Adam Bennett

Photo Credit: Eric Swanson | Daily Texan Staff

Every day for a couple of years, artist James Drake created drawings of animals, scientific formulas and everything in between. The end result was more than 1,200 drawings, which are now on display at the Blanton Museum of Art in an exhibition titled “Anatomy of Drawing and Space (Brain Trash).”

In addition to his exhibit, Drake will hold a discussion, titled “Perspectives: James Drake & David Krakauer” on Thursday, with scientist David Krakauer, the director of the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery, about how both scientists and artists imagine the future.

During the discussion, Drake, a New Mexico-based sculptor and video artist, and Krakauer will address several questions. According to Adam Bennett, manager of public programs at the Blanton, the questions will address everything from theoretical physicist Erwin Schrödinger to whether art and science will ever converge.

“It’s going to be a wide-ranging conversation about artists, scientists and creativity,” Bennett said.

Krakauer helped inspire some of the artwork Drake created for the exhibition. 

“[Drake’s] excited about talking to [Krakauer], who is a friend and who has also worked in the same part of New Mexico,” Bennett said. “A conversation that David and James had is actually incorporated into Brain Trash.”

Drake shows his interest in science in the Brain Trash exhibition by incorporating his interest in science through many drawings involving the subject — from physics to biology. This scientific interest in Drake’s artwork will be a key focus point in Drake and Krakauer’s discussion.

“James is very interested in science and the history of creativity, and you’ll see a lot of other references to science in the exhibition,” Bennett said. “There’s formulae and equations, diagrams of machines, even a huge drawing of an MRI of James’ head.”

For the most part, Krakauer is interested in the relationship between art and science shown in Drake’s exhibition.

“David is also interested in how creativity happens and what scientists can learn from art,” Bennett said.

Brain Trash strays from the video and sculpting projects for which Drake is better known. The exhibition, which runs Oct. 19 through Jan. 4, is a platform for Drake’s more simplistic artistic ventures.

“He wanted to experiment with paring back his technique to work on drawing,” Bennett said. “He drew literally every single day for two-and-a-half years, and the end product is this exhibition.”

Stacey Ingram Kaleh, manager of public relations and marketing at the Blanton, described Drake’s Brain Trash as personal and spontaneous.

“Drake used a stream-of-consciousness process, so the drawings reveal his preoccupations,” Kaleh said. “It is like looking inside the artist’s mind.”

Drake chose to feature Brain Trash at the Blanton because of his involvement with the museum before Brain Trash.

“James is originally from Texas; he’s been a friend of the Blanton for many years — had a career retrospective published by UT Press,” Bennett said. “So there were a lot of reasons for wanting to have this work here.”

Brain Trash has proven to be a major draw for the museum because of Drake’s name and the sheer number of drawings featured in the exhibition.

“We’ve received a fantastic response from our visitors,” Kaleh said. “It’s been great to see so many people engaging with the work.”

Christopher Prosser and Brandon Clinton, music composition graduate students of the Butler School of Music, recently composed pieces that were inspired by pieces of art in the Blanton Museum of Art. 

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

In the atrium of the Blanton Museum of Art, students from the Butler School of Music gathered to find something inspiring. Each of the students then composed a personal composition in response to the piece of art that stood out to them the most. The result is the Midday Music Series.

On Tuesday, students from the Butler School of Music will showcase the products of their interpretations to the public as part of the Blanton’s Midday Music Series. The compositions are all based on artworks currently on display in the museum.

“We’re lucky enough that they’ve written new pieces about works in our collection,” said Adam Bennett, manager of public programs at the Blanton. “We did a project like this last year, [and] there was so much interest that it couldn’t be contained within just one program. It’s sort of an extension and a sequel to that program.”

The creative process for the event began at the end of the last spring semester with an open tour of the Blanton for composition students who were interested in the concept. The students were told to choose an art piece that stood out to them. 

