The Blanton is kind of small, and is pretty much evenly split between 'contemporary art' and 'European art' -- or as tiresome people like me think of it: modern art and real art. I started out downstairs, which turned out to be all modern. It'd been quite a while since I'd wandered through a modern art gallery (our frequent stops back in Los Angeles were the Getty and the Huntington, neither of which had much modern stuff) and I'd forgot what bosh modern art is. Some of it very clever bosh, and some of it just foolish.
This one called Light Pink Octagon is one of your standard "I've managed to get them to pay me for not doing terribly much" kind of works. Or as the website describes it "challenges notions of what a work of art can be... [and] commands attention, embodying the artist's unique sense of possibility and play." Yeah. Whatever.
Another was rather clever, though I'm not sure I'd call it 'art'. (Unfortunately they don't have it on their website.) At first glance, it appeared to be a large pile of mulch on the floor, with a smaller pile of mulch on a shelf on the wall three feet above. As you looked closer, you realized that a tiny toy man with a shovel has been set up to look like he was shovelling mulch from the small pile and dropping it down to the pile on the floor. The title was "Forced Labor". Now, that's mildly clever, though I think the main way it was striking was in the defiance of expectation, where you first thought "this is just a stupid pile of mulch" and then you realized it was supposed to be an immense workload dwarfing the tiny toy worker. So someone put some thought into it. But it struck me as more parlor-game clever than having any artistic merit.
Up a striking set of wide, white stone steps, you are released into the upper floor. Here you find Western Art, some plaster casts of classical sculpture, some more modern art, and some real art.
Among the modern art, is a piece of conceptual art that rather annoyed me called How To Build Cathedrals. The museum site describes it this way:
In MissÃ£o/MissÃµes he makes reference to the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Jesuit missions in southern Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina. The missions were established as communities to convert the indigenous Tupi-GuaranÃ people to Catholicism, and many of the Jesuit and Franciscan churches remain among the jewels of Latin American Baroque architecture. Meireles's evocative contemporary "cathedral" exposes the hidden agenda behind these missions, highlighting in particular the relationship between wealth (600,000 coins on the ground), agricultural exploitation (200 suspended cattle bones), and religion (a column of communion wafers connecting the "land" and the "heavens"). The installation draws attention to the fact that the conquest of the Americas was as much about economics as it was about religion or saving souls.Now some might say I'm just annoyed by the critique of the Church (which I am) but again it seems to me that this kind of thing may be too clever by half, but is not particularly artistic.
There is small collection of medieval liturgical art, though it seemed to me that the pieces were mostly not of equal quality to those at the Getty, which has a really wonderful collection of medieval religious art. There was a very good smatemperaora on panel of St. Bernard, which unfortunately isn't shown on the website.
The Blanton does have a pretty good collection of sketches and etchings, including one of the many Rembrandt self portraits.
There are also a number of interesting prints, including this Goya which quite caught my eye. The style is moving very much more into the modern, but there's still very much a continuity between this and the art that came before it, while works like the pink octagon strike me as coming from a totally separate and far inferior discipline.
Perhaps the trouble with 'contemporary art' is that it is so caught up in the its cleverness, enthralledled with the human capacity for cognition, that it doesn't feel the necessity to depict anything. Instead, we get these wordy little signs explaining to us why the piece is terribly clever. Yet cleverness is not the deepest of human qualities. We all think (at least occasionally) and much of what we think is original in some sense. Thoughts themselves are great things to the extent they help us to connect to reality, either the physical world around us, the emotional world of human relations, the spiritual world above, or the ideal world of forms and perfection.
I assume there must be out there still many artists who are more interested in, to use the loaded term, 'real art' than all this foolishness. Do they ever make it into museums?