It was a little like stepping into a time machine, as I started out the First Friday Art tour at the Harrison Center for the Arts on Sept. 2.
Kipp Normand’s The Universal Anthology
is what brought me back in time. This exhibition just be described as a post-modern cabinet of curiosity, the forerunner to the modern museum.
While there’s much to marvel and delight here among the strange juxtapositions of antique stuff in this exhibition—the kind of stuff you might find in your grandparents’ attic—there are also some unexpected left hooks here that just might remind you that the past is never dead,
to quote William Faulkner, It’s not even past.
The center of gravity is the installation “The Knowledge of Good and Evil,” consisting of three old reed organs (more common known as harmoniums or parlor organs). The center organ has a version of a Ouija board where you’d normally expect to see sheet music. On the wall are various instruments; violins, a trombone, a bass drum from a high school marching band.
You might think that an organ player might want to use more than a Ouija board as his sheet music. You might also think that that the knowledge of good and evil must be less arbitrary than this juxtaposition of instruments might seem to suggest. But maybe the point of this installation is that our ideas about good and evil are, to some degree, culturally determined.
The aforementioned jabs and hooks in this exhibition come in the form of Normand’s collages.
“The American Dream” contains a phone book advertisement for African-American Indy residents. The copy for this advert, part of an Indianapolis City directory dated 1972, reads, “Specializing in Houses for Colored: we pay cash for your home.” This souvenir from the waning days of redlining is juxtaposed with a photo of a minstrel show.
But there’s as much to amuse as to edify here. One of the collages consists of pages pulled from a late 19th century publication entitled “In the vicinity of Essex.” These black and white illustrations of various women – a young Wallachian woman, a Bosnian dancing girl, and English girls from Essex, but in this collage, cut-outs from a Boston-based turn-of-the-twentieth-century publication called The Picturesque World,
they've all been brought together into the same space. In the backdrop you see the Taj Majal and Jerusalem's Dome on the Rock with the earth rising overhead. Perhaps it’s a riff on fetishized exoticism, the pornography of wanderlust for the armchair traveler.
If you’ve ever seen the collages/montages of Terry Gilliam in the films Life of Brian
and Monty Python and the Holy Grail,
you will definitely see a kinship here with Normand’s work.
(This month Normand will also be taking his artistry to the ArtPrize Competition in Grand Rapids, MI, which runs from Sept. 21 – Oct. 9. You may recall that Normand won his slot to exhibit at ArtPrize by winning ArtPrize Pitch Night
at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on June 30, 2016.)
Amy Falstrom’s exhibition entitled City Prairie was at the Harrison’s City Gallery.
The subject matter – the cityscapes of Indianapolis – is something of a surprise for me. I’d only seen her highly expressive landscapes, mostly lakefront landscapes before.
You might describe her palette in this previous work as limited.
Then again, the Lake Michigan beachfront where she draws her inspiration is not an explosively colorful environment. Accordingly, you won't see any explosions of color in this previous work. But when complementary colors in this work meet or almost touch, it almost feels like an event.
These new paintings seem in keeping with her earlier work in the sense of the dampened down palette, in some of the expressive touches like drips. You can see that in her acrylic on canvas painting “Three Acre Prairie.” The title seems to suggest that the solace of the natural world can be found even in Indy’s donut ring industrial outskirts.
Not all of her landscapes are brooding. In “Bright Morning,” you see in the foreground a bunch of pink flowers stretching their petals in the morning sun. And the color nearly matches the colors of the apartment blocks in the background basking in the morning sunlight.
From the City Gallery I headed next door to the Speck Gallery.
As if there weren’t enough great shows at the Harrison already—a veritable 4 ring circus for art exhibitions these days—Rachel Steely’s confidently-rendered, large scale paintings the butterflies appear multiplied by a thousand-fold.
Steely’s palette is as colorful here as Falstrom’s is subdued. While her color
palette reflects the colors found in nature, the scale is something of a shock.
Finally extracting myself from the Harrison Center, I made my way to Gallery 924, where I found Phil O’Malley’s “Appropriated Voyeurism” shocking in other ways. Curiously enough, it echoed Kipp Normand’s work at the Harrison Center. Where Normand’s collages riffed on 19th century hubris, O’Malley’s collages and installations riffed on 21st century information overload.
A bank of TVs continuously played what might be described as visual collages—where a blur of imagery flew by at the speed of light—as part of the installation “A Unanimous Consensus among Historians and Pedestrians with Unlimited Exceptions.” But in front of this bank of TVs, as part of the same installation, was a 100 ft. by 7 ft. mixed media painting consisting translucent, transparent, and reflective materials. So you walk past this translucent installation and see the blur of TVs beyond, and it's almost like being swallowed whole by your smartphone.
The effect was one of unlimited cacophony, but I suppose that’s what O’Malley was going for here.
