If visiting the Blanton Museum of Art on campus this weekend, don’t be alarmed by the three large, hollow-eyed faces haunting the outdoor plaza. Sure, they’ll growl, snarl, and hoot at you, but that’s all part of the fun.
The faces were set up as the Blanton’s way of celebrating Explore UT weekend, which drew thousands of visitors to campus last weekend as kids from all over discovered the Forty Acres. Last year, international artist Magda Sayeg’s installation, A Knitted Wonderland, turned the plaza trees into vibrantly striped pieces of art that could’ve been pulled straight from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.
This year, the Blanton’s choice for Explore UT weekend came from closer to home. Coinciding with its temporary indoor exhibit, American Scenery, the Blanton commissioned UT alum and Austin-based artist, Jules Buck Jones, MFA ’08, for a four piece temporary installation to be featured both inside and outside of the museum. Jones is not the first UT alum to be featured at the on-campus museum, but for an alum’s work to be featured so prominently is a rare and special occurrence.
At first, Jones’ abstract pieces may seem disconnected from the more standard, classic paintings of art featured in the American Scenery exhibit inside—but the works are not so bizarre as we might think. Focusing on the human relationship with nature, Jones’ animal pieces evoke the sense that we are both a part of nature and distanced from it.
“[Jones is] trying to bring us back in touch with why nature is so important us,” says Jennifer Garner, the Blanton’s manager of school and family programs.
Interactive and engaging, the abstract owl, fox, and alligator pieces outside are equipped with audio noises that are at once intimidating and enticing. Coupled with the gray sky and leafless trees of the plaza, the sounds are eerie, but pique the curiosity of passersby to a point where they just have to stop, walk into the structures, and check things out for themselves.
Of course, the interaction is exactly what Jones and the Blanton intended. In addition to the three pieces outside, there is also an abstract fox face inside with TV monitors for eyes and one on the forehead. The monitors display a video that is layered with scenes of humans in fox masks walking around the forest in Maine, tapping into their inner animals.
“It creates a dialogue,” Garner says of the audio and video components. “I’ve seen so many kids stare at that video and fuss when their parents make them leave.”
Jones’ installation will be taken down after Sunday evening, but the plaza may soon become even more interactive. The Blanton is currently in the process of choosing an artist to construct a semi-permanent, interactive exhibit in the outdoor plaza. The American Scenery exhibit will remain on display until May, while the other featured exhibit, a collection of American Frontier art titled Go West!, will remain in the museum until September.
Jules Buck Jones. Photos by Rick Hall.