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The art in volunteering

Today's guest blogger is volunteer Pres Maxson. Pres has been volunteering for just a couple of months, but he is already an excellent addition. You can find him working at special events and the Visitor Information Desk. If you see him, be sure to say hi!

Today the air is crisp. I have all the windows down in the car, and I happily pull through the gates to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It’s perfectly autumnal outside, and I’m looking forward to starting my shift as an IMA volunteer.

A fan of the museum and art in general, volunteering my time at the IMA was a natural draw for me. As someone who strives to be creative and stay creative, the IMA is an obviously stimulating atmosphere. Not only is there beauty in the artwork itself, but the kind and talented people that I’ve already gotten to know a little bit in the process makes the entire experience all that much more enjoyable.

Volunteer Pres Maxson is waiting for you to visit the IMA.

Volunteer Pres Maxson is waiting for you to visit the IMA.

From where I sit today at the visitor information desk on the second floor, I have a front row seat to Sol Lewitt’s Wall Drawing No. 652. Colorful, mosaic, and mind-bendingly expansive, it’s the perfect welcome to the galleries. If you stand just feet from it and gaze upward, it’s a reminder that life is especially attractive when all you see is art.

I also have a nice view into maybe my favorite area of the museum, the Sally Reahard Suite of European Art. Through its entryway directly in front of me, I get an excellent look at Fernand Leger’s Man and Woman and Joseph Bernard’s Young Girl Arranging Her Hair. The latter sculpture intrigues me because it seems to take on an almost entire different character when I walk around it. It’s almost as if the young girl’s mood changes, even though she stays perfectly still. Not bad for today’s office view.

Even more fun for me, is the scenery off to the right. Products of the Pont-Avon School, Seguin’s Two Thatched Cottages and Denis’ The Breton Dance hang in a soft and perfectly complementary light. If I crane my neck, I can also see a handful of Pont-Aven School etchings. My aunt and uncle have a small cottage in Brittany themselves, and the artwork has me wishing that my wife and I were back vacationing there, enjoying a pain au chocolat at a small café or strolling along the northerly coastline.

Setting my wanderlust and the artwork aside, I watch as several groups of students file through the second floor’s enormous sliding glass doors into Mary Fendrich Hulman Pavilion. Nearly everyone who passes greets me pleasantly, and I can’t help but feel slightly jealous that many of them will be experiencing the museum for the first time. For me, discovering the ambiance of the Clowes Pavilion, drawn to it by the quiet trickle of the fountain in the far back corner of the American and European art suites, is a moment I try to recreate every time I stroll through.

I also meet many of the museum’s members, some of whom I’ll admit know much more about the museum and its collections than I do. I learn something new every time that I volunteer, and I feel that I owe it to them more often than not. Since I began with the IMA, I have developed new favorite artists and pieces of artwork that I otherwise might not have noticed. Isn’t discovery half the fun of art?

If that’s the case, maybe the other half is rediscovery. Pieces like Edward Moran’s The Valley in the Sea say something different to me each time. Whether it’s noticing something in the brushwork that I hadn’t seen before or feeling a different dynamic from one day to the next, the ability to transform my perspective makes it a favorite. It’s tough to explain why a particular piece might resonate with me, and maybe as viewers we’re not supposed to try to put it into words. I’ve always thought that one’s relationship with artwork is largely personal, since everything speaks differently to every person.

So here I sit surrounded by all of it, pleasantly experiencing my fall afternoon. After today I’ll be back as a volunteer in two weeks, and I’m looking forward to the whole experience already. I’ll surely meet plenty of new faces, and who knows? Maybe I’ll leave with a new favorite work of art.

If you are interested in becoming an IMA volunteer, please visit our website for more information.

Filed under: Art, Guest Bloggers, The Collection

 

In black and white and color

Why do architects wear black, anyway? Well, not all of them, but enough so that you can understand why one asks the question. Black turtlenecks, black jackets, black pants, black shoes, black, black, black.

