Illuminating "Luminous": Handpicking Masterworks of Print and Drawing at the Blanton

Blanton Museum of Art
Jun 20, 2013 5:31PM

This spring I worked as graduate intern in the Department of Prints, Drawings and European Paintings at the Blanton Museum of Art where I assisted curator, Francesca Consagra, with the planning of Luminous: 50 Years of Collecting Prints and Drawings at the Blanton. Perhaps the most informative and exciting part of planning the exhibition was the process of selecting the 150 works that comprise the show from the Blanton’s encyclopedic collection.  More than other exhibitions in which works of art are representative of a common artist, theme or narrative, Luminous is comprised of prints and drawings spanning four continents and over five centuries, united solely by their great significance to the museum.  Visitors to the exhibition will see that it is divided into three different nationalities – European, Latin American, and American – and that major gifts are highlighted, namely those from the Suida-Manning collection and the private collections of Leo Steinberg and Barbara Duncan, within each nationality.  What visitors will not see is the lengthy and difficult decision making process that went into the formation of Luminous, and since I had the unique opportunity to observe and participate in this process, it seems only fair that I share some of my experience.


Luminous celebrates fifty years of exceptional connoisseurship on the part of The Blanton and its donors by bringing together the works of highest quality and importance from the collection, a task easier said than done, considering that the museum has over 15,000 works on paper.  Indeed, one of the biggest challenges faced in planning the exhibition was finding the time and energy to view the massive collection.  Some days were almost exclusively devoted to looking through boxes of matted prints and drawings.  These days were particularly exciting for me, not only because I was be able to see hundreds of incredible works of art over the course of only a few hours but also because they were opportunities to witness the curator, Francesca Consagra, in her element. 


On one particular day we were going through several boxes of 16th and 17th century European prints and Dr. Consagra pulled out Drunken Silenus, a print by the Spanish artist Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652).  As a student of nineteenth-century French art, I knew little about Ribera, but I remember not thinking much of the print at first glance.  Francesca, however, was ecstatic.  She was as delighted with the state of the impression (the paper was in excellent condition, the lines were clean, dark and hadn’t been retouched by former owners) as she was with the hilarity of the scene depicted (the pot-bellied Greek God and teacher of Dionysus, the God of Wine, is accompanied by satyrs who encourage his excessive imbibing and two babies, or putti, who appear to be just as drunk as Silenus). After a period of careful examination, I began to see what Francesca recognized immediately: this print belonged in Luminous.  I also realized that her ability to recognize instantaneously the extremely high quality of this work is something that can only come after years of experience and viewing other impressions of the same print. 


All of the other works in Luminous boast the same high level of quality as the Ribera print, and I am confident that visitors will be astounded by the incredible variety, depth and significance of the Blanton’s collection of works on paper. What is so incredible about Luminous is that it brings works by Dürer, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Cassatt, Picasso, Berni, Rivera, Johns, Stella and many, many more into a single exhibition, and I hope that visitors will find that each work maintains its own individual voice while also conversing with the other works, both similar and disparate, to convey the importance of the Blanton’s collection of prints and drawings.


Sarah Abare is pursuing a master's degree in art history at The University of Texas at Austin. She worked as curatorial intern in the Department of Prints, Drawings and European Paintings at the Blanton during the spring of 2013.  

Blanton Museum of Art