Friday, May 04, 2007

Aesthetic Ground on Indianapolis

Art Journals blog Aesthetic Grounds, a blog dedicated to public art and public spaces, wrote about the Indianapolis public art scene last week. Aesthetic Grounds writer, Glenn Weiss, sums up my feelings about a large batch of Donald Lipski's recent public art works.

"I liked the old Horse on the Red Chair, but the current crop of repeating shapes making up another shape seem a little too easy."
It is not the simplicity of means that bothers me about these works but the repetitiveness of it all. Cowboy hats in the shape of a star in Texas, footballs at a football stadium, violins at a music center, books at a library, all obvious. It makes me worry about what may come. Are we to get checkered flags? Racing helmets? It is not that I dislike Lipski's work but I do feel much of his public art is too safe, too expected.

Weiss goes on about other recently announced public art projects in Indy, well worth the read if for no other reason but to get an outsiders opinion on what is going on in Indy. While he gives Indianapolis credit for the strides we have recently taken in public art, and even claims our public art video pod casts are some of the best in the country but all this with a caveat, he can barely watch them. He ends his column with this final thought,
"Indy does not care about me. Indy creates art and civic spaces to make them feel good about themselves. And why shouldn't they do that?"
I ask myself, what exactly does he mean by that? Is this not a problem in most city's? Can we ever break this regional mold we have placed ourselves in?

3 Responses to “Aesthetic Ground on Indianapolis”

lirio said...
May 5, 2007 at 9:00 AM

Ok....I'll jump in then. :)

So.....why is this statement
"Indy creates art and civic spaces to make them feel good about themselves." considered to be a problem at all? I would prefer it to say (something like)
~Indy creates art and civic spaces that it's populace enjoys and beneifits from~, but I thought the whole *trying to be world class* thing was actually a joke. ??

Certainly, the standard of public art can/should be attempting to raise visuals from tired, boringly repetitive, or ugly commercial crap to thoughtful work that adds depth and beauty....but what the people who live and work here enjoy should be more important than what strangers write about Indy on the internet.

Craig said...
May 6, 2007 at 2:23 AM

my respsone to Aesthetic Grounds (blog and comments):

The Indy Gateway project used an open call for entries (not well publicized, I was invited by word of mouth the day the proposals were due). Teams were to be made up of design professionals and artists combined, although there were no restrictions regarding who on the team controlled the design (artist or design professional). The five finalists represent the work directed by artists, landscape architects and architects. Although I would agree the schemes and the chosen winner are not strong conceptually or aesthetically. Personally, I couldn't get past the impetus for the competition - the tired idea of 'gateway,' which to me is a civic foul when plunked in the middle of a city. The implication of leaving one zone and entering another better zone seems to have unforseen consequences which might be more siginificant than some aesthetic celebration of entering downtown.

To understand public art in Indianapolis, you must first understand the context from which it comes... or perhaps I should say 'from which the money comes'. Recent public art initiatives in Indy are tools to soothe problems of politics and perception. They are the work of politico who are seeking tangible solutions to elevate the city to 'world-class' status and to alleviate the ceaseless 'brain-drain' (both problems intangible and unachievable by planning alone, in my opinion). Our public art initiatives are also the work of tireless lovers of art and community who are bolstering the current trend. Kudos to them all for seizing the opportunity.

We are also a city struggling with identity. Unfortunately, the notion of 'world-class' haunts and handicaps the artists and art institutions in Indianapolis. Let's be honest... world-class successful artists usually must leave this city (or others like it) to establish their careers. I point to Carl Robert Pope the photographer and conceptual artist and to my high-school friend, dancer and choreographer Ted Stoffer as recent examples. Their success was not and could not be made here.

As for vernacular... I might disagree as to it's importance. Is there a vernacular for midwestern American city? Does Indianapolis have a context (conceptual, historical, climatic, etc.) which is markedly different from Cincinnati or Louisville or St. Louis? When the civic history card is played in public art... we enter the realm of interpretive art, art for learning history, art with limitations. The vernacular of now is right here in these blazing pixels, and I have no idea what that means to a lump of steel on Massachusetts Avenue.

For the politico in Indy, whether one likes the work of Julian Opie or Donald Lipski is not really the point. These are artists with credentials whose names link Indy to all of the other world-class cities in which they have installed. These are civic accomplishments which I for one am pleased to hear of among the drudgery and bad news that plagues the local media.

For the community and art-lover in Indy, these names and their six-figure installations open the doors for local names and their five-figure installations. And confronting your average Hoosier with all of the mysteries of art can be priceless. The real art may not be Emily's marbles, it might be that perfect moment when my grandma cusses at them.

Carla said...
May 13, 2007 at 10:35 AM

Craig’s summary of our public art program is honest and reasonable. The top-down process whereby politicos direct, motivate, and power it all does seem innocuous. At least something is happening, with predictable, tangible success; and this will trickle down in a relevant, worthy manner. Some art-interested people are in the loop, and will hopefully wield sufficient power to influence the results.

It’s very important we openly recognize these motivations and mechanics of our public art program. Craig lays this out much the same as does Aesthetic Grounds. We can now determine how this dynamic affects us.

As an artist, I bristle at the notion that one’s experience of a piece of art is secondary to, or a product of,that work’s civic duties. The specifics of the work itself do matter. And a work’s purpose informs these specifics.

I also worry that we are creating a history, a vernacular, of wannabe-ism, which may discard another, more interesting/independent/unpredictable/native vernacular. One’s native vernacular is more interesting culturally, and so it’s more interesting and distinctive to those outside the area. The Aesthetic Grounds article accurately assesses this. We are merely appeasing ourselves with our cut and paste attempts at the appearance of “having culture”. And hicks trying really hard to not be hicks is funny.

What is our more interesting “native” vernacular? At the most rational, non-romanticized level, it may be simply the arbitrary individual endeavors which do form our history, our present, our future. We may not differ from those of another place, but the specifics of what actually DOES or DID happen here form our native identity.

Now we are deciding what WILL happen, who we will be; and we are powering forward with an adopted artistic agenda. It may be a great agenda, but it is borrowed. It takes too much time to let things happen, the results would be unpredictable, and so we are making them happen. We are conforming.

It’s difficult for art, even fabulous art, to sit well in the manufactured context we are creating.

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