Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Art at the Indiana State Museum

Yes it's true. For those of you, who like me, rarely take the time to head to the Indiana State Museum, they have been exhibiting more and more art exhibitions over the past months. I have missed a number of them but was invited to check out their two current exhibits, the "85th Annual Hoosier Salon" and "Making it in the Midwest: Artists Who Chose To Stay", this past week. So, on a nice sunny afternoon I arrived with a friend to check out the two exhibits along with the other goings on at the ISM. This, was my first visit to the museum in perhaps a year, maybe two. 

I always enjoyed the museums space as a whole. The view of the canal makes for a great setting for a pleasant afternoon of wandering the halls of the museum. As we parked in the underground garage, which was exceedingly full, I thought, I was a bit surprised by how few people I actually saw in the exhibits themselves. Not that it all matters or impacts my experience, I was simply wondering where all those people could be hiding. I guess the canals must have been busy. 

We started our stroll on the ground level, walking through the collection of rocks and minerals, prehistoric dioramas, and early native american artifacts. I have always enjoyed this stretch of the museum. Not much had seemed to change, possibly more videos this time. [Note: There seemed to be a lot more videos around the museum, as part of most of the exhibits but there were few places to sit and watch the videos. For me, if I am expected to watch a video for more than a few minutes I prefer a place to sit and relax while doing so. Particularly in a scholarly presentation setting.] 

We made our way upstairs to check out the exhibit, "Making it in the Midwest: Artists Who Chose To Stay". 

From the ISM web site:
Making it in the Midwest is the first major exhibition to explore the challenges facing working artists in the Midwest, and brings together an important array of historical works, many of which are in private collections and have not been seen publicly for decades. The inclusion of contemporary artists showcases the extraordinary talent found throughout Indiana and the surrounding region.
The exhibit was presented, for the most part in two sections, one room with the contemporary works, the other room with the historic works. Not having seen an exhibit of art at the ISM before, I had no preconceived concepts of what I was going to see. But as with most exhibits I walk into, I was hoping to be surprised and find an exhibit that really stood out to me. I think I have talked about this on a number of occasions, I miss the excitement or wow factor of walking into an art exhibit. Maybe this is best seen in contemporary museums, galleries and experimental project spaces, more so than in a setting such as the ISM offers but my first impression was that the exhibit was a bit on the understated side. I did not get that sort of energy or excitement, which for me would have made the whole exhibit stand out more. Do not get me wrong, the exhibit, as it was presented, was not bad. Rather it was fine, possibly a touch over crowded. A worthwhile show of works by a number of local regulars. There were not really any surprises in the bunch, though it was nice to see a couple new wood sculptures by David Morrison (best known for his lithographs) that seemed to play off of spiked leather collars and bracelets, along with some of his lithographs which always blow me away for their superb attention to detail and subtlety. [Though the labels were misleading to some degree listing items such as the pictured bracelet and such as part of the media which it is not. I will chalk that up to a typo or over site though.] I should say that it was nice to see a couple Jay Parnell paintings in the grouping. Not the strongest of his paintings, in my opinion but a nice addition none the less.  Possibly my favorite work in the show was a moderate size painting by Tom Keesee. I failed to take a pencil with me (professional error) so I did not take the name of the piece down, but that painting was wonderful, full of brightness, crisp spring colors, slathered onto the canvas. Just my sort of thing. I always enjoy seeing the paintings of Tom,so seeing him here made sense particularly as a more contemporary rendition to play off of the more historical works like the paintings of T.C. Steele in the adjutant room. With works by other artists such as: India Cruse-Griffin, Matthew Davey, Rob Day, James Wille Faust, Greg Hull, Tamar Kander, Charlene Marsh, Les Miley, C.W. Mundy, Cindy O’Dell, Todd Reifers, Artur Silva, Malcolm Mobutu Smith, Tom Tedrowe, Maria Tomasula, Nhat Tran and Audrey Ushenko, this show is worth checking out and as a community we should support the ISM as they reach out to the local artist community. 

The works in the historical section of this exhibition, with the exception of a couple paintings, was for me disappointing. Perhaps I am a bit spoiled by some of the quality works I've seen by some of these same artists or similar works in other venues and museums. From a historical perspective, something that I believe is a part of the mission of the ISM this portion of the show certainly has its place and I am all for the concept of the show. I feel the effort is to be applauded but something fell a short in the selection of chosen paintings. Not being fully knowledgeable of early Hoosier artists, I can not speak authoritatively on the quality of each artists work in comparison to their oeuvre, but I got the feeling that the selection of works available for exhibition was quite limited. One painting in particular was in very poor condition, looking as if it had been stored with a number of works leaning against the canvas. As a painter it made me cringe for the artist. Another work, a small dark painting of a moonlit landscape was unfortunately not lit as the single spotlight for the work was burned out. This sort of thing happens, no blame on anyone here, but I do tend to enjoy these types of landscape paintings and wish I could have seen it with a touch more light. The stand out for this batch of works was a very nice painting by T.C. Steele. Again, with out my handy pencil (professional error) I failed to take down the actual name of the painting, sorry folks. It was nice to see a range of works from this era of Hoosier painting that I had not previously been much aware of, aside from a few of the artists works.

As a whole if you are looking for a nice day of strolling around the ISM and have an interest in Hoosier art, past and present then this show is worth checking out. If you love landscape painting, plein air painting and the like, then this is most likely going to be your cup of tea, as there will be plenty of this to quench your visual thirst.

From there, on our way to the Hoosier Salon exhibit, we stopped in to check out an exhibit called Footprints: Balancing Nature's Diversity, as it is not really art related I will not go into the details of this show, but it is packed with taxidermy galore. Having grown up watching my dad do taxidermy as a hobby and having to help him out on occasion, I have a soft spot for this type of exhibit. If you too love the stuffed dead animal art form, then I do recommend checking out the show before it leaves.

