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An Insider’s View to “Out of This World”

Our guest blogger today is artist Brian McCutcheon, whose exhibition "Out of this World" is currently on view at the IMA.

I thought that this might be an opportunity to talk about aspects of the Out Of This World exhibition that are not so public. An insider’s view, perhaps. The easiest way for me to think about what has transpired with each project is just to walk through the exhibition in my mind, project by project.

Flight:  This is the first project you see as you enter the museum and the last project to be installed in the galleries. It was a hair-puller.  As you may or may not know, my business, Indianapolis Fabrications, built the sculptural works in my exhibition, as well as built and installed the Mary Miss Flow project, which opened to the public two weeks after my opening. If building two monumental exhibitions wasn’t bad enough, my business partner, Randy Domeck, had a wedding to attend that kept him out of the shop the two weeks before my opening. Add to that, my teaching contract at Herron School of Art and Design also started around that same time. Most of my work was installed by this point, but I was in a panic trying to manage everything going on. Luckily, we have responsible employees at iFab and Randy found time to handle some management of the business projects remotely.  He arrived in Indianapolis the day before my opening and we installed Flight in one day – the Wednesday before the preview and artist talk.  Phew!

Space Suits:  I had every intention of making these suits myself, but the scope of the exhibition quickly made me realize that in order to complete the work on time, I needed more help. Kyle Perry and Adam Buente of PROJECTiONE offered to help make a model of the space helmet. They found a 3D model of the space suit on the NASA website and were able to use that file to CNC cut the foam model, making my helmets very accurate reproductions of the original. Once I had the model, I made the mold and cast the helmets. Patrick Fitzpatrick had been a graduate student of mine at the School at the Art Institute of Chicago and he CNC cut a form for vacuum forming the visors. Meanwhile, I wasn’t home enough to do the sewing and knew that many of the parents at my son Angus’ school (IPS #84 CFI) were gifted craftspeople, so Donna and I started asking around if anyone would want to take on the project of sewing the suits.  Thank goodness Beth Hannan stepped up and said she could do it. I gave her my reference material and she did the rest in awesome detail.


Phoom: I built this project while at Sculpture Space in Utica, NY. Once I made the sculpture and it was ready to be painted, I was nervous about getting a finish that approximated flesh as closely as I wanted, never having airbrushed something like this before (this was also my first figurative sculpture).  The administration at Sculpture Space suggested that I go to the Golden Paints headquarters, which was only 45 minutes away in New Berlin, NY.  At Golden, Michael Townsend spent the afternoon training me to use Golden products and instructing me on using an airbrush. The other thing I needed help with was hair.  Yvonne at Yvonne’s Hair Designs in Whitesboro, NY makes custom wigs for cancer patients and was game to help get my sculpture wigged. It was a pretty funny moment to haul the sculpture into a typical hair salon for its first and only haircut. I often get curious looks when making my work.

Altered Self-Portraits: My wife Donna hates these. They were early in the process of developing the exhibition – even pivotal.  There was a point when she was stomping around the house yelling at me, insisting that “They are not art!” She thought I was insane to think of exhibiting them in the museum. I often talk to my students about artists whose work was met with contempt, or who were discouraged when they did something that was outside of the establishment of the time, and then somehow managed to persevere with an idea. I don’t especially imagine myself as that radical, but sometimes I gauge the value of an idea by how much my wife doesn’t like it.  Shhh – don’t let her know.

Brian McCutcheon "Capsule," 2011. Commissioned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art Courtesy of the Artist .

Capsule: Now that I think about it, this project really came together without much drama. It did have two important moments. The first was the chair. Randy (my business partner) has a tendency to order 20 parts when we need one.  That same attitude had us building two lawn chairs instead of one for Splashdown as a back-up in case something unexpected happened to the finished work. To determine the floor height in the capsule, we put in a lawn chair that was used as a reference for the aluminum one.  That is when it occurred to me that it should be a lawn chair in the capsule, which would help tie it to the backyard and to Splashdown in the final room of the exhibition. The other moment was painting the back panel. There was some argument in the shop about how that might be painted (or let’s call it discussion since ultimately it was my work). The decision to paint the alternating stripes came at 3am, right when they were going into the booth. I am a little resistant to tell this, but earlier in the week I followed a fire truck down College Avenue and was amazed by the striped design on the back that was made from different colored reflectors.  That is where the pattern came from.

