new lease on life

Blaffer shows off its bold redesign with two grand reopening parties; First exhibit in mid-October

Blaffer shows off its bold redesign with two grand reopening parties; First exhibit in mid-October

Blaffer Reopening, September 2012
After nearly a year-and-a-half of construction work, the Blaffer Art Musuem at the University of Houston will host two grand reopening parties this weekend. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012, stairs
The addition of an iconic exterior stairway freed up the interior for more gallery space and rooms for public programming. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012, artist, Tony Feher, head shot
Artist Tony Feher will have a 20-year retrospective at the Blaffer starting Oct. 12. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012
A close-up of the curved glass panels used along the stairwell. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012
The stairs highlight a new main entrance for the museum on the north side of the building. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012
Curators plan to use the stairwell to display murals and other large-scale 2D works. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012
Photo by Tyler Rudick
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012, stairs
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012, artist, Tony Feher, head shot
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012
Blaffer Reopening, September 2012

After more than a year of major renovations, the Blaffer Art Museum officially opens its doors this weekend with a pair of Friday and Saturday night parties to show off its bold new interior space.

"Technically, we really only added about 500 square feet," explained museum external affairs director Matt Johns on a recent tour of the facility. "The additional space is all through the new staircase out front. Basically, the old stairs between the first and second floor galleries were moved to the exterior."

"Technically, we really only added about 500 square feet," explained Blaffer external affairs director Matt Johns. "The additional space is all through the new staircase out front." 

Housed in a glass and metal structure that juts out of the building's north wall, this iconic staircase marks a new life for the Blaffer. Not only does it provide a strong architectural statement for the museum's new grand entrance — a nice alternative to the relatively hidden courtyard entry —  but the stairs have freed up enough interior space for the creation of bigger galleries, a small cafe and a dedicated education studio.

"Visibility and flow were our main concerns when started the initial architecture discussions," said museum director Claudia Schmuckli about the Blaffer's early meetings with New York-based design firm WORKac. "The idea was to create a very flexible space, one that can allow for multiple shows as well as the expansion of our public programming."

While larger exhibitions will be mounted in the two main downstairs galleries, a new second-floor project gallery offers artists an intimate environment for installation work. During the tour, CultureMap ran into sculptor Tony Feher, who was examining the upstairs space for a 20-year survey of his work that opens at the Blaffer on Oct. 12.

"I was lucky enough to have dinner with the architects early in the design process," Feher said.

"In the old building, we were limited by the types of spaces we had," said director Claudia Schmuckli. "Now we have a wonderfully flexible building that can be used in so many new ways." 

"They asked for an artist's perspective, so I told them that most people want fairly basic rooms. No skylights in the galleries — they're a nightmare for photography and half the time you have to cover them. And finally, you need a good loading dock to get the stuff in and out. Packing and unpacking art isn't glamorous, but it's essential to how a gallery functions."

Just around the corner, at the top of the staircase, sits a multi-media room currently occupied by Blaffer artist-in-residence Lynn McCabe and her innovative "social sculpture" workshop. In January, the small gallery will hold a rotating media schedule that includes a curated film series.

"With the grand opening, I'm probably most excited about the chance to grow our programming," said Schmuckli. "In the old building, we were limited by the types of spaces we had. Now we have a wonderfully flexible building that can be used in so many new ways. We can't wait to get started."

The Blaffer Art Museum shows off its new digs with a Friday night gala from 7 to midnight and a Saturday reception from 8 to 11 p.m. Beginning with the Tony Feher retrospective in mid-October, the museum will hold regular hours from Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.