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IT’S REALLY GOING TO HAPPEN this time. On April 29 the Blanton Museum of Art at last unveils its new home, the Mari and James A. Michener Gallery, at the University of Texas. After nearly three decades of planning, a wealth of soap-opera moments, and some eleventh-hour technical difficulties, Austin will lay claim to the largest university art complex in the country.
The long wait, if you remember, has much to do with the Blanton’s design: There was the dramatic exit in 1999 by its original architects, the award-winning Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, when UT’s Board of Regents nixed their bold proposal (undulating roof? Next!), followed by the resignation of the dean of the School of Architecture and a campus rally in protest. But for all the time, money, and hotheadedness, the final incarnation of the museum is strikingly unremarkable. Yes, its Texas granite base, epe wood overhangs, and sixteen-foot-deep arcades are lovely, but they’re, well, decidedly traditional. The new Blanton is just a building, not a masterpiece.
And that’s the point: It’s what’s inside that’s worth lingering over. Step within the Blanton’s light-saturated atrium, with its limestone floors and awesomely geometric skylight, and the ordinariness fades away. A wide, seemingly endless staircase beckons you into a dizzying warren of galleries filled with intelligent groupings of some of the museum’s more than 17,000 works. Two of its strongest collections—modern and contemporary American and Latin American art—are integrated in the groundbreaking “America/Americas,” arranged chronologically in ten (ten!) connecting rooms. Oversize Modernist pieces, like the newly acquired Dawn’s Presence—Two Columns, by Louise Nevelson, fill a gallery half the length of a football field; you’ll find old masters (Peter Paul Rubens’ Study of the Head of a Youth, Paolo Veronese’s The Annunciation) in the superlative Suida-Manning Collection. Works from the museum’s encyclopedic archive of 13,500 prints and drawings hang in intimate twenty-by-twenty-foot galleries.
Then there’s the spacious temporary exhibition area downstairs; with movable walls, it’ll never feel like the same place twice. One of its first offerings is “New Now Next: The Contemporary Blanton,” a showcase of recent acquisitions that will have culture vultures circling (tip: Block out obnoxious know-it-alls by plugging in to the Uncommon Commentary audio guide). Oh, and the entire building is laptop-friendly, with Wi-Fi Internet access and comfy seats in well-placed “rest stops.” The eLounge, a hip rotunda outfitted with eight flat-screen computers, even boasts a corner-window view of the Capitol.
Lest you think the bulldozers out front are some avant-garde installation, the Blanton complex is still a work-in-progress. A sister building with more user-friendly features—a cafe, an auditorium, a lecture hall, classrooms—will be completed in 2007, as will a landscape of shady paths, a garden, and a 94-elm allée designed by Peter Walker, a co-creator of the World Trade Center Memorial. So when you go for the 24-hour grand opening, squint your eyes a bit and imagine the completed Blanton. By Sunday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, you’ll get it. It’s really all about the art. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd & Congress Ave, 512-471-7324, blantonmuseum.org JORDAN BREAL
What’s In A Name?
