Whispers to Shouts

Indiana State Museum

Through July 10

The contrast is stark. In comparing historical works of art by Indiana women artists to contemporary pieces by living artists, really, there is no comparison. The Indiana State Museum’s Whispers to Shouts, promoted as the “first comprehensive exhibit featuring Indiana historical and contemporary female artists,” asks for such a comparison; begs for it, in fact, by suggesting its all-inclusiveness. At worst, “comprehensive” is a low blow: of the hundreds of artists who no doubt make art in Indiana, and the many more who have made art in Indiana over the past several generations, this is the extent of it? (To mount a “comprehensive” exhibition of work by men is laughable.) At best, “comprehensive” is incorrect — and a tad hubristic.

'In Search of the Self' by Carol White, part of the current exhibit at the Indiana State Museum. The contrast is stark. In comparing historical works of art by Indiana women artists to contemporary pieces by living artists, really, there is no comparison. The Indiana State Museum’s Whispers to Shouts, promoted as the “first comprehensive exhibit featuring Indiana historical and contemporary female artists,” asks for such a comparison; begs for it, in fact, by suggesting its all-inclusiveness. At worst, “comprehensive” is a low blow: of the hundreds of artists who no doubt make art in Indiana, and the many more who have made art in Indiana over the past several generations, this is the extent of it? (To mount a “comprehensive” exhibition of work by men is laughable.) At best, “comprehensive” is incorrect — and a tad hubristic. On the other hand, as the exhibition organizers themselves suggest, in the case of historical works, there wasn’t much to choose from in terms of which works stood the test of time. Critics didn’t pay much attention to the art of women, and museums generally did not collect the work of women. Further, few of the women were career artists and instead juggled their artmaking with family and domestic responsibilities — often unsuccessfully, rendering their artmaking a pastime rather than a vocation. This struggle is plainly evident in the historical works, which are dominated by domestic scenes, children and florals, even if many of the pieces are fine — for instance, the work of Ada Walter Schulz and the pottery of the famed Overbeck sisters. This begs the age-old question: can women balance caregiving and a serious career in art? In many cases, yes, especially as men contribute more in the domestic sphere than ever in history. Times have changed — and so have our values. Obviously, critics now recognize the work of women artists, as do galleries and museums. Putting aside the “comprehensive” argument for a moment, the work of contemporary artists, also included in Whispers to Shouts, is redemptive: it’s unclear how the artists and works were selected, but the work is strong on the whole—there are no token pieces here. The curators would have had the opposite challenge in this case: there are numerous women artists actively creating and nurturing careers (and, in some cases, families) while creating compelling works of art. How does one choose when there are so many professional artists whose work deserves to be seen? One simply has to view the work in that context — as representative, as a sampling. Forget “comprehensive.” And here, the exhibition shines: with each painting or sculpture, there’s another that isn’t hanging on these walls — or make that two or three. Or many more. Inspired by the Indiana Historical Society Press book Skirting the Issue, Whispers to Shouts includes the work of historical Indiana women artists plus 18 contemporary women artists from around the state and Indianapolis, among them Lois Davis, Mary Ann Davis, Mary Lou Dooley Waller, Valerie Eickmeier, Peg Fierke, Linda Adele Goodine, Crystal Horton, Jo Legner, Cara Moczygemba, Anne McKenzie Nickolson, Patte Owings, Sam Sartorius, Betty Scarpino, Lois Main Templeton, Susan Tennant, Nhat Tran, Carol White and Becky Wilson. The exhibition includes more than 200 works in a variety of media and runs through July 10 at the Indiana State Museum, 650 W. Washington St. Call 232-1637 or visit http://www.in.gov/ism/ for more information.

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