Museum galleries are natural incubators for romance. After all, when you have nymphs and satyrs gamboling through Renaissance paintings in one wing, and heart-wrenching emotions radiating from the Abstract Expressionists in another, how can you resist falling in love?
It worked for Annie Nguyen and her boyfriend Daniel, who came to the Blanton on their first date two years ago and have been coming back ever since.
The couple met through the Vietnamese Student Association, Annie says, when both were just starting out at the University of Texas at Austin.
“We didn’t talk until the organization was having its end-of-the-year field day competition,” she recalls. “After a couple hours into intense field game events in the hot sun, Daniel and I ended up sitting out on the bench. (I felt like I was going to pass out, while Daniel had sprained his ankle. Typical us.)”
“Though we hardly knew each other, Daniel was kind enough to hobble on one leg to his car to kindly grab me some Advil, and I thought it was the sweetest thing.”
They didn’t really get to know each other for a few more years, though, when she says they “became the best of friends.”
Daniel picked the Blanton for their first date, Annie says. “I think Daniel knew I loved art and wanted to impress me.”
It was 2013 and they visited the Lifelike exhibition, which featured works from the 1960s through today showing how dozens of artists, from Andy Warhol to Chuck Close to Ai Weiwei, approached Realism in art.
“We had a blast,” Annie recalls. The couple decided to try to see every new exhibit thereafter.
But in all of the Blanton, the couple’s favorite painting is Sternenfall, she says, noting that they always make time to see it when their visit. The 1998 work by German artist Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945) tranlates to “Falling Stars.” Romance, indeed.
Another activity they do on each visit is head to the museum’s eLounge after they finish exploring the museum. This is a relaxing space where visitors can research the museum’s collection through books and computers, or just take a break on the comfy furniture.
When visiting the eLounge, Annie and Daniel liked to look through a Viewmaster there. The plastic toy was left over from the Blanton’s 2014 “Curiosity Welcome” marketing campaign, in which Viewmasters were distributed around the city for unsuspecting Austinites to find and explore. (Finders were encouraged to play with the Viewmasters and share them, and also to take photos of themselves using the Viewmasters to post to social media.)
On each visit to the eLounge, Annie says, “we made it an unintentional habit to always look through it together. It’s a fun, nostalgic novelty.”
And not long ago, the plastic novelty led Annie to a surprise idea for their second anniversary.
“I was looking through our photos for some kind of inspiration for a gift, and I found some images of us at the Blanton looking through the Viewmaster,” she says.
She remembered Image 3D, a company that makes custom photo reels for Viewmaster. “So I quickly rediscovered the company, signed up for an account, uploaded all of the photos, and a bought a view finder and reel for Daniel. It was perfect.” She had loaded the reel with photos of the two of them.
Next, Annie had to lure Daniel back to the Blanton.
“I snuck the Viewmaster into my purse, and after our round about the museum, before we entered that back room, I told Daniel to wait outside as I attempted to set up the Viewmaster. He entered shortly and was pleasantly surprised to see two view masters, and I quickly urged him to look at the one I made.”
Annie shared their experience on Instagram. “For the last two years Daniel has been taking me on dates to my favorite place — the Blanton,” she wrote. “And every visit we have this little tradition where we take turns looking through the Viewmaster at the same photo reel that’s always there. But this time, Daniel discovered a new Viewmaster and reel. And he was pretty surprised.”
Later, she shared this secret with us: “He won’t admit it, but I am pretty sure it made him tear up after he flipped through the reel.”
Happy anniversary, Annie and Daniel! We look forward to seeing you at the Blanton on your next date.
Rebecca Johnson is the editor of McDonald Observatory’s StarDate magazine at The University of Texas at Austin, and a guest blogger for the Blanton.