I am off into purely personal speculation here, so I can only ask that you bear with me. Black is a serious color.  And architecture is a pretty serious business. To an architect, there is probably no more serious business. (Aside: priests wear black; ultimate reality is pretty serious, too.) Architecture is about form, space, and order – ask Francis Ching – the serious elements of this serious business. It’s not about mere decoration. Decoration is too ephemeral, too frivolous, very unserious. I’d suggest that black reflects and affirms an architect’s commitment to the seriousness of his or her profession; it says “decoration is not for me – I leave that to others. I create structure, space, form and order. I don’t pick out wallpaper.”

The Miller House:  modernism in black and white.

The Miller House: modernism in black and white.

So why is the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, predominately white? White steel on the exterior, white plaster and laminates and nearly-white marble and terrazzo on the interior. Granted, the house’s exterior walls are clad in nearly-black slate, but I’d argue that this merely heightens the impact of the interior’s light-filled whiteness. White is a serious color for modernism. White rejects the colors one associates with most traditional building materials – brick, wood, and stone – in the same way that flat roofs and large expanses of glass reject traditional buildings’ expressions of shelter and enclosure. White emphasizes architecture as intellectual concept independent of historical precedents or local traditions. One might say it’s the same idea as the architect’s black wardrobe rendered in reverse.

Recipe for the use of color and texture: add liberally to taste; stir judiciously.

Recipe for the use of color and texture: add liberally to taste; stir judiciously.

The Miller House has intellectual rigor to spare: the grid of its columns, the 5-foot module of its plan, its perfect clarity of openness and enclosure. All expressed in white or nearly-white materials. But the Miller House has plenty of color and texture as well – Alexander Girard saw to that – textiles, glass, ceramics, decorative objects. They balance the house’s austerity and reserve with an outgoing cheerfulness that belies the care of their selection and organization. Architecture is indeed an intellectual exercise, but a home environment must satisfy emotional needs as well. Saarinen, Roche, Girard, and the Millers understood this. My guess is that they wanted to see the full range, a home whose use of color metaphorically captures the greatest possible breadth of experience.

Filed under: Contemporary, Design, Miller House, Musings

 

Art at the ‘cutting’ edge: Cross-section sampling of paintings

Last month, I led a handful of members of the IMA’s Second Century Society through a special behind-the-scenes workshop in my laboratory exploring the practice of cross-section sampling in conservation science. A cross-section is a miniscule sample cut from an artwork so as to contain all the layers of the painting – from the topmost varnish to the lowest preparation layer. When examined under a microscope or probed using micro-analytical techniques, a cross-section tells the story of the artwork’s inception, creation, and aesthetic techniques in a way that no other analysis or connoisseurship can. Although the collection and preparation of these samples can take days, we whisked participants through the many steps of sampling, mounting, and analysis of a cross-section using materials prepared in advance – much like a cooking show – in order to explain this invaluable technique for understanding and interpreting artworks in the collection.

090714_cross-section_01

Figure 1. The horizontal red and white element (#2013.443B) is seen in the foreground.
Roy Lichtenstein, Five Brushstrokes, designed 1983-84, fabricated 2012.
Gift of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation with additional support from the Robert L. and Marjorie J. Mann Fund.
© Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

Recently, we installed Roy Lichtenstein’s Five Brushstrokes on the Sutphin Mall. The extraordinary process of carefully positioning and stacking these monumental artworks – one that involved cranes, work crews, and conservators – was captured on time-lapse photography. The morning after the installation, I found a plastic baggie with two small paint samples on my desk. As I turned the chips over in my hand, it was obvious they told a story of the sculpture’s creation – so I prepared a cross-section to check it out.

The five components of Brushstrokes are made of painted aluminum. One of the samples came from the horizontal red and white brushstroke (Figure 1), and it is obvious from the cross-section (Figure 2) that the white highlights were painted first and then the sculpture was masked off to add the red passages – you see the red layer over top of the white in the cross-section meaning that the red paint had to be the last to be applied. But what is all that thick pink stuff below? An industrial product similar to Bondo! Yes, it is an epoxy version of a fairing compound like that used in bodyshops to level dents and scrapes on your car. When an aluminum sculpture is fabricated, the surface isn’t always smooth, and so an epoxy or polyester filler is troweled on top and sanded smooth to give an even surface that is then painted.

