Tuesday, June 06, 2006

One small step for man, one giant leap for Indianapolis

Recently, articles in the Urban Times and the Indianapolis Star have brought attention to a new permanent addition to the landscape of downtown Indy. If you have driven down East Street or walked through Chatham Arch the past few weeks, you have undoubtedly noticed the new permanent installation of Boy and Dog by Tom Otterness, recently purchased by local collector Tom Jones after the Tom Otterness in Indianapolis exhibit. On the surface, this may appear to be just another piece of art bought by an enthusiast for his own enjoyment. It turns out, it is part of a larger plan by Mr. Jones to turn part of his property into a public neighborhood park in witch Boy and Dog will be a keystone.

Ironically, Mr. Jones is not a collector of contemporary art. Speaking with him recently at his home, I came to find that his passion lies in 18th Century English paintings and he has a number of very early prints by masters that perfected the practice. Most insightful is that he does not even consider himself a collector, rather "just a guy who lives in Chatham Arch and builds homes." Why then do I consider this a giant leap for Indianapolis? The answer is twofold. First and foremost is the power that quality public art installations can have on a city, what I would call the trickle down effect. And second, it represents the power collectors can have on transforming a community.

To touch on my first point, Mr. Jones and his neighbor enjoyed riding their bikes through downtown. When the Tom Otterness exhibit was on view last year, they found themselves repeatedly riding throughout the entire exhibition. They connected with the art, came to understand it's subtleties, and after it was gone, Mr. Jones decided at least one piece needed to stay put. I must admit, before Tom Otterness in Indianapolis was installed, I wasn't that excited about it. This proved to be very shortsighted. What I realized was that so many people enjoyed it. Families were getting their pictures taken in front of the pieces. And I saw many people throughout the city with their maps in hand walking from sculpture to sculpture. My opinion now is that this was the perfect introduction to what is shaping into a very ambitious and exciting public art program spearheaded by the Arts Council of Indianapolis and Mindy Ross.

So how can this transform a community? It is my hope that as more people see Boy and Dog in this city, they will realize that art need not be placed on this unapproachable pedestal (ok, in this case the piece is actually on a pedestal but you know what I mean). By placing this piece in a public arena I believe Mr. Jones is making a statement to his neighbors and the community at large, that life can be a little better because of art, and that a small collector can make a difference. It sounds so simple, but seems so often overlooked. Myrta Pulliam and Maribeth Smith are on a quest to raise $550,000 for the acquisition, installation and maintenance of three other Otterness sculptures to be installed in front of the Convention Center. This too would be wonderful for the city and I hope their fundraising efforts get a lot of publicity and are successful. But what Mr. Jones has done is take that power out of the few and given it to the many. Large permanent, public art installations such as what Ms. Pulliam and Ms. Smith are trying to do are very important, but if we could have a few more people like Tom Jones the effects could be limitless.

Forgive me for being on a Dallas kick recently but that is really a model any 'emerging' city should be following. I was fortunate enough to get a tour of the Rachofsky House (see image at right courtesy of rachofskyhouse.org). Mr. Rachofsky, along with a handful of collectors in Dallas, are turning that city into what will soon become a contemporary art destination. Not only do these collectors have regular meetings discussing what they are collecting, making sure they are not overlapping each other and insuring no gaps, but Mr. Rachofsky has promised his Richard Meier designed home to the Dallas Museum of Art. Talk about an amazing piece of public sculpture for the community to enjoy for generations.

All of these things take time and education. And these things are starting to happen here. Kudos IMA, kudos Arts Council, Kudos Mr. Jones and everyone else who is putting Indy on the contemporary art map.

3 Responses to “One small step for man, one giant leap for Indianapolis”

Jason266 said...
June 12, 2006 at 9:36 AM

I really enjoyed the Otterness show when it was in town...his stuff is whimsical and thoughtful without being over the top. I'm glad someone in town (with money) thought the same. I loved boy and dog.

Trish said...
July 2, 2006 at 12:46 AM

Do you know where I can buy an Otterness catalog?

Scott said...
July 2, 2006 at 2:23 AM


I looked around to see if I could find something about a catalog of Tom Otterness's works but was unsuccessful. I did however find the web site for his studio where you could contact him directly. Though there is no mention of a catalog on the site, there is fun little coloring book he has on there for people to buy. Hope this helps.


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