Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas will soon become the first major U.S. museum to carve out a dedicated space for sound art — an artistic discipline that uses sound as its primary medium.
Made possible by a $5 million donation from long-time museum supporters Dr. Ernest and Sarah Butler, the new space will take the form of an outdoor area on the museum’s campus just north of the Michener Building, which is home to Blanton’s collection and exhibition program.
The Butler Sound Gallery is part of the museum’s overarching revitalization plans, entitled the “New Grounds Initiative,” which also includes multiple performance spaces and a new mural commission by Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera.
New Installation from Sound Art Pioneer Bill Fontana
Sound art pioneer, composer and artist Bill Fontana will open the new sound art space with an installation incorporating the sounds of Texas wildlife and geological structures, recorded over four seasons.
“We’re especially thrilled that artist Bill Fontana, who has shaped the field of sound art, will open the Butler Sound Gallery with a new, immersive work,” Veronica Roberts, Blanton Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, said in a statement. “Fontana’s installation will offer an acoustic portrait of Austin and the Texas Hill Country and relocate hidden sounds of our geologically unique landscape to an inviting civic space.”
A Bold Step Forward for Sound Art
The new gallery signifies a bold step forward in the emergence of sound art as a more prominent art form and the future of art as a borderless experience. Sound artists draw from various inspirations including those found in nature, as Fontana has done, to create an immersive and emotive experience for the listener.
Referring to his installations as “sound sculptures,” Fontana records sounds from the natural environment and pairs them with evocative imagery to create a dynamic experience while raising awareness about issues of climate change. For the Butler Sound Gallery installation, which currently has a working title of Landscape Soundings, Fontana will be traveling through Texas during all four seasons to record natural sounds like birds, bats, and even limestone caverns and aquifers.
“At the heart of this sound sculpture is my dedication to listening and belief that the act of listening is a way of making music,” Fontana said in the statement.
The creation process will take a similar approach to Fontana’s 2019 work Sequoia River Echoes, which made use of accelerometers to record the sound of the river passing through the ground and vibrating within the tree trunks.
Sound Art Space Ideal for Austin audiences
“Visitors will be surprised and delighted to venture not only beyond our walls to encounter art but also beyond the visual,” said Carter E. Foster, Blanton Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs, in the statement. “What makes sound art so powerful is the way it can create a multisensory experience. It’s exciting to integrate this burgeoning genre into our collection, especially in a city like Austin, which is full of audiences attuned to listening.”
Fontana’s work will remain installed in the space for two years, but the Butlers’ donation also includes an endowment for future installations to ensure more dynamic programming for years to come.
The museum broke ground on the New Grounds Initiative in March of this year, and it’s slated for completion in late 2022.
More Fun Things to Do in Austin
Looking for more fun things to do in Austin?
The Black is Beautiful exhibit recently opened at the Blanton Museum of Art. This exhibit features the work of activist and photographer Kwame Brathwaite and explores the fascinating time of the second Harlem Renaissance during the 1950s and 60s.
It’s summer, which means it’s time for another Zilker musical – Little Shop of Horrors is playing select dates in July and August. Tickets are free, and they also offer a limited number of walk-in tickets.
The Austin Pride Parade is back and better than ever this August, and there’s plenty of parties and celebrations happening all over town to commemorate.
To listen to local and emerging artists, check out the drop-in summer concert series, which runs until September 9th.
For some classic cinema, don’t miss the Paramount summer classic film series.
Lead photo credit: Blanton Museum of Art New Grounds, view from Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard looking north toward the Faulkner Gateway, and Austin by Ellsworth Kelly, with the Edgar A. Smith Building on left and the Mari and James A. Michener Gallery Building on right, courtesy Snøhetta and Blanton Museum of Art.