Brandon Clinton, music composition graduate student, chose the Shirazeh Houshiary painting titled “Night of Light.”

“The title, ‘Night of Light,’ is pretty evocative,” Clinton said. “Basically, I just thought, first of all, it was really striking. What could it be, this little light in the distance?” 

Stephen Sachse and Christopher Prosser, both music composition graduate students, chose to interpret Morris Louis’ painting “Water-Shot” but in very different ways. Sachse’s piece uses an electric guitar and a computer, while Prosser’s uses clarinet, flute, viola and cello.

“The idea, it’s so stripped down in a way,” Sachse said. “It’s just drops of paint that fall down. I really liked the idea of doing a piece that’s based on a descending kind
of theme.” 

Prosser also found something inspiring in the minimalist techniques used by the artist.

“The piece is kind of quirky,” Prosser said. “It has melodies that come back [and] can represent different colors of the painting — greens, yellows [and] reds.”

Bennett hopes the Midday Music Series and other similar events that the museum hosts can get people to think of the museum as not only a place that houses art but as an active and creative space.

“The museum isn’t just a warehouse where we store creative things that happened 100 years ago but where creativity happens live in the moment, and I think the music and art connections is a great way to demonstrate that,” Bennett said.

The performances are included with admission prices and are free for museum members, UT students, faculty and staff. Clinton hopes his composition will change the way the audience looks at the artwork he is interpreting.

“That they view the painting differently, that there might be a story behind it and that it might be different from the one they’ve seen,” Clinton said. “That it inspires
somebody else.”

Fifty Fest is more than a few students on a lawn. The 12-hour festival of art, food trucks and interactive activities for students celebrates Blanton Museum of Art’s 50 years of fostering a creative community. 

The Blanton is hosting Fifty Fest this Saturday, which brings together musicians, artists and art enthusiasts from the UT campus and the Austin community. Activities range from poetry readings to discussions with photographers. 

“The Blanton is a university art museum that also identifies itself as a site for creativity,” Samantha Youngblood, the Blanton’s manager of public relations and marketing, said. “Many of our past and current programs are centered around the idea that a song, dance, or poem can be inspired by or respond to a work of art.”

Student groups were asked to draw inspiration from the art and create a performance for the event. These artists range in style, background, and influence, but each will help explain how their creative process works. For example, the Texas Reed Trio is having an “open rehearsal” to involve audiences in their piece creation.  

“It’s like what a string quartet would do in rehearsal when they work on a new piece — interrupt each other when something’s not working, argue about the right way to get through a tough section, start and stop, and be more informal with each other than you’d ever see them be onstage,” said Adam Bennett, Blanton’s manager of public program. 

Student entertainers like the Ransom Notes, an a cappella group, hope to bring their own artistic appreciation to Fifty Fest. As part of their mission to enrich the lives of members and audiences, Ransom Notes agreed to help celebrate. 

“I think the Blanton contributes an artistic escape that is close to campus. Somewhere people can go to separate themselves from the chaos of day-to-day activities and appreciate something beautiful,” saod Lexi Bixler, an economics senior and Ransom Notes singer.

Other performers bring a cultural response to Fifty Fest. Ezekiel Castro, director of UT Mariachi Ensemble, admires the collection of Latin American works represented at the Blanton. 

“Performing at The Blanton Museum of Art, the University of Texas at Austin Fifty Fest is an honor — a grand celebration. The University of Texas Mariachi Ensemble, Mariachi Paredes de Tejastitlan, has prepared music that is festive and embraces the artistic ambiance of this occasion,” Castro wrote in an email. 

The festival coincides with the 50th anniversary exhibition “Through the Eyes of Texas.” Alumni from around the world donated the works displayed in the show. Much like the exhibit, the performances at Fifty Fest show the breadth of the Blanton’s collections. 

“As a Hispanic, I am impressed with the Latin American collection of modern and contemporary art which contains more than 1,800 paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures,” Castro said. “These works of art reflect the diversity of Latin American art and culture.”

