Department of Art and Art History News

Q+A with Guest Artist in Print Program Abra Ancliffe

Wed. October 29, 2014

photography of woodblock print with two circular shapes on paper
When Looking Up is Looking Down, detail of fig. 13, woodblock + letterpress, edition of 6 , 2013. Photo by the artist.

Can you tell us about your practice and background?

My education was in English literature and printmaking — making a clear path to a language-based art practice that is heavy in book and print. I also run a subscription-based circulating library, the Personal Libraries Library (PLL) that recreates the personal libraries of artists, thinkers, writers, and scientists of interest to my members and myself.

The PLL collections include the personal libraries of Maria Mitchell, the nineteenth century astronomer, librarian, educator, and suffragist and Robert Smithson (1938-1973), the influential artist, writer, and thinker. The Library then expanded to include the personal libraries of writer, critic, and journalist Italo Calvino (1923-1985); short-story writer, translator and librarian Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986); and poet, civil-rights activist, and gardener Anne Spencer (1882-1975). Outside of my practice, I teach printmaking at the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) in Portland, Oregon.

books, paper, and prints arranged on a table
Printed Matter from the Personal Libraries Library, installed at the Tacoma Art Museum. Photo by the artist.

How did you become interested in astronomy?

I believe that everyone has an innate interest in the stars and other observable celestial bodies. Unfortunately, now most of us are quite disconnected from the night sky due, in part, to light pollution that obscures all but the brightest celestial bodies. Most of us do not tilt our eyes towards the sky much, since they are trained on more earthly objects. Halley’s Comet in 1986 was an incredibly memorable experience for me as a girl. There was an excitement around the comet that was palpable, and staying up late to catch a glimpse of it was transformative. Funnily, I do not remember actually seeing the comet with my own eyes.

You will be working with the John R.W. Herschel Collection at the Harry Ransom Center? What is in the collection?

Much of my current work is centered on how we view and understand the night sky through the page. With that in mind, I decided to explore the Ransom Center collection to see its holdings in astronomy. I found the Herschel Papers and began to search for items in the collection that could be images/drawings/paintings/prints made by the Herschel family of the observable night sky. Serendipitously, the Ransom Center has multiple observed drawings of stars, nebulae, and at least four paintings of Halley’s Comet as seen in 1836.

What drew you to the Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type collection?

What wouldn’t? It is a world-class collection that is still in use for students, scholars, and artists — a very exciting “living” collection. As a letterpress printer, I have studied the collection through the book, American Wood Type: 1828-1900, and was able to see it in person, briefly, a couple years ago. I also teach wood type typography and history from the book and the website in my classes at PNCA.

The opportunity to work with both the Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type and Herschel collections is incredibly exciting and allows me access to source materials and tools to expand my current practice.

two photographs of books held open by hands pasted alongside one another
BOOK / UNIVERSE, 12" x 18", c-print, 2014. Photo by the artist.

How do you see the production, labor, and meaning-making of publishing and astronomy converging and overlapping?

At some point, astronomy and publishing are the act of putting the night sky on the page. As aforementioned, the printed page has increasingly become the primary way that we view the night sky. Thus, the labor and modes of production in each field converge and overlap. In fact, many early astronomers made and printed their own texts and images. They knew well that representation of celestial bodies is mediated by how the ink is put on the page. This continues today with the spectacular images produced from Hubble-collected data, where processors assign colors and create the images that we see. As the Hubble website states, “Hubble images are made, not born. Images must be woven together from the incoming data from the cameras, cleaned up and given colors that bring out features that eyes would otherwise miss.”

This exploration is at the heart of my current body of work, When Looking Down is Looking Up.

Ancliffe will have a public lecture November 4 at 5 p.m.