Figure 2. A magnified view of a mounted and polished cross-section from the horizontal red and white element of Five Brushstrokes. 1000 µm = 1 mm.

Figure 2. A magnified view of a mounted and polished cross-section from the horizontal red and white element of Five Brushstrokes. 1000 µm = 1 mm.

This layered structure seems complex, but cross-sections can get much more interesting! Check out this cross-section from a wooden shutter salvaged from a historic property on the Dupont’s Winterthur Estate, Figure 3. Because the building was regularly repainted, the section shows over a dozen different paint schemes. Furthermore, irradiating your sample with ultraviolet light and imaging the visible fluorescence from the paints can help to identify additional layers in what looks like a single, thick white paint coat toward the bottom of the section – the shutter has obviously been touched up with the same color a few times too!

Figure 3. Visible (left) and ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence (right, reversed) photomicrographs of a wooden shutter from a building on the Dupont’s Winterthur Estate in Delaware.

Figure 3. Visible (left) and ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence (right, reversed) photomicrographs of a wooden shutter from a building on the Dupont’s Winterthur Estate in Delaware.

Cross-section sampling is, by its nature, a destructive technique since a small sample of paint must be sacrificed. However, these samples can be vanishingly small, oftentimes less than the width of a hair, and yet they yield an enormous amount of information about the materials, craftsmanship, and condition of an artwork.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, IMA Staff, Installation

 

Divide and conquer: Creating new queendoms

What’s a beekeeper to do when fall is around the corner, winter mortality is unnervingly high, and you’ve got just one hive? Make new queens, of course! (Right … just like that!)

I’ve been helping Chad Franer, Director of Horticulture, keep bees at the IMA for six years and every season we both learn something new. This year, we tried our hands at splitting the hive – our one and only hive that we purchased in the spring. Did we know what we were doing? Of course not!

Assistant horticulturist Gwyn Rager examines a hive to determine which frame to use when splitting the hive. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Assistant horticulturist Gwyn Rager examines a hive to determine which frame to use when splitting the hive. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Splitting the hive to force the production of queen cells felt a lot like moving from the freshmen level course to somewhere with the upperclassmen. It was one of those moments where we felt the training wheels coming off and it was time to ride or fall. After much instruction from our mentor, Brian Shattuck, we took on the challenge.

A healthy honeybee hive is composed of the queen, worker bees (female), drones (male) and brood (future bees). The queen will lay an average of 1,000 to 1,500 eggs per day, all the while producing a pheromone that communicates to the rest of the hive that she is present and thriving. The daily egg laying, referred to as the brood cycle, ensures a constant and strong colony. When a hive becomes robust, the beekeeper may have the option to split it.

Splitting the hive means moving the queen, along with a few handfuls of workers and brood, to another hive box and leaving the majority of the original hive intact and in need of a queen.

What happens next is pretty fascinating! The colony notices the absence of the queen and begins to prep several of the recently hatched eggs to potentially become the next queen. These select larvae are fed royal jelly and larger cells are constructed for them each to develop within. Then it’s a race to see who will emerge first and survive. A new queen, in her due diligence, will systematically kill off the other potential queens as they emerge. Once her position is secured, she takes her mating flight and returns to the hive to pick up where the last queen left off. Voila! The beekeeper now has two hives!

Laura Dulin, the IMA HortSoc fellow, looks for a new queen in one of the newly split hives. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Laura Dulin, the IMA HortSoc fellow, looks for a new queen in one of the newly split hives. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Brian encouraged us to also create a nuc (short for nucleus) around this time. A nuc is a mini version of an official hive. Midway through the splitting process, we opened up the original hive and removed a frame that contained a few queen cells, dropped it into a nuc box along with a starter kit, frames of honey, brood and room to start laying eggs, for the soon-to-emerge queen. We beekeepers now have three hives!

So, why go through this effort when we’ve got a strong, healthy hive? I guess I could argue that it’s part of proper beekeeping. We’re making certain that we go into winter with more bees and two new, fresh queens. Winters can be long and hard in Indiana and our honeybees need all the resources we can offer to ensure survival – survival into the next spring and for years and generations to come.

