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