Then there were paintings on silver mylar that doubled as mirrors. Perhaps these are meant to make you question your participatory role in all the new media craziness that we see all around us. There were also large collages consisting of layered and pieced together magazine cutouts: one of which was entitled “Serendipitous and Random Juxtapositionings.”
Time itself is compressed in this collage. Among the hundreds of images is one of Omran Daqneesh, the boy rescued from a bombing in Aleppo, Syria just a few weeks ago—pictured bloodied and in shock in an ambulance—and a newspaper article dating the Kennedy administration entitled, “Will the Negroes Crack the Suburb?” (I found this to be the most direct echoing of Normand’s work.)
After I left Gallery 924, I was looking for something more serene, perhaps, to cleanse the palette. I wasn’t only suffering from information overload, but also aware that I was suffering from information overload.
I found it in Circle City Industrial Complex’s South Studios, in Carmen Hurt's studio. She was one of the first artists I ever wrote about for NUVO, and it seemed like a good time to revisit her work.
Working with a vivid palette, her oil on canvas painting “Emerge” shows a curtain of darkness and layers of vivid color emerging from the darkness like butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.
Hurt was on hand to tell me a little about this work.
“Coming out of depression,” she told me, “pulling back the layers, you find a glint of light coming out of all that darkness.”
The confident brushwork was as sharp and clean as the curve of a butterfly’s wings.
Two other paintings struck me as much for their humor as for their palette and their brushwork. "A Seriously Sudden Sunset" shows a sun not falling past the horizon but splashing into the ocean.
And “Swimming in the Gene Pool,” depicted sperm swimming around an egg in a pool that looks like it might have been painted by David Hockney.
Coming from all that color in Hurt’s exhibition to Carla Knopp’s exhibition “Foodbox Portals,” also at the South Studios, I almost felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when the screen shifts from color to black and white at the end of the movie.
In this exhibition there’s not a whole lot of color. There’s the grayscale, some dull pinks, a lot of sepia. They are all paintings of painted refrigerators, according to Knopp, but they are anything but literal depictions. There’s a certain restrictiveness not only in color choices and subject matter, but in their uniform size (10” by 8”).
Within these restrictions Knopp has found a certain freedom. That is, she allowed herself to go deep into her intuitive painting process within the predetermined boundaries that she chose in terms of painting size, color, and subject matter. (Some poets say the same thing about finding freedom in rhymed meter.)
Let’s just say that none of the refrigerators depicted here seem to be brand, spanking new, fresh out of the showroom. “Foodbox 21” depicts a refrigerator that seems to be swallowed by the wall behind it, covered with multiple layers of decayed paint. If you were to open such a refrigerator, what would you find? “Foodbox 22” resembles more a tombstone on a hill—a brown tombstone on a brown hill surrounded by a brown sky. If this one is indeed a portal, where the hell would it take you? “Foodbox 24,” looks like what an abstract painting might look like if it were painted by Francis Bacon, in its brooding color choices, in its tarry accumulations of black paint. And “Foodbox 24,” doesn’t really look like a food box—or a portal—at all. With its pink, off-white color and a slit that verges on the vaginal, it looks more like a slab of meat.
There are no answers to any of the questions raised by these paintings. But with their rich textures, their open-ended suggestiveness, and their paradoxes, these food box portals nevertheless provide a passage into Knopp’s painterly imagination.
Next venue was the main gallery space in the Circle City Industrial Complex, the Schwitzer Gallery. Satch, a.k.a. Julie Kern was having a reprise of her “Body Parts” show that originally showed back in June, 2016.
One work that stuck out, called “Vagina” consisted of a mold painted gold with three balls painted to represent not two but three different genders. A reductive illustration of the beginning of human life? A commentary on the recent RFRA debate? There’s plenty to ponder here, plenty of questions to be asked but no easy answers.
Final stop of the night was “No Sense, No Feelin’ at General Public Collective by Adam Wollenberg, a member of the Droops. Wollenberg, 29 works as a tattoo artist when not making art with the Droops or on his own.
He describes the artistic work displayed here as his personal therapy, as a “brain dump.”
Many of the individual drawings in this exhibition consist of multiple drawings. In one called “Circus” you see images of praying hands, a perfume dispenser, and a dog. There are dozens of these drawings here; composed with black icron pen on paper, using a ballpoint pen for shading. The combined effect isn’t unlike rifling through a large book of clip art. But if you were to look in the index of that book, as it were, you’d find manifold references to Wollenberg’s artistic preoccupations.
“I’m not really doing it for anyone else,” he says. But there are echoes of the work he does as a tattoo artist that creep into his work here. So you get a sense of this artist’s artistic drive, which takes him beyond the boundaries of the flesh he uses as a canvas as a tattoo artist, looking for other influences, taking everything in.
And I felt a little like this as I made the rounds this First Friday. Maybe I’ll see you out there next time around!