Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Crosscurrents at the 2013 Stutz Open House

Posted by on Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 2:36 PM

Lauren Kussro at work in her studio


One complaint about the Stutz that I've offered up in the past is that in some of the studios - if you attend the open house on an annual basis - you'll see the same paintings hanging year after year. I've also noted that some of the less-inspired shows in the Stutz Art Gallery (the Stutz' showcase gallery) have shown the same work by the same artists over and over again. So I figured it was a good omen when I learned something new in the first studio I stepped into during the 2013 Stutz Artists Open House on Friday night.

That studio would be the home of Sofia Violins, the president of which is Todd Matus. I'm familiar with Matus' Litmus Gallery, in the Circle City Industrial Complex's South Studios where he's had some inspired shows there featuring others' work, as well as his own photographic prints. But I hadn't known that he's a violin maker as well as a photographer.

In the center of the studio - surrounded by an array of violins - Matus had several piles of his ink jet prints laid out on a work-table which he eyed nervously as patrons (sometimes a little recklessly) ruffled through them. He also had on display a book of photographs with accompanying text, entitled Broken Views: A Document of Eastern Europe, published by the University of Delaware Press documents his travels in Eastern Europe beginning in 1989. These travels centered in Bulgaria where he established business relationships with Bulgarian violin makers. But Matus's lens also focuses on locales much closer to home. He favors a documentary, realistic style, whether catching a crowd gathering in a Florence square from an odd angle, or revealing the play of light on scrub brush in a fallow Indiana field.

In some of the corridors it was difficult to move, due to the robust attendance at this event, but I did happen to make it without incident to my next stop: the studio of Raymond James Stutz Art Gallery curator Elise Schweitzer. She greeted me with the news that she will be leaving Indianapolis. Beginning this fall, she will be working as an Assistant Professor of Art at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.

Schweitzer can partly take credit for the Stutz Art Gallery expansion and has already curated some great shows in the space. If you caught her solo show at Gallery 924 last November, you already know that she's an excellent painter. She likes to paint huge canvases depicting contemporary American settings with classically inspired themes. On display in her Stutz studio were some examples of this work. "Garden Party" depicts wedding parties turned into complete chaos by marauding centaurs. Another shows a dead parachutist fallen to earth splayed out Christ-like on his parachute in a suburban backyard. Painters like Schweitzer demonstrate that you can still use traditional mediums, as well as skill and classical training, to make your mark in the world of contemporary arts. She will be missed. But I don't think the work that she has done at the Stutz - whether curatorial or artistic - will be soon forgotten.

I also paid a visit to the studios of the 2012-2013 Stutz Residency winners - Lauren Kussro and Heather Stamenov. These two young artists are a study in opposites. Let's begin with Kussro. Looking on her worktable was one of her favorite mediums: a strip of sturdy suiting interfacing used by tailors. She was cutting designs into it with an X-acto knife. Kussro is inspired by the repetitive patterns one finds in life forms such as barnacles, coral, and flowers. The walls of her studios are full of photos of such forms; she uses such photographs as references to create natural patterns on her manufactured mediums. But she is not copying these forms verbatim. Rather she is using these references the way a musician might use the sound of a mountain stream or the blowing wind. Her meticulous sculpture and installation work can work equally well hanging on a wall or hanging down from the ceiling as a lampshade. She has found something of an ecological niche in the art world by making work that can endow our ubiquitous manmade environments with a sense of the organic.

Meticulous is not the first word you would use to describe Heather Stamenov or her studio, the floor of which was splattered with dried paint. The life forms that interest her as subjects, at least in her explosive current work, are adolescent girls (using photographs of groups of girls as references). Her oil on canvas work depicts groups of girls at sleepovers, having pillow fights, engaged in impromptu cabarets, and creating general havoc. They're large, wild canvases. As strange as it may sound, Stamenov creates a sense of realism with boldly expressionistic strokes and thickly applied layers of paint. These paintings seem to have been created almost overnight in a burst of exuberant energy. Only one, "Summer's Over, Bitches," has been around long enough to actually have a title. In my favorite among these works you see one girl lifting up another dressed in a tutu in the bed of a moving truck. The truck is travelling towards Chicago; along the horizon you see the turning blades of windmills; the girls in the truck almost seem to be mimicking them with their flailing limbs. The clusters of windmills in Northern Indiana happen to be a favorite subject of photographer Ginny Taylor Rosner, who had her windmill photographs on display in the Stutz Art Gallery.

It interests me that such different artists would use images of windmills in their work. Who doesn't look up at the windmill's twirling blades and hope that their number might be multiplied to power our energy needs well into the future? Art reflects such concerns and questions. It's as varied as the people who make it. It can tell the truth and it can lie. It can enrage and provoke into action. It can look for new inspiration in the wind or bury its head in the sand.

The vibe at this 20th Anniversary Open House was inspiring and bode well for the future. In the shifting crosscurrents of the Indianapolis arts scene, the Stutz Artists Association has sometimes struggled to find its place. However, the Stutz has never seemed more relevant to me since I started attending these Open Houses five years ago.

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