That’s what Major League Soccer’s newest club has been asking after the recent brouhaha over its moniker: After the San Jose Earthquakes up and moved to the Bayou City in December, a public poll rechristened the team Houston 1836, presumably in honor of the city’s birth year. But that’s also the year, of course, that Sam Houston’s troops whupped Santa Anna’s, a touchy subject in a city with the nation’s fifth-largest Hispanic population. Oops. To soothe raw nerves, the team has now re-re-dubbed itself the Houston Dynamo, partly as a nod to the city’s energy industry (there’s no controversy there). Nomenclature aside, the club should still pack ’em in at its new home turf, the University of Houston’s Robertson Stadium. Led by 2005 MLS Coach of the Year Dominic Kinnear, the team scorched competitors with an 18-4-10 regular season record last year, the league’s best. Opponents, including in-state rivals FC Dallas, are hoping the move—if not the name woes—will cool off a hot team. Apr 2: Colorado Rapids. Apr 8: Kansas City Wizards. Apr 22: Real Salt Lake. University of Houston campus, Robertson Stadium, Scott & Holman; 713-276-7500; mlsnet.com/MLS/hou/
Saran-wrapped toilets or a cultural excursion? Take a preemptive strike on April Fools’ Day and take your scheming offspring to the opening of the McKenna Children’s Museum. What with the walk-around aquarium, the hidden-treasure sandbox, the hands-on garden, or the opportunity to paint a full-size VW Beetle, by the time you get ’em home, they’ll be too tired to pull any pranks. Apr 1. 801 W. San Antonio, 830-620-0939, nbchildren.org
COLLEGE STATION, AUSTIN, DALLAS
Blame it on society’s fondness for shoving cute young things up the music charts, but the classical world is making much ado about its latest star. The 23-years-in-the-making overnight sensation that is Chinese pianist Lang Lang has his fans all aquiver with a) his no-flushing-toilet-to-riches saga, b) his cherubic face and spiky boy-band hair, and c) his knack for putting on a good show—and we’re talking an in-the-throes-of-passion sort of display. It’s that flamboyance that has also earned the prodigy his share of critics, who decry his style as noxious to classical tradition. True or not, Lang Lang is that most bankable sort of musician: an interesting one to watch. Apr 6: Rudder Theatre, Joe Routt Blvd & Houston, College Station; 979-845-1515; mscopas.org. Apr 9: Bass Concert Hall, 23rd & Robert Dedman Dr, Austin; 800-687-6010; utpac.org. Apr 11: Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora, Dallas; 214-692-0203; dallassymphony.com
Whether your team was blanked in the big dance (ahem, Astros) or consistently inconsistent (yes you, Rangers), everyone now has 162 fresh chances to win. Look for new Astros power hitter Preston Wilson to get the bats going while the veteran Killer B’s (Berkman, Biggio, and the questionable Bagwell) try to stem late-2005 batting average slides—never mind Roger Clemens’s will-he-won’t-he signing dance. As for the not-yet-contending Texas Rangers, angle for a glimpse of the youthful GM, Jon Daniels, and cross your fingers that fresh arms Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, and Adam Eaton provide some much-needed firepower from the mound. Here’s to a clean slate. Houston Astros. Apr 3–5: Florida Marlins. Apr 7–10: Washington Nationals. Apr 17–19: Milwaukee Brewers. Apr 21–23: Pittsburgh Pirates. Apr 24–26: Los Angeles Dodgers. Minute Maid Park, Crawford & Texas Ave; 877-927-8767; astros.mlb.com. Texas Rangers. Apr 3–5: Boston Red Sox. Apr 6–9: Detroit Tigers. Apr 21–23: Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Apr 24–26: Oakland A’s. Ameriquest Field in Arlington, 1000 Ballpark Way; 817-273-5100; rangers.mlb.com
AUSTIN, GEORGETOWN, OTHER LOCATIONS
Okay, so festivals with “wine” and “food” in the title are often nothing more than convention-center buffets. But you can’t help but feel a bit buzzed over this year’s Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, whose organizers said “thanks, but no thanks” to Saveur’s sponsorship and made the four-day roster of speakers, cooking demos, and nosh sessions a little less New York and a lot more Texas. And the local stars, how they’ll shine: Look for Austin chefs David Bull (Driskill Grill) and Tyson Cole (Uchi) at the Culinary Masters Dinner, San Antonio’s Bruce Auden (Biga on the Banks) at a Savor the Hill Country luncheon, and Dallas’s Katherine Clapner (Stephan Pyles) at the Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting. Finish out the weekend in a swirl of feasting with such celeb chefs as John Ash and Susana Trilling. Apr 6–9. Various locations. 512-249-6300, texaswineandfood.org
And the Wiener Is …
