Visual Arts

Monday, January 6, 2014

First Friday reviews, January 2014

Posted By on Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 10:53 AM

Long Division by David Hicks
  • Long Division by David Hicks

New Paintings and Drawings by David Hicks
Harrison Center for the Arts through Jan. 31
There's a wide range of work (and canvas sizes) by Herron visiting lecturer David Hicks on display here, but the eye is drawn toward "Long Division," a mixed media drawing just about as long as an undivided gallery wall. It shows a twisting highway overpass and a Union soldier on horseback shooting his pistol among numerous incongruent subjects, and it might just be about the festering war between Duck Dynasty patriarchs and loyal NPR listeners in early 21st century America. Maybe it's the Civil War in contemporary guise. Much of the composition is drawn in black and white, and the colors are as washed out as an American flag that's been in the rain too long. And in the middle of all this you see the artist, slumped over his desk, a flaccid and forlorn rainbow emanating from his pen. - Dan Grossman

Daydreamin No. 2 zine cover by The Droops
  • Daydreamin No. 2 zine cover by The Droops

Daydreamin' No. 2 By 
The Droops (Adam Wollenberg, Ashley Windbigler, Ally Alsup, Christian Brock Forrer, Emily Gable, Paul Pelsue)
General Public Collective through Jan. 31
The Droops, a new artist group comprised of six Herron alumni, created five large, colorful reliefs in black permanent market on the walls of General Public this month to coincide with the release of its second zine, also entitled Daydreamin' No. 2. (True to the group's collaborative spirit, the zine comes with a copy of the new EP by local band Teenage Strange.) Nothing is off limits in their subject matter; the imagery refers to everything from comic books to tattoo flash to the Oregon Trail video game. The tone is whimsical, sarcastic and a bit nihilistic. The art trades heavily in puns and the abject, and shows a fascination with the found imagery and various styles of hand lettering that the keen observer might find when navigating the urban environment. They obviously have a wealth of ideas and are having fun creating work together. The Droops' artwork shares a kinship with fellow Herron and GPC alumnus Erin K. Drew, and exists in the same realm as the Chicago Imagists and their Hairy Who group exhibitions. Ultimately, the art conjures the feeling most of us in the smartphone age likely feel everyday: being completely overwhelmed by incoming media. The difference is, this media is far more quirky and engaging and leaves a much nicer aftertaste. - Charles Fox

Justin Vining, Catching Stars on Park Avenue
  • Justin Vining, "Catching Stars on Park Avenue"

Chapter XVI - Becoming a City New Work by Justin Vining
City Gallery at the Harrison Center for the Arts through Jan. 31
If you were forced to choose an adjective to describe Justin Vining's art, it'd have to be "whimsical." But there's a note of lyricism in his work as well, in paintings like "Catching Stars on Park Avenue," depicting a row of houses on (Indy's) Park Avenue set against the Indy skyline. In this painting, a white streak of road curves like the surface of the earth against the dark of the night. And in a painting simply entitled "Park Avenue," Vining attempts a more literal kind of realism in the same setting, showing promising growth as an artist. - Dan Grossman

Martha Nahrwold: The Guardian Series
Five Seasons Gallery at Circle City Industrial Complex, North Studios
By appointment
This First Friday, I finally had a chance to take a close look at some of the beautiful work that Nahrwold does in her studio/gallery space. Her process ... well, she'd be happy to show it to you, but you'll have to visit. I enjoyed the monoprints and mixed media works that make up her "Guardian Series," focused on the life-force of a single tree. But my favorite was "Finding Dragons and Other Beasties," full of color and light and rhythm, depicting an exhilarating - and fantastical - array of underwater life. - Dan Grossman

Martha Nahrwold, Guardian III
  • Martha Nahrwold, "Guardian III"

