Off the Walls: Gifts from Professor John A. Robertson

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

How does someone build an art collection? For John A. Robertson (1943–2017), a renowned bioethics scholar and distinguished professor at The University of Texas at Austin School of Law, the process was both dynamic and highly personal. As his friend, esteemed UT art historian Richard Shiff notes, “The law and the arts as Robertson knew them were united by a sense of the ethical—by experience filtered through human emotion, acknowledging fundamental human needs. Art enriched Robertson’s intellectual and moral life as much as it enhanced his aesthetic life.” Robertson’s passion for art and longstanding relationship with the Blanton nurtured his wide-ranging collection of modern and contemporary works on paper. It grew to include works by international, Texan, and UT-affiliated artists including Vito Acconci, Michael Ray Charles, Sue Coe, Philip Guston, Dorothy Hood, Glenn Ligon, Peter Saul, and Richard Serra.

From November 8, 2020 – March 7, 2021, the exhibition Off the Walls: Gifts from Professor John A. Robertson celebrated Robertson’s generosity and legacy with a selection of prints, drawings, collages, and photographs from the nearly ninety works of art he donated to the Blanton. The works on view—many for the first time—presented a distinctive panorama of five decades of art on paper. This additional resource includes reflections on Robertson’s collecting practice from Dr. Richard Shiff and Jonathan Bober, Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Generous funding is provided by the Bequest of John A. Robertson.

Image Credit: Philip Guston, Pile Up (detail), 1980, lithograph, 19 x 29 in., Blanton Museum of Art, Bequest of John A. Robertson, 2018 © The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy Hauser & Wirth

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