I was expecting to see at least one painting of a covered bridge at the 91st Annual Hoosier Salon Exhibition on the fourth floor of the Indiana History Center but I saw none. Since it's 2015, I thought maybe that I might just possibly see a 3D-printer-extruded sculpture of a covered bridge.
There were, not surprisingly, plenty of landscape in this juried exhibition of 153 works by 126 artists judged by artists Quang Huang of Austin, Tex., and Randall Sexton of San Francisco. (The competition rules required that an artist be a current resident or have lived in Indiana for at least a year.)
Anthony King's oil painting "Corner Pasture," depicted a typical Brown County landscape in a hyper-realistic style, suggesting the first hint of fall with the changing color of the trees in the fields in the foreground also with the oppressive heat of summer weighing down the low hills in the background with a blanket of haze. There were also city landscapes, such “A Million Reflections” by Rob Proctor depicting the Cloud Gate sculpture (a.k.a. the Bean) and the Magnificent Mile skyline. This painting, which won King an award for best first time exhibitor, was interesting to me not because it had the type of ornate, gold colored frame used by many Hoosier Salon artists– that it really could have done without - but because it had the impressionistic style of what one might think of as typical Hoosier Salon work but applied to a cityscape. And what, aside from talk of covered bridges, does a typical – or a stereotypical – Hoosier Salon painting consist of? Dan Wakefield’s 1970 novel Going All the Way (an homage/send-up of Indianapolis life in the 1950s) contains the following passage that describes the two main characters walking through the old Herron School of Art building and encountering the art on the walls:
"Some of the paintings were by native Indiana artists who showed pictures of hills and trees and brooks and the usual crap in pretty places like Brown County."
But, judging from the material on display here, there’s no reason to paint with a broad brush. There was a wide array of 2D and 3D work stretching stylistically well outside the impressionistic and plein air landscape genres with which Hoosier Salon is typically associated – not that there’s anything wrong with that as Jerry Seinfeld might say - moving into realms of abstraction and surrealism.
The marble sculpture by Michael Quigley entitled “Freedom” vaguely resembles a pelvis, through which a newborn will be released from the prison of the womb into the world, but perhaps the title refers more to the artistic freedom that the sculptor relishes pursuing abstract work.
Speaking about issues of artistic freedom, I should give at least a passing mention to the Hoosier Salon vs. iMOCA exhibition that took place from Aug. 7 – Aug. 9 at iMOCA (Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art) at the Murphy in Fountain Square.
This exhibition pitted work from artists from both memberships against each other. But, to the patron touring this exhibition, membership affiliations were not exposed. This purpose of this exhibition, the brainchild of Carmel Hoosier Salon Gallery Manager Richard Anderson, was to break down barriers – real and perceived in the arts community. It’s worth noting that, even in this juried exhibition of Hoosier Salon members, some of the work here might be hung in iMOCA without evoking the wrath of the contemporary art crowd. Take for example, the Best of Show winner, Alan Larkin’s “Alarms and Diversions,” a large, colorful, precisely detailed canvas that depicts an encounter between a show elephant and a mouse. But is this a real elephant? Is this a real mouse? Why are they, it appears, facing off in someone’s living room?
The real standout of this exhibition would have also seemed perfectly at home at iMOCA—in any exhibition context. This was the mixed media painting by William Carpenter entitled "The Transfiguration of Shards,” depicting a low-rise urban landscape crowded with single family homes pained primarily in grayscale. The hope of a horizon is nixed as your eye travels up between the narrow rectangular confines of the painting - about eight times taller than it is wide - seeing home upon home were piled on top of one another in a great big heap as if you were looking at a hillside in Brazil. But it's clearly not Brazil, as the house at the bottom of the canvas looks just like a typical American home with a two-car garage and a mailbox at roadside. The outlines of the houses lose their distinctiveness as your eye travels upward and there are some bizarre double image effects here and there and you wonder perhaps if this is a dreamscape, an ode to a particular home hanging around in the recesses of the artist's memory, a home lost in a mortgage gone bad or lost to unforeseen circumstances. It's a real shame that this standout painting, in this juried exhibition, didn't receive any kind of award.
I suppose I could give this painting a “Best of Review” award, but maybe the artist would be wise to take this with a grain of salt. After all, I was wrong to congratulate this exhibition for not having a painting of a covered bridge. According to Carmel Gallery Manager Richard Anderson, there was indeed one on display. And I missed it.
The exhibition is open to the public during regular Indiana History Center hours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $7 for adults, $6.50 for seniors, and $5 for youth ages 5 to 17.