The Blanton of Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin will break ground later this year on a dramatic $35 million revamp of its grounds with refreshed landscaping and architectural features including a new central outdoor space framed by a cluster of 15 petal-shaped shading structures. Snøhetta will lead the redesign.
Per a press announcement, the overhaul aims to “unify and revitalize” the museum campus, which, at over 200,000 square feet is appropriately sprawling (this is Texas after all) and includes two main buildings along with Ellsworth Kelly’s chapel-like Austin. In addition to the aforementioned new outdoor social space, Moody Patio, and the impossible-to-miss shading grove, the campus redesign will also include the first major public mural installation by noted Cuban-American visual artist Carmen Herrera. The site-specific mural will be sited on the interior wall under the Michener Gallery Building’s loggia and span the length of the building.
“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,” said Herrera, who will celebrate her 106th birthday this coming May, in a statement.
Several other art installations to be introduced as part of the campus revamp will be announced by the museum later in the year.
As for the landscaping, more than 25,000 new plants and trees— dwarf palmetto, Texas gold columbine, and Cherokee sedge among them—will be added to the museum grounds with 95 percent of the plantings being native to Texas. Existing heritage trees, including Southern live oaks, will be preserved and showcased as part of Snøhetta’s sustainability-minded redesign. The Larry and Mary Ann Faulkner Gateway, an inviting new entry area along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard that welcomes visitors to the museum and the greater UT campus, will be framed by a diverse mix of flowering trees and plantings according to the museum.
A network of winding pathways flanked by small, lushly planted gardens with seating will lace the grounds and connect various public areas including the Moody Patio, which itself will feature a public lawn area along with seating for outdoor gatherings large and small and raised platforms for live music and other performances. Described as the “centerpiece” of the reimagined campus, the Moody Patio—named for the Galveston-based Moody Foundation, which bestowed a $20 million gift to the campus in 2019—will stretch between the two main campus buildings. The petal-shaped, patio-framing shading structures, inspired by the form of the arched vaults of the museum’s emblematic loggia, will “generate a dappled light effect during the day and will be illuminated at night, creating a one-of-a-kind visual marker for the Blanton,” per the museum.
Collectively, the various elements of the redesign aim to “transform how visitors encounter the Blanton grounds and begin their museum experience” while providing an “inviting and cohesive experience” to visitors new and old.
“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,” added museum director Simone J. Wicha. “We want to create a destination—a beloved destination—for families, students, tourists, and art lovers alike.”
Although the Blanton Museum of Art itself was established in 1963, its current home at UTA is relatively new with the Mari and James A. Michener Gallery Building opening in 2006 and the Edgar A. Smith Building, dedicated to educational and administrative purposes, debuting two years later. Both buildings were designed by Boston-based Kallmann McKinnell & Wood Architects although Herzog & de Meuron had originally been commissioned.
To date, the Blanton has raised $33.1 million of the $35 million needed from various institutional and individual donors. Fundraising commenced at around the same time Kelly’s Austin was realized in early 2018.
A virtual groundbreaking ceremony, attended by Wicha, the Snøhetta design team, and community and university leaders, will be held on February 18 at 7:00 p.m. CST. As mentioned, construction will kick off later in the year and is expected to wrap up in late 2022. The galleries and grounds of the museum, which is one of the largest university museums in the country and home to a roughly 19,000-object public collection that ranks as the biggest in Central Texas, will remain open throughout.