With not one but two hot-dog mad dashes, April might as well be the month of the dachshund. Cheer on 64 top dawgs—in eight dramatic rounds down a forty-yard stretch—at the GoldenPaw Wienerdog Nationals at Houston’s Gulf Greyhound Park, then look for repeat contenders at the Wiener Dog Races at the Buda Country Fair. This four-hundred-canine sprint spawned Lord of the Wiens: A Dachumentary (which debuted at South by Southwest in 2004), and the wiener winner takes home $500. Let the races begin. Apr 8: Gulf Greyhound Park, 1000 FM 2004, Houston; 800-275-2946; gulfgreyhound.com. Apr 29 & 30: Buda City Park, Main, Buda; 512-295-3158; budalionsclub.com
Go see Chuck Close’s retrospective at the Modern Art Museum, “Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration,” if for no other reason than to appreciate the man’s patience. His iconic “heads,” portraits realized with careful grids, a trillion individual flecks of color, and intense focus (after suffering a paralyzing spinal aneurysm in 1988, Close now works with a brush strapped to his hand), are mind-boggling not only for their painstaking evolution but also their sheer scale. Expect pools of people around every piece; having originated at the University of Houston’s Blaffer Gallery in 2003, it’s the last time the exhibit will be in Texas. Apr 9–Jun 25. 3200 Darnell, 817-738-9215, themodern.org
Maher to Come
HOUSTON, AUSTIN, DALLAS
So you say your loyalties lie with fake-news-meister Jon Stewart. We’ll admit that Bill Maher’s celeb-paneled Politically Incorrect is so yesterday, but give the man credit for making the world safer for comics who fancy themselves loudmouthed political pundits. If you’ve been neglecting Maher for younger models, here’s your chance to catch up. Apr 13: Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas Ave, Houston; 713-230-1600; verizonwirelesstheater.com. Apr 14: Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave, Austin; 512-472-2901; austintheatre.org. Apr 15: Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm, Dallas; 214-880-0137; liveatthemajestic.com
Gear up for this year’s Dance Salad, a three-night hodgepodge of performances classic to contemporary, by memorizing the eleven-company lineup and planning your potty breaks accordingly. Approximately sixty professional movers, shakers, and leapers from around the globe have RSVP’ed for the program, so you may not want to leave your seat at all. Acts you risk missing: Guangdong Modern Dance Company’s bodies-as-letters sections of Upon Calligraphy; the Royal Danish Ballet’s U.S. premiere of Les Bras de Mer, a relationship-probing quartet featuring a man, a woman, a chair, and a table; and Ronald K. Brown’s blend of modern, ballet, African, and hip-hop styles in Come Ye, set to the music of Nina Simone. If you can’t hold it, don’t worry—many of the pieces are performed twice. Apr 13–15. Wortham Center, Cullen Theater, 501 Texas Ave; 713-315-2525; dancesalad.org
Battle of the Bards
Poetry may seem polarizing—you either get it or you don’t—but the Austin International Poetry Festival unites both the curious and committed this month. Folks from England, Australia, India, and Singapore have already signed up for the four-day crawl of slams and seminars spread around the Capital City. More than two hundred voices will present original verses and classic sonnets at themed readings around town, but it’s the Friday night slam at Ruta Maya that makes or breaks a verbal talent’s career. And then there are the big-name (read: published) draws, such as award-winning San Francisco poet Kay Ryan, whose oeuvre is manifest in six collections and frequent New Yorker spots, or August Kleinzahler, who recently released Cutty, One Rock, an assembly of autobiographical essays. Come Sunday’s closing ceremonies, all the poetry world will be in metric harmony. Apr 20–23. Various locations, aipf.org
In the Flesh
For $22 you can test your gag reflex at the Houston Museum of Natural Science when you take in the more than two hundred parts—brains, slices of feet—and whole-body specimens in “Body Worlds 3: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies.” Not to reduce the biological wonders on display to freak-show status, but even Gunther von Hagens, the man behind all these preserved people, admits the show is tough to digest. In 1977 the German scientist and physician invented plastination, a way to halt decomposition by replacing bodily fluids and fats with resins and elastomers, and he has been reclaiming corpses ever since. Don’t miss the Skin Man, a fleshless specimen holding his “suit” of skin, and the Rearing Horse With Rider, a (former) fellow atop a bucking equine. You might just feel inspired to join the more than 6,500 people who have signed up for von Hagens’s donor program. Thru Sep 4. Hermann Park, 1 Hermann Circle Dr; 713-639-4629; hmns.org