Contemporary IMA

An exhibition of Tara Donovan's work opened last week at the IMA.

At the opening of Tara Donovan's new show at the IMA last week, the art museum's CEO, Maxwell Anderson told the crowd that the Donovan show marked yet another step toward the IMA's goal of being known as a Midwest destination for contemporary art.

This statement was significant for at least two reasons.

First of all, it wasn't that long ago that the idea of just being able to see contemporary art here plunged people in Indianapolis into a kind of despair. Art made in our lifetimes by anyone other than our neighbors was something we traveled to experience, to Chicago, say, or Columbus, OH.

Lisa Freiman began changing this when, like an aesthetic paramedic, she took the job of curator of contemporary art at the IMA, giving that institution the breath of life. When Anderson arrived shortly thereafter, the deal was sealed. The museum, with its expansive new third floor gallery spaces, was positioned to actually have what amounted to a contemporary art museum within its larger self.

Now, with the imminent opening of the Virginia Fairbanks Art & Nature Park in June, with its array of temporary installations by international artists, the IMA is clearly poised to be the destination Anderson promised, which leads me to that aforementioned second reason.

When, in the early days of his administration, Bart Peterson gushed that Indianapolis would be the "paris of the Midwest," he was indulging in a kind of halfbaked hyperbole about this city's cultural reach that would have been immediately forgettable had it not been so, well, impossible.

But Peterson wasn't alone. Over the years, local arts advocates have had tendency to oversell and under deliver when it came to claims for what the arts might do for the city.

So it's refreshing to see a leading local arts administrator set a goal both ambitious and realistic, then, over a relatively brief amount of time (by Indianapolis standards, where a decade goes by in the blink of an eye), realize it.

That's professionalism.

PS: I am fully aware that the IMA wasn't alone, or even first, in turning the tide toward contemporary art in Indianapolis. The (still) optimistically named Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art kicked the door ajar. It'll be interesting to see how its as yet unfinished permanent facility will affect its identity.

And the Herron School of Art & Design's move to the IUPUI campus with the creation of the Herron Galleries has also had an impact.

And let's not forget the new wrinkles that local galleries, from Big Car to Christopher West Presents, continue to contribute...