Wednesday, August 26, 2009
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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.