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A place to contemplate

Guest blogger Karen Bower has been a docent at the IMA since 2008.

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010 Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art; The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010
Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art;  The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

The entrance beckons. What is up there? After the walls of cobbly rocks caged in wire you see a dark tunnel. What is this place?

Park of the Laments is the largest public, permanent monument, or “intervention,” by Alfredo Jaar in the United States. The form of the park is a square within a square. One square is rigid and made of limestone-filled gabion baskets. Jaar has said the rough, crumbled limestone is a beautiful metaphor for people who have suffered in the past. The second square, soft and organic, is made of indigenous trees and plants. With walls of green and a ceiling of blue sky this center square becomes a relational art project – a place to escape to and meditate.

As an IMA docent who took many children to the Park of the Laments, I came to expect the squeals of the children’s voices testing the space as we walked through the dark tunnel approaching the light. Preparing the children for the tunnel was important to the tour. We approached an opening with dense shrubs on both sides and a staircase to climb. What will we see next? What is this place? I can see the sky and trees and hear the birds and sit on the wooden bench going all around.

On that hot day in June 2010 when the IMA opened the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, I was lucky enough to meet the artist. “Oh, Mr. Jaar, you are here today! You get to see our visitors experience your new work!” Jaar approached me and said, “My work – it is too depressing,” referring to his intent of remembering those who have suffered in our world: refugees, victims of genocide. But I reassured the artist. A place to meditate and purge our thoughts of atrocities is necessary.

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010 Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art;  The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010
Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art; The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

But how did this Park within the Park begin? Eight works were selected from 60 international artists in a formal bid proposal process to bring new site-responsive works to the new park. Alfredo Jaar was the last to bring his design proposal to the IMA. He had walked around in 100 Acres. It seemed immense to him. How could he respond? The final result is a space of human scale and proportion within the larger landscape. The cobble or rocks can represent lost souls, or not. The vine-covered walls can seem ruin-like or constructed with the idea of porosity – rain water trickling through. Your experience of the space and entering it will be your own. It is intimate and public at the same time. Many visitors feel a hush upon reaching the top of the stairs. Children run and play. Docents invite visitors to use their senses, to become mindful of what they hear and smell, to feel the air. We ask you to describe what you see or what you would name the space.

This is considered one of Jaar’s public “interventions” that memorializes military conflicts, political corruption and imbalances of power between industrialized and developing nations. Hence, the artist’s concern about the public’s reaction to his work on that opening day.

Jaar describes Park of the Laments as a refuge, a place where we can think and dream of what could be. Here in Indianapolis visitors definitely do not find it too depressing.

Filed under: Art, Art and Nature Park, Contemporary, Guest Bloggers

 

The Evolution of Rococo

Today’s guest blogger is DAS member Sheri Conner. Sheri is an interior designer who teaches history of furniture and other courses for the Art Institute Online Division’s Interior Design program.

How did we get from this …

Fig: 1, Nicolas Heurtaut, 1755, Suite of four fauteuils à la reine (flat-back armchairs) © 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/set-four-fauteuil-la-reine-armchairs

Fig: 1, Nicolas Heurtaut, 1755, Suite of four fauteuils à la reine (flat-back armchairs)
© 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

… to this …

Fig. 2, John Belter (American), “Armchair,” 1855 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. C. Harvey Bradley, 80.482

Fig. 2, John Belter (American), “Armchair,” 1855
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. C. Harvey Bradley, 80.482

… to this?!

Fig. 3, Alessandro Mendini (Italian, b. 1931), “Poltrona di Proust” lounge chair, 1978 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Robertine Daniels Art Fund in Memory of Her Late Husband, Richard Monroe Fairbanks Sr. and Her Late Son, Michael Fairbanks, 2013.15 © Alessandro Mendini

Fig. 3, Alessandro Mendini (Italian, b. 1931), “Poltrona di Proust” lounge chair, 1978
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Robertine Daniels Art Fund in Memory of Her Late Husband, Richard Monroe Fairbanks Sr. and Her Late Son, Michael Fairbanks, 2013.15
© Alessandro Mendini

And what the heck does THIS have to do with it???

Fig. 4, François Boucher (French, 1703-1770), “Idyllic Landscape with Woman Fishing,” 1761 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herman C. Krannert, 60.248

Fig. 4, François Boucher (French, 1703-1770), “Idyllic Landscape with Woman Fishing,” 1761
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herman C. Krannert, 60.248

Rococo style originated in Paris during the reign of King Louis XV. Upon the death of his great-grandfather Louis XIV, the Regent temporarily relocated the aristocratic center from the palace of Versailles to Paris. The new court quarters consisted of townhomes and apartments, creating a need for smaller scaled furnishings. In her book, The Annotated Mona Lisa, Carol Strickland describes the period as, “… a shift in French art and society from the serious and grandiose to the frothy and superficial,” noting that, “… the nobility lived a frivolous existence devoted to pleasure.” Décor took on a light appearance in terms of scale, color and ornamentation to fit with the intimate interiors and care-free lifestyle. Other European countries and the U.S. had their own interpretations of Rococo style.

