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Digital Audiences, Trump's Self Love, and Amalgamation

Out at the Galleries on a December First Friday

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I was hoping for an eventful December First Friday, but maybe not too eventful. I mean, consider the news lately. Consider the stabbing of a woman in a gallery during the annual Art Basel show in Miami Beach, FL. Of course, with the art world being what it is nowadays, many patrons thought that the bleeding woman was part of some very high-concept conceptual art exhibit.

So, with this kind of thing on my mind, I suppose it won’t surprise you that the art that attracted my attention—for better or for worse but usually for the better—was the stuff that kinda bleeds. If if bleeds it leads, as they say, like your morning smartphone news feed.

So when I checked out the Raymond James Stutz Art Gallery during the Stutz Holiday Open House and saw a painting by Julia Zollman Wickes entitled “Moving Forward,” I knew I had to pay a visit to her gallery. The man in the foreground of the composition, in a yellow suit and Panama hat, had his suitcase at his feet. All desert earth tones in the backdrop and the sky was a pastel light blue. He looked like he might have been waiting at some border crossing in the Sonora Desert. Or maybe it wasn’t a crossing but he was waiting on his coyote to bring him (and the people depicted behind him) into the U.S.  

Well, there wasn't any blood in this particular painting, but there were certainly life and death issues at stake. Maybe these people depicted will make it across the border, maybe they won't. In any case, I wanted to visit the artist's studio to learn more.

So I went up to Wickes' 3rd story studio (which she shares with her husband Jack, a photographer). There I spotted a painting, still on its easel, spoke to me even more than “Moving Forward.” This painting is entitled “Welcoming Committee,” and portrays two men kneeling, one of them looking through a pair of binoculars. Her style, in both these paintings, champions expressive brushwork over pinpoint figurative detail.

When Wickes put the painting on Instagram she got positive feedback by refugee advocacy groups, “a little before the influx into Europe” she told me.

But when I told her that wasn’t the kind of welcoming committee I’d want to see at the gateway to a new land, or something to that effect, she told me that, for her, there was real ambiguity in the painting.

“I like to have people make up their own stories,” she said.

When I mentioned her toned down palette, apparent in “Welcoming Committee” as well as “Moving Forward.” She told me that travel in Mexico and the Southwest had informed her color choices.

“My palette went from bright to more neutrals,” she said.

I was thinking about checking out some other studios at the Stutz, but I didn’t want to be stuck in neutral as there were many more galleries to see and it was already 5:30 p.m.

My next stop was Gallery 924, home of the Tiny IV, a Really Big Show, featuring 95 artists. Lots of work to see here, but the standout for me was the grouping of small paintings by Steve Paddack featuring rural Hoosier scenes with a weird twist, as if he were combining the sensibilities of Salvador Dali and T.C. Steele. Like the painting depicting a covered bridge and a roll of carpet staring into tranquil lake water in “Double Narcissus,” contemplating their beautiful selves. 

And then there was the mixed media portraiture of Thomas Kennedy, featuring some of the most malignant characters on the political scene, paired off, and kissing one another. There was the pairing of George Zimmerman/Rush Limbaugh, Paul Ryan/Mike Pence, and my favorite Trump/Trump, featuring the Donald kissing his clone. This painting too could have been titled "Double Narcissus."

This stuff seemed a little hastily done on a representational level, but at least it was timely. (T-shirts with the Pence/Ryan image were selling for $25) The mini-portrait certainly captured the Donald’s narcissism, which knows no bounds. And narcissism happens to be a leading characteristic of some other not too savory historical figures, both living and in the toilet of historical memory, like Stalin, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong-un. I could go on….

But no, I had to go. Before I did though, I ran into Heather Stamenov, an enormously talented painter who will be leaving Indy soon, who handed me a flyer for an exhibit entitled Amalgamation at the Sawtooth in Fountain Square.

“Don’t miss it,” she said.

“I won’t,” I said.

Next up was the Harrison Center for the Arts. The Harrison was as crowded as I’d ever seen it and it certainly wasn't all about the food served in the gallery this time around.  (Often you could make a dinner out of the food served gratis here, often Indian food, but on this particular First Friday it was just grapes and cheese.)  

In the main gallery and gallery annex, the Annual Holiday Group show was stuffed to the brim with work that “incorporated the color black and/or ideas about formality,” which is about as loose a criteria as anyone has ever seen, but hey….. this is the Harrison Center, not the Musée d'Orsay.

I checked out “Detour,” by Jennifer Hoard, a painting with rich photorealistic detail featuring four women wearing gas masks, in the middle of a lush field, cordoned off by orange plastic fencing. The subtitle of this one may as well have been, “You don’t want to go here.” But maybe, as a society, we already have?

