A Conversation on Change at the Blanton

Ellsworth Kelly's Temple for Light

The Blanton Museum in Austin doesn’t have the largest collection of art in the state, but it’s probably the most engaging. It’s not here you go for a history of art, but to have a conversation about the world through art.

We had been intending to get to Austin to see the Ellsworth Kelly’s Temple for Light installed between museum buildings. It looks like a chapel, but it’s one for contemplating creativity rather than a divine maker. And it’s a marvelous space showcasing geometric forms and intense patches of light coming through the glass windows hitting the stone and marble.

Ellsworth Kelly’s Temple for Light

I don’t know what you could compare it to. The obvious is the Rothko Chapel in Houston. A friend (seeing only the photos) compared it to James Turrell, but I can’t see very far into that likeness.

Kelly’s typical works are simple forms. Sometimes they contract black-and-white and sometimes they are colorful or a solid color.

The Temple for light perhaps reduced space for meditation to its simple, colorful forms. This space brings those works together. Black-and-white works created in contrasting marble line the walls and colorful forms illuminate the space.

In a way, Temple for Light is a temple to Ellsworth Kelly.

Leaving the front door of the temple, we were confronted with the dome of the Texas State Capital where a debate over a plaque which falsely stated slavery was not an underlying cause of the Civil War. It’s not creative energy that’s honored within the walls of the state building, but a political one and inside the Blanton the creative meets the political, as well as the human.

La Puerta del Sol by Norman Lewis

“One of things in my own self-education was the discouraging fact that painting pictures didn’t bring about any change,” read a label on work called La Puerta del Sol by Norman Lewis. The bright painting seems to be reorganizing itself and quote bothered me, especially living at a time when change is all around us. Not much brings immediate change, however, and progress can be hard to measure in the moment. I have to believe art can contribute to change, as stopping at this work had some impact on me.

Border Crossing (Cruzando el Rio Bravo) by Luis Jiménez

Confronting us in the next room is Border Crossing (Cruzando el Rio Bravo) by Luis Jiménez. Not one to shy from seeking change through art, the work deals with the concept of an illegal alien. “People talked about aliens as if they landed from outer space as if they weren’t really people,” Jiménez said. “I wanted to put a face on them; I wanted to humanize them.”

If you’ve kept up with the news, you can start to get into the mind of Norman Lewis in regards to his frustrations.

I am reading a book of lectures given by Birge Harrison to the Art Student’s League of New York around the turn of the 20th Century. In it he explores what would have become of Whistler or Sargent if, as an infant, they had been “brought up beyond the furthest confines of civilization,” “What would their art have amounted to?,” Harrison asks.

This came to mind because Jiménez was born in El Paso and could see the plight of the immigrant with the luxury of being able to spend time creating art. It’s not to say there isn’t art in Mexico (there certainly is a wealth of it) but that how many more great artists might there be that the world will never know because our political system, and our inability to right wrongs quickly enough.

I have not been inside the Broad Museum in Los Angeles yet, but a painting of the exterior was immediately recognizable. The artist, Ramiro Gomez, was born to undocumented immigrants. According to the label, Gomez worked as a live-in nanny and began to paint figures of women over luxury magazine spreads. He went on to paint portraits of nannies, pool cleaners and gardeners in well-to-do homes.

Here we see a figure pushing a trash can outside the Broad Museum. “Gomez’s work reminds us the manicured hedges, glassy swimming pools, sun-drenched buildings of the Southern California landscape are often made possible by Latino and immigrant workers.”

Unlike the work by Luis Jimenez, Gomez chose to place the cleaning person in a diminutive scale, without a hint of specific facial features. But we know instantly the racial identity, because such workers have been “taken for granted and overlooked,” to use Gomez’s own words.

And the fact shouldn’t be lost that this wonderful painting by Ramiro Gomez is hanging in the Blanton Museum.