Contemporary galleries open

David Hoppe

There are super-sized bottles of Tums in everybody's offices," laughs Christine Freiman, curator of contemporary art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, as she leads a visitor on a trip through the museum's new, dramatically expanded galleries devoted to art since the 1940s.

On Sunday, Nov. 20, these galleries will open to the public for the first time. This is the second step toward the completion of the IMA's massive expansion project, which began with a grand opening of some of the building's first floor galleries last spring. There's more to come: In February, the Eiteljorg Galleries with their holdings of African and South Pacific art will debut on the museum's second level; then, in June, the Asian collection will open as well as new galleries for textile arts and fashion arts. Finally, in December 2006, the European and Clowes galleries will complete the first level.

But the promise of the Contemporary Galleries has inspired the greatest amount of public anticipation of any of the museum's many components. For one thing, the sheer size of the new galleries, 25,000 square feet - or a 66 percent increase in display space - suggests a new tilt to the IMA's mission. Where the museum's approach to contemporary art might have once seemed haphazard and less than committed, the new IMA appears determined to make new works an integral part of its identity.

"Everything I've done since I've gotten here has focused on this," says Freiman, who has presided over every aspect of the development of the third floor galleries - from fighting for the preservation of windows and some spectacular views to acquiring significant new works for the collection, and determining the most strategic ways to install them. Of course she's had a lot of help, most notably from many of the artists whose work will be on view. Among the artists who have been directly involved with the installation of their work are D-Ho Suh, Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Kay Rosen, Sol LeWitt and James Turrell.

Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto has created an installation for the newly expanded Forefront Galleries. Where the Forefront was once a room the size of a small black box theater, there will now be three contiguous rooms available for new works by emerging and mid-career artists from around the world. Neto will use all three.

Another new dimension will be the Off-the-Wall space, a large wall visible from every one of the museum's levels. This space will be taken by emerging artists and will change twice a year. Assume Vivid Astro Focus, a psychedelic collaborative from Brazil that uses retro, pop, media and graffiti imagery to create vinyl wallpaper murals, will christen Off-the-Wall.

That's just for starters. There will be a video gallery presenting rotating works. Bloodwork, a three-part piece by Indiana University faculty member Jawshing Arthur Liou, will be on view. Freiman first saw this piece at the J. Martin Gallery and acquired it for the IMA collection. She says that acquiring work by Indiana artists and integrating it into the IMA collection will become business-as-usual. She also intends to build a video collection for the museum based on new and recent works.

New galleries will be devoted to Abstract Expressionism, art of the 1960s, light-based works, contemporary prints and drawings and the Glick Collection of studio glass.

"We built around the artwork in terms of the needs of specific pieces," says Freiman as we pass Robert Irwin's cast acrylic light sculpture. For years this piece was hung as a kind of after-thought. Now, with a space of its own, the piece truly breathes. It's a revelation. The same can be said for several other pieces in the collection.

Visitors to the opening on Nov. 20 will have an opportunity to experience the new Contemporary Galleries by way of interactive tours led by local artists from Theatre of Inclusion. The free tours will be offered at 11 a.m., 2 and 3:30 p.m. Participants will examine individual works and take part in a collective conversation. The tours will gather at the top of the escalators on the third gallery level.

Museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday and on every other day of the week except Monday, when the museum is closed, and Thursday, when it's open until 9 p.m. and is free of charge. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, children under 12 and students with ID are free. For more information call 317-923-1331 or go to www.ima-art.org.

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