A new mural at the Contemporary Austin features images taken directly from Daniel Johnston’s artwork.
KUT 90.5 | By Jerry Quijano
Published January 21, 2022 at 3:51 PM CST
This Saturday, on what would have been Daniel Johnston’s 61st birthday, The Contemporary Austin is hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate a new mural that features some of the artist and musician’s most celebrated and beloved characters.
Since September 2021, the art museum has been home to the “Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams” exhibition, featuring his recordings, drawings and paintings.
Sharon maidenberg, the museum’s executive director, says the collection is the largest to be featured in a museum setting and many of the works on view at The Contemporary will be seen and heard for the first time.
Details prominent in many of those works have been pulled onto a new mural outside The Contemporary Austin’s walls on Congress Avenue. The mural is set to have its official unveiling in a ceremony on Saturday afternoon.
With the Austin area currently falling under the highest level of Austin Public Health’s COVID-19 community risk guidance, the extravaganza that was originally scheduled to celebrate the work has been scaled back.
The small ceremony featuring members of Johnston’s family will begin at 12:30 p.m. on the Seventh Street side of the museum and will be live-streamed on the museum’s Instagram page for those who wish to participate from the comfort of their home.
Hi, How Are You Day?, named after Johnston’s iconic mural and celebrated every year on his birthday, aims to remove the stigma around mental health.
This conversation with maidenberg has been edited lightly for clarity:
KUT: You began working at The Contemporary Austin in September of 2020. What has it been like to lead an art museum during a global pandemic?
It has put a whole new layer of challenges in front of us for sure. We’ve had to completely reinvent how we work, what we do and how we show up for our community and for our audiences. Not an easy time, but also one full of adventures and opportunities and I think we’ve been doing some creative ways to help people connect to art.
KUT: Can you tell us about the works that make up the collection?
We’re really proud and delighted to be presenting this exhibition. It’s the most comprehensive collection of Daniel Johnston’s work ever in the museum context. We have about 400 objects in the gallery with over 200 drawings and a tremendous amount of other materials including original pages from Daniel’s notebooks, flyers, photographs, newspaper clippings.
There’s also a series of handmade cassettes that show Daniel’s images and handwriting and illustrations on the covers. We have a few listening stations throughout the exhibition, one that features archival audio and the other with a playlist of Daniel’s songs.
There are a few video pieces that feature home movies that Daniel made in the ’70s and ’80s and then another reel with some rare footage of music videos and interviews. It’s really just a beautiful homage to Daniel’s life and career both in music and in art and it’s the very first time most of this work will be seen.
KUT: How did the mural come about, and which details from Johnston’s work can people expect to see?
Doing works of art outside of our space is one of the creative ways we have been addressing the pandemic.
What we’ve done with this mural is to fill the entire façade of the building with images from Daniel Johnston’s work, many of his very famous characters like Jeremiah The Innocent, which folks will know from his Hi, How Are You? mural near the UT Austin campus. As well as some other characters from his work, including Casper the Friendly Ghost and some of his other multi-headed beast images that folks who know Daniel’s work will be familiar with taking up the whole side of the building. It’s been a remarkable collaborative effort to make this happen.