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Happy Birthday, CAS

Our guest blogger today is Michael Kaufmann, President for the IMA Contemporary Arts Society.

In the spring of 1962, the Herron Museum of Art director Wilbur Peat wrote an astounding defense for collecting contemporary art in encyclopedic museums. Even today, his appeal remains fresh and compelling. To announce the formation of the Contemporary Art Society, he explained:

… Traditionally, art museums have been thought of as archaeological storehouses, however artistic the paintings or objects might be, rather than places of inspiration and information for people who are as much interested in the arts of their own time as in those of the past . . . to assume that the only artistic works of men [sic] which are worth displaying in a museum are those produced a century or a millennium ago is not valid, in view of the real function of a museum as an educational and cultural center of a modern community.

The Contemporary Art Society helped build the visionary groundwork for collecting contemporary art beginning in 1962 until 1985, when the IMA formally established its Contemporary Art department. Since then, CAS has worked hand in hand with the IMA to add important acquisitions to the permanent collection. However, because the IMA missed opportunities to buy contemporary art when it was being made in the 1940s-1960s, it has large, critical gaps in the collection. To avoid repeating that history of overlooking key works of art, we are committed to buying affordable works in a timely manner so that our collection can grow in terms of its depth and breadth going forward.

A CAS acquisition highlight. — Tim Hawkinson, “Möbius Ship,” 2006. Contemporary Art Society Fund, Koch Contemporary Art Purchase Fund and Purchased with funds provided by Michelle and Perry Griffith.

For me, there is nothing like seeing an art work for the first time: its immediacy and the way it makes me think about the world afresh. Art is a system of languages with a multitude of dialects, and every art work sparks a new conversation that encourages us to rethink our assumptions about ourselves and the world around us, and to see the complexity and multiplicity of meanings within both. When it’s really compelling, art can teach us to see the beauty in ugliness and the ugliness in beauty.

Art also has the power to coax us into action, and fight injustice, prejudice, or inequality. It might reconnect us to nature while simultaneously asking the question, what is nature, really? Art might offend our egos, but it can also heal our souls. It might confuse us so that we forget the name of the object we see. It can be ironic, humorous, and transcendent, and at times, all three. It might cause us to celebrate a shadow, a moment, or an idea, no matter how audacious or fragile.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the CAS, the Indianapolis Museum of Art is trying to increase CAS membership to 150 members by May 2013. We also hope to raise $50,000 to augment the CAS acquisition fund, which has and continues to be one of the major ways that the IMA can purchase works of art in a timely, strategic, and responsive matter. Please join me in helping to ensure that the IMA can keep building its reputation as one of the most dynamic contemporary art programs in the United States.  Contemporary art can help our community grow and advance today, just as much as it did 50 years ago. Contemporary art can inspire us to dream big and to transform our city.

Filed under: Contemporary

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