[EDITOR'S NOTE: In keeping with John Oliver's recent suggestion on his Last Week Tonight program that we all #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgainaldDrumpfAgain — Drumpf was the original Trump family name — we’re going along. If Dan Savage can singlehandedly create a “Google problem” for Rick Santorum, the least we can do is try and help take a xenophobic racist “billionaire” down a few pegs.]
I’m at my very favorite place in Indianapolis right now, in the Nina Mason Pulliam Special Collections Room on the fifth floor of the Indianapolis Central Library, which is part of the Central Library addition completed in 2007.
This was not my first stop this First Friday: I first paid a visit to iMOCA at CityWay where I viewed Animal Umwelt by Jenny Kendler and Molly Schafer up through March 20th. This exhibit is inspired by the natural world – and how our species is screwing over the natural world. I was intrigued by the work of the exhibition, but I was a little distracted by recent events in the news.
You've probably heard that on March 3, during the Republican candidates' debate in Detroit, Donald Drumpf went somewhere no other presidential candidate has ever done before in public. That is, he bragged about the size of his penis.I was simultaneously preparing my morning coffee and getting my daughter ready for school when I heard the report on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.
Drumpf may have very well been prompted to this reference by pastel on paper portrait entitled “Make America Great Again,” which depicts a scouring, naked Donald Drumpf with sagging pecs and a micropenis. As his campaign has threatened a lawsuit against the Los Angeles-based artist, Illma Gore, I suspect that he’s at least aware of it.
But the line of thinking that makes one connect one’s worth as a man to the size of his penis is a dangerous, even violent notion. Shouldn't all human beings be judged by the content of their characters rather than by their body parts? Furthermore, penises come in all sizes, as well as shapes and colors. There’s a diversity of penises in the world and that’s a good thing. The approximately 50 percent of the people in the world who have penises come from a variety of backgrounds, races, and religions. Diversity, however, is not a concept that seems to please Trump and his supporters.
Anyway, the less said tonight about Drumpf and his penis the better. But allow me anyway to draw some connections to the iMOCA show (which at this point might appear to the reader as rather tenuous but bear with me.) A topic addressed in the iMOCA show is biodiversity.This is an idea that Drumpf seems to be against in the abstract with his stated desire to diminish the power and authority of the Environmental Protection Agency. Maybe he thinks that he can make deals with Mother Nature. But there I go again.
Kendler and Schafer's joint project "8 Select works from the Endangered Species Project" which features limited edition prints of work by the featured artists as well as 19 others.This is truly a limited edition series of prints, as the number of each print matches its population count. Through sales of these prints, more than $1 4,000 has been raised for conservation efforts. One of Schafer's works in this series is entitled "Seycheclles Sheath-Taled Bat," depicting said bat hanging upside down from a stalagmite.
Schafer's works on paper, inspired by her stay on the remote Assateague Island and her desire to create art that alluded to stories of orphan girls accompanied by animals in the wild such as those found in the novels Island of the Blue Dolphins and Julie of the Wolves. In drawings and paintings on paper—using a wide variety of media from graphite to acrylic to watercolor, you see the relationship between girl and nature up close, not at a suburban or urban remove. In “Intruder” you see a bear coming at you after destroying hanging ornaments perhaps put up in a forest by a girl as decoration. The work is both beautiful and visceral – as fits its subject.
Kendler’s work is participatory; she invites guest to collaborate with her by photographing birds that come into their field of view for a one hour period. Kendler then combines and reworks the images in Photoshop resulting in some surreal, hallucinatory images.
To some the Indy skyline might seem surreal and hallucinatory. In my email correspondence with Dutch artist Jacco Olivier, whose Liquid Painting, Liquid Time is now at the IMA, he told me that he'd never been to the Midwest and that Indianapolis sounds exotic to him. Go figure.
In front of me is a view of the Indianapolis downtown skyline. Before me stretches the grass carpet of the American Legion mall - between the two American Legion national headquarters buildings to the east and west. Just a little farther south is Indiana World War Memorial Plaza. And then there's the Indiana War Memorial itself, capped by its roof shaped like a ziggurat.
That the memorial plaza isn’t overwhelmed by skyscrapers is in no small part due to the careful consideration of architect Evans Woollen who, together with his firm, designed the Central Library addition. Woollen also was the architect behind the the Minton-Capehart Federal Building on Pennsylvania Street, adjacent to the plaza. He designed the Minton-Capehart Building like an inverted ziggurat - longer than it is tall - so as to contain but not overwhelm the plaza with its shadow. He also wanted to acknowledge the presence of the Indiana War Memorial with its ziggurat roof.
And then there's the bird's eye view of the high office building beyond, as well as the state capital dome, where lawmakers do their best to seem perfectly reasonable - Hoosierly hospitable - while carrying out the governor's far right agenda. (Governor Pence would, of course, never do what Trump did last night at the debate, even in his dreams.)
