Stack of booksDo you love art and books? Is your new year’s resolution to read and learn more? Then The Blanton Book Club is just the thing for you! This well-loved group meets in the galleries once a month for docent-led discussions as part of our Third Thursday evening events. Books are selected in conjunction with works on view. Admission is always free.

This year, join us for lively discussions of the following publications:

January 19: Night by Elie Wiesel

Selected as part of Light / The Holocaust and Humanity Project, Ballet Austin’s Holocaust education partnership promoting the protection of human rights against bigotry and hate through arts, education, and public dialogue, Night offers a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel’s survival as a teenager in Nazi death camps. More than a litany of daily terrors, the book eloquently addresses many of the philosophical as well as personal questions implicit in any serious consideration of what the Holocaust was, what it meant, and what its legacy is and will be.

February 16: The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday

Selected in conjunction with the exhibition Go West! Representations of the American Frontier, The Way to Rainy Mountain traces the journey of Pulitzer Prize winning author N. Scott Momaday’s Kiowa ancestors from their ancient beginnings in the Montana area to their final war and surrender to the United States Cavalry at Fort Sill and subsequent resettlement near Rainy Mountain, Oklahoma. According to Momaday, “the stories in The Way to Rainy Mountain are told in three voices. The first voice is the voice of my father, the ancestral voice, and the voice of the Kiowa oral tradition. The second is the voice of historical commentary. And the third is that of personal reminiscence, my own voice. There is a turning and returning of myth, history, and memoir throughout, a narrative wheel that is as sacred as language itself.”

March 15: Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Books on table
Selected to accompany the exhibition American Scenery: Different Views in Hudson River School Painting, Nature, written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, put forth the transcendentalist belief that divinity suffuses nature and that we can only understand reality through studying nature. This essay established a new way of looking at the Americas and its raw, natural environment and many scholars identify Emerson as one of the first writers to develop a uniquely American literary style and vision. Nature, written by Henry David Thoreau when he was a senior at Harvard College, was an essential influence on his own works, including Walden.

April 19: Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden

Selected to accompany the exhibitions American Scenery and Go West!,Nothing Daunted follows Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, childhood friends and graduates of Smith College, from their homes in Auburn, New York, to the wilds of northwestern Colorado. Bored by society luncheons, charity work, and the young men who courted them, Woodruff and Underwood traveled by train and wagon to the tiny settlement of Elkhead, taking teaching positions at a remote mountaintop schoolhouse.

In their buoyant letters home, the two women captured the voices and stories of the pioneer women, children, and other memorable people they got to know. Nearly a hundred years later, New Yorker executive editor Dorothy Wickenden—the granddaughter of Dorothy Woodruff—found the letters and began to reconstruct the women’s journey. Enhancing the story with interviews with descendants, research about these vanished communities, and trips to the region, Wickenden creates an exhilarating saga about two intrepid young women and the “settling up” of the West.

May 17: A is for American: Letters and Other Characters in the Newly United States by Jill Lepore

What ties Americans to one another? What unifies a nation of citizens with different racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds? These were the dilemmas faced by Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as they sought ways to bind the newly United States together.

In A is for American, selected in conjunction with American Scenery, award-winning historian and New Yorker writer Jill Lepore portrays seven men who turned to language to help shape a new nation’s character and boundaries. From Noah Webster’s attempts to standardize American spelling, to Alexander Graham Bell’s use of “Visible Speech” to help teach the deaf to talk, to Sequoyah’s development of a Cherokee syllabary as a means of preserving his people’s independence, these stories form a compelling portrait of a developing nation’s struggles. Lepore brilliantly explores the personalities, work, and influence of these figures, seven men driven by radically different aims and temperaments. Through these superbly told stories, she chronicles the challenges faced by a young country trying to unify its diverse people.

June 21: A Short Life of Trouble: Forty Years in the New York Art World by Marcia Tucker

Selected in conjunction with The Collecting Impulse: Fifty Works from Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, this engrossing memoir brings to vivid life the behind-the-scenes struggles of Marcia Tucker, the first woman to be hired as a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the founder of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City. Tucker came of age in the 1960s, and this spirited account of her life draws the reader directly into the burgeoning feminist movement and the excitement of the New York art world during that time. Her own new ways of thinking led her to take principled stands that have changed the way art museums consider contemporary art. As curator of painting and sculpture at the Whitney, she organized major exhibitions of the work of Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, and Richard Tuttle, among others. As founder of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, she organized groundbreaking exhibitions that often focused on the nexus of art and politics. The book highlights Tucker’s commitment to forging a new system when the prevailing one proved too narrow for her expansive vision.

July 19: Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton

Selected in conjunction with The Collecting Impulse and The Human Touch: Selections from the RBC Wealth Management Collection, Sarah Thornton’s judicious and juicy account of the institutions that have the power to shape art history will change the way you look at contemporary culture. Based on hundreds of interviews with high-profile players, this series of beautifully paced narratives investigates the drama of a Christie’s auction, the workings in Takashi Murakami’s studios, the elite at the Basel Art Fair, the eccentricities of Artforum magazine, the competition behind an important art prize, life in a notorious art-school seminar, and the wonderland of the Venice Biennale.

August 16: The 12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Donald N. Thompson

Why would a smart New York investment banker pay $12 million for the decaying, stuffed carcass of a shark? By what alchemy does Jackson Pollock’s drip painting No. 5, 1948 sell for $140 million?

Intriguing and entertaining, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark is a Freakonomics approach to the economics and psychology of the contemporary art world. Why were record prices achieved at auction for works by 131 contemporary artists in 2006 alone, with astonishing new heights reached in 2007? Don Thompson explores the money, lust, and self-aggrandizement of the art world in an attempt to determine what makes a particular work valuable while others are ignored.

Photos: Rick Hall

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