Confetti: Prints by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Indianapolis Art Center
Through May 6
“Dear future generations: please accept our apologies. We were roaring drunk on petroleum. Love, 2006 A.D.” It should come as no surprise that these are the words of the inimitable Kurt Vonnegut Jr., the honoree of a year-long celebration put on by a number of the city’s cultural entities — among them the Indianapolis Art Center. As a (primarily) visual art institution, the Art Center gives its due to Vonnegut with Confetti: Prints by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., on view in the Ruth Lilly Library — and from which the above quote springs.
It should also come as no surprise that Vonnegut is adept at appropriating his cynical outlook and dark humor in service of visual art in addition to his writing, and he has been doing so for some time. Confetti, which marks the Art Center’s third Vonnegut exhibition, like his previous shows strikes a similar vein of ironic scrawls and pessimistic prose to punctuate it — at once as deeply realized and as fluid as his writing.
In this latest collection of prints, Vonnegut’s subject matter includes war, women, evolution, Hoosiers, even his own literary works, treated with a mixture of celebration and resignation. “Confetti #59”: “No matter how bad things get, the music will still be wonderful.” “Confetti #19”: “I don’t know what it is about Hoosiers. But wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something very important there.” Then there’s “Tralfamadorian Ern, or Fish Eagle, Black Hole” an illustration for insiders only, and a nod to Kilgore Trout, “Trout’s Tomb,” another line drawing with the text “Life is no way to treat an animal.”
Vonnegut’s drawings and poetic or philosophic musings speak to a process, a place from which Vonnegut’s worldview spins through his varied creative impulses, given free reign from the tip of his pen through the final prints. As early as 1969, his illustrations appeared with his words — his first in the novel Slaughterhouse Five, followed by a series of his drawings in another Vonnegut classic, Breakfast of Champions. These led to his first solo show in New York City, in 1983, and a later introduction to printmaker Joe Petro III, with whom Vonnegut continues to collaborate under the moniker “Origami Express.” The two work together to translate Vonnegut’s paintings and drawings into silkscreen prints.
As far as the Confetti series, serious at its core but also as playful as the name implies, Vonnegut describes it as “Origami’s response to the in-your-face lack of meaning or message in so much modern art, starting, perhaps, with Mondrian, and of course excluding the strikingly communicative Cubists, but surely including the intellectually and morally blank works by the so-called ‘Abstract Expressionists.’” In true Vonnegut form, behind every ironic or dark or witty truism he utters, whether in words or pictures or both, there’s a message. Our job is to pay attention.
Confetti: Prints by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is on view at the Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E. 67th St., through May 6. Call 317-255-2464 or visit www.indplsartcenter.org.