Scope out UT’s fabulous ‘Collections’ as it goes free and digital

One of the most beautiful and compelling books to come out of Austin in many a year is “The Collections,” an encyclopedic account of the 170 million artifacts preserved by the University of Texas.

It’s a big one. The doorstop, released in January 2016, comes in at 720 oversized pages. I’ve browsed through it incessantly and have cooked up some tasty stories from its contents, derived from more than 80 collections of art and artifacts over a wide range of subjects.

Wonder of wonders: It’s now available for free digitally.


If you prefer the hard copy, the list price is $125.

RELATED: ‘Collections’ highlights unusual and historic objets held at UT.

“This is the first time a publication of this kind has been produced by a public university,” said Andrée Bober, the book’s editor and director of the university’s public art program, Landmarks. “By making it available for free and online, we are putting the collection before a greater public. It’s our hope that this digital edition will increase awareness of these materials and inspire other universities to make their collections known.”

Bober conceived this survey and organized more than 350 individuals to lend their expertise. She’s an enormous asset to the university, to say the least.

Worth a read: Why millennial pop songs sound the same, and a letter from Gene Wilder

News, buzz and cultural chatter that caught our eye recently…

Pop music is like junk food. Its popularity banks on familiarity. The reason many new songs become instant hits is because they sound much like other hits by using the same very limited number of notes and musical phrases. And it’s getting worse. In 2012 researchers found that the difference between one melody and another is consistently diminishing. Enter the Millennial Whoop, a term (credited to musician and product manager Patrick Metzger) that describes that swoop from the fifth note of a scale to the third and back again. And once you hear it, you’ll never be able to un-hear it.   Check out this delightful  and interesting short video explanation of the Millennial Whoop: (via


“WARMEST REGARDS, GENE WILDER.” Ransom Center theater curator Eric Colleary is eagle-eyed when it comes to mining charming and timely materials in the vast University of Texas archive and posting it to his Twitter feed. When the news that actor Gene Wilder had died emerged earlier this week, Colleary quickly found a letter in the archive that Wilder had written to New York Times theater critic Mel Gussow in the 1970s. In it, Wilder declines Gussow’s request for an interview during a brief visit the actor would be making to New York.   Writes Colleary: “Wilder claimed to be arriving by coffin, that he’d already be dead, and only barely had time to meet his daughter and have his hair done before being shipped off to Forest Lawn in Los Angeles. Wilder promised to let Gussow know next time he’d be available. And now, having actually passed, the world is far less witty.”

Ransom Center collection.
Ransom Center collection.


Speaking of millennials… Now that Netflix recently started streaming Bob Ross’ “The Joy of Painting,” the PBS series from the ’80s is poised to be a newly ironic hit with the hipsters. The 30-minute instructional show ran from 1983 to 1994, racking more than 400 episodes. In his melodious voice, Ross taught millions of wanna-be artists how to paint “happy clouds” and “happy trees” using their “almighty brushes.”  His famous credo: “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” Of course in its day “The Joy of Painting” had plenty of contemporaneous fans who watched in irony as Ross, sporting his trademark ‘fro, illuminated the secrets behind creating what can only be described as sofa art.  And that hair?  Turns out, it was a perm after all. (via

In the 1980s and 1990s, Ross was a fixture on PBS. The Joy of Painting invited viewers to watch over Ross' shoulder as he created small masterpieces in under 30 minutes.
Bob Ross filmed more than 400 episodes of ‘The Joy of Painting’ for PBS. Bob Ross, Inc.


I love quixotic utopian architecture. So I let out a little “squee” when I came across “ReActor” a rotating experimental house designed and built by artists Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley. The long and narrow, minimalist, glass-walled structure rotates a complete 360 degrees atop a 15-foot concrete column. And it tilts as the occupants putter around from tiny space to tiny space. For five days earlier this summer, the architect-artist duo lived in the rotating house while it was part of an exhibit in upstate New York.  Watch it perform!

<p><a href=”″>ReActor: a new work of performance architecture by alex schweder + ward shelley</a> from <a href=””>designboom</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>





Worth a read: When a masterpiece is just a painting — and death by bagpipe

News, buzz and assorted cultural chatter that caught our eye recently:

• The strange tale of Peter Doig is surely one of the most bizarre art stories of late. Imagine having to prove you did NOT paint a painting. Doig, a prominent Scottish painter whose canvases have fetched $25 million at auction,  faced a  lawsuit after he refused to authenticate a 40-year-old painting that a former Canadian corrections officer claimed the now-famous Doig had painted.  The sorted case had Doig and his legal team faced with having to prove the painter did not paint the painting. Bizarre, fascinating and laughable if it hadn’t made it all the way to federal court. Thankfully, Doig won. (via The New York Times)

The painting formally almost attributed to Peter Doig.


Thomas Kiefer spent 11 years as a janitor at a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facility. Unsettled by the personal items left behind by or taken from apprehended immigrants, Kiefer began taking pictures. His carefully sorted and photographed the items in compelling pictures of the once-private stuff: belts, shoelaces, toothbrushes, socks,  underwear, watches, bibles, rosaries, cell phones, keys, jewellery, calling-cards, soap, deodorant, birth control pills.  Kiefer’s series “El sueno Americano” (The American Dream) is potent, heartfelt, timely.

