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Best of Arts 2006: Blanton's opening a crowning glory


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Like a volcanic eruption, the opening of the Blanton Museum of Art in April quite simply changed Austin's arts landscape indelibly.

Rodolfo Gonzalez
AMERICAN-STATESMAN

From its location on the University of Texas campus, just north of the Texas Capitol, the Blanton now broadcasts Austin's presence to the international art world.

Ralph Barrera
AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Laura Cannon was one of Sally Jacques' high-flying dancers in 'Requiem,' performed on the Intel building.

Indeed, the Blanton's opening wasn't just the biggest Austin arts story of 2006: It will stand as one of the biggest of the 21st century's first decade.

Austin's sense of sophistication and maturity grew exponentially, thanks to the Blanton. Record-breaking crowds flocked to see art. People traveled to Austin for art's sake.

More than 22,000 people came out to the Blanton's various opening events. The 24-hour grand opening found folks enduring hour-long waits even in the wee hours of the morning.

And the people have kept on pouring in: As of Dec. 16, a total of 102,991 people have passed through the Blanton's doors, a weekly average of more than 3,100.

Austin loved it when hot-shot economist Richard Florida dubbed us the nation's No. 1 center of the "creative class." And we've always been anxious to flash our self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World" moniker. And when the "Keep Austin Weird" chanting started a few years back, it only reinforced our love of offbeat, homegrown art happenings.

And it's not that in the past decade our visual arts scene hasn't made major improvements. The Austin Museum of Art while it abandoned plans for its own new downtown building nevertheless solidified its position as a popular community-friendly destination, albeit awkwardly situated on the first floor of a Congress Avenue office tower. Arthouse popped up across the street as a nimble, sophisticated presenter of edgy contemporary art. And a growing roster of increasingly polished galleries, art fests and studio tours both commercial and artist-run proved there was no dearth of local creators.

Where was the polished peak to the growing mountain of lava-hot visual art? Where was that beacon capable of broadcasting Austin's presence to the international art world?

We have it now: Behold the Blanton.

Top 10 arts events in 2006 (in no particular order)

All-Shostakovich program. Austin Symphony Orchestra. In September, Peter Bay and company wowed in a super-smart program that included the Russian master's Piano Concerto No. 2, excerpts from the 1955 movie"The Gadfly" and the emotion-laden "Babi Yar" symphony.

"In on It." The Dirigo Group. Director Lowell Bartholomee gave us a breathtakingly clever, funny and tender production of Daniel MacIvor's minimalist but potent play about finding "it."

Black Arts Movement Festival. ProArts Collective. It's been sorely needed for some time. ProArts Collective brought Austin its first African American arts festival that welcomed national and regional artists.

"New American Talent/Dance." Ballet Austin. Like venture capitalists sponsoring high-tech inventors, Ballet Austin put their money on tomorrow when they commissioned three emerging choreographers from around the nation to create new dance.

Graham Reynolds' Symphony V and Peter Stopschinski's Symphony V. With the simultaneous premiere of their respective fifth symphonies, prolific Austin composers Reynolds and Stopschinski continued to make a case for the growing sophistication of our live music scene.

"Requiem." Blue Lapis Light. Sally Jacques figured out what Austinites want to see when it comes to modern dance: dancers as acrobats tumbling off the unfinished shell of the Intel Corp. building.

"Static." Ryan Pavelchik/Salvage Vanguard Theater. Pavelchik penned a creatively creepy play about what happens inside a motel room. And Salvage Vanguard gave it a canny staging in an actual motel room.

"Cantata for Twelve Choirs and Several Salamanders." Daniel Bozhkov/Arthouse. As part of a mid-career retrospective, Daniel Bozhkov invited Austin choirs to have a starring role in his video homage to the preciousness of water and the Central Texas environment.

"Urinetown: The Musical." Zachary Scott Theatre. A Broadway musical about a scary city of the future with no public toilets? Sure. And Dave Steakley gave us a polished original production.

"Paul Chan: Present Tense." Blanton Museum of Art. Amid all the hubbub surrounding the Blanton opening, this powerful exhibit of Chan's pop-culture-inspired, politically charged video brought Austin some impressive international art world press.

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

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