Blanton hosts programs that push students to become involved in art. 

“They’re not just warehouses that store artworks created centuries ago — museums are places were creativity happens every day. Artists create new art in museums that respond to the art inside,” Bennett said.

Fifty Fest strives to inspire visitors by showing an interactive side of the Blanton, and artists provide a rare glimpse into their creative processes. 

“Making something new with the visual experience that you get at the Blanton is what our public programs try to facilitate,” Bennett said. “If someone walks away from Fifty Fest and writes, paints, dances or makes a film about something she saw or heard at the Blanton, then our public programs are doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Steve Parker, the director of SoundSpace, plays trombone in the Blanton Museum of Art during the art interactive show, SoundSpace. Photo courtesy of Adam Bennett.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

The halls of The Blanton Museum of Art are normally filled with silent spectators; but on March 10, local musicians will perform live with the art as their backdrop. In the audience interactive show, “SoundSpace,” viewers have the opportunity to absorb the Blanton’s collection of art while the series of concerts perform around them. 

With music played in the untraditional setting of a museum, Adam Bennett, the manager of public programs at the Blanton, said “SoundSpace” can shed light on museums as a positive experience and dispel negative feelings surrounding them. 

“I love when we are able to demonstrate that the museum can be a site for creativity to happen — live and in the moment,” Bennett said. “A lot of people think of museums as warehouses and memorials to creative works that were created 100 years ago to store. And they are that. But museums can also be places where people find inspiration from the art. The museum doesn’t always have to function as a warehouse. Museums should be alive and fun and places where creativity happens.”

Having directed “SoundSpace” since its beginnings in 2011, Steve Parker said “SoundSpace” is different than a typical museum experience because of the cross disciplinary performances playing simultaneously throughout the Blanton Museum. Parker said the audience can gain from this experience by having the freedom to explore the galleries of the museum while interacting with the musicians.  

An event that is a blend of aspects from traditional concerts and the customary museum visits, Bennett said “SoundSpace” affects an audience at a different level than other artistic or musical events. 

“‘SoundSpace’ is not a concert with a fixed location, like other concerts in Austin. It’s partly a musical concert, focusing on the sound, but it also focuses also the space,” Bennett said. “The performances are very visual as well. They are somewhat theatrical and are a blend of performance art and concert, rather than just a band playing while the crowd cheers.” 

Andrew Sigler, a PHD candidate at the Butler School of Music at UT as well as one of the musicians being featured at “SoundSpace,” said this event offers a more welcoming experience for those who don’t understand classical music or traditional art. 

“What’s interesting about ‘SoundSpace’ is that it puts the audience in a position to experience the music on their own terms in a way I don’t think they are able to in a concert setting,” Sigler said. “Especially with classical music. This concert is post-classical, so the music draws a lot from pop and rock; immediately the concert might be more accessible to someone who doesn’t listen to the sometimes more difficult classical music.” 

While the museum setting is a novel place to listen to music, Parker said it’s an exciting and rare experience for the performers as well. A trombone player, Parker has performed at past “SoundSpace” events and understands the experience firsthand. 

“The space is an incredibly inspiring venue in which to perform. I like that audiences can observe the performance just inches away, and have the freedom to inspect the performance from a variety of angles,” Parker said. “I find it much easier to connect with listeners that way, in contrast to a recital hall or concert stage.”  

Sigler said this interaction between the performers and the audience is what creates such a compelling experience for the viewer while absorbing the art and the music. 

“I think all art, whether visual or oral such as music, ultimately happens in the head of the listener,” Sigler said. “If you’re in a museum, and you have a particular piece of visual art that may stimulate you in a certain way, and music that stimulates you in a certain way, that’s going to have a completely different impact than if you were listening to the music at home, or if you were at the museum, quietly looking at the art work alone.” 

Published on March 7, 2013 as "Blanton overflows with musical masterpieces".