Soap is considered non-essential personal property this is disposed of during intake. © Thomas Kiefer
Soap is considered non-essential personal property and disposed of during intake. © Thomas Kiefer


• I feel you. A new study found that reading literary fiction — writers like Salman Rushdie, Harper Lee and Toni Morrison — helps improve readers’ understanding of other people’s emotions. Genre fiction readers? Not so much. (via The Guardian)

The Walking Library, London, ca. 1930s
The Walking Library, London, ca. 1930s

Coming to the Mall soon. Architecture News offers a good first look at the just-completed National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. designed by David Adjaye.


• Bagpipe lung: Doctors were stumped by the cause of lung disease in an English man who died in 2014. Until they took a closer look at his bagpipe-playing passion. “It sounds like a Monty Python skit or an Agatha Christie story gone wrong,” said one doctor. (via The Washington Post)

1911 wood engraving of Scottish bagpipe player
1911 wood engraving of Scottish bagpipe player


• ICYMI: Some of our recent arts coverage, in case you didn’t catch it.

Lost coins, a lost cast — sly installations debut at Laguna Gloria

Mad music boxes and half-goat men: Austin-based artist Yuliya Lanina’s dark and off-beat fairy tales

Capital T celebrates 10 years of edgy theater in Austin

HB_Missing_Truffaut_02_300ppi (2)
Detail of “Missing Truffaut” by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler. On the grounds of Laguna Gloria, the street lamp and missing cat poster features a phone number with a message.

Worth A Read: Frida Kahlo’s fringed boots, the 19th-century cat painting renaissance, Devo, Yoko,and more

A few stories and cultural news moments that caught our eye recently:

Frida Kahlo's red fringed boots
Frida Kahlo’s red fringed boots

• After Frida Kahlo died in 1954, husband Diego Rivera shut her belongings in a bathroom at their Mexico City home declaring that it would remain locked until 15 years after his death. Only in 2004 was the room opened and photographer Ishiuchi Miyako invited to document its contents. (via The Guardian)

• We are not Devo after all?  “A multifaceted examination of the musical properties of hit songs from 1960 to 2010 concludes that pop is, in fact, continually evolving.Darwin Meets Devo: The Continuing Evolution of Pop Music.” (via Pacific Standard)

Revisiting the 19th Century’s Cat-Painting Renaissance (Price: $15,000 — LOL!) 8 of 8 Cornelis Raaphorst. "Six Cats Playing With a Bird Cage"
Cornelis Raaphorst. “Six Cats Playing With a Bird Cage”

• Because: CATS. “‘The second half of the 19th century begat a cat-painting renaissance. ‘It was a trend that snowballed,’ says 19th-century paintings specialist Madalina Lazen. Bourgeois collectors, interested in enhancing plush domestic interiors, bought the cat canvases.” “The Cat-Painting Renaissance Of The 19th Century.”  (via Vulture)

• Will a retrospective of the art of Yoko Ono help New York’s Museum of Modern Art redeem itself after the widely trounced Björk exhibit? “Yoko Ono and MoMA, Together at Last.” (via The New York Times)

• We’ve got recommendations for the West Austin Studio Tour, here, here and here.

Worth a read: Pac-man as art, Facebook ‘uncensors’ critic, museums just say no to selfie sticks

A few stories and cultural news moments that caught our eye this week:
In 2012 the Museum of Modern Art announced that it would begin to acquire video games — yes, including Pac-man — for its esteemed collection. Paola Antonelli, the MoMA’s design and architecture  curator who made that decision, is a keynote speaker at SXSW Interactive. Antonelli discusses her love Pac-man among other topics in this Q-and-A.

Pac-manMany cried foul hot-mouthed art critic Jerry Saltz was shut out of his Facebook account, presumably because Facebook felt his images of medieval and ancient art were too racy. However, Saltz is back on the social media site. And with n explanation from Facebook, either continue to post.

The Smithsonian museums in Washington are among the latest cultural institutions around the world that have banned the use of selfie sticks. Officials say it’s a preventative measure to protect museum objects. Perhaps it’s also to protect hapless visitors from the instruments of narcissism.

Book fans have been atwitter since it was announced in December that the reclusive writer Harper Lee would publish a second novel more than half a century after her masterpiece, “To Kill A Mockingbird.” However many contend that the 88-year-old’s mental health is not the in state in which she could have made such decision. Lee netted a Pulitzer for “Mockingbird” which has never been out of print since it debuted in 1960. (

Worth a read: Recent cultural buzz

A few stories and cultural news moments that caught our eye this week:

Iris Van Herpen, Biophilia Dress (2011). Photo: Ben Davis.
Iris Van Herpen, Biophilia Dress (2011).
Photo: Ben Davis.
  • This weekend, the mighty Museum of Modern Art opens its massive — and enormously hyped — exhibit on Icelandic songstress and alt culture icon Björk  And the show receives a universal trouncing. Writes one critic in The Guardian: “It’s one part Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exercise, one part science lab, one part synesthesia experiment, one part Madame Tussaud’s parody.
  • He’s made a reputation — and a huge social media following  — for never (thankfully) keeping his irreverent mouth shut. Now art critic Jerry Saltz gets suspended from Facebook. Granted, Saltz loves to push the limits of good taste, but he also never fails to skewer art world power brokers.
  •  Mammoth changes within one of the oldest popular performing arts genres. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will phase out using elephants in its performances.
  • Signs that Broadway is desperate?
  •  And from our own work, the University of Texas unveils the first sculpture by a female artist on its campus. Nancy Rubins uniquely elegant “Monochrome for Austin” is also the now the largest sculpture on the Forty Acres. Our slide show.