This past First Friday was the last First Friday art show for Wug Laku's Studio & Garage. This gallery, located in the Circle City Industrial Complex, has hosted many of Indy's best artists over the past five years. Dan Cooper, Cagney King, Marna Shopoff, and Joseph Crone have all had solo shows at the space.
These artists - I've waxed ecstatically over all of them in past reviews - were on hand at the Studio & Garage's final show. The mood was celebratory among the mixers and minglers; it was more like a wake than a funeral.
A stalwart of the Indy arts scene, Mark Ruschman, was on hand to provide some perspective on this. When the Ruschman Gallery closed in 2009 - due to financial considerations - many in the arts community saw it as a loss. (The Studio & Garage is also closing due to financial considerations). But the closure of the Ruschman Gallery freed its owner up to do new things.
While Ruschman was sad about the closing, he also saw it through the lens of his own experience. He saw it as a potential new chapter in gallery owner Wug Laku's artistic career.
"I'm in the job at the State Museum now [as Chief Curator of Fine Arts]," Ruschman told me. "So obviously that's one thing that came of it. For the year and a half between the time I closed the gallery and I took the position at the State Museum it gave me an opportunity to still be involved in the art world but be engaged in it in a new and different way."
One of the new things that Mark Ruschman was involved in was TURF, the IDADA Art Pavilion. Turf's 22 art installations, put up in the old Indianapolis City Hall Building, wowed Indy - and visitors to Indy during the Super Bowl - during January of last year.
All out art
On display Friday night in Wug Laku's space that evening were the mixed-media paintings of Herron student Jake Glover, in a thesis show entitled "All War Out." For Glover, the timing might have been a bit unfortunate, since the attention was as much - or more - on the gallery than his work on this particular night.
His was certainly provocative work. Yet the abstract nature of his woodcut/screen print "John Wayne was a Nazi" was something of a head-scratching counterpoint to the literal jab of the title. And his painting "What we've come to ain't so pretty" wasn't particularly pretty, partly because of its unusual mediums: screen print on drywall. It was, nonetheless, intriguing in its abstract riffs on decay and its insinuation of broad political themes.
Wug Laku's space was never a place to see merely pretty - or decorative - art.
One particular show at Wug's looms large in this regard. Marna Shopoff's "Structured Essence" was a show that featured her paintings using urban architecture as subject matter. But these paintings were a lot more abstract than previous work. Some looked almost like pure fields of color. Such work challenged her audience - including this arts writer - to think less literally.
Such surprising and challenging work drew crowds to the Circle City Industrial Complex. As a result, it became possible over the past few years for other galleries to open and show work. Whether the market exists to support these independent galleries remains to be seen, but the folks at Circle City Industrial Complex haven't given up.
There have recently been a spate of gallery openings in the Complex. One of the most exciting is M10 Studio, adjacent to Wug's, which hosted the photographs of Dale Bernstein in a held-over show that opened in December.
Bernstein uses a 19th century process - the wetplate collodion process - to create his portrait and urban landscape photographs. And the images, made somehow more complete melded with the imperfections of the medium, are spectacular. Take his photograph of an old house with boarded up windows under a highway overpass, entitled "Welcome to Indianapolis." He managed to jam so much history into this one shot that, if he told me that he exposed his collodion negative not just for 10 seconds, but for 160 years, I'd almost believe him.
M10 wasn't the only gallery featuring photography. Sara McCracken's show "Metamorphosis" at the Nancy Lee Designs featuring what she calls her iPhonography. A particularly serendipitous "iphonograph" entitled "The Ghosts Under the Bridge" featured the ghostly image of a structural engineer near an El Bridge in Chicago. The engineer just happened to be in the area because a similar bridge had collapsed in the vicinity, killing several people.
Over in a newer wing of the Circle City Industrial Complex, the South Studios, the Litmus Gallery had an exhibit of gallery owner Todd Matus' "Twinrocker Series." His black and white photographs of the rural-based Twinrocker Paper company, taken in the 1980s, based on the Clark Family Farm in Brookston, Indiana. These photographs are beautiful to look at in their clarity and luminescence. They have something of an elegiac tone, considering that family farming in the Midwest is going the way of the dinosaur.
Speaking of elegiac tones, the Dewclaw Gallery, in the Complex's South Studios, was holding a "Cat Show" featuring the very fun, very colorful cat paintings of the late Greg Brown. Brown's Utrillo's was a small, funky gallery space on the near northeast side in the nineties, fondly remembered by its patrons.
By the time I had finished visiting all these galleries it was very late. But I finally got a chance to talk to Wug as he was sitting down in his Studio & Garage, after the last patron had left, under his 20-year-old oil bar on paper drawing entitled "Walking Forward." This drawing featured the rainbowish, abstracted figure of a man walking towards points unknown.
Closing the gallery will allow Wug to immerse himself in painting, which he hasn't done much of over the past decade, as well as continue to continue his work in furniture making and photography.
"Yeah, I'll be around," Wug said. And about his fellow artists at the Complex, he remarked, "It's their place now. They can take it on. I'm certainly willing to help them out."
The Circle City Industrial Complex is located at 1125 Brookside Avenue, in Indianapolis. Please contact individual gallery owners for times and/or to make appointments
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