First Friday Reviews for June 2015 

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Reimaging Genesis: Cain and Abel in Art, Music and Word
Christian Theological Seminary through June 26
Four stars

In the visual exhibition of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Seminar, seven artists created work inspired by the story of Cain and Abel. This biblical narrative was (and still is) fertile ground for rabbis and theologians writing interpretive text, to say the least. Maybe this is because there isn’t a lot of explanation in Genesis 4.What we do know is that Cain killed his brother Abel because Cain was angry. Why? Because Abel's offering of a lamb was looked upon with favor by God while Cain's offering was not. Kate Oberreich’s “Original Family Tree,” (watercolor) depicts God’s hand with two fingers pointing out from clouds of concentric circles towards Abel’s offering. It's a depiction that echoes a bas-relief sculpture depiction in the church of Moutiers Saint Jean from the 12th Century. (A hand with two fingers pointed was a frequent symbol for God in the art of the Middle Ages.) Several pieces in this exhibition are considerably more abstract than Oberreich’s offering. In Sherry Polley’s mixed media drawing “Forgiven” you see black hexagons providing a sort of architecture, as it were, for the piece. And within this minimalist framework—within each black hexagon—there are multicolored abstract drawings that you might call expressionistic. And if the hexagon represents the mark of Cain, then perhaps the abstract designs within the confines of said marks might represent the desire to transcend the past, the desire for forgiveness, and the all-to-human urge to create anew and to reimagine. One might be tempted to ask which might please God more, Oberreich’s more or less representational work, or Polley’s abstract one. The answer might be that God would find both pleasing—if S/He is an enlightened God—since both works wrestle with the same questions in interesting ways.

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Satch: Lost and Found Art Studio
Circle City Industrial Complex, Studio 2L
By appointment,
Four stars

The studio of Satch (Julie Kern), which opened in March, houses some thought-provoking assemblages that will delight both art aficionados and fans of Antiques Roadshow alike. Take the repurposed vintage dress form (100 + years old) entitled “Blank me.” All over this work, you see written “______ me” and hanging on the cage skirt at the bottom you hand-stamped metal tabs engraved with various verbs, “Question, Free, Remember, Fuck…” And the idea is, of course, that you can fill in the blank. The Victorian-era date of the dress form might serve a reminder of most how freedoms that women enjoy in the western world didn’t exist 100 years ago. (This work is also a reminder of how women’s garments from the Victorian era were like a prison unto themselves.) The wall-hanging "'X' Incorrect" evokes a historical context as well. Consisting of a wall-hanging X-shaped frame, this piece is filled with wood molds for a farming machine and assembled in such a way that it appears to have functional value. This work could serve as a reminder of how agriculture was not always a highly industrialized affair. If this particular assemblage evokes some of the work of Hoosier native James Spencer Russell, it might have something to do with the fact that Julie Kern and her husband and Ron are passionate advocates of his work and were instrumental in organizing the exhibition of his work, Style Elegance and Wit: The Artwork of James Spencer Russell at the Indiana State Museum in the spring of 2014.

The Water Show
Gallery 924 through July 10
Four stars

With an earth-scorching drought in California and sea-ice collapsing all around the Antarctic continent, the subject of this group exhibition couldn’t be timelier. But even if we’re on the shore, as it were, of an era of disaster and scarcity, one must still appreciate beauty where one finds it. Ben Johnson’s “Beach Glass” vase—with its mottled green on sandy brown designs—is evocative both of the seashore and of some precious sea glass that might be found there. But unsettling images crop up again and again in the exhibition whether by design or by happenstance. In Phil Campbell’s acrylic on panel “Whiskey” you see a boat that’s burning, evoking Viking funeral rights, but the boat seems to be flying over a desert mountain range. And the colors of this composition, oranges, yellows and browns—are disconcerting, perhaps, because they evoke not water but the lack of it. There’s plenty of water depicted in Carla Knopp’s oil on wood painting “Mother,” that depicts some kind of luminescent object rising above a stormy sea. Maybe it’s a mountain but this is no “Great Wave” by Hokusai. Instead, Knopp seems to have borrowed her subdued palette from J.M.W. Turner. This one rewards prolonged attention, but in the end the only thing that unveils itself from the mysteriousness of this painting is Knopp’s captivating power as a visual artist.

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Primary Colours: Members Only
Through June by appointment:
Four stars

This may be an exclusive club—members of the Primary Colours nonprofit art organization board—but they’re also some damn fine artists. Patrick Flaherty, who is also Executive Director and President of the Indianapolis Arts Center, lends a bucolic touch to this exhibition with his prints of chickens. His “Chicken Study” composed in rhythmic patterns of black and white shows that even the most commonplace domesticated animal can be a worthy subject of artistic study. It’s quite a contrast to the explosively colorful paintings of Martin Kuntz hanging on the opposite wall. "Catholic School: David vs. Goliath" depicts Linda Blair’s demon-possessed face from The Exorcist and Goliath’s severed head (evoking the Caravaggio painting it was copied from) along with various cartoon characters all stewing in the same soup, as it were. One might imagine this painting as an attempt to define the mental space of a student attending Catholic school dealing with bullies and the onslaught of digital media at the same time. Kuntz, intentionally or not, brings to mind another American artist who deals with overload as a subject, James Rosenquist. The juxtaposition of images in Kuntz’s paintings more or less congeals around a general theme but it may leave some viewers dazed as much as dazzled. But maybe that’s the point, to open up our eyes to the brand-saturated and media-saturated landscape all around us. And maybe that’s why the billboard of Kuntz’s painting “Every Other Weekend,” on East 86th street—part of the Arts Council of Indianapolis’s High Art Project—feels so oddly appropriate in that space surrounded as it is by strip malls and chain restaurants.

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