The year in visual art saw much building and tearing down: from the Indianapolis Museum of Art"s groundbreaking for its gargantuan-scale expansion plans to the haunting, pre- and post-destruction photographs by Patte Owings and Ginny Taylor Rosner of Market Square Arena"s implosion. In between, artists came and went from studio spaces, switched galleries, moved to town and left town. Some galleries tried something new while others scaled back.
"Melencolia I" by Albrecht D¸rer is part of the IMA exhibit "The Print in the North - The Age of Albrecht D¸rer and Lucas van Leyden," up through Feb. 23.
Outside its more typical field of vision, Dean Johnson presented Amor: Latino Art in Indiana, featuring the traditional and contemporary art of Latino-American artists. While it was a mixed show in terms of breadth and quality, the first-time effort is to be commended for its building of community awareness and artistic cross-cultural pollination. The Indiana State Museum, which opened its brand new doors in White River State Park this summer, presented an inaugural exhibit by sculptor Don Gummer. Gummer"s decidedly abstract, masculine but undulating metal sculpture, intellectual in its conception, spoke up to Indiana"s audiences instead of down. The ISM, it should also be noted, incorporated tailor-made sculpture into its spanking new building"s face. Representing Indiana"s 92 counties, the pieces adorning the building were created by David Young and Jeff Laramore of 2nd Globe, and represent another unexpected twist for the revamped institution. Indiana can be proud to have such an edgy institution that, prior to its spectacular new building in White River State Park, was rather staid. The museum"s permanent collection representing Indiana artists is also a finely curated selection of Indiana"s best-known artists from the Brown County School to abstract painters, such as Lois Main Templeton. Among the city"s commercial galleries, Woodburn & Westcott mounted some commendable offerings. Most memorable is a retrospective of Robert Berkshire, himself an Indiana institution. Alongside the aforementioned Templeton, Berkshire is arguably one of Indiana"s best-known abstract painters. His retrospective at W&W still resonates: his lightning bolt strokes scoring the canvas in a flurry of paint that is somehow cohesive. Berkshire"s aesthetic is mature, complex and yet accessible. While Berkshire"s painting is delightfully chaotic, the darkness of Sept. 11 inevitably crept into our visual consciousness. Several artists responded to this sad anniversary here and nationwide: Locally, artists presented the group show Transformation: Expressions of Renewal and Hope alongside the more direct accounting of that fateful day, 9/11 Remembered: Indiana at Ground Zero, which included the work of Indianapolis Star photographers. But the most poignant visual art response to Sept. 11 in my view was David Kadlec"s wall-spanning series of color photographs, puzzle pieces of blue sky devoid of airplanes, exhibited at the Photography Gallery. On a happier note, the IMA, in the midst of its own destruction (of the positive variety), mounted some of its most compelling, if small-scale, exhibits of contemporary art seen in years. Under the guest curatorship of Katherine Nagler, who runs the gallery at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, the museum exhibited the eerie photographs of empty death chambers by recent Indianapolis transplant Lucinda Devlin. Also in that space, Nagler coordinated the exhibit of Ann Hamilton, one of today"s most cutting-edge artists. Nagler also brought in Laylah Ali, an African-American artist who explores the issue of race from a more global perspective. These contemporary offerings have been welcome and are potentially a sign of more good things to come, especially beyond the IMA"s re-opening which will include a large new contemporary space. Further, the museum has hired a curator of contemporary art, replacing the long-gone Holliday Day who retired more than two years ago. Under the curatorship of Lisa Freiman, the museum will re-organize its permanent collection and will have additional space for larger-scale exhibits. But it will be a long dry spell after the galleries close for reconstruction this summer. On a stuffier note, the IMA presented one of my favorite exhibits of the year: The Print of the North - the Age of Albrecht D¸rer and Lucas van Leyden. Culled from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this thorough and fastidious collection of prints is a worthy place in which to lose oneself. The dramas both real and allegorical that these Renaissance artists turned into finely detailed prints are intoxicating. The good news is that the exhibit continues through Feb. 23 of next year. Back to the smaller, commercial galleries Ö Ruschman Gallery presented its first exhibit of the work of Northwest Indiana artist Tom Torluemke, who surprised and delighted with his multiple-layered paper constructions, at once conceptual and visually appealing. Ruschman brought back the quirky Tina Newberry, whose "Civil War" series was slightly haunting - especially given the state of international events. Last but not least, this was the year for the biennial New Art of the West at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. This year"s New Art didn"t disappoint: Nineteen contemporary artists of Latino, Asian, Euro-American and, of course, Native American persuasion comprised the exhibit, which had its share of academic but nonetheless compelling paintings in the European tradition alongside more playful and shamanistic sculptural pieces. While the above accounting is by no means exhaustive - so much is worth recalling in this past year"s visual art offerings - I invite you to pause and make your own reflections on what moved you, and why. Art, after all, is a window both into ourselves and to one another. May you find joy and connectedness this year through your own artistic discoveries.