Art School Rejects III
Indy Indie Artist Colony through Jan. 24
I think Martha Emily Davis's triptych of photos "Second Seeing" is one of the standouts in this group show, which consists of work rejected from the 2013 Herron Undergraduate Exhibition. Her black and white film photographs show transmission towers - that is, overhead power lines that bring us electricity, as well as warmth, light, and security. In "Second Seeing," the transmission towers are rendered as skeletal centurions holding the line against impending darkness. I also enjoyed Amy Applegate's colorful, untitled painting, whose subject seems to be a missing puzzle piece from an adjacent 4-D universe. The big puzzle is why the aforementioned work was rejected from the Herron show where there was plenty of humdrum mixed in with the good stuff. - Dan Grossman

California Series Yet to Be Named
Katrina Murray Studio
North Studios Circle City Industrial Complex, 2nd Floor by appointment
[rating pending]
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is a focus of Katrina Murray's attention in a number of her oil paintings here, some yet to be completed. Check out Murray's depiction of Bruce Nauman's LACMA video installation "For Beginners," featuring huge images of four simultaneously-gesturing hands. A visitor from another planet might see as some kind of altar of worship. Even if you don't agree with Nauman's contention that everything that takes place in a studio must be art, Murray's own studio offers up a convincing counterpoint. - Dan Grossman

Katrina Murray, Kubricks Camera
  • Katrina Murray, "Kubrick's Camera"

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Monday, December 9, 2013

First Friday reviews, December 2013

Posted By on Mon, Dec 9, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Earthquake by Jon Smith and Justin Vining
  • "Earthquake" by Jon Smith and Justin Vining

When Two Worlds Collide: Justin Vining and Jon Smith
New Day Meadery through Dec. 27
★★★★ (out of five)
Jon Smith and Justin Vining aren't the kinds of artists you'd expect to hit it off. Smith shoots pellet guns at light bulbs filled with paint or feathers and photographs their demise at high speed. Vining paints whimsical cityscapes and forsaken rural landscapes that allude to the accelerating loss of the family farm in America. What happens when Vining paints his landscapes on Smith's light bulbs? KABOOM, that's what! But you also see a vision of the world - coming apart at the seams - portrayed in an arresting way.

Toyin Odutola and The Highwaymen
iMOCA (Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art) through January 25
In Toyin Odutola's large-scale self-portrait, "The Paradox of Education," the artist stares directly at you, sizing you up. Are you comfortable among those with a different skin color than you? Are you comfortable in your own skin? This conceptually open-ended work manages - paradoxically - to provoke such specific questions, at least for this viewer. Aside from that, there's much to appreciate in these portraits (self-portraits and otherwise) on a purely aesthetic level. That is to say, the 29-year-old Nigerian-born Odutola can do a helluva lot with the art supplies she usually acquires from Walmart. She leaves the impression that she's bundling together luminous lines of black ink, charcoal and/or pastel, and then masterfully weaving those bundled cords together to create her mixed media on paper portraiture.
Odutola's work occupies iMOCA's second room through January; up front in the space are the Highwaymen, a group of 26 self-taught African-American artists who sold their art door-to-door (or out of car trunks) from the '50s to '80s. My favorite of these is an untitled oil on Upson board painting by Ellis Buckner. It's an astoundingly beautiful swampscape, lit by a crepuscular sun. The Highwaymen overcame many economic and racial barriers to create such art. Thanks to iMOCA, selected works can now be appreciated up close in Central Indiana.

Gallery 924 through Jan. 3
There are hundreds of works by 80-odd artists - each 216 square inches or smaller - in this show, but Brendan Day's work leaps off the walls for me in a really big way. One piece, "Rhuthmos" (watercolor and graphite), portrays five men in white robes. Maybe they just emerged from a sauna - or an inquisition. And then there's "In-Between," a watercolor of a worn-out landscape with a high tension power line cutting across the horizon. This is the type of neither-here-nor-there landscape that many of us find ourselves living in. Be careful, as you walk in this gallery, that Anila Agha's black, thorny installation "Unbearable Beauty" (acrylic on Hawthorne branches) doesn't install itself into your arm. Apparently, this is just the beginning of some much larger work coming down the line. Watch out.

