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Dial-ing In: From Gallery Model to Model Gallery

I saw everything in miniature first. The model held the new exhibition in exact scale. Upstairs in Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial, our patrons were perusing the galleries but down here, in the IMA’s Design and Installation Department, I was towering over the same rooms’ diminutive sisters. I didn’t know a physical model was made of each exhibition before it was installed but not only do they exist—they’re painstakingly accurate. The walls, floors and tiny art pieces are all perfectly portioned effigies. It’s pretty adorable.


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Dial-ing In: Target Audience

The Indianapolis Museum of Art is filled with amazing pieces of work. I know that because I’ve been here, a lot. In fact, a lot of people who have never been to the IMA know it’s filled with amazing works. Our challenge isn’t convincing the public there is art here; it’s convincing people there is art relevant to them here.

Meg Liffick is the Assistant Director of Public Affairs here at the IMA. Meg and her team tightrope a difficult role between the curator and the museum-goer. The curator, as I understand it, is the head-of-household in the gallery and the coming/going/hopefully staying artwork is his or her children. It’s the curator’s job to know the artwork inside and out. It’s Meg’s and her teammates’ job to translate that expertise to a viewer who doesn’t know anything about the artwork or any artwork for that matter.

So how do they do it? How can someone be motivated to come to an art museum? Well, they have a few tricks up their sleeve.  Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial is our most recent exhibition/huge marketing undertaking. Dial is an extremely bold artist. You won’t find political, social or historical commentary listed as any of the many materials Dial employs in his art, but they’re there. Because Dial’s work embodies such strong emotions, it’s the very kind of art some people are afraid of. It can make you uncomfortable—not because it’s vulgar or offensive–but because you might not know how to feel at first. We’re used to the art of the snap judgment, not the art of the deeply expressive Alabama welder.

Thornton Dial. Photograph by David Raccuglia.

All of our marketing materials (brochures, posters, radio spots, etc.) are designed here. “We do everything in-house. Everything.  That’s what’s special about the IMA—we all collaborate, no one does anything alone.” says Meg.

The marketing around the city for Hard Truths pushes the story or experience of the exhibition and Dial, himself. Meg explains, “Once they’re on-site we allow people to form their own perspective, but we need to give people a reason to come initially.  We wanted to communicate that these works were largely 3-D.”

"Stars of Everything," 2004, 98 × 101. 1/2 × 20. 1/2 in., Collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.

The people involved with the IMA’s marketing have to create a way to honor and advertise the art, however, most -  if not all of them – don’t have formal art history training. Meg explains, “We don’t have art backgrounds, but we can communicate passion.” This exhibit is a completely different experience; one that not everyone would jump at initially. But it’s still relevant. It’s important to have some surprises in life, to (as our radio spots encourage) “Be amazed.” “Be inspired.”  I think Meg says it best, “Museums are here to fulfill the need that you have of finding spirituality, creativity and inspiration.”

 

Read My Posts

Last year, Madeleine Albright came to speak at my university. I did not go see her. Her book, Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewelry Box, was on sale in our campus bookstore. I didn’t pick it up. Her collection was on display at the IMA. I wasn’t interested. My boss made me go see it anyway.

I am neither knowledgeable nor affectionate toward brooches or foreign policy. This exhibition didn’t seem the one for me. When I flounced upstairs under my boss’s command I was more excited about flashing my new museum badge at the door than I was about swimming through Albright’s vast pin collection.  However, once I sat inside the exhibition to watch its looping video, Katie Couric started and concluded her interview of Albright three times before I felt good about moving on. She had me at hello.

The brooches seemed ridiculous at first, but became more and more intriguing as I made my way through, jotting down quotes, points of interest and trying to look particularly intern-y. Basically, the whole thing started when an Iraqi poem was published calling Albright an “unparalleled serpent.” Albright already owned a snake pin so she thought, “When we deal with Iraq, I’m going to wear the snake pin.” Once that gained attention Albright went out and bought more: butterflies, flowers and balloons for the good days; spiders, bugs and bees for the bad. Famously, President George H. W. Bush had just asked America to “read my lips” so Albright started telling people to “read my pins” when they asked what she was up to that day.

Serpent, designer unknown, circa 1860.

It was Albright’s ability to connect that won me over. She’s funny, tactful and bold. When negotiating with Russia over the anti-ballistic missiles treaty, Igor Ivanov looked at Albright’s arrow-like pin for the day and inquired, “Is that one of your interceptor missiles?” She replied. “Yes, and as you can see we can make them very small so you’d better be ready to negotiate.” In 1996 when two civilian planes were shot down by the Cuban Air force, she wore a bluebird pin with its head pointing down to honor the fallen pilots.

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About Joe Wadlington

Title: Publications and Media Intern

Interests: I’m interested in people, writing, art and the “random article” button on Wikipedia.

Favorite Movies: I like dramas, disguised as comedies; grief or inter-family trouble is always good. Put me somewhere in between “Airplane” and “Stepmom”.

Favorite Music: Being from Tennessee has given me unshakeable folksy roots. I just wish there were more hip hop songs with banjos.

Favorite Food: I’m a tenacious food explorer, especially if there’s cheese involved.

Pets: About six dead goldfish into childhood I cut my losses and stopped getting pets.

Something Extra: I’m studying creative writing and graphic design at Butler University where I am Senior Class VP, Homecoming King and a former Fraternity President.

Joe has written 8 articles for us.