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Creating an Autoportrait: Marty Krause

Marty Krause is the IMA's Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and of The Essential Robert Indiana.

Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

First up is Marty Krause, the IMA’s Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and of The Essential Robert Indiana.

Since the word “Autoportrait” is Robert Indiana’s invention as are the symbolic self-portraits, which the term describes, I am dedicating my Autoportrait to my extended involvement with the artist leading up to the recent opening of The Essential Robert Indiana, which I curated.

autoportrait_mk_022414

The 0 stands for 2010. On January 22 of that year, then-director Max Anderson and I met with John Wilmerding of Princeton at the historic Century Club in New York (Max and John are both members) to discuss the possibility of mounting a long-overdue retrospective of Robert Indiana’s screenprints. Over lunch we laid the groundwork for what became The Essential Robert Indiana just over four years later.

BOB is Robert Indiana. Over the past four years we have become quite friendly, and I am “Marty” to him and he is “Bob” to me. Actually, almost everyone calls him “Bob.”

Curator Marty Krause (center) talks with John Wilmerding (left), co-author of The Essential Robert Indiana catalogue, and XXX in The Essential Robert Indiana. Background photo: Christopher Campbell, Robert Indiana at Vinalhaven, 1994. Image courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery.

Curator Marty Krause (center) talks with John Wilmerding (left), co-author of The Essential Robert Indiana catalogue, and a reporter during the media preview for The Essential Robert Indiana.
Background photo: Christopher Campbell, Robert Indiana at Vinalhaven, 1994. Image courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery.

ODDFELLOW refers to the former Odd Fellows Lodge on the island of Vinalhaven 12 miles off the coast of Maine, which intrigued Robert Indiana on his first visit to the island in 1969 and which became his permanent studio and home nine years later. In spite of the name, the fraternal order of Odd Fellows were not eccentric, though their 19th-century Vinalhaven lodge qualifies. Indiana has preserved the building and uses “oddfellow” as part of his email address. (He doesn’t answer emails, if you were wondering.)

FERRY is the Maine State Ferry, the only public transportation to Vinalhaven. Getting there from Indianapolis is a bit of a Planes, Trains and Automobiles type ordeal. You fly to Portland, Maine, (indirectly, of course), drive 80 miles up the coast to Rockland, make an hour-long transit by ferry from there to the island and walk a mile from the dock to Indiana’s studio.

53 equals the number of prints in the exhibition. The IMA supplied about a third; Robert Indiana another third, with the remainder coming from the Morgan Art Foundation, a long-time sponsor of Indiana and his work.

Green, blue and white are the colors Indiana associates with Maine and I can attest that this is the palette of Vinalhaven. The green suggests its covering of fir trees, the blue of its surrounding Penobscot Bay, and the white of the snow, which Indiana reports that Maine, like here, has received more than its fair share this winter. I’ll take him at his word, since my four treks there have been in the pleasantness of summer.

 

 

A Monuments Man from Indiana

Today's guest blogger is Annette Schlagenhauff, Associate Curator for Research at the IMA. She is in charge of researching the provenance, or history of ownership, of European paintings in the IMA’s collection.

The Monuments Men, 2014 © Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

The Monuments Men, 2014 © Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

On February 7, all eyes will turn to a movie called The Monuments Men, a much anticipated film directed by George Clooney and featuring a star-studded cast. It tells the story of several brave World War II soldiers who were tasked, against all odds, with preserving monuments in the paths of advancing Allied armies in the final months of the war. Once the war had ended, their mission was to find and safeguard treasures of European art stolen by the Nazis. Until now, their story was largely unknown to the general public, although art museums and provenance researchers had long been amazed by the valiant efforts of the men and women in the Monuments, Fine Art & Archives section of the military. They put their lives on the line in an effort to guarantee that Europe’s finest cultural treasures were preserved for future generations.

As it goes with many Hollywood movies, the broad outlines of the story are true, but names and circumstances have been changed to fit a two-hour narrative structure. So if you are expecting a documentary, you might be disappointed and should watch The Rape of Europa instead, a film released in 2008 which is based on the ground-breaking book of the same title by the historian Lynn Nicholas. But The Monuments Men is to be commended for its ability to focus our attention on the hardships and tragedies as well as the successes of these cultural soldiers, most of whom were older than the average GI and elected to leave careers as artists, architects, archivists, conservators and other museum professionals in order to bring their particular expertise to bear in the Allied war effort.