Words of Art: Borshoff and Herron Annual Gallery Show
Harrison Center for the Arts through Dec. 27
Eric D. Johnson's monoprint "Wash on, Wash off" was created - just like all the work by Herron School of Art and Design artists on display - in response to a tweet. The text of this particular tweet: "So I've apparently become a soap hoarder." Johnson's work suggests the rhythmic, figure eight strokes that you might use in applying soap to your body. The particular soaps you use, depending on the brand, might foam up in a variety of colors. But it's apt to be the suds' final hurrah as they roll down your nether regions towards the drain.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

IMA considering paid admission

Posted By on Tue, Nov 12, 2013 at 8:00 AM

© 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Henri Matisse, "Young Woman at the Window, Sunset" (1921, oil on canvas) from Matisse, Life in Color
  • © 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
On a Sunday this fall, my daughter and I took advantage of the Indianapolis Museum of Art's free general admission policy. For the first time - she's nine years old - she was really able to appreciate the museum. Instead of asking me every five minutes, "Why can't we go to the Children's Museum, daddy?" she seemed really interested. Excited even.

We started was at the Pont Aven School exhibition in the European Collection on the second floor. It shows a grouping of French artists - Gaugin, Emile Bernard, to name a couple - that Henri Matisse, just starting his career in the late 19th century, would have been familiar with. (The IMA's big-ticket exhibition Matisse: Life in Color, Masterworks from the Baltimore Museum of Art closes Jan. 12.) Then we followed the collection back in time, until we arrived at the Hieronymus Bosch painting "Christ In Limbo," painted in 1575, which was not, to say the least, Naomi's favorite in the collection.

As it turns out I found myself interviewing IMA CEO Charles Venable just a few days after my visit with my daughter, for a feature I was writing on the Matisse exhibit.

Then I told him about my trip there with my daughter. I asked Venable if I'd be able to continue taking Naomi there without having to pay a general admission fee (a significant expenditure for me at my income level). He said the question is being discussed at the highest levels in the museum.

A little background: the IMA had a free general admission policy from 1941 until 2006, when it instituted a $7.00 fee for nonmembers. In January 2007, the museum returned to a free general admission policy, with the exception of special exhibits, that remains in effect to this day.

At any rate, here's what Venable told me:

"I don't know what the outcome is going to be. But the board is definitely going to be doing a study and really taking stock of what does it mean to be free in a world where virtually everywhere else you go in Indianapolis to an institution, you pay - at the Children's Museum, the Eiteljorg, and on and on. What is the value of being free? Who actually takes advantage of that? Who wouldn't be able to afford a ticket otherwise? I think it's a wise decision on the part of the board at this moment in the history of the museum to take stock and really look at that. I don't quite know the timing. I don't know the outcome, but it's something that will be evaluated."

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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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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Last Fri at Wug's, First Fri at M10 and Litmus

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Dale Bernstein, "Welcome to Indianapolis"
  • Dale Bernstein, "Welcome to Indianapolis"

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.

New blood

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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Friday, July 13, 2012

Inmates seek to enhance art programming

Posted By on Fri, Jul 13, 2012 at 12:00 PM

The exhibitions logo, created by an inmate.
  • The exhibition's logo, created by an inmate.

Art is flourishing at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Ind., where inmates are creating as a means of self-expression and self-investigation. And if inmates and supporters have their way, it will continue to flourish. But they'll need a little help from the community to keep on keeping on.

Unchained Art, an exhibition of drawings by inmates opening July 13 at the Greenfield Creative Arts and Events Center, is one such opportunity to donate to the cause. All proceeds collected during the show will be used to buy much needed supplies for inmates and create an art class at the correctional facility.

“Our goal is to help them and other people see themselves as artists and not just criminals behind bars,” Stacey Poe, a dance teacher who helped to facilitate the exhibition.

The initiative was the brainchild of Poe’s friend, an inmate and artist who will remain nameless here at Poe's request. Mike Miller, the Wabash Facility Recreation Coordinator, was also instrumental in putting together the show.

