Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Small pauses on the road to senescence

Having lived in Austin these many years now, I thought it was time to visit the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, a long-standing local attraction which I had never stopped to see. Locals are often the last to visit a local attraction.

I thought it was a nice place, but I may have been positively, and unfairly, influenced as an art critic by the young woman to whom I paid my $3.50 admission. As a somewhat hesitant afterthought, she said "Too bad you're not over 60. You'd be eligible for the Senior Citizen rate." Which would be $2.50. The fact that she considered me a not-quite-60 ticket buyer, but mentioned the over-60 fee just to be safe, gave a pleasant lift to my day--or else was a shrewd public relations move on her part. I am personally convinced she was sincere on account of her reaction when I told her I was 65, which was to eye me suspiciously as if I were trying to bilk the Umlauf Sculpture Garden of a dollar. I was unexpectedly, and vainly, pleased.

Charles Umlauf was a local sculptor who taught for many years in the art department at the University of Texas. His main claim to fame is the incredible number of public art pieces he placed around the state of Texas, mostly very large and perhaps exaggeratedly realistic (except for the absence of sexual organs on the male nudes) statues of and well-muscled athletic-looking bronze men, and lovely bronze women with signature upturned faces. Supposedly one of his models was Farrah Faucett, when she was an art student. The statues I have seen are mostly very pretty to look at, though there is something a little disconcerting about a several-ton bronze woman with Playboy centerfold proportions.

There is (relatively) little of that here. Much of the statuary is smaller, and I'm guessing is unsold preliminary versions of larger pieces, left in his workshop at the time of his death. I know have seen larger versions of some of the smaller statues elsewhere. I'm guessing the Garden showcases some artwork that may have been less appealing to Municipal Art Commission tastes but which may have been what he really preferred to do. I dunno. But at any rate some of the pieces struck me as displaying more whimsy and charm than his stuff I have seen elsewhere. Plus, in one to two cases, an unexpected element of the sinister.

According to their web page, I could have brought my laptop and surfed the web while sitting by the fern-shrouded lovers shown here. I am not sure why this would draw visitors, buy, hey, maybe I am getting old.

I am guessing this is Jesus

This is the most interestingly creepy St. Francis I have ever seen.

Another strangely mixed religious message. This is presumably Jesus, with the dove descending, but the halo (or is it a bishob's mitre?) looks like horns unless you look closely, and the cherub-heralds remind me of a flock of bats. (Apparently Umlauf sold a much larger version of this to an Episcopal Church in San Antonio. I'm surprised.)

Click on any photo to enlarge

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