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The Ideal Umlauf Experience, Thwarted!

As I was driving to The Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum yesterday in my  1997 Subaru (restored, for all intents and purposes, faithfully and lovingly by mis amigos at Go Greene Auto – hey, what’s a freewheeling fine arts blog without brief detours to unsolicited plugs for your local trustworthy mechanic?), it occurred to me that I had never experienced this Austin treasure in a context that best served the artist’s work – ideally, undisturbed.  Serene.   A cloudy Wednesday afternoon to traverse the paths of a sure-to-be empty walking garden created for Umlauf’s broad sense of sculpture, from hyperdetailed realism to smooth, lyrical abstraction, all of it possessing a potency that can only be described by this caffeinated typist as badass?

Well.  Sign.  Me.  Up.

As an added bonus, I decided to check out the exhibit indoors as well, entitled “Texas Treasures: Early Texas Art from Austin Museums”.  This collection of paintings and sculpture, dating from the late 1800s to the late 1950s, is best summarized by me getting outta the damn way and letting the museum’s program do the talking:

“…’Texas Treasures’ features twenty-four masterworks of Early Texas Art that have rarely been available to the public.  These seminal works express the breadth of Texas art: from the origins of classical portraiture and impressionist landscape painting in the nineteenth century, to the American Scene painting of the Depression era, to the many interpretations of modernism at the mid-twentieth century.  ‘Texas Treasures’ demonstrates without question that the history of art in Texas is a history of eccentricity.”

And y’all, that it surely does.  Brightly frustrated abstractions of Ben Culwell and Seymour Fogel.   Check.   Lone Star impressionist dreamstates of Jack Boynton, DeForrest Judd and William Lewis Lester.   Yessir/ma’am.  The hypnotically bleak world of Donald Leroy Weisman’s futuristic sort of cubism.  Present.  The beautifully stark portraiture of Merritt Mauzey and Robert Jenkins Onderdonk, oh hell yes.   And the utterly sublime grace of Charles’ Umlauf’s two ‘Mother and Child’ sculptures, as well as 1949’s ‘Supplication’, also on this here docket.   This fabulous, albeit terse, collection of work highlights the strength and breadth of artistic vision cultivated by/in this vast, complicated land of ours…one of historically bright ideas and horrific blunders, carried out by visionary idealists and thieving crooks, that we – yes, new Austinites, while you may try, places like Abilene and Odessa still exist, so, deny it all you like in yer noggin, you are transplanted Texans, ha! – call home.


What a simple pleasure it was to walk through this small museum space – “WOW, THIS PLACE IS GREAT, DO Y’ALL DO WEDDINGS?” – revisiting all of the canvases one, two, three, four times – “DADDY, WHO’S GETTING MARRIED?  ARE THEY GETTING MARRIED TODAY?” – letting my mind wander in various directions toward moods and influences, – “HONEY, YOUR DADDY’S ASKING THE NICE LADY A QUESTION, DON’T INTERRUPT, IT’S RUDE!” – the gentle hum of the central air-conditioning providing just the right amount of white noise – “WELL, I WANT TO KNOW WHO’S GETTING MARRIED!  AND I WANT A MASSAGE!  NOW!” – as a soundtrack floating to and fro, between these captivating works of art.

A middle-aged dude with blue hair and sandals with socks had entered with his wife and daughter, and was talking as if he was competing with a damn jet engine in an air hangar.  Maybe if I go over there and find out where he keeps his volume knob…

“I BET YOU COULD PUT THE BAND THERE, AND SOME FREE FOOD OVER THERE!”  he said, pointing outside to a couple locales on the property.

“Well, it varies from function to function, I think,” the mousy woman behind the counter said, obviously and equally as startled as me by what could only be described as clueless, oddly jovial, barking.

“WELL, I DON’T KNOW WHY IT WOULD CHANGE, YOU LOOK RIGHT OUT THERE AND IT’S OBVIOUS HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE!”  (His years of wedding planning experience were adding to the oddity of his braggadocio, apparently.)


(At this point, the youngster marches over to a bench with her hands on her hips, the pouting princess, then lays down on her belly, and pulls up her shirt to expose a back that, I’m guessing, is knotted up from countless hours of sweatshop work?  Geez, Louise, I don’t know…)


(Mom, also sporting sandals, but sans ROYGBIV coif, wanders over, straddles the bench, and begins working this second grader like she’s a spa client)

“WELL, HOWEVER YOU SET IT UP, I’M GUESSING IT’S WAAAY TOO EXPENSIVE,” the doofus said, smiling like he’d just consumed a steaming heap (if I can create the most grotesque of images, and I will).  You know, doing his part to stick it some Invisible Man and his unacceptable profit margins bestowed upon the working class.  ‘Cause after all, if anyone deserves to be taken to task in this realm, it’s a cashier working for near minimum wage.

“Again, sir, I think that cost varies from function to function as well, but if you’re interested, I can put you contact with the sales department…”

“NONONONO.  NO (cue the finger quotations in the air here) SALES DEPARTMENT NECESSARY.  I WAS JUST CURIOUS, I DON’T NEED (again, the wagging digits) THE PITCH.  TIME TO GO, EVERYBODY!”

And they left, walking through the parking lot and getting into their Prius, which, judging by the decals plastered all over its back window and bumper, was meant just as much for the politically correct sloganeering of sticker hell as it was transport.  So much for being a socialist vegetarian AND a respectful museum-goer…

(As yet another aside, I feel compelled to tell my limited audience, for fear of being painted into a corner as some anti-procreative grouch, that I loooove me some kids.  When I roll around on the carpet with my niece and nephew and build us some serious fortresses out of sheets and sofa cushions, I get lost in their innocence to a depth that often brings me to the point of joyful tears.  I’d love to have some rugrats of my own someday, truth be told.  Now, I also looove me some ‘70s action flicks, complete with fistfights and big guns and crashing cars and Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson and all that gratuitous, macho nonsense that Tarantino’s been copping since “Reservoir Dogs”.  But I don’t see any reason to try and marry the two, the anklebiters AND “The French Connection” or “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”.   Screaming kiddos?  Whee.  Quiet museums.  Yahoo.  But sometimes, two great tastes just don’t go so great together, ya know?)

So, I wandered out to the sculpture garden to regain the sort of placidity that I had abruptly lost in the museum…only to realize that it had been transformed into a colorful playground of shrieking and Moms on the verge of nervous breakdowns.

The ideal Umlauf experience, thwarted!
Not to worry, I’ll be back…

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