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A Tale of Two Weegees

As I have written about in previous posts (here, here, here, and here), the IMA is very fortunate to have photograph conservator Paul Messier on site with us to conduct a conservation condition survey of all of our collection photographs. This initiative was made possible through a generous grant from the Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS) in recognition of IMA’s significant holdings of historic and contemporary photographs. With the information gained from this survey, the IMA hopes to design a program of optimal care that will allow us to responsibly study and exhibit our photographs within the highest standard of preservation.

Paul has recently surveyed our collection of Weegee photographs, which came to the IMA in 2009. Weegee is a pseudonym for Arthur Fellig, who immigrated with his family at the age of 10 to New York from the Ukraine in 1909. He began his work in photography as a darkroom assistant for Acme Newspictures (which became United Press International Photos) before striking out on his own as a freelance photographer, concentrating on crime photography. He would often arrive at crime scenes before the first responders, which led to a joking reputation for prescience. This earned him the nickname of “ouija” (from the future-predicting board game), which was phonetically reinterpreted as “Weegee.” Weegee became well-known as a hard-boiled, scruffy, street-smart individual. He was also a natural self-promoter, who began signing his work “Weegee the Famous.” He is considered one of the first street photographers, as opposed to the traditional studio photographer who worked with staged compositions and tightly controlled content. His approach paved the way for the work of later notable photographers, such as Diane Arbus and Robert Frank. Weegee developed and printed his own photographs, and his work was published in all of the prominent New York City newspapers. He became widely known for his gritty, unvarnished views of crime, but perhaps he is best appreciated today for his capture of NYC life in high and low places—glimpses of ordinary moments frozen into significance as unselfconscious documents of time and place.

Paul called my attention to two particular photographs that struck him as singular, both of which are portraits of Weegee: one is a gelatin-silver print by photographer Larry Block and the other is a color Polaroid self-portrait by Weegee. These images, while very different from each other, are praiseworthy for their success within their respective techniques in conveying a strong sense of personality. They are also beautifully rendered, aptly utilizing the aesthetic parameters of the materials servicing these processes.

Larry Block “Portrait of Weegee,” undated. Gelatin Silver Print.Caroline Marmon Fesler Fund, Gift of the Alliance of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Roger G. Wolcott Fund, Nancy Foxwell Neuberger Acquisition Endowment Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore P. Van Vorhees Art Fund, Cecil F. Head Art Fund, James V. Sweetser Fund. 2009.272.

Larry Block “Portrait of Weegee,” undated. Gelatin Silver Print.Caroline Marmon Fesler Fund, Gift of the Alliance of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Roger G. Wolcott Fund, Nancy Foxwell Neuberger Acquisition Endowment Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore P. Van Vorhees Art Fund, Cecil F. Head Art Fund, James V. Sweetser Fund. 2009.272.

The undated portrait of Weegee by Larry Block is a study of the photographer in a pensive moment, fueled by a focused intensity. He is slouched informally, yet commands great presence; the setting is casual but dramatically rendered. This is clearly an individual that deserves our attention even as he ignores the camera, seemingly alone with his thoughts and his trademark cigar. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Conservation, Photography, The Collection


Interpreting “The Majesty Receives”

Our guest blogger today is Joe Wadlington, a writer and recent graduate of Butler University.

This post is part of an ongoing series that explores new interpretations of works within the IMA collection through creative writing. In the post below, author Joe Wadlington provides his interpretation of  The Majesty Receives by William Holbrook Beard. After reading, visit the IMA’s online collection to learn about the artist’s intentions for the work. 


William Holbrook Beard, “The Majesty Receives,” 1885. James E. Roberts Fund. 76.13

Michael was having the dreams again. His therapist explained that Michael was projecting unresolved issues with his wife onto his mother-in-law’s withheld approval, making her “the gatekeeper of his marital bliss.” His wife said he needed to stop eating Slim Jims before bed.

Either way, once Michael hit the final stage of sleep, his dreams took him to a perverted Sherwood Forest. But not the Sherwood Forest from the play or book Robin Hood—the one from the Disney movie Robin Hood, where everyone was an animal. Michael would be something weak, like a rabbit, mouse, or stoat. While his mother-in-law, the villain of Michael’s dreams and waking life, would be re-imagined as King John in the form of a fox or bobcat (and this one time an especially aggressive panda). Except that if it was Disney’s Robin Hood, then shouldn’t the fox be Robin Hood? Or maybe Michael was supposed to turn into Robin Hood? What was a stout anyway, like a gerbil thing?

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Art, The Collection


Mario Botta’s Tesi Table

Our guest blogger today is Eric Rowland, who is a board member in the Design Arts Society. He continues a series of blog posts on acquisitions for the IMA's new Design Arts galleries, opening in fall of 2013.

Mario Botta, Single-family house in Ligornetto,Ticino, Switzerland, 1975-1976.

Mario Botta, Single-family house in Ligornetto,Ticino, Switzerland, 1975-1976.

My first project in architectural school was drawing a house designed by Mario Botta. It was an exercise designed to teach us how to draw isometric images, and I think the Botta house was selected because it was such a simple form.  It was a long narrow house that looked like a shoebox on its side, with irregularly shaped openings cut out of it and stripes across the sides. I loved it! I had never seen a house like this and I was immediately interested in finding more of his work.

Botta’s roots in Lugano, Switzerland certainly reveal themselves in his work. Lugano is in a mountainous part of the country, with tranquil lakes and an amazing alpine skyline. The proximity to Italy no doubt allowed him to be exposed to the work of Carlo Scarpa, an architect whose attitudes to masonry, geometry and precise detailing seem to be reflected in Botta’s work. While the majority of his work is in his native region and includes single-family houses, vacation houses, offices religious buildings and even warehouses, his best known work in the United States is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Mario Botta, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1992-1995.

