Conversations with a Curator: R. Scott Blackshire

Scott joined the McNay family in January 2019. Learn more about where the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts is headed in our latest blog.

How do curators keep on trend?

As the McNay’s new Curator of the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts, I work at the intersection of art history and the history of the performing arts. Robert L. B. Tobin, the late San Antonio arts visionary, understood that the past is equally important as the future – and his vast theatre arts collection represents that thinking. So cyclically, as any stage craft develops it may find time as a trend. But as new practices are brought to the stage, what was once a trend might become a thing of the past – like we see in fashion or hear in pop music. So, my work is like time travel, in a way. I try to look beyond trends—back to the past and into the future – to find historic theatre arts designs that relate to current and developing ideas for the stage, and then design exhibitions that show those connections in fun and entertaining ways.

What are some of the most important topics in the world of theatre design and performance right now?

This year I attended The Prague Quadrennial (or PQ4), an international showcase for theatre designers, costumers, technicians, and performance-based creatives. Every four years since 1958 PQ4 welcomes theatre professionals from around the world who ask important questions facing theatre artists: Does design stand alone as an art form? Or does design require activation through performance? Or might design itself be the experience? The Halloween “haunted house” is a great way to think about these questions. Is a “haunted house” standing alone, empty, a work of art? Or does it require frightened people walking around anxiously anticipating the next scare, to activate the house as a work of art?

How is the McNay joining the conversation?

I’m not sure if the McNay is joining any one conversation. I feel like everyone at the McNay is listening to all of the conversations. At PQ4 I heard so many different thoughts and ideas shaping theatre arts across the world, and I am glad to be able to bring these ideas back to San Antonio and to my work. And here in San Antonio I see McNay colleagues planning exhibitions and programs for its extensive and diverse community. I like that we listen to conversations and then invite folks to visit exhibitions at the McNay to develop their own understandings of these topics, and the world, through art.

Image: Pablo Picasso, Scene design for Pulcinella, ca. 1920. Watercolor and gouache on paper. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Gift of The Tobin Endowment. © Estate of Pablo Picasso/ Artists Rights Society (ARS),
New York

What can San Antonio expect next?

The McNay is now preparing for a huge theatre arts exhibition presenting fine artists as designers for the stagePicasso to Hockney: Modern Art on Stage, opening in October for a ten-week run. The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts includes a rare 1919 maquette (small model) made by Pablo Picasso for the ballet Le Tricorne, and we also have Picasso’s 1920 set design for the ballet Pulcinella. David Hockney’s contemporary 1980 Triple Bill poster embodies the circus atmosphere and spirit he designed and brought to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera – a fun, festive mood that will be recreated in the McNay’s Tobin Exhibition Galleries in the Stieren Center for Exhibitions. In early 2020 McNay guests can expect an exhibition reintroducing them to the late Robert L. B. Tobin, the man who made the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts possible. And perhaps next October people can come to the McNay and decide for themselves what is spooky and what is not – with a little help from a remounting of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas… maybe.