Visual Arts


Passages and Portals: Sculpture by Neil Goodman

Indiana State Museum

Through Aug. 6

Work by Neil Goodman is on view at the Indiana State Museum

The way I experience art has necessarily changed again. As my youngest daughter, a toddler, is now old enough to explore art from her own vantage point, I'm faced with a conundrum: If I bring her with me to view art, my own position will likely change in relation to it. I will lose the contemplative vibe that feels so necessary to my art experiences - I usually view art for reviewing purposes when the fewest likely visitors will be present, enhancing my own meditative experience. Having a toddler in tow slices through such a proposition like a knife slices through wet clay.

That said, another opportunity presents itself: A truly innocent experience of art, devoid of any preconceptions, art historical movements and other adult-heavy clutter is once again a possibility, at least vicariously. And in the case of Chicago artist Neil Goodman, whose sculptural installation of black bronze pieces undulate throughout the NiSource Gallery of the Indiana State Museum, a toddler's reaction is indeed a telling one. Sadly, though, in this as in most cases, it was one that threatened to perpetuate the notion of fine art's inaccessibility: "Do Not Touch" signs populated the gallery - a necessary admonition, no doubt, but one that makes a toddler's experience quite limited.

So when my daughter walked into the room, her gasp of delight was not quite audible, but visible; she immediately wanted to do exactly what she was forbidden to do: that is, touch the art. Or rather, walk inside its negative space as a way to experience the positive. The first piece she peered into, an arched structure that does justice, like most of the pieces, to the exhibition's title - Passages and Portals - offered an opening just her size. Alas, I had to swoop in and whisk her away before the inevitable happened. But her intended experience gave me license to imagine one of my own, from a different perspective.

What makes Neil Goodman's work so inviting is just this element: One has the desire to walk within it and circle its exterior, taking in the curves that are somehow so masculine. Each piece seems composed of a single thread, but a huge thread - bronze, in the case of these works, black and made to appear like painted wood. This lends an airiness that complements the heaviness of the black, but each piece suggests the lightness of the space it encircles or weaves through.

Goodman, a Chicago artist, also has a strong Indiana following. He grew up in Northwest Indiana, attended art school at IU and has evolved a sort of post-industrial strength aesthetic that allows for a softness, an evocative expressiveness that suggests something basic, generative. The gallery is filled with sculptures that range in size from an anvil-like piece that could be hand-held to a half-gallery-spanning maw of bronze that at once suggests the skeletal jaws of a dinosaur and salad tongs.

But there's something else - something a toddler surely wouldn't discern, but a writer would: the tools of a writer's trade. I couldn't help but think of paper clips, paper holders and letter openers; the tightness of Goodman's forms suggest a strange sort of utility. That, of course, is the bane of being a grown-up with far too many associative pathways to cloud one's pure experience of art - not that such associations are necessarily a bad thing.

Whether or not my daughter can engage in artwork the way she would like to, she does bring something to the experience for me, and certainly her own sensibility is being developed. An imagination develops most fully when the most fanciful images are not thought of as anomalies; when the antics of the Cat in the Hat are as normal as a roomful of lyrical bronze sculptures that seem to move against gravity. Anything, indeed, is possible - and art provides such a portal.

Passages and Portals: Sculpture by Neil Goodman is on view at the Indiana State Museum, 650 W. Washington St. (in White River State Park), through Aug. 6. Call 317-323-1637 or visit for hours and additional information.