In Good Company: Selections from the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection
Indianapolis Art Center
Through April 16
'The Mighty Hand (Grande Main Crispee),' (1885) by Auguste Rodin
Since the Indianapolis Art Center hired its new director of exhibitions and artist services, David Kwasigroh, replacing the venerable Julia Muney Moore, a change in focus, or at least in approach, was inevitable. But as also happens, such a change is gradual: Exhibitions are planned months, even years, in advance; so Kwasigroh's curatorial voice would take time to emerge. That said, landing such a mid-sized, blockbusterish exhibition as the current In Good Company: Selections from the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection was likely the result of a larger institutional thrust.
JPMorgan Chase, the financial behemoth that seems omnipresent ever since the merger between JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank One Corporation, is a corporation with assets of $1.2 trillion and operations in more than 50 countries - one of our Big Brothers of Banking. Given the financial institution's grandiose scope, the fact that JPMorgan Chase has been amassing a prestigious and important art collection - one of the country's most respected corporate collections, in fact - to the tune of 28,000 works of art since the 1940s, this should come as no surprise. Bank One's collection was highly regarded as well - and now, the collections are nothing short of formidable.
It goes without saying that when Lisa Erf, the director of the JPMorgan Chase collection, was charged with creating a traveling exhibition a few years ago, she had quite a lot to choose from. The result of such culling, a mere 40-piece sampling, is a curious offering for the Indianapolis Art Center. One simply doesn't associate the Art Center with art historical offerings; rather, the institution has historically focused on art by living artists, or at least contemporary art; and it has done so consistently and mostly quite well.
In all my years of visiting the Art Center, I hadn't anticipated the oddity of seeing an Etruscan helmet from the sixth century BCE. How about a 17th century Thangka from Eastern Tibet, or the dark and foreboding 1674 "Still Life," depicting a skull and Bible marked with the ominous black dot, by Madeleine de Boullogne? Or the arresting bronze sculpture of a contorted hand, "The Mighty Hand (Grande Main Crispee)," (1885) by Auguste Rodin? Taking us nearer to the present day, we also see Cuban artist Jose Bedia's "Huyendo en la Noche" (1994), a shamanistic primitive drawing, an expansive Ansel Adams photograph, a Piet Mondrian painting representing his transitional period prior to the abstract work that made him famous and much more.
The exhibition is touted as reflecting "human development from antiquity to the present, embracing a diverse range of cultures, time periods and media" by artists of regional to international significance. The visit to Indianapolis represents its fifth of five U.S. stops - and then, presumably, the works will find their way back to bank branches, corporate offices or vaults. While this may be a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration (although it speaks to longer standing relationships; Chase is the Art Center's exhibition season sponsor), time will tell if it speaks to a shift in the Art Center's direction. One hopes it's not an all-out shift; the Art Center continues to do well in showing the strong work of its region and neighborhood.
Reassuringly, back in the other galleries and spaces, the work of the late Hollis Sigler hangs in the Basile Exhibition Hall. Sigler, who became known as an artist responding both to feminist concerns and her own experience with breast cancer, evolved her own "faux naïf" style as a reaction to what she perceived as a patriarchal culture treating women as children. The paintings are curiously bright and uplifting, despite their darker inspirations. I'm reminded of elementary school art class. Sigler certainly did much to raise awareness of the horrors of breast cancer and its terrible statistics; and this exhibition is intended to further that cause. But Sigler's work stands alone.
Finally, and not least, in the Clowes and Hurt Galleries, student and faculty work is on display, including work from a wood-fired kiln class, bronze pour classes and prints by Patrick Flaherty and student (and seasoned artist) Dorothy Alig. Alig's prints represent a departure for the artist, and a successful one: Subtle, nature-inspired imagery evocative of her textiles is lovely to behold.
All of this and more is now on view at the Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E. 67th St., through April 16. Visit www.indplsartcenter.org or call 317-255-2464 for more information. Exhibitions are free and open to the public, seven days a week.