Eddie Chambers releases Black Artists in British Art: A History from 1950 to the Present

Wed. October 29, 2014

Cover image of book

Dr. Eddie Chambers has published Black Artists in British Art: A History From 1950 to the Present (I.B. Tauris). In the book, Chambers "tells the story of Britain's black artists, from the 1950s onwards, including the contemporary art of Steve McQueen, Chris Ofili and Yinka Shonibare."

Black Artist in British Art recieved reviews by Richard Cork in Royal Academy of Arts and Hansi Momodu-Gordon in Contemporary And.

Graduate student researchers find hidden treasures within Blanton's Tate gift

Wed. October 29, 2014

painting with surrealist figures and animal against dark background
Leonora Carrington, Casting the Runes, 1951. Image courtesy of the Blanton Museum of Art.

When the Blanton Museum of Art announced in August that it had received over 120 Latin American artworks from alumni Judy and Charles Tate, the news came as no surprise to a handful of Art History students hard at work on the catalogue for the collection.

Dr. Penelope Davies, assistant chair and professor of Art History, explained, “It’s one of the strengths of our program that students have numerous opportunities to gain experience outside of the classroom. These experiences prepare them for their careers and position them well in an increasingly competitive job market.”

Art History graduate students Dorota Biczel, Doris Bravo, Claire Howard, Mari Rodriguez, Alexis Salas, and Abigail Winograd, as well as alumna Amethyst Beaver researched and wrote contributions to the collection’s catalogue.

“Working on an exhibition or being part of the catalogue writing team makes the work we do as graduate students or emerging art professionals feel relevant and tangible,” described Amethyst Beaver (MA in Art History, 2011), who became a curatorial assistant at the Blanton in 2012.

The students’ research for the catalogue often complemented work they were doing for their dissertations, but it also allowed them to branch out and discover new artists, periods, or regions outside of their research interests.

“The entries that I wrote pertain to Argentine art in the late twentieth century, and my work similarly engages in detailed, object-centered analysis of artworks,” explained Alexis Salas. “Working on the catalogue brought me into contact with an edgy, quiet, graphic work of art by Emilio Renart that expands my understanding of what Argentine artists were doing in the 1960s.”

Doris Bravo was able to uncover new facts about one work. “Tarsila Do Amaral's Barco drawing from 1924 was actually a trial. She made several variations of this drawing for Oswald de Andrade's manifesto, Pau Brasil,” said Doris Bravo. “One of the things I enjoy most about being an art historian is playing detective. With this work I had little to go on — the artist's name, the year, the media, measurements. So I focused my search on that information, and I eventually arrived at the trials for this book.”

“While spending more time researching Joaquin Torres-Garcia’s work, I was hoping I could find a more complex way of discussing his work. I was curious to find out whether his accomplishments amount to more than just inverting the hierarchies of Western art. While space was limited for my entry, I did learn a lot,” added Dorota Biczel.

Wifredo Lam, Sans titre (Untitled), 1945. Image courtesy of the Blanton Museum of Art.

The addition of the Tate Collection not only enhanced the Blanton’s Latin American holdings, but allows for new connections to be made between works on the university campus.

“I was excited to see more Surrealist works enter the Blanton's collection,” Claire Howard explained. “Especially the paintings by Wifredo Lam and Leonora Carrington. It is also great to have a Frida Kahlo drawing to complement the portrait of her by Diego Rivera that the Blanton already had, as well as her Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird in the Harry Ransom Center's collection.”

“This gift renews the university’s and the Blanton Museum's commitment to the field of Latin American art, which as a former graduate student, is particularly exciting to me,” added Amethyst Beaver.

The Tate Collection comprises approximately 120 modern and contemporary Latin American works from artists such as Tarsila do Amaral, Lygia Clark, Frida Kahlo, Carlos Mérida, Wifredo Lam, Armando Reverón, Diego Rivera, Alejandro Xul Solar, and Joaquín Torres-García, among others. The collection catalogue includes a preface by The University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers, Blanton Director Simone Wicha in conversation with Judy and Charles Tate, and an essay by Beverly Adams, curator of Latin American Art at the Blanton, with contributions by curatorial research assistant Beth Shook and others.