Mario Botta, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1992-1995.

I think Botta is a good example of an “architect’s architect.” His work is precise and tailored, sensitive to context, but bold and self-assured. Symmetry and texture play an important part in his work, and his vocabulary generally consists of a masonry shell, cracked to reveal its jewel-like contents as though you took a band-saw to a geode. Strong striping and simple geometric forms define its character.

Mario Botta, Tesi table, 1985.

Mario Botta, Tesi table, 1985.

This table acquired by the IMA is an evolution of that architectural vocabulary and an extension of his materiality. Like the center of a geode, the Tesi materials are multifaceted and shiny. A simple metal triangle extrudes to create a minimal base. Bold metal stripes articulate the support of the rectangular glass top. The Tesi table is a great piece of interior architecture that fittingly represents Botta’s bold body of work.

Filed under: Design, The Collection


The Armory Show and Indianapolis

Poster advertising the “International Exhibition of Modern Art”

Poster advertising the “International Exhibition of Modern Art.”

Last month marked the 100th anniversary of the International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known as “The Armory Show,” opening in New York City. The nearly 1,600 avant-garde works by artists who were little-exhibited in the U.S. were met with public response that fluctuated between outrage and delight, curiosity and apprehension. Theodore Roosevelt’s A Layman’s Views of an Art Exhibition encapsulates the general sentiment: “It is true, as the champions of these extremists [Modernist artists] say, that there can be no life without change, no development without change, and that to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of death. It is no less true, however, that change may mean death and not life, and retrogression instead of development.” Yet history is written by the victors, and in this case, Modernism won. Today it is hard to overstate the impact that this large-scale exhibition organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) had on 20th Century American art.

Just one year prior to the 1913 exposition opening, the AAPS solicited the John Herron Art Institute (forerunner to the IMA) inquiring “whether the institution would be interested in exhibiting the work of members of this organization.”

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Filed under: The Collection


Mezzadro Stool: Part Two

Our guest blogger today is Chip Kalleen who is a board member in the Design Arts Society.

Image courtesy of Zanotta Design.

Image courtesy of Zanotta Design.

Two members of the Design Arts Society explore the same work of art from different perspectives. Here is Part Two—

If you had to select a single symbol that best represents the world of agriculture, what would it be?  That would definitely be a challenge.  Once you had an image in mind, could you then take that image and design a piece of furniture with itsomething perfectly utilitarian and practical, but at the same time sleek and sculptural?  That would be the greater challenge.  Fortunately, two brothers from Italy accepted that challenge in the 1950s and created what is today one of the world’s most iconic and timeless furniture pieces.

The Mezzadro (sharecropper) stool, designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, premiered in 1957 but did not go into full production until thirteen years later in 1970.  This elegantly simple stool married a standard metal tractor seat and bicycle wing nut with a strip steel spring stem and a cross base of natural beech wood.  It was all about editing, editing, editingeliminating anything that was not absolutely necessary and getting down to the simple basics of what a stool needed to be and could be.   Simple, yes, but plain, definitely not!

While the brothers succeeded in having a minimal number of principle parts (4) and materials (2), they still wanted to take this visually quirky yet comfortable stool to another design level.  Mezzadro needed to have an unexpected sense of style and, I think, glamour.  Could those elements be combined with the basic function and material components and allow the stool to transition from ordinary to sublime?  The answer is yes, and I think the brothers did it brilliantly.  It was all about the finishes.

First, they chose to finish the humble metal tractor seat in a shiny colored lacquer.  The tractor seat of the Mezzadro stool in the Design Arts collection of the IMA is finished in a glossy red lacquer. That color lends the seat a boldness and dynamism that belies its simple, utilitarian form (this is the same red you remember from your youth when you received the coveted Radio Flyer “little red wagon” for your birthday).  The brothers then added the surprise element of “luxe” to their creation by taking the ordinary flexible steel bow and coating its plain steel in polished chrome.  To me, the chromed steel is the piece de resistancethe element that transcends practicality and puts the stool in an entirely new category. It’s furniture as fashion! The red seat is now the equivalent of fellow countryman, Valentino, and his spectacular red couture gowns (from the same time period) and the chromed steel support is the glimmering necklace of diamonds at the model’s throat. The mirroring effect and the sparkle of the flexing chromed steel bow also add a dimensional twist, moving the overall stool into the realm of functional sculpture.  Last, and not to be overlooked, is the natural beech “foot” that anchors all of the above.  Like the other components the foot is so much more than just balance and support.

Valentino dress, 1965. Image courtesy of

Valentino Haute Couture Red silk crêpe dress, fall 1965. Image courtesy of Valentino and

Keeping the wood as light as possible allows for the maximum material contrasts between the red seat and the chromed steel.  The subtle graining also adds a natural pattern that complements the highly machined parts.   It is the embodiment and fulfillment of Mies van der Rohe’s classic statement: “Less is More.”

As a designer, I feel the Mezzadro is one of those great accent pieces that can totally transform a room.  Six of these around a rustic wood French farm table, a classic late 19th century American round oak pedestal table or a spartan Shaker cherry or maple table would create a memorable dining experience.  That is the beauty of this stool.  It works well with a diverse number of more traditional and antique furnishings and yet it feels perfectly at home in a more high-tech and minimalist environment.  The Mezzadro  is where agrian meets urban, and the rest is history.

Filed under: Design, The Collection


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