The New Blanton
On February 11th, 2017, the Blanton reopened after almost a month of being closed. The newly reopened museum is the culmination of over 5 years of renovations. During this final month of being closed, a number of things have been changed to transform the visitor’s experience of the museum.
In the past, the upper galleries of the Blanton, which contain the permanent exhibits, have been dominated by the European and Contemporary sections. The renovations rearranged these galleries so that they are still quite extensive, but made the works more compact. For example, the walls of the European galleries now have multiple works on each wall (as seen in the picture above), whereas a single artwork used to be the focal point of each wall. This grouping of similarly-themed works is a technique used by many museums to increase the amount of works they can display. The Blanton has historically always had a large collection of excellent work that spends most of its time in storage, so this is really widening the breadth of its displays, and allows visitors to see more of the excellent work the museum owns. This has also allowed the now-free gallery space to be sectioned off for exclusively Latin American and Native American art, as well as a Film and Visual Arts section. The Blanton has historically had a strong collection of Latin American works, and now this oeuvre has finally achieved proper exhibition..
Another notable change to the galleries is the addition of labels and plaques that explain the artworks and major art movements throughout the museum. Adding in-depth explanations of art works has always been a fairly taboo topic to museums - many curators are hesitant to take this step because they feel like having the work explained takes away from the visceral reactions people have to art, or can cloud people’s vision when trying to think about how they feel about an artwork. It is a relatively new concept to many museums, but may places are working hard to become a center where people from every part of the community can come and have an enjoyable time. Creating well-written labels allows people to contextualize works of art and understand them better, and have a better overall experience at museum. Many people are bored, disinterested, or even afraid of art museums because theysimply don’t make sense them. Including labels and explanations allows a wider range of people to become more involved and have an overall better experience - and perhaps even gain something from an artwork that they previously wouldn't have. This also turns the museum into a center for art education as well as appreciation, which is an increasingly pressing issue in contemporary culture. The Blanton’s new labels cater to people with diverse artistic backgrounds; from the art dilettant to a family on a weekend outing. Accessibility of art to a variety communities, especially on a university campus, has been a hot topic, and by unveiling these new plaques the Blanton is taking a step forward for inclusivity by reducing the elitism that tends to pervade museums.
Lastly, the large, open gallery spaces are no more. The large upper galleries, and even some of the smaller rooms, have added more walls. This not only physically allows more art to be displayed, but also makes the spaces seem more active and more alive. The layout of the new walls organically pushes visitors deeper and deeper into the gallery space. They create a path through the museum space that guides visitors and makes it easier to follow a coherent narrative through the galleries.
Though seemingly small changes, together they create a strikingly different - yet improved - museum experience.
In the images above, it is easy to see the changes the Blanton has made to their permanent gallery. Title Picture: The European gallery now has multiple works on each wall.