The Business of Art

The Blanton's Human Touch exhibition emphasizes the importance of personal connection

The Blanton's Human Touch exhibition emphasizes the importance of personal connection

Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_the human touch_june 2012_6
Roland Fischer
Untitled (L.A. Portrait), 1994-2000
C-print and crylic on fiberboard
55 ½ x 63 ¾ inches
Courtesy of RBC Wealth Management
Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_the human touch_june 2012_2
Kerry James Marshall
Blind Ambition, 1990
Acrylic and collage on canvas
84 x 55 inches
Courtesy of RBC Wealth Management
Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_the human touch_june 2012_3
Julia Jacquette
Radiant, 1999
Oil on canvas
72 x 60 inches
Courtesy of RBC Wealth Management
Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_the human touch_june 2012_1
Alex Soth
Patrick, Palm Sunday, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, from Sleeping by the Mississippi, 2002
Chromogenic color print
32 x 40 inches
Courtesy of RBC Wealth Management
Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_the human touch_june 2012_5
Frank Big Bear, Jr.
Western Front #4, 1991
Prisma color pencil on paper
30 ¼ x 44 inches
Courtesy of RBC Wealth Management
Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_the human touch_june 2012_6
Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_the human touch_june 2012_2
Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_the human touch_june 2012_3
Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_the human touch_june 2012_1
Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_the human touch_june 2012_5

Continuing with their summer of featured collections, The Blanton Museum has chosen two great tastes that go well together.

Included in the double-header are 50 pieces from the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection entitled The Collecting Impulse and 40 selections from the RBC Wealth Management Art Collection entitled The Human Touch. The juxtaposed exhibitions are separated by only one wall in the downstairs gallery, providing a smooth seamless transition between the distinct but complimentary collections.

While the Vogel collection features various works chosen by two private collectors based on their personal preferences, The Human Touch is a corporately-owned collection that contains pieces chosen specifically to represent RBC's mission of diversity and human connection. These pieces, gathered over a number of years in the early 90s, showcase a wide array of media and styles exploring the human figure.

"From the beginning, it was decided the collection would primarily feature two elements. One was the human figure, because brokerage businesses deal with people; it's a one-on-one kind of business," explains RBC exhibition curator Don McNeil in a walk-through of the gallery prior to the exhibition's public reception, "And second, it was important that the clientele would be as diverse as the country is. So that's what determines who is seen and what is seen in the images." 

RBC is a Minneapolis-based brokerage company that maintains satellite offices in Austin and around the world. As the collection steadily grew inside the walls of their home office, they had the clever idea of loaning the art out for free to museums in large cities in exchange for a donor party that invited potential clients that might be interested in investing with RBC as well.

"But then some of the branch offices in smaller communities began asking 'What about us?', and that's when someone suggested we have a full art collection," says McNeil, who helped the company grow the collection to nearly 400 theme-appropriate pieces. "Then they turned to me and asked, 'Do you think you can do this?' And I said, yeah, I'm sure there'd be any number of venues that would be more than happy to have someone call them up and say, 'Here's an exhibition, and it won't cost you anything.'"

As the curator of the traveling collection, it is McNeil's unique duty to help each gallery — many of which he has never been to — decide which works would make the most sense in their space. "It's a happy collaboration between myself and the museum. But the first time I see the art hung is usually the day of the event. It's definitely not the typical way to curate, making choices without seeing pieces or spaces firsthand. But I am always fascinated to how other curators work, what they do differently than I do."

Otherwise, McNeil's position involves coordinating shipping from gallery to gallery and traveling back an forth from the Minneapolis office and partnering with galleries throughout the rest of the country. The Blanton is the twelfth stop on the tour so far, he says. Prior, he was in Denver at RedLine, showing roughly half of the same pieces the Blanton selected for their exhibition.

"There are a little more than half of the pieces that have been in all of the exhibitions. These are the ones that are, I think, of more interest," McNeil says. "But also, in working with the local presenters, you see whatever pieces being chosen that they find helpful for their mission. It's a tricky collection to work with because everything is so different. You can't make it too crowded or it can get difficult to see it all."

Interestingly, when the pieces are not traveling the country, they are otherwise hanging in RBC's corporate offices. So another aspect of McNeil's job is finding replacement artwork for those offices in the interim. "If we have time, we put them back up in the offices. We don't want to have blank walls, so there's some hustling to switch back and forth every six months or so. It's sort of like working for two bosses at times with different goals."

As for the Blanton's inspiration to pair the RBC collection with the Blanton's acquisition of the Vogel's personal collection, McNeil says he was excited to hear the pairing was happening and happy to get to see the pieces.

"The Vogels really have such an amazing story; people still can't figure out how they did what they did, amassing so much artwork with not a lot of money. And I think there's a story in that," McNeil states. "Similarly, the RBC collection is very educational; there are stories in each one of these pieces. It really lends itself to that type of viewing."

Altogether, The Human Touch and The Collecting Impulse showcase 90 compelling works by artists such as Radcliffe Bailey, Gaijin Fujita, Nan Goldin, Kerry James Marshall, Stephen Antonakos, Elizabeth Murray, Ursula von Rydingsvard and Richard Tuttle.

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The combined exhibition of The Human Touch: Selections from the RBC Wealth Management Art Collection and The Collecting Impulse: Fifty Works from Dorothy and Herbert Vogel opens Sunday to the public and runs until Aug 12.