Get to know the newest member of the Blanton’s curatorial staff, Francesca Consagra, in this Q&A; by Catherine Zinser, the museum’s print room manager.

Blanton Curator Francesca Consagra

Blanton Curator Francesca Consagra
Photo by Geoff Hammond

What is your role at the Blanton?

As Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, and European Paintings, I offer a curatorial perspective regarding the acquisition, care, interpretation, and display of these types of objects at the Blanton.

What is a curatorial perspective?

It’s a viewpoint based on research, scholarship, and years of looking at actual works of art so that informed judgments about objects may be made.

You have a Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University; you have held fellowships and research positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery in Washington; and you have headed departments at such diverse arts organizations as The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, the Saint Louis Art Museum, and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis.  What attracted you to the Blanton?

The Blanton, all at once, is a university, city, and state museum, and the synergy that can be produced by such a combination excites me. The fact that the Blanton is situated on MLK Boulevard, one of the major thoroughfares of one of the most vibrant and creative cities in the country, and is part of UT, one of world’s great research institutions, and at the Blanton’s entrance is an unobstructed view of the Texas State Capitol building — that says it all!

What attracted me to the Blanton was the opportunity to work with faculty and students from different disciplines, to collaborate with some of Austin’s most creative people, and to research in some of the greatest libraries in the country. I hope to be part of a team that thinks in new ways about works of art and presents those works and ideas to the public through exhibitions, publications, and programming.

What is a challenge you anticipate facing?

The biggest challenge I anticipate facing is helping people understand the power and importance of object-based observation and experience not only in the university’s curricula but in this vibrant city and state. Our televisions, computers, and telephones inundated us with visual stimuli but nothing can replace the experience of looking at a work of art in a museum. I’m hoping that people will be inspired to help us build the Blanton’s collections so that it can continue to grow and that, in turn, more great scholarship, discourse, and creativity can be fueled on this campus and city by direct contact with the object.

What attracted you to being a curator of prints and drawings?

Diversity and intimacy. I define intimacy here as closeness of observation which activates the inner or inmost nature of the viewer. Prints and drawings are usually small and comprised of black lines on white paper. They draw you in slowly; you need to come close to the surface of the work in order to see it and unravel its messages and beauty.

And diversity is important to me as well. I guess it makes sense that the smallest works usually make for the largest and most diverse museum collections. The Wilkinson Center for Prints and Drawings holds 89% of the Blanton’s collection and it is filled with a wide array of works on paper that represent more places, time periods, cultures, and artists than the other departments. I look forward to casting a wide geographical and temporal net over the history of art and presenting works to people in the Glickman Galleries and in the HEB Study Room. This study room offers the curatorial staff the opportunity to look at objects with members of the university community, artists, donors, and the general public in a quiet and contemplative setting. Just last week I spent several hours with a UT professor looking at a book by a contemporary Brazilian artist. The exchange was lively and focused on the particulars of the book, and it’s such experiences that drew me to this profession and to the Blanton.

Why Old Masters?

Although the term “Old Masters” is short and convenient, I don’t like it since it evokes an object made by an old European man in a smock about 400 years ago and thus has the potential to stigmatize a work as being irrelevant to today’s cosmopolitan culture and imagination.

So why did you gravitate to this type of art?

I was born in Rome, one of the great centers of the Renaissance and Baroque. And I’m indebted to my father, a well-known Italian sculptor, and my mother who was director and then president of the American Academy in Rome. Both introduced me to some fascinating people, artworks, and sites. It would have been odd if I hadn’t gravitated to this type of art!

In what other ways may “Old Masters” be relevant today?

I can quickly mention two ways but there are many others. Firstly, today’s artists find inspiration and insight from all types of art, including “Old Masters.” They enjoy investigating how someone used a particular media, gave form to an idea, and expressed a creative impulse and process, and they use this information to create new art.

Secondly, I believe that works of art speak to today’s human condition, just like a Shakespeare play or sonnet still does. The better the art, the greater is the experience for the viewer. One of my favorite quotes comes from the American artist Philip Guston (who, by the way, had a copy of Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melencolia pinned on his kitchen wall).  Guston said “a book should serve as an axe for the frozen sea within us.” I think a work of art should do the same.

What do you like about Austin?

In the three weeks that I’ve been here I can say that I appreciate the varied vegetation, the hills, the food, the openness and kindness of the people I’ve met, and the live music that I hear coming from the neighborhood garages and coffee houses on my evening walks with my husband William Herndon and our Bluetick Coonhound named Duke. I look forward to learning more about this wonderful city.

Learn more about the prints and drawings in the Blanton’s permanent collection, visit the new online collection database.

3 Responses

  1. You did a great jod in covering topics that are constantly changing and are eventful. It raise my awareness. Great job.

  2. dpmcgill says:

    Ms. Consagra misattributes the words of Franz Kafka to Philip Guston.

  3. Buzz Spector says:

    Francesca, I’m in Milan this week, leading (with Stephen Leet) a group of architecture grad students on a research visit about Bruno Munari. Since I’m also visiting every good used bookstore I can manage (and there are LOTS of them here), I keep seeing Pietro Consagra books. If there’s a title you’d like me to pick up for you, just let me know. All best to you, Willy, and family . . .

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