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Austin Museum of Art Closes Downtown Location

The Austin Museum of Art has been in several headlines recently for two reasons.  The first is the possibility of a merger with the Arthouse at the Jones Center.  The second is due to the fact that AMOA will no longer have a downtown location after October.  AMOA currently has two locations, 823 Congress Avenue and 3809 35th Street, its Laguna Gloria location.  After opening its current, temporary location downtown in 1995 (see a short timeline of AMOA’s downtown history here), the non-profit museum finally sold its downtown land last year.  A merger with Arthouse would allow AMOA to continue to have a downtown presence.  The Congress location is AMOA’s main exhibition space.  While Laguna Gloria has a permanent walking trail with a few sculptures and hosts smaller exhibitions, it is mostly used as the location of the museum’s art school as well as a popular venue for parties and weddings.

The exhibitions currently on display downtown mark the end of the exhibition schedule for that location as nothing further is listed on AMOA’s website.  Good Design: Stories from Herman Miller is the main exhibition and will be on display until September 11, 2011.  The show features is organized with exhibition panels that provide an incredible amount of information, which will surely excite any patron with a love of 20th century design.  Many of the panels are devoted to the pieces of office and home furniture themselves, while others focus on the actual designers telling the design history of the creation of the iconic pieces created by Herman Miller, Inc.  World renowned designers such as George Nelson, Alexander Girard, DJ De Pree, Bill Stumpf, Robert Propst and Ray & Charles Eames are just a few singled out by the exhibition.

The first paneled space is titled “Action Office” and features two desks.  Roll-Top Desk, 1964-1971 was a collaboration between George Nelson and Robert Propst.  The two wanted to improve office spaces they had observed both aesthetically and functionally.  This desk features rounded edges which cushion rather than jab should you bump into it.  As a clumsy office worker myself, this to me is ingenious; as is the height of the desk, almost like a draftsman’s table, which allows one to sit or stand comfortably.  The rise in number of the white-collar office worker soared significantly post-World War II.  This, in turn, caused a real need for functional, private and comfortable workspace in office across the country.

The section with the most furniture on display is appropriately titled “Modern Furniture” and features several of the most well known designs from Herman Miller.  Chest of Drawers, 1933-1937 was designed by Gilbert Rhode.  This piece was originally shown at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair for Home Design.  It is simple, elegant piece of varnished wood and chrome.  One of the most playful pieces, Love Seat (Marshmallow Sofa), 1956 is a George Nelson design.  This particular model is all royal blue fabric circles.  It’s the kind of piece I’d love to own!  The Lounge Chair, 1947 designed by Charles and Ray Eames was featured in Times Magazines December 31, 1999 as one of the best design of the 20th century.  The chair is still available for purchase at stores such as Design Within Reach.

I must admit I think it would have been fantastic for AMOA to end their downtown run with a truly Austin show, such as the recent Austin: 15 to Watch, which featured fifteen up and coming Austin artists.  Of course, as Interim Curator Andrea Mellard reminded me, “Museum exhibitions are planned years in advance.  Good Design was booked prior to the Board of Trustee’s decision not to renew the lease on the 823 location in order to maintain a financially stable organization.”

For AMOA, which typically focuses on twentieth-century and contemporary art, Good Design  has been an exhibition of interest for some time.  According to Mellard, “The Museum has been interested in presenting a survey of mid-century designs for a long while.  A few years ago an industrial design exhibition was well received by the local design community.  Since design is not a collection area, we were excited to bring to Austin a traveling exhibition organized by the Muskegon Museum of Art, near where Herman Miller Inc. was established.”

If you truly have an interest in 20th century design, and happen to be in San Antonio, don’t miss the McNay Art Museum to see a similar exhibition, George Nelson: Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher.  While the exhibition takes up the newest wing of the McNay.

Two additional exhibitions are on view at AMOA.  In the New Works gallery is The Mona Lisa Project by Rino PizziCollection Sections draws from the Austin Museum of Art’s collection of local, national and international artists in celebration of its 50th Anniversary.

I’m saddened by AMOA’s decision to leave Congress Avenue, but am keen to hear more about what will happen between them and Arthouse.  For now, don’t miss the opportunity to see AMOA downtown one last time.

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