This is art stripped to its barest essentials; there are no canvases, no paints, no fancy charcoals. Almost all of the work is on 8 by 11 inch pieces of paper, with colored pencil and pen being the only materials.

“Due to cutbacks, the inmates don’t have the opportunity to take an art class,” Poe says. “All they have is natural talent.”

This will be the second exhibition of art by Wabash Valley inmates at the Greenfield Creative Arts and Events Center. In May and June, the center's gallery featured a series of black and white landscapes. These paintings had been judged by the Artists’ Guild in Carlisle, and exceptional pieces were given ribbons accordingly. (The portraits featured in Unchained Art have yet to be evaluated.)

From 6-9 p.m. on July 13, the gallery will host a small reception with special guests Richard Brown, the superintendent of the Wabash facility, and Miller.

Beyond the practical applications of proceeds from the exhibition, Poe has higher hopes.

“We want to get as much word out as possible so as many people can see it as possible,” she says, also expressing the wish that other galleries will pick up the works.

This exhibition serves as a symbol of the community's financial and emotional support of inmates. But more than that, the artists hope to give something back.

“I believe that my imprisonment has a purpose,” says the artist who began the initiative. “Creating something meaningful and worthwhile stimulates the mind and leads to positive changes in behavior.”

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: Katrina Murray at Wug Laku's

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2012 at 4:00 PM

Katrina Murray, "I Wish I Could Fly"
  • Katrina Murray, "I Wish I Could Fly"

Katrina Murray lost her son in war, and her new series of paintings is a record of her struggle to come to terms with this loss. She does so through deeply metaphorical work portraying the natural world. “I wish I could be cool in the sun” shows a desert landscape complete with prickly pear rendered in cool shades of blue and green. In Murray’s paintings there are no vast horizons: she prefers to focus in tightly on a piece of earth of her own imagining. Blues and greens predominate in her compositions so much that when you see a brush stroke of red it almost startles you.

“I wish I could make air” focuses in on a group of flowering plants. There is a delicate balance achieved in the composition between the whites and blues of the sky, and the flowering plants and tree branches that get their nourishment from — and in turn nourish — the air. Accordingly, you can see patches of blue sky, through the branches, all the way down to the bottom of the canvas.

Using oil and graphite on muslin-covered panels, Murray paints, then lets the paint dry, paints again, sands down and paints again. Expressionistic touches are visible throughout this body of painting as fits her aggressive and vigorous process. Be sure to read the seven-lined poem that goes along with this work. Each of the lines of said poem, that starts with the line “I wish I could burrow into the ground” and ends with “I wish I could fly” is in itself a title of a painting in this series. You might see this body of work as a poetic/painterly analog to the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief. Or it might just lift you off the ground. Through July 28 at Wug Laku's Studio and Garage

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Monday, June 18, 2012

A Visit to Installation Nation

Posted By on Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 5:00 PM

Holly Sommers, looking over alien artifacts in installation #2.
  • Holly Sommers, looking over alien artifacts in installation #2.

I went to Installation Nation - held last weekend for the first time at Big Car's Service Center, and for the third time overall - hoping to see some great installation art. I wasn't disappointed. Sponsored by the nonprofit Primary Colours, the event invited eight artists - or groups of artists - to create an installation inside a metal shipping container.

The installation art bar was raised with the success of the IDADA Art Pavilion this January. The best of the IDADA installations were clever, showed some degree of artistic skill and engaged visitors all at once. Installation Nation had some pieces that rose - or even surpassed - that level of engagement, as well as a few clunkers.

Installation #2 - dubbed "Mission 457X" by its creators, Matt and Holly Sommers, and by no means a clunker - featured dozens of alien objects supposedly found at an undisclosed "Unidentified Fallen Vessel" crash site. Said items were catalogued, assigned serial numbers and put on display. According to the sign on the trailer, visitors were "invited to observe the artifacts and contribute to the civilian conjecture database to help explain this phenomenon and its components."