Donut:  Everyone asks – so here are the answers. Yes, we did more than one take. I think we did six takes. I limited it to two donuts per outing – there are only so many donuts that should be given to an eight year old at a sitting. No one got nauseous. I did the filming – I have a small travel tripod that I held in place by stuffing Zone: Fragments for a History of the Human Body Part Two along with a couple other art texts in between the dash and windshield of my 1963 Ford Falcon Ranchero. I ended up using the first take. I bought an audio recorder and captured the sound separately and Daniel Beyer did my editing.

 Orbit:  Imagine completing the sculpture, pristine and freshly painted, and then having an eight year old climb into it in a space suit, also just completed and flawless, and start to shake and hop it around the shop to simulate liftoff. A priceless moment. The space suits have many aluminum parts including cuffs, so we had to tape up anything that might rub between the suits and the capsule. We just happened to have green tape. Angus really took on each “role” with great focus. I had the camera screen flipped so he could see himself and told him to keep his helmet centered in the image and stop us if he saw any green parts in the frame. As I watched him reenact the flight through a crack in the door, he was flipping imaginary switches and who knows what, stopping us once because he noticed there was green in the frame. Daniel dropped the green from the video so it really ended up not being a concern. Also, we could only do short takes so our helmets didn’t fog and I found myself holding my breath for most of the take. Try to look natural, but don’t breathe….

Probe:  Mike Lyons at !WowHuh? CNC cut one pie section of the dish, then made the mold and cast 16 parts to make the dish form. And it all fit. The other thing that is pretty cool is that Colors, Inc. anodized the aluminum in grey tones to simulate black and white TV. Mostly people question the film clip. It is an excerpt of a 1938 Clark Gable film called Test Pilot. In the clip, Myrna Loy is at her wit’s end as each of Clark Gable’s flights become more and more dangerous.  She chants “still living” which I looped to mimic a clock ticking (I considered “tic tock” as a title). The film is about recklessness and risk taking to achieve new standards in flight – but maybe it is more about irrationally pursuing an idea at the cost of normal human relationships (a parallel to art practice should not be lost here).  The probe is based on the Pioneer probe, which was the first manmade vehicle to leave the solar system and is still traveling in deep space. Pioneer carries a message from humankind, including a plaque designed by Carl Sagan and Frank Drake and prepared by Sagan’s wife Linda Salzman Sagan.  My project straddles several generations because it is digitally produced, handmade, includes an early film reference, and the video runs mechanically, not digitally.  If you spend a little time with the project the “still living” chant will sync and un-sync because the dvd players do not run at the same exact rate.

Brian McCutcheon, "Splashdown," 2011. Commissioned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Artist.

Splashdown:  Mike also did the casting for the balloons. This was the first big project to be completed and I think of it as something I did single-handedly, though that isn’t exactly the case. I had a student, Heather Mathes, ask if she could work for me when I first started fabrication on the museum projects. Once the parts were prepped and glued, it took us eight months of sanding 40 balloons multiple times to get them to the standard I wanted them at before painting began. As it turns out, Heather had a natural gift for sanding a continuous surface – something I wouldn’t have thought I could let someone else help me with. A friend, John DeFosse, jumped in to help sand, too.  I did not see this project assembled until it was in the museum. It transformed when I added the strings and looked as though the concept drawing had come to life.

Brian McCutcheon, "Alien Landscape Series," 2011. Commissioned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art Courtesy of the Artist.

Landscapes: Every one of these was pretty comic – we were quite a spectacle out in the world in our suits – but all in a normal day for Angus and I. Gabe Mass took the photos. He stood in the passenger seat of a Miata, top down, at 65 MPH to take the Cruise photo out on 74W.  Angus hit him several times when he made contact with the wiffle ball in Play.  And it is still a mystery to us all what Angus was doing at the La-Z-Boy store. Maybe the best story is this – after we wrapped shooting the Shop photo, Angus and I were not far from Lisa Freiman‘s home. Angus is close to Lisa’s daughters so we decided to surprise them in our suits. It was humorous to see the flummoxed look on the neighbors’ faces as Lisa, Ed and I chatted on the front porch, me and Angus fully suited up, with Angus and the girls running around the yard as if nothing unusual was going on.

I hope that this might give you some insight into the work, and stories that you might not know unless you were there.

Filed under: Art, Contemporary

One Response to “An Insider’s View to “Out of This World””

  • avatar
    Fan Says:

    Thanks Brian!! This is the behind the scenes personal information that IMA visitors love to hear. Wonderful, fabulous exhibit.

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