The Blanton Museum of Art Taps Snøhetta for Redesign

Renovation plans include unifying the grounds with a canopy shade structure and commissioning the artist Carmen Herrera for a large-scale public mural.

All renderings courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, the University of Texas at Austin

The Blanton Museum of Art might be most famous as the site of Ellsworth Kelly’s nondenominational chapel, which the late artist finished in 2018, but museum director Simone Wicha has noted that “people have a hard time finding our front door at times.” 

That might be because the institutions’s main two buildings blend in with the Spanish Revival–style architecture of the university. To address this, the museum has tapped Snøhetta for architectural and landscape improvements that will give the museum a more distinct visual identity. The Norwegian-American firm will achieve that by constructing 15 elegant, petal-shaped structures that form a shade canopy at the southern end of the two buildings’ shared Moody Patio. The structures will generate a dappled light effect during the day and be illuminated at night, creating a one-of-a-kind visual marker for the museum Their curved outlines also frame views of Kelly’s chapel and the Texas Capitol, drawing inspiration from the arched vaults of the museum buildings’ loggias.

“I believe that landscape has the power to transform a community, very much in the way that great art can transform our hearts and minds,” says Wicha. “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. We want to create a destination—a beloved destination—for families, students, tourists, and art lovers alike.” 

The museum also invited Cuban-American abstract painter Carmen Herrera, now 105, to create a site-specific mural—the first of several public artworks it plans to commission. Consisting of 14 monumental green squares animated with four white diagonal spears, Verde que te quiero verde spans the entire length of the Michener Gallery Building’s interior wall and is Herrera’s first major public mural. “The opportunity to do something on such a grand scale and in a site of such importance was very appealing, especially to the hidden architect in me,” Herrera, who trained as an architect in her 20s, told the New York Times. “As a museum that has long been at the forefront of collecting work by artists of Latin American descent, as well as the place where Ellsworth Kelly realized his last great work of art, entering the collection at this moment marks a high point in my long career.” 

To date, the museum has raised $33.1 million towards its $35 million goal to fund the project. Construction is expected to break ground in February and wrap up in 2022. 

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