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See This Art: A monumental memento from Texas artist Luis Jiménez at the Blanton Museum of Art

Michael Barnes
Austin 360
Luis Jiménez’s towering 1989 sculpture “Cruzando El Rio Bravo (Border Crossing)” looms over the viewer at the Blanton Museum of Art.

Even from a distance, the woman’s burly brown and deeply furrowed features loom over the viewer. You can’t shake that look of stoic fortitude, even as your eyes drop down to take in the rooted figure of a man who strains to keep her perched atop his broad shoulders.

I passed by Luis Jiménez’s towering 1989 sculpture “Cruzando El Rio Bravo (Border Crossing)” at least three times as I strolled from gallery to gallery on the upper floor of the Blanton Museum of Art recently. I had lingered in those familiar rooms, among old friends from the museum’s store of art objects, and I made some new friends, too.

I paused repeatedly at Jiménez’s tribute — timely once again — to his Mexican ancestors who crossed the Rio Grande to give their descendants a better life. His mountain of painted fiberglass stands in the upper atrium at a sort of crossroads between two sets of galleries that display works from the museum’s Latin American art trove.

Jiménez was born in El Paso in 1940 and graduated from the University of Texas in 1964. For several decades before his death in 2006, his sculptures, prints and drawings were exhibited and published everywhere, especially in the Southwest, where Jiménez was lionized as part of a vanguard that was recharging the region’s creativity, especially from a Hispanic perspective.

Then it appeared for while as if Jiménez had drifted from public view.

Perhaps it was because the high-art crowd no longer esteemed his primary medium, painted fiberglass, a fate that befell another Texas artist, Bob “Daddy-O” Wade, who used fiberglass, among other industrial materials, to mold giant playful objects. Wade’s warm, larger-than-life personality kept him in the public eye until his death in 2019, and his legacy was burnished by an admiring obituary in the New York Times and a frisky new book, “Daddy-O’s Book of Big-Ass Art” (Texas A&M University Press).

Jiménez and Wade shared an affinity for pop art. Jiménez, however, took his subjects more seriously, especially in the case of the gripping “Cruzando El Rio Bravo.”

One can approach this almost biblical depiction from multiple tacks, and it appears no less overwhelming from any of them. The man, an echo of St. Christopher, is shifting his weight forward in movement but is forever melded to a pedestal of greenery attached to his giant feet. His muscles strain in the extreme against his rope-tied jeans and lightweight shirt, and his head bends down sacrificially under his human load.

It took a while to notice that a baby is emerging from the woman’s dark rose-colored wrap. Treated in a flatter manner than the adults, the infant, who cries and reaches its hands upward, seems almost an afterthought. Of course, it is not. It is the future.

After I left the gallery, I heard welcome news: The Blanton plans a major new show of Jiménez’s art that will open next fall.

It all comes back around.

Prints abound

It is always doubly good news when the temporary shows in the Blanton’s lower galleries share art from the museum’s permanent store, in part because it validates the range and volume of those treasures. “After Michelangelo, Past Picasso: Leo Steinberg’s Library of Prints” reveals once again the depth and connoisseurship of the late art historian, whose trove of 3,500 prints was collected before their true value was widely known.

Curator Holly Borham has done a tremendous job of explaining what roles these prints, acquired by the University of Texas in 2002, played through the centuries. One clever tool is to link the objects by way of large arrows to point out how prints grew from other images and then informed what came after them. Borham also includes reminders of Steinberg’s thought-provoking art criticism.

I hope to return to this magnificent show before it closes on May 9.

The Blanton Museum of Art is open under pandemic protocols by reservation Wednesday-Sunday at 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 512-471-5482, blantonmuseum.org.

Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at mbarnes@statesman.com.

About This Story

You Gotta See This is a recurring series about art around Austin that we think deserves a look.