One of the real-life Monuments Men was Thomas Carr Howe Jr., a native of Indiana. Born in 1904 in Kokomo, Howe was raised in Indianapolis before he left for the east coast to attend university. (If the name sounds familiar to Indianapolis residents or Butler University alumni and students, it’s because his father taught at Butler and then served as its president from 1907 to 1920.) The younger Howe chose to pursue an art museum career and, in 1931, he was appointed assistant director at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, becoming that museum’s director in 1939. During WWII, Howe joined the U.S. Navy and served there for two years before being recommended to serve as a Monuments Man.

Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art by Thomas Carr Howe Jr.

Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art by Thomas Carr Howe Jr.

When Howe returned to San Francisco in February 1946, the head of Bobbs-Merrill, the Indianapolis-based publishing company, asked him to commit his experiences as a Monument Man to writing. Howe agreed to do so, and later that same year his recollections were published with the title Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art. Here we can learn that Howe was present at the Alt Aussee mine when Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna and van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, both looted by the Nazis, were packed up and brought out of the depths of the mine under considerable time pressure due to the advancing Russian armies. He was also present several weeks later when a group of Monuments Men evacuated the art stored at Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. Movie goers will recognize these place names, and Howe’s published recollections were no doubt carefully studied by the team that created and produced the movie.

Saltmines and Castles tells yet another interesting story – and one that can be linked to a specific painting currently in the IMA’s collection. Howe’s first solo assignment in Europe – and the Monuments Men often travelled alone rather than as a team — was to retrieve a cache of 81 cases full of art from Grassau, a small town in southeast Bavaria, where Nazi loot had been discovered. In one of these cases was the IMA’s masterpiece by Paul Gaugin, Still Life with Profile of Laval. This painting had been looted, along with many others, from a prominent Jewish collection (the Herzog Collection) by Hungary’s Nazis in 1944. To safeguard their haul from the Russians, it was moved to the small town in Bavaria. Howe’s efforts were almost thwarted by the Hungarian museum curator who was charged with safeguarding the art, but Howe prevailed and he brought the paintings to Munich where the Central Collecting Point was located. Several years later, it was restituted back to Hungary, and then back to the widow of the Herzog heir. She allowed a dealer to sell it, and it had a number of owners before it was acquired by the IMA in 1998. Long story short, a painting now located in Indianapolis was safeguarded by a Monuments Man from Indianapolis!

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903), Still Life with Profile of Laval, 1886 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-ven, through the Generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and Other Friends of the Museum, 1998.167

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903), Still Life with Profile of Laval, 1886
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-ven, through the Generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and Other Friends of the Museum, 1998.167

 

How hair helps conserve art

Today's blogger is Laura Mosteller, Conservation Technician II at the IMA.

As the conservation technician at the IMA, one of my responsibilities is keeping an eye on the devices that measure temperature and humidity in the galleries. Why? A major aspect of our mission at the museum and the field of conservation is to preserve artworks for generations, and often these artworks are composed of vulnerable materials. Changes in temperature and humidity can result in stresses of warping, dislocating joins, cracking and lifting of surface layers, breaking fibers, metals corrosion, and cockling of works on paper. Not to mention that mold will thrive at relative humidity levels of 70 percent or higher.

hygro_closedThere are many devices available that enable a real time recording of the gallery environment and we use a variety of these for recording comprehensive data history. What you may be surprised to learn is that one of the devices uses horse or human hair as a very important element for sensing humidity fluctuations. Called a hygrothermograph, it is one of the most common devices used to measure and record temperature and humidity. You’ve likely seen the contraption in many museums and wondered if it was a contemporary work of art.

hygro_openHumidity measuring devices have been around for hundreds of years; in the early days a material that was hygroscopic, or capable of absorbing moisture, was connected to the instrument to act as a humidity sensor.  The substance may have been twine or paper, and it would expand and contract when influenced by the varying levels of the moisture content in the air. These changes in the material could be quantitatively measured to interpret the relative humidity. In the late 1770s, Horace Benedict de Saussure is credited for implementing the sensible hygroscopic material of human hair in his design of the device. It is said that he used the locks of his lovely wife; perhaps the idea came to him after she complained of a bad hair day on a rainy afternoon. In today’s version, hair can be stripped of its oils and gathered in a small bundle providing the perfect humidity detector. So if you’re the type of person who enjoys unusual facts, this one is certain to impress your friends.