Accordingly, each visitor was handed a slip of paper on which to write down their hypotheses of the purposes for which these objects were created. Visitors, including many kids, seemed as absorbed as I was in diligently trying to come up with ideas for the funky items on display. I ended up holding what seemed to be an antique telephone receiver combined with some sort of pneumatic device.

My conclusion, after some pondering, was that this was a device that powered a telephone receiver with (alien) intestinal gas. The home planet of this alien Alexander Graham Bell - I'm hazarding a guess - is Planet Goodwill. And I do have inside information that many Central Indiana area artists, including Holly and Matt Sommers, frequent Goodwill stores. Then again, I might have just seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers - the 1978 version with Donald Sutherland - one too many times.

In any case, "Mission 457X" was the clear standout among the eight installation; it was worth the five dollar admission just to see it. The amount of time and care they took in presenting their installation to the public was commendable, as well as their sense of humor. Both the creators were on-hand, along with their daughter - all dressed in orange jumpsuits - to explain their installation to visitors and act as scientific curators/guides.

Jeff Martin's trailer next door - which was similarly kid-friendly - featured a seesaw that acted as an air pump that inflated two balloons. The objective was to walk along the length of the seesaw without causing the balloons to burst - as they did, often enough.

Aside from visiting the installations, patrons were encouraged to create art inside the Service Center, as well as check out the compelling Square Share project, a collection of stories by Westside residents documented in photos, text, and video.

And Installation Nation wasn't just about art. Having a good time and unwinding with good conversation, a food truck and Sun King beer were also on the docket for the night, with a DJ providing an upbeat selection of grooves.

Still, some things weren't exactly a blast. It was awfully hot on Friday, so it might have been partly the heat that set me off, but I found installation #5 - Chad Sines's "Understanding Why We Chose the Bomb" - objectionable for a lot of reasons.

First of all, I don't think dumping a bunch of what looked like loose insulation material in a trailer makes for a very compelling artistic statement. But beyond that, Sines' text, written in jargon-ese, didn't do much to further any understanding of the piece ("the modern evolution-resultant hominid ... is left to histrionics from the monstrosity of nature"). Prophets have been predicting the end of civilization since the time of Isaiah. And, occasionally, over time, these prophets have been proven right. But what's the point of taking up the mantle of prophet-as-artist, without a compelling piece of art (or vision) to put forward?

I longed for just a sliver of hope after engaging with Sines's piece - which ended up being supplied, in a sense, by Brandy Graham's Installation #4. Graham's trailer was lined with honeycomb-like pods composed of biodegradable materials. The exhibit was, according to the text accompanying the work, "inspired by bees and how they make and store honey." At the end of her installation, patrons were asked to take these pods home along with the seedling of a non-invasive plant, then fill the pod with soil and bury it, and then plant the seedling in the pod. "The end result of the piece is to become a thriving plant that attracts honeybees."

There's a vision for the future; what a great thing it would be if a hundred native trees are planted as a result of this year's Installation Nation.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Scenes from the 2012 Stutz Artists Open House

Posted By on Tue, May 1, 2012 at 3:23 PM

Mike Swolskys copper and steel The Stutz
  • Mike Swolsky's copper and steel "The Stutz"
When I arrived at the Stutz Artists Open House Friday night, the event was already well underway and the ground floor was packed with revelers. Singer Cynthia Layne was on full throttle in Bearcat Alley and other musicians on all four floors were doing their thing. Barbeque was on the grill and wine was a-flowing, but I successfully suppressed the urge to indulge my palate until I had the opportunity to soak up some artists' palettes, as it were.

My first destination was the One Piece Show at Stutz Art Space where a variety of Stutz artists' works were on display. I wanted to get some sense of direction, in what proves to be a difficult event to encapsulate in a short piece of writing because of the sheer number of artists displaying work.

Stutz Art Space, by the way, is a great gallery to visit during First Friday evenings because of the innovative curatorship by Andy Chen, a Stutz-based photographer, who has done a number of themed art shows, the most popular of which, Exposing the Art Nude, took place last November.