La línea continua, an exhibition that presents approximately 70 works from the Tate Collection, is on display at the Blanton now through February 15, 2015. The companion catalogue is available at the Blanton Museum shop.

Michael Smith performs at Frieze London

Wed. October 29, 2014

Image courtesy of the artist and gallery Dan Gunn (Berlin)

For the Focus section of the 2014 Frieze Art Fair in London, Smith restaged his Government Approved Home Fallout Shelter Snackbar installation from 1983. The installation, presented by Dan Gunn Gallery (Berlin), is one of Smith’s most important and earliest installations and its first exhibition outside of the US.

This year’s themed section, “Live,” was organized by curators Raphael Gygax and Jacob Proctor and dedicated to ambitious performance-based installations.

Smith's performance received praise and mentions in The Art Newspaper, The Guardian, Complex, and Art Forum and was listed at the 10 of the best works at Frieze London by Artspace.

Students volunteer with The Contemporary Austin, work with Do Ho Suh

Wed. October 29, 2014

six people posing in front of installation
From left to right: Moses Lee, Judy Oh, Amy Choi, Hyojung Lee, Eunji Jeong, and Soo Min Lee.

The Department of Art and Art History encourages students to go beyond their coursework by taking advantage of opportunities that expand their knowledge and potential career paths.

This fall, a group of our students took such an opportunity by volunteering as Korean-English translators at The Contemporary Austin for Do Ho Suh and his installation team in preparation for his solo exhibition.

Current undergraduate students who volunteered include: Yeun Jae Chang (Visual Art Studies), Eunji Jeong (Studio Art), Hyojung Lee (Art History), Moses Lee (Design), and Soo Min Lee (Design). Alumna Amy Choi (BA Studio Art, 2014) was also part of the team. All the students are of Korean descent and some have lived in Korea.

“During my freshman year, I took a 3D Foundations class with Beili Liu. Beili gave us a presentation of contemporary installation artists and one of artists was Do Ho Suh,” recalled Soo Min Lee. “I could not miss this chance. I was so pleased and honored to assist Do Ho.”

photograph of apartment sewn out of transparent fabric of different colors
Do Ho Suh, Apartment A, Unit 2, Corridor and Staircase, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA (detail), 2011–2014. Polyester fabric and stainless steel tubes. Installation view, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2014. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.

The exhibition struck a personal chord with the students. “Most of his works are informed by his personal experiences, his move from Korea to United States. I also moved to United States when I was 17 to study abroad. The house reminds me of my family in South Korea,” Soo Min Lee explained.

Working with Suh and his assistants gave the students a behind-the-scenes look at the installation process and exhibition design.

“I was blown away about the level of detail that was in Suh’s work and the precision with which it was executed,” described Moses Lee. “When I saw Apartment A, Unit 2, Corridor and Staircase, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA, I couldn’t wrap my head around how patient you would have to be to recreate an entire home. I loved how the work literally created a space of its own, affecting how people interacted with the space in and around it.”

Soo Min Lee continued, “Before I volunteered to help with the exhibition, I thought designing and curating exhibitions was simple — just choose an artist and set up. When I volunteered, it became obvious that there are many people from many different areas that contribute to the exhibition.”

An influential artist operating within a distinctly twenty-first century global mode, Do Ho Suh crafts evocative and visually stunning works that reflect ideas of home, identity, and personal space. The exhibition Do Ho Suh at The Contemporary Austin encompasses the museum’s two distinct sites and includes both existing works and newly fabricated pieces from several of the artist’s discrete but related bodies of work.

Large-scale sculptures, installations, and works on paper will be on view at The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center at 700 Congress Avenue and at the museum’s Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria, 3809 West 35th Street in Austin, Texas through January 11, 2015. More information can be found at