The name Rococo derives from the French rocaille, which means shell. Rococo style is primarily associated with the decorative arts; however, painters of the time embraced it wholeheartedly. François Boucher for example, was commissioned to paint large-scale bucolic scenes consisting of rosy-cheeked goddesses and putti frolicking in lush gardens and pastoral landscapes (fig. 4). These themes were also translated into furniture design (fig 1). Rococo art and design has been described as romantic, idyllic, curvaceous, naturalistic, and asymmetrical.

Rococo styled seating and case pieces were curvilinear and visually delicate. Carved shells, flowers and botanical forms, scrolls, fruit, cherubs, and serpentine lines are all distinctive features of Rococo furniture. The cabriole leg is highly indicative of Rococo style, often terminating in scrolled, or claw and ball feet. Upon discovery of the ruins of Pompeii, Rococo design fell out of style giving way to the Neoclassic period.

Fast forward 100 years. Rococo is revived! Nineteenth century Rococo Revival furniture is larger, heavier, darker, more symmetrical and heavily carved. Industrial techniques were employed such as mechanical carving, coil springs for comfort, and new methods for laminating and bending wood. Original Rococo furniture was only available to royalty and the wealthy elite. This, along with the affordability rendered by mass production, made the revival version popular among the rising middle class during Victoria’s reign in England.

Pamela Wiggins asserted in her article, Who Was John Henry Belter?, “When it comes to Rococo Revival furniture, John Henry Belter (fig. 2) was no doubt the master craftsman working in the mid-1800s.” He is known for innovations in lamination and carving, securing patents for several techniques and mechanisms related to furniture manufacturing. Belter brought high furniture design to the U.S.; finally we were on par with Europe! Often imitated by his contemporaries, Belter destroyed plans and molds of his furniture so it would be very difficult to duplicate after his death.

Time ticked on … design along with it. Between the wars, furniture designers created radical revolutionary objects for the purpose of mass production. The Modernist Tradition led contemporary design into the later decades of the 2oth century. It viewed design as industry. Stemming from the Bauhaus’ early rejection of historic forms and ornamentation, designers working in the Modern mode embraced geometric forms and new materials like tubular steel and plastic. Form was ever ruled by function.

Along came the Italian design groups Alchemia and Memphis, who promoted a design-as-art ideal in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Based on this new Postmodern approach, design welcomed a decorative, historicizing tradition. Function was secondary. Manufacturers began to hire international designers who were raised to the level of superstars. People like Alessandro Mendini (fig. 3) viewed themselves as “non-designers,” creating personas and brands identifiable as their own style.

Handmade, one-of-a-kind, limited editions replaced mass production. Common recognizable forms and historic styles were resurrected in new and exaggerated ways marked by pattern, ornament, rich color, and luxury. Flexibility and range of materials allowed new sculptural possibilities for furniture. Postmodernist designers in a sense, mined history to conceive works like Mendini’s Proust armchair. Can you see it gestating in Boucher’s idyllic landscape?

Filed under: Art, Contemporary, Design, Guest Bloggers

 

An Act of LOVE: Photographic documentation of Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture

Photo from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charioteer_of_Delphi

“Charioteer of Delphi,” photo from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Charioteer_of_Delphi

One of the greatest sculptures in the history of art is the bronze “Charioteer of Delphi”. The life-sized figure is a masterpiece of balance between realism and formality, true to the tradition of Classical Greece but singular in its perfect achievement of cherished artistic ideals. The sculpture, which was erected in Delphi in 474 BC, was unearthed along with sections of the chariot horses in 1896. The base contained an inscription that credited the financial patron for this sculptural commission (a political figure) but the artist is not named, and even the city where the sculpture was conceived and fabricated is not conclusively known to scholars. Fortunately, the available documentation surrounding great works of art increased slowly through the ages. Prepatory drawings, sketch notations, diaries, letters, bills of sale, estate records and contemporary critiques are at times obtainable for study. But sadly, even a relatively thorough paper trail could be decimated through migrations, natural disasters and violent conflicts, and we are often left with fragments that must be bridged with speculation.

It is incumbent upon the art historian and the conservator to discover as much information as possible about an artwork in order to create both a cultural and technical context for the diverse works in museum collections. They utilize this augmented perspective in the service of insightful presentation in the galleries and informed preservation in the conservation labs. It is the mission of museums to provide not just a safe haven for art but to build an experience around a painting, a drawing, or a sculpture that will be infused with a greater knowledge – a sense of time and place, an understanding of the artist’s personality and inspiration, and the challenges and triumphs in the creative process itself. In this way we hope to turn the act of “looking” into an act of “appreciating” which carries the visitor into a genuine sense of empathetic connectedness to an art object.

