Review: VACANT at Old City Hall 

VACANT (Slideshow)
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VACANT (Slideshow)

Current and former Herron students joined together for a one-night only, First Friday exhibit at the normally closed Old Indianapolis City Hall.

By NUVO Editors

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May's First Friday festivities were highlighted by a one-night exhibition in the Old Indianapolis City Hall bringing together the work of 47 artists current, graduating or former students of Herron School of Art and Design. The exhibition, VACANT, was the first event organized by [space], a new collective consisting of graduating Herron seniors Taryn Cassella, Anna Martinez and Andrea Townsend.

Taking inspiration from the TURF exhibition that occurred during the Super Bowl, the three artists looked into the possibility of using the space for their thesis shows. The City of Indianapolis gave them permission, but stipulated that the event must involve more artists to justify the use of the space.

Cassella, Martinez and Townsend then began reaching out to artists on an individual basis to invite them to exhibit work in Vacant. Eventually, an open call was extended to current and former Herron students. The three then began the process of curating the space and placing artists together; most of the gallery spaces contained the art of two to three artists.

Herron alumnus Jordan Ryan was tasked with researching the history of the building for the exhibition. It was built in 1909 as the first proper Indianapolis City Hall, and is on the national historic register. Its decorative art adornments are especially noteworthy.

After 50 years, City Hall outgrew the building. The Indiana State Museum occupied the space from 1963 until 2002. It's been vacant since 2007. Each of the four floors is approximately 12,000 feet, and there is a basement and attic as well. The cost of rehabilitation is the main reason why the building sits vacant today, costing the City of Indianapolis thousands of dollars in annual upkeep.

The art exhibited consisted of thirteen thesis shows, with the rest of the galleries rounded out by alumni and current Herron students. The quality of art was consistently high, but there were several standouts.

Combining Andrea Townsend and Marna Shopoff's work in a gallery space was a sound curatorial decision; the emphasis on line, color and material made for a nice pairing.

Tina Estes's art responds to the faulty nature of memory and people's disconnect from the outside world. Using predominately shiny textures for the many figures on the otherwise duller surface of her canvas yields great results.

Brooke Poeppel's uncomfortably zoomed in close up portraits of sleeping people have amusing titles that lend a dark humor to the work, such as "Space Cadet," "Laid Bare and Oblivious," "Ill-At-Ease," and "The Shepherd as the Lamb."

Alice Guerin and Ashley Windbigler combine the innocence of childhood and family memories with something implacably repugnant by interjecting objects such as teeth and chicken feet into their installations; the result conjures the eerie dust that cloaks nostalgia, and verges on slasher film camp.

Anna Martinez and Taryn Cassella's shared space feels perhaps most contemporary of the art on view. Their still life scenes in both two and three dimensional representations are interspersed with tasteful yet unexpectedly bright and colorful objects and materials.

The future of the building is completely up in the air. "We feel a need for a presence like this in the local community," Townsend explains. The members of [space] hope to make Vacant a semiannual or annual event. Having three members allows each artist to pursue residency opportunities while still moving forward with event planning. "From what we've learned now, it will be much easier the next time," muses Martinez. If Vacant and TURF before it are any indication, the building's future may be as storied as its past.

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