrast to early sentiments discussed in the objectives of the University Fine Arts department, the current discourse on curation has its own social justice component embedded within the process. In interviewing Florencio Bazzano, Assistant Curator of Latin American art at the Blanton Museum of Art, she expresses that “we have a really long history of addressing this issue at the Blanton, especially in Latin American art because Latin American artists have often addressed these issues in their work… the art itself moves us to pay very special and close attention to the socio-political contexts in which the art is not just produced, but circulates, and [how it is] held in different institutions and how it is presented and represented” Bazzano discusses ways in which both art and curation addresses issues of social justice discussing how “we create a lot of programming around our exhibitions to address these issues, to help people learn about the contexts of the art, how the artists have addressed social justice… but sometimes people forget these are human beings that are agents of their own right, it’s important to know that artists react to very specific historical and social moments, and I think the important thing is to go back and look at the history and the context very, very carefully, and to change the narratives from this sort of western expansion narrative that tend to exist.” 

In order to accommodate and cater toward a diverse audience such as that of the Blanton, many steps are taken, however, increasing this accessibility is an on-going process that takes into account many factors, especially funding. One way Bazzano is able to better create an inclusive space in her exhibitions is by writing museum labels. These labels, each limited to about 100-150 words “[has] to give the person an idea of who the artist is, what the work is about, you have to focus on the most important topic, the main issue, and it's usually just one issue, and you have to make them look. You have to give them something where they can read it and they look back at the work… you have to create a sense of curiosity for the artwork, and that's a lot for 100 words.” Labels, like the museum itself, do not function merely as descriptive captions, rather “[they] have to say something that makes a person look back at the artwork and discover something they hadn't thought about yet.” Additionally, Bazzano is mindful of using clear language, free of any technical terminology, jargon, and names. As these are all things which require further explanation, so as to ensure viewer clarity and interest. “I believe that [as a curator] if you cannot explain the most sophisticated idea, even from a theoretical perspective, with clear language, then you do not understand what's going on… I try to be as clear as possible and yet raise super important issues that I think the work represents or we can discover in the work.” One recent effort to increase accessibility in the Blanton exhibits was to create bilingual (Spanish and English) exhibit and section titles, “but we don’t have enough resources to the actual object labels in spanish and english, we just translate the title” Bazzano explained.

However, at the core of her practice, Bazzano values the voice of the artist the most, “I always try to include a quotation of something the artist has said, because I want them to speak as directly as possible to the public. Whenever I arrange a show I let the art tell me what it wants to be… so I make a broad selection and see themes emerging, shared concerns and shared ideas … I try to follow the art and follow the artists as much as I can.” As a curator, she recognizes her role in providing organization and focus in creating a narrative that is understandable and accessible, while giving the artist the main voice to represent their own work.

Ultimately, despite early sentiment for greater intersectionality among art and society as seen in the newspaper clipping and various brochures, the reality of seeing this claim to fruition has rested largely on limited resources and funding. Museums have seen great progress toward inclusion and accessibility through increased education and programming in exhibitions, however, these changes have been slow, as seen in the example provided by Florencio Bazzano regarding the bilingual museum labels. So far, funds allow for bilingual translations of exhibit and major section titles for certain exhibitions, however, there is room for growth. However, the sentiment and attention to social justice in curatorial processes have been apparent to curators like Bazzano who recognize and see progress even through slow change, “I think people should be more mindful of how [curators] have approached this critically over the years, and they should look at what the Blanton has done to learn… how the methodology and the theory of how to approach critically, artworks, and the history of this region.”