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Austin's Blanton Museum of Art to be 1st major U.S. museum with dedicated sound art space

Michael Barnes
Austin 360
The Blanton Museum of Art on the University of Texas campus plans to build a new outdoor experience called the Butler Sound Gallery.

Apt for a city known for its natural setting and its distinctive sounds, the Blanton Museum of Art will be the first major U.S. museum with a dedicated outdoor space for sound sculpture, according to a news release on Tuesday.

Super-donors Ernest and Sarah Butler and their foundation have put up a $5 million gift for the purpose. The park will be located just to the north of the main galleries and to the east of Ellsworth Kelly's chapel-like "Austin" installation. The area formerly served as a surface parking lot for the nearby University of Texas dormitories.

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The future Butler Sound Gallery is part of a larger $35 million plan to completely rethink the exterior spaces around the UT art museum. The design firm Snøhetta, headed in part by UT graduates, is overseeing that effort. It has already contributed designs for what looks in renderings like a garden of 15 gigantic, perforated flowers, with installation now underway between the three Blanton buildings.

The sound gallery will feature recordings of Texas wildlife and other natural elements organized by sound artist Bill Fontana.

Thanks to a $5 million gift, the Blanton Museum of Art will become the first major U.S. museum with an outdoor space dedicated to sound art.

“Our new outdoor Butler Sound Gallery ... will change the way people encounter and experience the museum,” said Simone Wicha, director of the Blanton Museum of Art, in a statement. “For me, it felt especially important to launch this project with an artist whose work will not only surprise us and help us see more clearly through sound, but also will create a time capsule that captures the beauty and wonder of our rapidly changing world. Longtime supporters Sarah and Ernest Butler immediately saw the importance of this project, and their generous $5 million gift was pivotal in creating this latest initiative.”

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Fontana calls his works “sound sculptures.”

He said in a statement: “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.”  

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

The new Moody Patio at the Blanton Museum of Art is dominated by what look like 15 gigantic, perforated flowers.