But back to the Special Collection Room itself, where I now sit. Above me, on its walls, is a mural by Tom Torluemke entitled “The Book of Life: the People we know, the experiences we have and the conditions under which we live.” Clearly inspired by the narrative mural paintings of Thomas Hart Benton - but with a brighter palette than many of Benton's works - this mural is inspired by Hoosier native Booth Tarkington’s novel The Magnificent Ambersons. The current show at the IMA: A Gentleman Collector from Indiana, showcases paintings from the Tarkington collection.
Torluemke's mural aims to capture something of the Hoosier mood at the turn of the 20th century and it achieves this with depictions of sweeping, colorful ribbons connecting scenes of social interaction and home life and industry. But Torluemke is not looking back on the past with rose-tinted glasses. There are also allusions to the segregation of the time. (In one scene, you see an African-American family at the bottom of the mural separated from white society at the top).
This is the same Torluemke who I reviewed at a 2013 show at the now defunct Mt. Comfort Gallery entitled Hardball in which I wrote: “In ‘Meanest of the Marauders,’ you see a man being sodomized with a baseball bat in a gang attack.The unblinking nature of Torluemke's work here, in a variety of media, recalls Goya's series of prints 'Disasters of War,' but there's often a sexual edge to his work that's all his own."
The question one might ask of this work is whether it’s obscene or not. It was, however based on a true story ripped from the headlines; the ritualized torture of gay recruits by a Latino street gang.
And of course, one might ask the same of Gore's "Making America Great Again." Is it obscene to merely point out the obvious, that sex and power are too intimately connected in certain politicians' minds? I really don't think so. Certainly the proliferation of Gore's image on the Internet is a good thing, and not only because she's a talented artist. After all, a savvy artist with talent can do a lot online to sell work and become his/her own gallery. Ask Justin Vining, one of the exhibiting artists this First Friday, about how he's used the Internet to promote his work.
But more importantly, the Internet can move art beyond the frame, as it were. Viewers around the world have been able to get a glimpse of Indy-based Anila Agha's ground-breaking shadow-casting cube "Intersections," which won both the ArtPrize juried and public awards in 2014, from YouTube videos on their laptops or smartphones. (And to this writer's delight, it will be on view in the Indiana State Museum starting March 19 - October 2.)
And artists can, like any other citizen, voice their opinions in the public sphere. And if the art's good enough - and it has to be good to hit a nerve - it might just effect the public debate. Unlike Goya, whose images of atrocities committed during the wars between Napoleonic France and Spain weren't proliferated until 35 years after his death, artists can take advantage of our (still) free and open society and get their images out there.
The library just closed so I was forced to leave my perch at Indianapolis Central Library. I’m now at Gallery 924 to check out the Owens & Crawley sculptural show at Gallery 924. Later I’ll be headed to the Harrison Center to check out Justin Vining’s show at Harrison Center for the Arts and check out Open Studio Night. The Stutz also has their Open Studio Night. And I’ll also hit Circle City Industrial Complex and perhaps some other venues. There’s just too many venues to guarantee my being able to make all of them. And writing about them….. forget it… That will have to wait for the weekend, when, like the artist Jenny Kendler with her Photoshop, I’ll rework this copy into something great; I’ll make the blog great again, as it were.
I pay a visit to the Stutz, where it was Open Studio Night, in order to see two artists. The first is Jim Gerard who works with a wide variety of media in creating drawings, sculpture and painting. But he is focused on the human form as a subject both in his own work and the classes that he teaches.On the wall of his studio is an artist's statement with a quote from Edgar Degas, who once said "We were created to look at one another, weren't We."
"While art has now evolved to be about anything and everything, I still find that my greatest inspiration comes from working with people," he says, in his text.
What I find compelling about Gerard's work, often drawn from life, is his capacity to continually inject life - to make things new and fresh - in traditional art forms.
I also pay a visit to the studio of Constance Scopelitis, an artist who is also very drawn to the human figure, but in ways that offer something of a running commentary on the life she leads, on the society that she finds herself in. She shows me a new work entitled "Sleepwalkers Walking Among the Living" (oil and graphite on canvas).
Scopelitis grew up in Irvington and graduated Indiana University with a degree in Fine Arts in 1977. As the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" crept up on her iPhone player, she told me the following about her work:
"Sleepwalkers is based on the pop culture phenomenon and our absolute obsession with vampires and zombies. Here you have these sleeping creatures who are not really plugged into life but are voraciously hungry which I think reflects an emptiness inside. So in these pieces, I’ve got everybody with their eyes closed. They’re not really interconnected..... nobody’s connected with each other because they’re the walking dead.They’re sleepwalking through life on autopilot. And in fact maybe they’re just looking into their social devices... You can see the lack of connectivity with every person that’s in there. But I’m fascinated with this emptiness thing. You know, why is it that these creatures, the walking dead, are so hungry? Maybe they’re living vacuous lives, they’re starved to be filled with something so they have to eat each other. So are we doing that with each other?"
Some final thoughts: The smartphone became a thing during Obama's presidency; Obama being one of the most rational, reasonable, non-ideological presidents that we've ever had. Maybe I've been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that things would always be this way. But, quoting Goya, the sleep of reason produces monsters.