Justin Vining’s “Nightwalk through Highland” was another notable work that really, really incorporated black… It’s interesting how this artist’s palette has become more bleached-out and monochromatic, and his tone less whimsical, over the years. It’s as if Tim Burton started making films like those of, say, William Friedkin.

Gallery #2 at the Harrison was featuring works on the theme of Cain and Abel as part of the Re-imagine Religion Spirituality and the Arts, A Retrospective, an initiative under the auspices of Butler University and CTS and directed by Sandy Sasso, Senior Rabbi Emerita of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck who served with her husband Dennis since 1977 as the first married leaders of a synagogue in the history of Judaism.

Seems like just yesterday that I was just a little kid and she was reading one of her very popular children's books in the children's service. I only made it to the congregation maybe once or twice a year when growing up but I do recall the children's service fondly. Let's just say we weren't the most observant family in the world, my family. In fact, if you want to find less observant Jews you pretty much have to go to Tel Aviv.  

Anyway I was talking to painter Dan Cooper, who has a painting in the exhibition, who was telling me that he was collaborating with Rabbi Sasso on an upcoming video project. Feeling like making a stupid joke, I kind of improvised some lyrics using Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" as a template.  

Rabbi said to Dan Cooper "Sing me a Song,"

Dan said, “Man, you must be putting me on”

And then, of all people, Rabbi Sandy Sasso herself came up to us. “I heard my name mentioned,” she said.

I felt the blood well up in my cheeks, which probably were turning beet-red at this point. 

Rabbi Sasso was not willing to let the opportunity pass by, however, because she knew I was probably going to be writing of my encounter with her.  She let me know that her Religion and Spirituality initiative had received grant funding for the next two years.  

I also caught up with kinetic sculptor David Landis who had two works in the exhibition, one of which was entitled “Confrontation,” about one particular encounter Jacob had with an angel. And as we were talking a woman came up to this fragile kinetic sculpture and jiggle it a little bit, confronting it as a kid might do with a bowl of Jello. So Landis had to go and confront her about it.

Landis also told me that he had assisted fiber artist Marco Querin assemble his exhibit “There is a Child in Me,” at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA).

I could have stayed at the Harrison all night because there was so much going on, but it was time to move on. After all, I wanted to make it to iMOCA before they closed.

Next on the itinerary: Circle City Industrial Complex (CCIC). I wanted to check out Ron Kern’s photography, which was on display in the CCIC's huge second floor lobby area. His Small Towns Project featured digital archival prints of his black and white film photography from the early 90’s of small town Indiana and he told me all about it.

“I’d drive the smaller roads and I started to see the smaller towns eroding,” he told me. “I started seeing corporate farming coming in. I started to seeing to see this whole way of life really starting to contract. So I reacted to that. So I started taking photographs recording this place and time in smaller towns. And the foreclosure crisis was starting. Indiana had a whole big spate of people losing their houses. It was foreshadowing of our financial crisis that we’re in now. It started back in the early 90s. So I started taking photographs of these particular things to freeze them in time, if you will.”

He pointed to one photograph that featured a tiny little church with a lofty title: The Way of the Cross.

“There were churches that were just coming into these small towns,” Kern continued. “That’s a little nondescript little concrete block building that some preacher came in and converted into a church. And there’s his white Cadillac. And I found it interesting that all the crosses that he painted and they built on the top of the church, they’re all black. I found all kinds of odd symbolism in the whole dichotomy of black crosses and the white Cadillac. I used an old press camera. Because I wanted to be more of a documentarian.”

 Another photograph featured the E.L. Kennedy Covered Bridge from Moscow, Rush County, taken in 1992. In the foreground there’s a saw mill. Both were destroyed in a Tornado in 2008. (In 2010, the bridge, spanning the Big Flatrock River, was rebuilt.)

In these photos, you can see that Kern’s by no means a point and shoot photographer, although there certainly is a documentary feel to this work. And there is, of course, an elegiac quality to his work and not only because many of the structures he photographed no longer exist.

There’s almost certainly a connection between the destruction of small town American—by agribusiness, suburbanization, big box retail, globalization, the NAFTA treaty—probably has a lot to do with the surge in support that the Donald is enjoying by a certain, alienated segment of the American population that feels the rural way of life slipping away from them, the segment of America that Barack Obama refers to with this quote, “It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

It was off to Fountain Square. I first stopped in at Amalgamation at the Sawtooth, the exhibition that Heather Stamenov had informed me about. It was behind the Bud’s Supermarket which was closing. According to Fox 59, the owner Bud Martin plans to lease out to Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana as a retail store. 

