April 19, 2021

Blanton Museum Unveils Designs for $35 Million Major Overhaul of its Grounds

Designed by architecture firm Snøhetta the plan includes new architectural features and landscaping, along with a mural by Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera

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The Blanton Museum of Art today unveiled designs for a comprehensive make-over of its grounds. The new design brings a much-needed update to the museum’s 200,000-square-foot campus, which includes two buildings and Ellsworth Kelly’s chapel-like “Austin.”

Led by noted international design firm Snøhetta, the $35 million project includes architectural and landscape improvements along with a major public mural commission by noted Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera.

The most distinctive feature are 15 flower-shaped structures that will create a shade canopy at the southern edge of the Blanton’s campus. Inspired by the arched vaults of the loggia that outline the museum buildings, the towering structures will offer dappled shade during the day and frame views of Kelly’s “Austin” and the Texas State Capitol. At night, the 15 perforated flower towers will be illuminated.

View looking south toward the Texas State Capitol Complex, featuring the Moody Patio and stage at center, and new museum check-in at Edgar A. Smith Building on right.
View looking south toward the Texas State Capitol Complex, featuring the Moody Patio and stage at center, and new museum check-in at Edgar A. Smith Building on right. Courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin.

The Blanton sits in a prominent place at the southern edge of the University of Texas campus where Congress Avenue terminates at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.  Its two buildings — Mari and James A. Michener Gallery Building and the Edgar A. Smith Building — frame a plaza on the north end of which is Kelly’s “Austin.”



On a direct axis with the Texas State Capitol five blocks to the south, the museum is gateway between the UT campus and the city.

Yet despite its prominent site, the Blanton has since it opened in 2006 struggled with a poorly distinguished main entrance to the gallery building, a cumbersome relationship between the buildings and the exterior public places they create, and a plaza design that doesn’t adequately serve both the thousands who pass through it daily and those who gather in it.

Blanton plaza
View from Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard looking northeast toward the Faulkner Gateway, showing the museum café outdoor seating at left and Carmen Herrera mural on the right. Courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin.

The new Moody Patio will feature expanded outdoor dining for the museum café and two raised platforms that can act as stages for live performances. The patio will also feature new landscaping, a lawn and new seating areas.

In all, more than 25,000 new plants will be added to the museum grounds, 95% of which are native to the state.

“The new grounds initiative will transform the Blanton, opening the museum into the city, inviting people in not just to see great art, but also to linger, gather, and be inspired before and after each visit,” said Blanton Director Simone Wicha.

The museum will break ground next month and expects to complete the project in late 2022.

Blanton plaza
View looking east toward the Mari and James A. Michener Gallery Building, featuring the Moody Patio, Carmen Herrera mural, and inverted vault at gallery entrance. Courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin.

The mural by Herrera — who is now 105 years old — is titled “Verde que te quiero verde (Green How I Desire You Green),” will extend along the length interior wall under the Michener Gallery Building’s loggia. Additional art installations will be announced in coming months.

Also key to the grounds master plan are newly re-imagined entrances to both buildings. Riffing off the loggia arches and the curves of the shade canopy, protruding vaults will mark each entrance.. The Michener Gallery Building’s vault will be U-shaped with an interior viewing deck on the museum’s second floor, allowing visitors to see what’s happening out on the Moody Patio.

And with the new design, the visitor experience will start at the museum’s check-in in the Smith Building after which people can choose to visit the Michener Gallery Building and or Kelly’s “Austin. ”

With offices in New York and Oslo, Norway, Snøhetta’s projects range from
the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt and the Shanghai Opera House to designs for Norway’s paper currency and “Under,” Europe’s first underwater restaurant. Lead architects on the Blanton project Craig Dykers, John Newman, and Elaine Molinar are UT Austin alumni.

“The Blanton holds a prominent place at the intersection of the new Texas Capitol Complex, and it also serves as the gateway to the university campus. Our inventive landscape and reimagined building entrances fulfill that promise,” said Dykers.

To date, the Blanton has raised $33.1 million towards its $35 million goal to fund the new grounds initiative, including $17.5 million from The Moody Foundation, with an additional $2.5 million to endow the museum’s free admission day on Thursdays; and $5 million from the Still Water Foundation, including a $2 million challenge match to inspire other donors.

Blanton plaza
View from Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard looking northeast toward the Faulkner Gateway, showing the museum café outdoor seating at left and Carmen Herrera mural on the right. Courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin.


Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzinhttps://sightlinesmag.org
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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