The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Sometimes it's not what's done, but what's left alone that counts. This is certainly true of 100 Acres, the latest addition to the IMA campus. To its credit (with special kudos to IMA president Maxwell Anderson and contemporary art curator Lisa Freiman, as well as a tip of the hat to director emeritus Bret Waller), the museum has made a conscious decision to tread lightly on this marvelously variegated swatch of green space, which includes forest, marsh, meadowland and a 35-acre lake. Thus, for the most part, the essentially temporary installations deflect the question of whether their presence adds to or detracts from the organic bounty that's already there. The artworks don't proclaim themselves so much as allow for the charm of discovery. Highlights are Type A's "Align," a pair of 30-foot metal rings suspended in the air from poles at the heart of a grove of trees. The rings throw shadows to reflect the movement of the earth in relation to the sun. The piece's formal elegance and gravity-defying scale create the feeling of a benign yet compelling force field. "Park of the Laments" by Alfredo Jaar is a substantial exercise in place-making, an experience that takes you down, through a tunnel, then up into a right-angle garden defined by stacks of broken rock and mindfully selected plantings that invite reflection free of sentimentality. This promises to be a particularly powerful destination after the first snowfall. Jeppe Hein's variations on park benches are, by turns, witty and graceful; Atelier van Lieshout's fiberglass skeleton, "Funky Bones," is harmless playground fun. Then there's Los Carpinteros' "Free Basket," a beautifully realized visualization of a basketball court. It would be even more interesting if the artists had been able to choose any other way to evoke Hoosier-ness besides basketball, the default mode of choice for most strangers. Tea Makipaa's "Eden II" is a scene straight out of a B-movie, a literalistic play on a "Ship of Fools" theme that asks us to wonder who's more pitiful, the characters on board or those on shore. Andrea Zittel's "Indianapolis Island," with its live-in "park rangers," is a derivation on much riskier, raunchier body and performance pieces executed decades ago by the likes of Josef Beuys and Vito Acconci. It does nothing for 100 Acres so much as provide it with a kind of floating trailer park. Finally, Kendall Buster's "Stratum Pier" and Marlon Blackwell's Visitors Pavilion provide the park with a significant architectural dimension. The pier is a nifty flourish on the bank of Hidden Lake and the Pavilion is a glass, slats and I-beam wonder that emerges from its landscape like it was born there. All in all, the IMA has taken two, often uneasy, bedfellows -- art and nature -- and found ways for them to hold thoughtful converse with one another. This may not be as a splashy a public art destination as Chicago's Millennium Park but, in its sensitivity to the ways of people and the natural world, it is every bit as rewarding an experience.