the big picture
10 scintillating Austin art exhibits to get inspired by this summer
Though a few favorite noteworthy museums are not yet reopened to the public, (We miss you, LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, Elisabet Ney Museum, and George Washington Carver Museum!), there are quite a few new exhibits welcoming Austin art lovers back with open doors and arms this summer. From experiences detailing the most popular musical instrument in the world and exhibits on everyday items like handbags to some celebrated first exhibits and works by Black female artists, these museums offer plenty to inspire, delight and broaden the mind.
The Neill-Cochran House Museum
“Indispensables: Handbags in the Neill-Cochran House Museum Collection.” Now through June 6.
Purse, handbag, satchel: From high fashion to the necessities of daily life, this exhibition explores a group of handbags from the NCHM permanent collection and connects them to the cultural trends that inspired their function and design. The 12 handbags included in the show range from extremely formal evening bags to delicate crocheted purses for day use. The exhibition is situated against the backdrop of the French Parlor in this 1855 North Central Austin estate.
The Contemporary Austin — Jones Center
“Deborah Roberts: I’m.” Now through August 15.
Austin native Deborah Roberts critiques notions of beauty, the body, race, and identity in contemporary society through the lens of Black children. Her first solo museum presentation in Texas, “I’m” is part of The Contemporary Austin’s participation in the Feminist Art Coalition, a nationwide initiative of art institutions to generate awareness of feminist thought, experience, and action through exhibitions and events. Roberts’ mixed-media works on paper and on canvas combine found images sourced from the internet with hand-painted details in striking figural compositions that invite viewers to look closely and see through the layers.
Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
“Guitar.” Now through August 15.
“Guitar: The Instrument That Rocked The World” takes visitors on an exploration of the science, sound, history, and pop culture behind the world’s most popular instrument. The immersive exhibition explores all facets of the guitar, from its history as an instrument of popular culture to the science of creating sound with wood and steel. Explore the 5,000-year-old history of the guitar’s evolution, with more than 60 guitars and 100 artifacts on display. The exhibition also features video performances, children’s events, and music-themed movies.
“Mexico, the Border and Beyond: Selections from the Juan Antonio Sandoval Jr. Collection.” Now through August 22.
In early 2020, Juan Antonio Sandoval, now a retired reference librarian and subject specialist for art and Chicano studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, donated his vast collection comprised of more than 1,500 artworks, including prints, photographs, paintings, sculptures, and popular art from the El Paso region, as well as from Mexico. Themes of the collection include life and experiences in the U.S./Mexico borderlands and artworks acquired by Sandoval during his summer trips to Oaxaca.
The Blanton Museum of Art
“Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite.” June 27 through September 19.
In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Kwame Brathwaite used photography to popularize the political slogan “Black is beautiful.” This exhibition — the first ever dedicated to Brathwaite’s remarkable career — tells the story of a key figure of the second Harlem Renaissance. Inspired by the writings of activist and Black nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite, along with his older brother, Elombe Brath, founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios and the Grandassa Models, a modeling agency for Black women founded to challenge white beauty standards. From stunning studio portraits to behind-the-scenes images of those in Harlem’s artistic community, including Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, this show offers a long-overdue exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work.
National Museum of the Pacific War
“The Art of Fredericksburg: 175 Years.” Now through September 19.
As part of the citywide celebration of Fredericksburg’s 175th anniversary this year, the National Museum of the Pacific War is hosting an exhibit featuring more than 50 original pieces of artwork created by artists from the Fredericksburg area. The nearly 30 artists chosen for this exhibition span 175 years, from Fredericksburg’s founding to present day. Among the early artists are Seth Eastman, an Army officer who was stationed at Fredericksburg’s Fort Martin Scott; German-born Hermann Lungkwitz, and Richard Petri. Contemporary artists include Lee Ethel, Phil Bob Borman, and sculptor Jonas Perkins.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden
“30x30x30.” June 1 through September 2.
This exhibit celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum by offering a sneak peek at 30 different works created by renowned local sculptor Charles Umlauf from 30 different collections — all rarely seen by the public.
Bass Concert Hall
“Behind the Scenes: Hollywood’s Sistine Chapel.” June 25 through August 1.
Texas Performing Arts presents this special exhibition of a nearly complete replica of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, including 18 backdrops from the Art Directors Guild Backdrop Recovery Project that represent full-scale copies of the historic frescos. This exhibition represents the first public viewing of the entire Sistine Chapel suite. The backdrops will be displayed on the Bass Concert Hall stage, giving art lovers the chance to go behind the scenes for a rare perspective of Austin’s largest theater.
The Blanton Museum of Art
“Suzanne Bocanegra: Valley.” June 27 through September 19.
Suzanne Bocanegra’s immersive video installation, Valley, presents eight women artists reenacting Judy Garland’s wardrobe test for the 1967 cult film Valley of the Dolls. Garland’s casting as a lead in the story of three women undone by drugs and show business was brief. Suffering from addiction herself and reputedly unpredictable, Garland was fired just days into filming. She took the costumes with her and wore them in concerts until her death from a barbiturate overdose in 1969. The wardrobe test is the only footage of Garland from the film that survives. In it, she seems fragile as she poses awkwardly in a series of outfits. Despite having grown up a star, she appears self-conscious and unsure of herself in front of the camera.
University of Texas at Austin, Landmarks
Sentinel IV by Simone Leigh, a new acquisition unveiling July 15.
Cast in bronze and standing more than 10 feet tall, Sentinel IV by New-York based artist Simone Leigh honors Black womanhood and is modeled after a Zulu ceremonial spoon, a utensil that conveys status among the Zulu people and symbolizes women’s labor. The work is Landmark’s fifth purchase and the first by a Black woman. It joins Landmarks’ collection of nearly 50 modern and contemporary works, building on the program’s commitment to represent artists who reflect its diverse audiences. A public celebration will be hosted by Landmarks with a virtual Q&A led by Stephanie Sparling Williams and the artist for its unveiling on July 15.