The success of these themed shows surely has something to do with the subject, of course. But it's also due to Chen's not being bound to pick from a palette of only Stutz artists. Being able to put out an open call for entries raises the bar for the Stutz, and it raises the bar for everybody.

It must be said that not all Stutz artists are interested in making the kind of work that fits in a cutting-edge gallery setting (you know; the kind of art gallery that art critics like to write about). Some are professional portrait photographers; some fancy themselves as Impressionists, or work in the tradition of the Hoosier Salon landscape. These folks have their fans and their clientele and that is fine.

It didn't surprise me that the artists' work that impressed me were the artists I'd heard of before. Joseph Crone's colored pencil on acetate "Age of Innocence," almost a wallet sized drawing within the confines of a handmade frame, portrays a young woman in a dress looking back at you from what looks like an ivy-covered university campus. There's a slightly indistinct quality to the work that comes across like a faded, and irretrievable, memory.

Crone is one of the Stutz Residents this year - and I made it a point, then and there, to pay a visit to the other Stutz Resident, Emily Budd, as well. Her bronze sculptures, many of which fit in your palm, remind me of the H.R. Giger-created creatures for the Alien series of films.

I also wanted to see something completely new and unexpected. If say, Travis Little (in Studio B-420 at the Stutz) had started on a series of staid portraits of Catholic priests at their altars - his subject is usually the female nude - I might be disappointed, sure. I have to confess, however, that I'd find this interesting to write about.

Tash Elwyn, president of Raymond James, presents a check to Stutz for their Saturday educational programming during last weeks open house.
  • Daniel Axler
  • Tash Elwyn, president of Raymond James, presents a check to Stutz for their Saturday educational programming during last week's open house.

I wandered up and down the staircases for a bit - I didn't really care to take the crowded freight elevators from floor to floor - until I found Joseph Crone's studio. While I wasn't blown out of the water this time (because I'd seen much of his work before and knew what to expect), I enjoyed checking out his studio and seeing the way he composes his pictures on a more or less vertical surface.

(You must wonder how artists deal with arts writers who are continually craving new experiences like five-year olds craving candy or crack addicts ... you get the idea.)

I passed by Michael Swolsky's "The Stutz" wall-hanging sculpture (copper and steel), which I didn't maybe appreciate it in the original context I saw it in at Stutz Art Space, but I love the way he depicts the old repurposed auto factory bulging out at a corner and the adjacent corners receding towards vanishing points as if depicted on a two-dimensional canvas. This was interesting but, again, I'd seen it before. Janett Marie's colorful paintings of happy cityscapes were lovely, but I'd seen them before... ...

This déjà vu stuff kept recurring for a while; I was losing my bearing like Odysseus in his boat being swept up in the whirlpool Charybdis. I was on the second floor when I ran into Susan Mauck, who used to be a Stutz artist before starting up her French Bleu Gallery on Carmel's Main Street.

"You have to go up and see Jim Gerard," she told me. "He's got this huge drawing up on the wall outside his studio and he's got paintings by his mother and father and students up. It's the most amazing thing. You have to see it."

Now, I recall talking with Jim Gerard before, during "Exposing the Art Nude," and I recalled his work, but somehow I had never made it up to his studio. But Mauck's recommendation had its effect, and I made my way - doing my best to avoid distraction - up to his studio on the fourth floor.

The first thing I saw was the larger in life self-portrait, in graphite on paper, by Gerard, outside his studio. Gerard had portrayed himself - this self-portrait was from 1972 - as a skeleton seated in a chair. (Topping the skeleton is the flesh-and-blood face of Gerard himself, presumably in his twenties.)

Inside the studio, there were sketches up on the wall by Gerard, and by his students. And every square inch of the wall-space seemed to be covered, salon style, by portraits in the nude, from life. (The Gerard Studio offers classes in painting, drawing and sculpture, and according to the brochure, "Is dedicated to art based on the human figure.) But there were also landscapes by Gerard's mother Allee and modernist paintings by his father Jerry, who ran a shoe store in Warsaw, Ind., during much of the 20th century.

