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Take a Peek at Stunning Alumni Art Collections

There is a gaping void on the dining room wall of Tom Dunning’s Dallas home.

Normally the space is ruled by “Paradise 24, Sao Francisco de Xavier, Brazil,” (below) Dunning’s beloved, 7 feet by 9 feet photograph by the contemporary German artist Thomas Struth

Blanton Museum Thomas Struth Paradise Tom and Sally Dunning

But now the photograph—one of only 10 prints—greets visitors to the Blanton Museum of Art on the UT campus. It’s a lush image of a dense, vibrant forest, and the large scale creates an immersive experience, surrounding the viewer with moss-covered tree trunks and a fern-lined floor. Just across the gallery in another jungle scene, a tiger stalks its prey in Henri Rousseau’s 1907 painting, “Exotic Landscape with Tiger and Hunters.” 

In between those two works hangs Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies,” and in the next space you’ll find a crescent-shaped pile of green candy in shiny cellophane and a digital ticker displaying messages about murder.

They’re all part of the exhibit, “Through the Eyes of Texas: Masterworks from Alumni Collections” on view at the Blanton through May 19. It’s an unconventional and surprising group of 200 pieces of art—paintings, sculpture, photographs, ancient artifacts, multimedia, and drawings—on loan from UT alumni. Alumni like Tom Dunning, BBA ’65, and his wife Sally, who parted with their dining room’s signature Struth print. 

Blanton Museum of Art Through the Eyes of Texas Masterworks from Alumni

A total of 26 business school graduates contributed art to the exhibit, making them the second largest group of lenders, after the College of Liberal Arts.

Curator Annette Carlozzi says the museum wanted to show alumni-owned art to help celebrate the Blanton’s 50th anniversary, display pieces that are not typically available for public viewing, and to create a kind of catalogue of the collective art holdings of university alumni. 

The Blanton team visited 150 alumni homes around the country, talking art with alumni collectors and touring their most prized pieces. Some homes were so stuffed with art—collecting can be addictive—that they were resorting to less than ideal storage solutions.

“I saw a million dollar painting resting on the floor of a closet,” Carlozzi says. ”Art was everywhere.”

William Wheless, BBA ’68, and his wife Laura lent three pieces to the exhibit, including a Maya flint, circa 550-950 CE (below). The rare artifact is a profile of a Maya god and a symbol of royal authority. Wheless, a Maya buff, says he was determined to get the piece when it came up for sale at Sotheby’s recently. 

Blanton Museum Mayan Eccentric Flint William and Laura Wheless

Other pieces on display from McCombs alumni include a John Singer Sargent portrait, on loan from Harlan Crow,  BBA’ 74, and his wife; a Mary Cassatt drypoint from Leslie and Jack Blanton, Jr., BBA ’75; and a Jasper Johns lithograph from Marilou and John Long, both MBA ’83.

One of the most unexpected moments in the exhibit is courtesy of the green candies, an untitled work from Felix Gonzalez-Torres, on loan from Cindy Rachofsky, BBA ’78, and her husband Howard (who until early this year had opened their private home to the public to view their art collection). When Gonzalez-Torres created the piece in 1991, he was sick with AIDS and losing many artist friends to the disease. Visitors are invited to take a piece of candy from the pile, causing it to diminish the way his community was. It’s also a nod to the taking of communion, a moment of reverence before returning to the outside world.

Curator Carlozzi says it’s “one of the most important works of art made in the United States during the early 1990s,” and does what art does best: connects us to human creativity and to the past and present, and causes us to pay attention to and learn from who and what surrounds us.

Gallery image: This wall contains three works on loan from McCombs alumni. From left, artist Tom Lea's "Study for a Conquistador in 'Pass of the North' mural," circa 1937, on loan from Ginni and Richard Mithoff, BBA '68; "Ley Marcial (Martial Law)," a 164 acrylic and collage by Antonio Berni, on loan from Judy and Chales Tate, BBA '68; andbottom row, third from the leftthe 1903 Thomas Eakins painting, "Rear Admiral Charles Dwight Sigsbee" on loan from Harlon Crow, BBA '74, and his wife; are surrounded by diverse works from the collections of other UT alumni. Mary Myers/Blanton Museum.

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