The Sawtooth, located in an old warehouse that had fallen into disuse, reminded me—with its shock of red-painted walls and weird artwork—of the high concept SOHO bar in the Martin Scorsese film After Hours where the protagonist winds up at a very late hour of the night, talking to a very strange woman to the tune of Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?"

This show, entitled Amalgamation, runs through Dec. 11. There were acrylic on canvas portraits—paintings—of four strange characters on the wall, who looked like they had just stepped out of a sci-fi novel. There was serenely abstract metal sculpture dangling down from the ceiling. There was figurative sculpture. There were large prints of black and white photographs taken in urban settings. 

This was a group exhibition by four Herron students: siblings Chris Brown and Angie Brown, Chris Reuther, and Shannon White. Angie Brown took the photographs; her brother was responsible for the dangling metal sculpture. Shannon White made the figurative sculpture and Chris Reuther painted the four large portraits hanging on the wall.

Those four large portraits might serve them very well if they were to form some art school junta—trying to initiate a cult of personality—although it's hard to picture Herron art school students forming any kind of junta. (But I would much prefer a junta of Herron art school students to a Donald Trump presidency.)

At first I thought that Heather Stamenov painted the portraits because of the dead-on realism combined with an expressive color palette but then I learned, talking with Reuther, that they were his paintings. But he had, not surprisingly, taken a painting class at Herron with Stamenov. (The only thing Stamenov was

really responsible for, she said, was painting the gallery walls red, but somehow I didn't really quite believe her.)

And these were portraits of the amalgamation of artists who put this show together.

I asked Chris Brown if his sculpture had been inspired by Richard Serra’s work.

“Serra is absolutely an inspiration,” he said. “I just saw him in L.A. at LACMA. I come from an illustration background, I love science fiction and I recently got into sculpture and found that it was a great way to envision some of the drawings that I do in more abstract ways and also add weight to them in a way that the drawings don’t necessarily carry by themselves. They’re very drawing inspired and Serra inspired too no doubt.”

The exhibit has something to do with the evolution of the cone people, and there was some kind of loose—very loose—narrative driving this exhibition.

“They worshipped the cone and used it in daily life over and over again in everything they do,” Shannon White told me. And these people, apparently, had their origins in Ancient Rome."  

So. Sure. This was all a bit high-concept, but hey, I’m not complaining.  All the elements of these artists work well together as their combined efforts more than matched the context. And the black and white photography of abandoned urban settings in Detroit by Angie Brown seemed to ground the whole exhibit in the 21st century.  

This photography recalled in my mind It Follows, the 2014 feature film directed by David Robert Mitchell, a film that seems to propose that a large swath of Detroit was left abandoned because of some kind of Golem-producing-venereal disease.

It was time to move on. There was some kind of Star Wars thing going on up in the Primary Gallery that I viewed very quickly but I did take note of a couple of the works on display which interpreted their subjects in offbeat sexual ways so you don't know whether you're looking at man, woman, or machine. 

Then it was on to the last exhibit of the night. It had been a most excellent night so far, as might say Bill and Ted in their excellent adventures. No stabbings mistaken as performance art. Not so far anyway. And not that I wanted to see or experience that kind of thing. After all there's been too much blood in the news lately.  Of course, I did say that I'm attracted to the kind of art that bleeds at the top of this blog. But maybe that's just another way of saying that I often very much like messy, passionate art rooted in contemporary reality to the cold and bloodless.

Marco Querin’s very cool “There is a Child in Me,” was still awaiting me at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA).  And while it was a very cool show, it was far, far, far from bloodless.  I loved this show. My review will run in print tomorrow (Wednesday, December 9), and I don’t particularly want to repeat myself here as I’ve been writing all night. But I did talk to the artist a little and was intrigued by what he told me.

And I found the work woven onto the walls of the gallery—particularly one entitled “Digital Audience—astonishing. The Milan-based artist seemed astonished by this piece as well. He told me that he felt like a patron at his own show. He had given himself permission in this exhibition, he said, to try new things. Normally he made work with wool yarn that had the look, from a distance of painting on canvas; both abstract painting and figurative.

In this exhibit, however, he was allowing himself to experiment with more three-dimensional (and more improvisational) work and let the child come out of him, per the title of the exhibition.

“I'm allowing myself, judgement-free, to let more come out of me,” he said. “I tried simple ideas that maybe you would shut down because of your internal dialogues that [normally] you would choose not to do. In my case this time, I’m letting everything out.”  

Writer Arts, Faith & Equity

Having lived and worked in Indy on and off since 1977, and currently living in Carmel, I've seen the city change a great deal. I love covering the arts in all its forms, and the places where the arts and broader cultural issues intersect.