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Mod Squad

Written by , published March 3, 2009

When the Blanton Museum of Art opened its new building in Austin a few years ago, I signed on as a member. It wasn't long before I understood the appeal of supporting the arts. Philanthropy notwithstanding, members get discounted entry to special parties and events, a nicely designed monthly newsletter, free admission to exhibits, and discounts at the very cool gift store (which opened last month, along with the Blanton Cafe). Now that I'm a member, I definitely go to the museum more often—it's free, fun, and philanthropic!

That's how I found myself, gin martini in hand, at the opening a few weeks ago of the much-anticipated traveling exhibit Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury. The show was organized by the Orange County Museum of Art and has garnered rave reviews on the East and West coasts. Judging by the crowd at the opening (where we enjoyed live jazz before taking in the show) and on a "regular" museum day this past Sunday (when the galleries were packed), it's a big success in Austin, too.

I wonder how many of the museum-goers are also fans of the TV show "Mad Men," the AMC drama that has shined a new spotlight on the artwork, furniture, architecture, and style of the 1950s.

At the Blanton, some 200 objects and "works" from the period—including graphic paintings by Frederick Hammersley, iconic furniture and films by husband-and-wife design team Charles and Ray Eames, fabulous coffee tables and lamps, album covers and musical instruments, and clips from television shows, paint a vivid portrait of the era, when technology and the discovery of new materials began to transform both industrial and home design.

Throughout, a swinging jazz soundtrack by Chet Baker, Miles Davis, June Christy, Dave Brubeck, and their contemporaries sets a mod mood.

One thing to keep in mind: Save your receipt, even if you're a member and you get in free. It's your ticket to discounts at Birth of the Cool partners throughout Austin, including half-price flights at Uncorked Wine Bar.

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