The training wheels are long gone and we’re a little bit wiser. Can we claim now that we know what we’re doing? Probably not! I’ll always be a gardener first and beekeeping is a bonus. But I couldn’t be a gardener without the bees. Each day that I work in the gardens of the IMA and I see my tiny worker friends, I thank them for their diligent pollination … and their sweet honey!

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Greenhouse, Horticulture, IMA Staff

 

Hoosier thoughts on a Haarlem artist: Booth Tarkington on the IMA’s Portrait of Frans Hals

Louis Betts (American, 1873-1961), "Portrait of Booth Tarkington," 1941 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist. 42.12

[Fig. 1] Louis Betts (American, 1873-1961), “Portrait of Booth Tarkington,” 1941
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist. 42.12

In the preface to a catalogue of an exhibition at the John Herron Art Museum (the predecessor to the IMA) in 1937, Indianapolis native Booth Tarkington (1869-1946) [Fig. 1] expresses his admiration for the Portrait of Frans Hals [Fig. 2], then thought to be by the master’s own hand:

“…a keen and living bit of analysis from as quick and sure a brush as ever flicked canvas or panel.  Admirably and pathetically lacking the remotest taint of vanity, this picture would have satisfied Robert Burns; battered Frans Hals, without self-pity, could see himself as others saw him, but more shrewdly.”

Unknown artist (Dutch), "Portrait of Frans Hals," about 1650 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10047

[Fig. 2] Unknown artist (Dutch), “Portrait of Frans Hals,” about 1650
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10047

 

 

 

 

 

The painting has since been qualified as the best surviving copy after a lost original by Hals. As the copyist retained many elements of the master’s signature style, however, Tarkington’s poetic words are still of interest to the modern viewer.

Tarkington’s characterization of Hals’s manner as “quick and sure” underscores the artist’s distinctive approach. The sketchy contours that suggest movement, the creation of tone through unblended brushstrokes [Fig. 3], and, foremost, the crisp slashes of color that sit unapologetically upon the surface – the final “master stroke” flicked onto the support that defines form – these are the elements that comprise the painter’s recognizable “rough” style. Hals puts these components into the service of a “keen and living bit of analysis,” suggesting the persuasiveness of the representation. Surprisingly, the Pulitzer Prize-winner’s brief description echoes many of the earliest commentaries upon the artist, such as those composed by Cornelis de Bie (1627-c. 1715), Govaert Bidloo (1649-1713), and Arnold Houbraken (1660-1719).

The portrait under consideration is not just any likeness, however, but the artist’s own visage. Tarkington celebrates the honesty with which Hals approached his own face, writing that the portrait lacks “the remotest taint of vanity.” Furthermore, he alludes to the difficulty of viewing oneself with such frankness by referencing Robert Burns’s 1786 poem “On a Louse”:

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!”

[Fig. 3] Detail of "Portrait of Frans Hals."

[Fig. 3] Detail of “Portrait of Frans Hals.”

Tarkington likely meant the furrowed brow, the bags under the eyes, the slightly misaligned eyelids, and the thin cheeks when he wrote about Hals’s “shrewd” perception of himself. Tarkington’s descriptors of “battered” and “without self-pity,” however, smack of early authors’ incorrect portrayals of the artist as a drunkard and hedonist. (For a laugh, read Houbraken’s life of the artist, in which the author notes that Hals’s students often helped their inebriated master home from the tavern and, once, played an ambitious prank on him.) These characterizations resulted from centuries of confusion between the painter and his cousin of the same name – thankfully, these accounts have been discredited. On the contrary, the respectable, though oft indebted, painter appears to have received a quarterly stipend from the city of Haarlem during his final years in recognition of his artistic abilities!

Though removed in time and space from the early writers on Hals, Tarkington continued their perceptions of the artist’s stylistic strengths. Employing zippy language and an evocative reference to Scottish poetry, Tarkington provided a captivating variation upon past literature that reinvigorates this portrait for viewers of the 20th century and beyond.

Filed under: Art, Exhibitions, History, Indiana, The Collection

 

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