The quality of the student work up on the wall by people of various professional backgrounds was quite good, including the work by one Chris Delaney. The work on the wall surrounded a bouquet of roses and a quote from Delaney herself from April 12, 2012, shortly before she succumbed to cancer: "It is foolish to mourn those who have died rather we should thank God that they lived."

This particular memorial to Delaney seemed appropriately to thank, rather than to mourn, and it echoed the sentiment that Gerard seemed to express towards his artist parents by displaying their work.
"Most people find my dad's work the most pleasing in here," Gerard told me. One painting on view by Jerry Gerard was a sort of surreal cityscape with hints of de Chirico and Escher and Dali. In it you see parallel sets of handrails eerily visible through the columns that block their view in what looks like an empty train station. In its strange stillness it reminded me of my favorite movie of 2010, Inception.

It was at that point, I guess, that I felt that I could finally indulge my palate while indulging my palette, as it were.
A loyal Gerard portraiture student was tending bar and he insisted that I could have a Guinness and veggie wrap. I did, and I figured that I would have to write about it too.

After getting out of the Gerard Studio, I wanted to see more. But it was late, and I was soon directed to the exit by a security staffer.

And then I realized, I hadn't yet made it to the studio of Emily Budd! Too late, I guess. May I live another day to see it.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Midwest Fashion Week's The Art of Fashion

Posted By on Fri, Mar 16, 2012 at 4:28 PM

Midwest Fashion Week at iMOCA [Slideshow]
Midwest Fashion Week at iMOCA [Slideshow] Midwest Fashion Week at iMOCA [Slideshow] Midwest Fashion Week at iMOCA [Slideshow] Midwest Fashion Week at iMOCA [Slideshow] Midwest Fashion Week at iMOCA [Slideshow] Midwest Fashion Week at iMOCA [Slideshow] Midwest Fashion Week at iMOCA [Slideshow] Midwest Fashion Week at iMOCA [Slideshow]

Midwest Fashion Week at iMOCA [Slideshow]

Art and fashion collided Thursday night as the Midwest Fashion Week brought its traveling citywide fashion show to the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art.

By Paul F. P. Pogue

Click to View 14 slides

The week-long traveling couture roadshow that is Midwest Fashion Week ran headlong into two-dimensional art Thursday night at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art for “The Art of Fashion.”

“We wanted to improve fashion in Indiana by combining art with fashion,” said MFW guru Berny Martin at the event’s opening. “Now, fashion is already art, but this was bringing together two specific fields. Art influenced by art.”

Designs from Larry Fuhs, Rebecca Isaacs of 86 couture and the International Interior Design Association had a wildly theatrical sense of flair. Fuhs did most of his work with upholstery; Isaacs used plastics, metal and, in one case, stretched-out neon nylon to assemble the avante-garde designs.

“My theme is recycled materials; it’s a fun outlet,” Isaacs says. “Anything from plastics to metals to overalls. I really liked the concept of combining it with an art display. It’s an amazing backdrop and it makes the clothing itself even more exciting.”

Exciting is the right word. The event carried an air of fun about it; even the models who adopted pouty demeanors had a sense of genuinely enjoying themselves. DJ Stephan kept a steady and peppy beat throughout the night, and you haven’t seen fashion until a model does the robot in front of modern art. The crowd members themselves were so fashionable that you couldn’t really tell who the models were until you watched for a few moments to figure out who was milling around and who was staying in one place. Fashion piled upon fashion, art influencing art.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Fun with found objects

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2012 at 4:00 PM

Paul Reynolds, Julie Musial, Andrea Swartz, Michael Gastineau
  • Dan Grossman
  • Paul Reynolds, Julie Musial, Andrea Swartz, Michael Gastineau

“Chairs are not just chairs when they’re broken into components and reassembled,” Wes Janz tells me as we watch a group of students and faculty breaking down steel frame chairs to reassemble them into sculpture. Janz, a professor of architecture at Ball State University, is leading a found object workshop at the Herron School of Art & Design on this Friday morning. Later in the day, he'll opening the doors to Couched Constructions, a show he curated featuring artwork made of repurposed couches.

