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The Oldest Art

Recently at The Toby we hosted a talk by an expert on beads named Lois Sherr Dubin. Referencing the Native American art, Nigerian art, and fashion art on display at IMA right now, she led us on a mind-bending trip through time and place, reflecting on these diminutive glass, ceramic or bone doo-dads that humans have endowed with the power to signify social status, connect to the spirits, and more. The earliest known beads, made from seashells, date back to 100,000 BC.

What about the earliest-known drawings? They exist in a cave in France, and are believed to be more than 30,000 years old. The newest film by documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog (of Grizzly Man fame) is a journey into the Chauvet Cave, and a reflection on the profound urge to represent reality—with pigment on a surface.

image courtesy IFC films.

Egged on by Herzog’s rapturous narration, the film’s camera washes over the cave paintings with lavish attention. Beasts of all sizes are depicted. Charcoal brush strokes capture the grace and strength of a horse in motion. Footprints hint at rites of passage and perilous journeys. The film is immersive; the drawings are ghostly, and yet so there. (Read reviews of the film here).

Cave of Forgotten Dreams premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. I saw it at the 2011 South by Southwest film festival and fell in love.

You can see it here at the Indianapolis Museum of Art any of four times between Christmas and New Years. Use it as an excuse to get out of the house and get a fat dose of profundity.

Filed under: Film, Public Programs, The Toby


Designing Winter Nights

Since The Toby opened in 2009, we have held a Winter Nights film festival in January and February. This winter the theme for our Winter Nights 2012 series is Technicolor.

Design is generally a pretty subjective endeavor, so when starting a new project I like to do a little research into the subject in order to guide the generation of formal elements. Fortunately Technicolor offers a wealth of visual elements to play with, but the methods and appearance of color film varies a lot depending on the time. The earliest versions of color motion pictures involved three separate rolls of film—black, cyan, and magenta—that were layered together in order to produce the color projection. It’s a very distinctive look, and is wholly different from the colors you see in The Godfather: Part II, the last American film made using Technicolor’s dye transfer process. The early three-strip technique provided inspiration for the initial Winter Nights designs, involving a large and somewhat abstract W made from shaded cubes to reference a frigid, icy winter.

While working on this abstract and wintry version, we also pursued a more literal direction using film as the starting point. Keeping the W, this solution retains the grainy texture that characterizes many of those older movies. While each had its merits, ultimately we decided to go with the film-centric version for this year’s series, and a final version was created that made very clear the series’ relationship with film, as well as including the Technicolor theme in the graphic.

Using film stills in a campaign for Technicolor movies is a no-brainer, but this was not as straightforward as one might think. In the 1940s, Technicolor threw out a large volume of color negatives after the studios didn’t reclaim them, and unless they’ve been re-mastered those movies are now only available in black and white. Fortunately, we were able to find some great color images from Charade and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The beauty of these movies speak for themselves when you see them, and in order to try imparting some of that drama and motion in print pieces, I relied on careful crops.

One particularly seductive image of Marilyn Monroe offers plenty of details to highlight—Marilyn’s face, her eyes lightly closed, could be mistaken for being asleep when viewed alone. The diamond bracelet and thick gray fur are a glimpse of luxury, sensuality, and elegant excess. The full image, my favorite among Marilyn’s publicity shots for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, shows the actress dressed in red, wrapped in fur, and draped in diamonds. Her open mouth, even more red than her dress, completes a frozen moment of ecstasy, and was the perfect image to use for our Winter Nights banner.

Filed under: Design, Marketing, Public Programs, Uncategorized


Holidays at Miller House

The holiday season is now upon us, and festive décor is almost everywhere. The IMA’s Miller House is no exception. This will be the first holiday season that the Miller House and Garden has been open to the public, and while the home is not decorated to the extent of Oldfields, the IMA’s other historic property, visitors can still expect to see a few special holiday touches throughout the interior.

Holiday ornamentation at the Miller House will be minimal this year, partly due to the greatly reduced winter tour schedule, but also because the Miller House team is still inventorying the objects in the house and developing the program for collections rotation.