 

New Year’s Eve at the IMA and a “Soundsuit” by Nick Cave

Today’s guest blogger is Vishant Shah, member of the planning committee for New Year’s Eve at the IMA and co-founder of Foundation East.

New Year’s Eve at the IMA is a great party and your ticket will also help the Museum acquire a Soundsuit by Nick Cave, a world-renowned contemporary artist and fashion designer. But what in the world is a Soundsuit?

Nick Cave (American, b. 1959), Soundsuit, 2013.  Photo by James Prinz. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Nick Cave (American, b. 1959), Soundsuit, 2013.
Photo by James Prinz. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Soundsuits are wearable sculptures that are bright, whimsical, and other-worldly. They have been exhibited all over the world – set in place as traditional sculpture or fully alive and in motion, out of museums and into the streets. Check out this video to see his Soundsuits in motion.

A Soundsuit is a multimedia piece comprised of a cornucopia of objects – second-hand sweaters covered with metal items to create tree-like body sculptures, found objects like an abacus obscuring the features of the wearer and creating miraculous sound as the wearer leaps about. Cave uses the term ‘second skin’ in describing his first Soundsuit, and I am excited to journey into Nick Cave’s universe on New Year’s Eve!

$25 of your ticket to New Year’s Eve at the IMA will help support the Soundsuit so that all of Indianapolis can experience this amazing work of art. At the event, you can purchase Nick Cave buttons or exquisite BASH party hats, and a portion of those funds will also support the acquisition. So wear them proudly! Online donations are also welcome.

Whether you are at the IMA to dance or party in the galleries, make it your resolution to stop by the Deer Zink Special Events Pavilion to check out the Soundsuit by Nick Cave.

 

Toddlers, art, and the IMA

Today's blogger is Heidi Davis-Soylu, Manager of Academic Engagement and Learning Research at the IMA.

The TAG group visits the Orchard and Greenhouse to collect plant fibers. Photo by Eric Lubrick.

The TAG group visits the Orchard and Greenhouse to collect plant fibers. Photo by Eric Lubrick.

This year at the IMA, we’re excited about a new school program designed specifically for preschools. The Toddler Art Group (TAG) launched in September with the help of our partner school, St. Mary’s Child Center at the Butler Lab location, and partnering arts organization, Arts for Learning. If you happen to see a clever bunch of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds singing, drawing, or performing in the galleries, you might have spotted our TAGers!

From September through May, 20 of our friends from St. Mary’s will visit the IMA twice each month for TAG time. A typical TAG session begins with a hunt for Tag Tiger, a stuffed animal tiger who likes to take naps in the galleries. Guided by a modified version of “we’re going on a bear hunt,” our tag_tigerfriends from St Mary’s locate Tag Tiger and then take her for a walk to look at art and find a good place to read her a story. Story time is followed by two or three sensory activities that help students build their own meaning of the art and, we hope, to establish positive relationships more broadly with art, learning, and the Museum. On their second visit each month, students explore art-making in an IMA studio classroom and revisit an artwork from the previous visit that resonated with the children the most. For example, the group decreed “the ship” (Tim Hawkinson’s Möbius Ship) the most intriguing work from our first tour of the Contemporary galleries.

We look forward to learning a lot from the students throughout this pilot year and we hope to grow the program during the next academic year to include more partner schools.

Readers of this post might also be interested in our wee Wednesdays program designed for children ages 0 through 5, open to the public.

 

About Guest Blogger

The IMA is always looking for new definitions of art. So we’ve asked guest bloggers to share their thoughts on the subject.

Guest Blogger has written 107 articles for us.