The name of the game this morning is to turn items purchased from Goodwill into structural objects. I sit down with a group of five working with a pile of furniture — steel frame office chairs, lawn chairs and wooden stools, not to mention a plentiful supply of twist ties.

This crew is largely from Ball State. There's Andrea Swartz, a professor of architecture; Michael Gastineau, a third-year student; Julie Musial, a career-change student in interior design, Paul Reynolds, in his sixth year. Sherry Gruber, a community artist, is the only one who didn't drive from Muncie.

With its stem made out of broken-down chair steel and aluminum frame components and a crown of lawn chairs, one structure takes on a flower-like structure. Alternate names for the structure are proposed: "Material Dialogue,” “Flower Dialogue,” and “Make it a Dialogue.” A Disney Princess chair is soon added to the mix, and “Princess Dialogue” becomes the working title.

Then the group starts in on the wood stools, assembling the leg structures into a sculpture that quickly comes to resemble half of an arched bridge. The steel-based and wood based sculptures are then brought into proximity with one another. The team puts an umbrella between the two, bridging the gap between the half-bridge and the "Princess Dialogue."

Presto — the two bridges are in dialogue, meta-dialogue, maybe. Not bad for the fruit of two and a half hours.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fred Wilson sculpture scuttled

Posted By on Tue, Dec 13, 2011 at 2:28 PM

A rendering of Fred Wilsons rejected Cultural Trail project, E Pluribus Unum.
  • A rendering of Fred Wilson's rejected Cultural Trail project, "E Pluribus Unum."
"E Pluribus Unum," the Fred Wilson sculpture proposed for the City-County Building Plaza as part of the Cultural Trail, will not be built or installed in Indianapolis.

Brian Payne, president and CEO of the Central Indiana Community Foundation and leader of the Cultural Trail project, made this announcement today at a noon press conference at 37 Place (formerly IPS School 37) on the near Eastside. Payne was joined by a number of leaders from the city's African-American community who were involved in opposition to the Wilson piece, including Imam Michael Saahir of Citizens Against Slave Image.

Payne said that after a series of community meetings in which 100 people took part, it was determined that 90 percent of those participants were against going forward with the Wilson piece because the proposed figure promoted a biased 19th century image that did not represent the contemporary African-American community. Payne said the Wilson proposal had caused members of the African-American community "great anxiety and pain," for which, he said, "I apologize."

The boards of the CICF and the Cultural Trail both voted unanimously to abandon the Wilson project, according to Payne. Mayor Greg Ballard, upon hearing of these votes, praised the decision not to move forward with the project.

Payne said this process had impressed on him the significant difference between public art and art in museums. He said CICF is now prepared to support a process led by African-American leadership to see if a memorial piece can be created. "We are at your service," he said, emphasizing that the CICF is "happy to help, but I don't want to get ahead of you."

Speakers on behalf of the African-American opposition to the project spoke in praise of the process that led to the abandonment of the proposed Wilson piece. Imam Saahir struck a common theme when he said: "Abandonment of the project is testament to what people can accomplish when they come together for the common good."

Payne reported that Fred Wilson was informed of the decision not to go forward with "E Pluribus Unum" last Sunday. He said Wilson was "disappointed" and wanted to know the nature of the conversations that took place leading up to the decision. Payne characterized Wilson as "a classy, gracious gentleman."

The CICF has budgeted $175,000 to support the development of a "public art/memorial" project, created in concert with representatives from the African-American community involved with protests against Wilson's sculpture. A kickoff meeting for the project will be held in early 2012, according to a CICF press release.

A $50,000 grant made by the Joyce Foundation in support of the Wilson project may also go toward the creation of an African-American memorial, according to Payne. He said the Joyce Foundation was aware of how things had played out and was "complementary" about the process leading up to the decision to terminate the Wilson project. The $50,000 is currently in a separate fund; the Joyce board will now vote on whether to ask for a return of funds or, as Payne hopes, put it toward the new initiative.

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