I should admit that I have not been to a Hoosier Salon exhibit in more than a decade. I have long held the thought that it is the type of show I was interested in when I was in high school, where technical ability was king in my eyes. I was hoping that things had changed, evolved, or my memory of the type of works I was going to see had somehow been clouded by time. This particular exhibit is hung in the traditional salon style, where works are hung very close to each other with works above, below, diagonal to each other. I think you get the picture. All works hung down a long hallway corridor. I felt conflicted on what I should write about this portion of my visit. I really did not like it. It reminded me of the scholastic art competitions I remember from years past. Overall there was not a single work that stood out to me as being really exciting or worth a long look at. This may very well be an issue with salon style hangings. Presentation can make or break a work. In this case, I think the works have the deck stacked against them. Look I am not going into the discussion of individual works here or the artists in the show, some of which are quite talented and probably make a decent living doing what they love. For me, though, the Hoosier Salon was just boring and everything is surface level. What you see is what you get. In other words, not my type of show. My guess is you most likely saw a number of these same artists in this years State Fair art exhibit. Well, I will not drag this one out any longer. If you like the types of shows I used as comparisons, you know any of the artists in the show, or are at the ISM for any reason, by all means take a few minutes and see for yourself. Form your own opinions of it. I do feel the Hoosier Salon has its deserved niche in the local art community and is an added component, but for me this show was a bit of a sour end to my trip.

For further details on the Indiana State Museum and its current exhibitions please visit their site: click here.

8 Responses to “Art at the Indiana State Museum”

ArtistDan said...
August 26, 2009 at 6:55 AM

It's always a treat to read your comments, Scott. Your comments about the Hoosier Salon are echoes of opinions I hear from other artists. Unfortunately they found their niche decades ago and will keep going to the same judges well. Your State Fair comparison was a good one. I always make a trip through that exhibit while my family waits outside listening to the music from Ecuador. This year I practically ran away from it (two elephant portraits?). I saw only one artist whose work looked interesting and contemporary (I wish I could remember her name now). It was such a shame her paintings looked awkward next to all the forgettable pieces. My trip lasted just long enough to find the award winning jewelry of Nancy Lee which was my primary goal to begin with.

Michelle/Indiana State Museum said...
August 26, 2009 at 10:40 AM

Hey there! Interesting blog post - I'm going to have to become a regular reader. Thanks for covering our exhibits at the Indiana State Museum. We often refer to ourselves as "Indiana's museum for science and culture" (including art) and are quite proud to have an active collection of historical and contemporary fine art from Indiana artists. I wish you had enjoyed our exhibits more, but that's the beauty of art - you never know who is going to love/hate it and why. I hope you will continue to visit us on a more regular basis and your feedback is always appreciated.

Anonymous said...
August 26, 2009 at 1:33 PM

Nice review. I agree, I too am not a fan of the traditional salon style. Art needs room to breathe, for the viewer to experience it. Quantity is often not the best way to display art. Also, scale plays a big role. Often times I see artworks that is either too big or too small for the particular wall they are been displayed on. Also, they are either hung too high or too low and labels placed in the wrong spot.

This is where an exhibit designer comes in. Someone who considers all aspects of the exhibit and environment/space; visual flow, information placement, traffic flow, proper art to wall ratio, editing art selection, etc.

Often times a poorly designed exhibit will leave you with a feeling of disappointment no matter how great art is.

Scott said...
August 27, 2009 at 2:02 PM

Thanks Michelle for taking it as well as you did. I was hoping to have liked it more than I did but sometimes expectations can hamper your experience. While I like to think that I have seen enough of exhibitions over the years that this is less likely to happen, I will not discount it as a possibility. I struggled with what I thought I should do in this case as my friend who went with me could attest to. On the one hand I want to praise and support the ISM for taking the time and effort to begin exhibiting the works of local artists. Something I am glad to see. On the other hand I feel it is my duty to be as honest with my personal (though opinionated) assessment of any review or post I put online. After all, my name is going on each post. I do try and stay concsious of not being mean spirited and try to keep the posts as balanced as I can. I hope that this is the case here.

I believe it is possible to be both critical and respectful at the same time. If we want to raise the bar of excellence across the board in our city we owe to everyone to be as honest and constructive as we can. Thanks and I hope you become a regular reader of the blog.

Thanks Dan and Anonymous as well.

Anonymous said...
September 15, 2009 at 7:35 PM

You think much too much of your self and take yourself much too seriously. Take a trip to an art show outside of the Midwest.

Scott Grow said...
September 15, 2009 at 11:51 PM

I see art exhibitions everywhere I go, in the Midwest, elsewhere in the US and abroad. Aside from that I am confident in my knowledge of what else is out there from the internet. Be it artist web sites, gallery or institution sites, blogs, videos, news feeds and more. Is the Internet the best way to experience art? Absolutely not. But when travel is not always possible, we do what we can. I feel I am in touch with what is going on in the current art world. If that makes it sound as if I take myself too seriously or have this high and mighty opinion of myself, I would disagree. I think it simply shows how much I love art of all sorts. I do not feel all art is created equal but all art has its place.

For the record, if you have not noticed this is a blog about contemporary art in Indianapolis and the surrounding area. In other words, the Midwest. So, with that in mind, I do not typically write about the art I see beyond our region.

Have a nice day, anonymous.

casey said...
September 17, 2009 at 11:04 PM

yeah scott, you really need to get out of town and think less of yourself.

anonymous poster, you are stupid, and your comment is worthless.

sorry scott, I hate to take it to that level.

ChristopherWestPresents said...
September 23, 2009 at 9:06 PM

Did some anon really post that? Puh-leze.

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