Robert Indiana (American, b. 1928), “LOVE,” 1970 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of the Friends of the Indianapolis Museum of Art in memory of Henry F. DeBoest. Restoration was made possible by Patricia J. and James E. LaCrosse, 75.174 © Morgan Art Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Robert Indiana (American, b. 1928), “LOVE,” 1970
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of the Friends of the Indianapolis Museum of Art in memory of Henry F. DeBoest. Restoration was made possible by Patricia J. and James E. LaCrosse, 75.174
© Morgan Art Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Which brings us to the LOVE sculpture of Robert Indiana. It could be confidently stated that this particular artwork enjoys international recognition within the IMA’s holdings, and its monumental form is much beloved by museum patrons. It was a pivotal work for Robert Indiana, serving as a commanding foray into the rapidly evolving artistic climate of non-traditional aesthetics in the 1950s through 1970s. This was also a time of awakening for artists who desired to work in large scale formats, which helped in turn to fuel a new zeal for public art commissions. The fabrication of the 12 foot tall, three ton sculpture at the Lippincott foundry in North Haven, Connecticut, was completed in 1970. It proceeded to Indianapolis in October of that year, and in 1975 LOVE was formally accessioned by the IMA and permanently settled on the grounds of our campus.

Tom Rummler (American), “Photograph of ‘LOVE’ in the Making in North Haven, Conn.,” 1970 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Robert Indiana, 72.78.14

Tom Rummler (American), “Photograph of ‘LOVE’ in the Making in North Haven, Conn.,” 1970
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Robert Indiana, 72.78.14

Fortunately for scholars of Robert Indiana and his iconic accomplishment, a sizeable group of gelatin-silver photographs by Tom Rummler had slipped quietly into the IMA collection in 1970, a gift from Robert Indiana himself. This body of work documented the construction process of the LOVE sculpture from the foundry floor and beyond, which is an invaluable record that informs the vital questions of who, how, when, and where in art historical inquiry. For the conservator, these images of process are a solidly reliable source of information regarding the assemblage of this imposing Cor-ten steel structure. I became aware of these photographs during the IMA’s conservation condition survey for all collection photographs that has been undertaken by contracted photograph conservator Paul Messier. This survey was generously funded through a grant from the Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS) in 2012, and we are profoundly grateful for this preservation project that has brought our photographs to the focused attention of the staff. The Rummler images document the creation of the LOVE sculpture at Lippincott Inc., and this massive undertaking is chronicled in views that celebrate the complexity, verve, and joy of the process. These photographs are beautiful in their own right as skillful compositions of light and texture; they visually convey the thrill of elemental industrial power harnessed to creative forces. A young Robert Indiana strikes poses worthy of a brave new world in art, and the faces of the fabrication crew are also preserved, a rare treat in art history up until the age of video. Paul confirmed that the 30 gelatin-silver Rummler photographs are currently in excellent condition. They are stored among works of photographic art, not in the library or the Registration office, which is a testament to the museum’s determination that they are at the same time art and document, a treasure of multiple virtues that deserves the highest level of care.

The Rummler photographs are offered here in light of the IMA’s designation of 2014 as a year in celebration of Robert Indiana – his art, his contribution to art history, and his ongoing relationship with the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Visitors can view Robert Indiana’s graphic work and the Rummler photographs as part of The Essential Robert Indiana.

If only photographers had been on hand in Delphi in 474 BC …

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Contemporary, Guest Bloggers, Installation, Uncategorized

 

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.

Filed under: Art, Contemporary, Guest Bloggers, Public Programs

 

Indiana by the Numbers

Commissioned in 1980 for the 20th anniversary of Melvin Simon & Associates (now Simon Property Group), Robert Indiana’s eight-foot-tall polychrome Numbers are iconic works from one of America’s most recognizable artists. The new exhibition Indiana by the Numbers (opening this Friday, May 24) traces the history of their design and fabrication, tells the story of their display before they were donated to the IMA in 1989, and provides a glimpse into their recent restoration and repainting by the IMA conservation department.

Robert Indiana (American, b. 1928), Numbers, 1980-1983, painted aluminum, 8x8x4 ft. (each), Gift of Melvin Simon and Associates, 1988.246. (c) 2013 Morgan Art Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Robert Indiana (American, b. 1928), Numbers, 1980-1983, painted aluminum, 8x8x4 ft. (each), Gift of Melvin Simon and Associates, 1988.246. (c) 2013 Morgan Art Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

I asked Richard McCoy, conservator of objects and variable art, about the exhibition.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Conservation, Contemporary

 

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