Nevertheless, visitors who have an affinity for Italian glass or crèche scenes will be pleased. Some of the pieces that were chosen to be on display at the Miller House this holiday season include two nativity scenes from Mrs. Miller’s extensive collection from around the world, and several small Murano glass Christmas trees.

An early 19th-century Ecuadorian crèche scene, displayed on the storage wall in a lighted enclosure designed by Alexander Girard, the talent behind the interior design of the home.

A Greek pottery crèche scene on the baker’s table in the main living area.

Several Murano glass Christmas trees in the living room and conversation pit.

A small enameled copper dish was discovered when conducting an inventory of the Miller House barn this past fall.

With the change of the seasons, we also decided to change some other elements of the interior that will remain on display well after the holidays are over.

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Filed under: Miller House


Textiles and Fabric in the Thaw Collection

Over 100 pieces of American Indian art – including ritual objects, pottery, basketry and textiles – give our newest exhibition Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection a diverse and informative angle. The IMA’s access to these works is amazing in and of itself, but upon looking deeper into the variety of art featured in the Clowes Special Exhibition Gallery, it’s clear these pieces are more than just fun to look at.

The American Indian tradition is most immediately recognizable by its elaborate clothing and textiles; bright colors, rich textures, intricate patterns, soft feathers, complex beadwork, glimmering shells, painterly embroidery, and countless other materials define their clothing tradition. American Indian clothing has actually become a bit of a trend as of late – “Navajo” patterns and prints dominate stores like Urban Outfitters, which has recently come under fire for falsely identifying their clothes as such. Clothing, jewelry, and accessories in imitation-Indian styles were deemed “distasteful” and “racially demeaning,” and while that was most likely not the intention, it makes you wonder why the Urban Outfitters buyers were so careless about what they were selling.  They didn’t know an authentic print from a fake, but how could they? Along with this new “trend” comes an equally prevalent lack of education about American Indian traditions, which is why collections like the Thaws’ are so necessary.

The fashion news enthusiast in me was drawn first to the clothing and textiles in the exhibition; I was fascinated to see the original patterns and techniques American Indians created. I was uninformed about… well, everything beyond what I learned in elementary school.  None of my high school courses embraced the subject, nor did I ever realize I was missing out on vital information.

I decided textiles would be my starting point.

The difference between authentic American Indian textiles and the imitations we see in boutiques is context.  Girls today wear “Navajo” patterns because they’re cute and colorful; American Indians wore them to tell a story. Each piece has meaning – often about spirituality, family, and even animals.  Take the seal gut parka for example: Eskimo hunters wore these to protect themselves from wind and rain, but they let the parkas themselves emphasize their respect for the animal. Women carefully cleaned and blew air into the guts, then made the tubes opaque by freeze-drying them. Then they stitched V-shaped patterns to represent harpoon heads, wolves’ teeth, and mountains.

Hunters also wore hunting coats which covered the entire body and were often constructed of caribou skin. While at first it doesn’t seem particularly striking, the coat is rich with spiritual symbolism: the elaborate painted decorations were meant to honor the spirits of the caribou as well as bring success in the hunt. The triangular gusset in the back symbolizes the magical mountain from which the caribou left to surrender to the hunters.  The other patterns on the coat represent dreams, which wives interpreted and stitched into a design.

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Filed under: Art, Exhibitions


Organizing ArtBabble

The approaching New Year is bringing great and exciting changes at the IMA. In the Publishing and Media department, we are working towards an update of our much heralded art video site, ArtBabble.

After receiving praise from the New York Times in September for its easy-to-use interface and wealth of content, we are planning to build upon our success and make ArtBabble even better. Since its 2009 inception, ArtBabble has garnered an exceptional roster of partners from around the world and is currently host to over 1,200 videos from not only the IMA, but other prestigious institutions like the Smithsonian, the Met, MoMA, LACMA, and the National Gallery of Art. Thanks to one of our newest partners, Museo del Prado in Madrid, content is now also available in Spanish. So how can we make ArtBabble, an already amazing resource, even better? As a Masters of Library Science student at IU Bloomington, I can tell you my answer: organize, organize, organize!

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Filed under: New Media, Technology


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