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2010 in Review: The year in Indy arts



By no means exhaustive, here's a brief round-up of happenings in the arts this year -- not mentioned are the ongiong development plans for Carmel's shining beacon on a hill, the Palladium, and the impending induction of ISO's new conductor, 28-year-old Krzysztof Urbanski. Plenty to look forward to in 2011.

"Eden II" by Tea Makipaa, at the IMA's Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park.
  • "Eden II" by Tea Makipaa, at the IMA's Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park.
IMA scores

2010 was an eventful year for the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Not only did the IMA continue its reign as the city's go-to arts venue with a rich weekly menu of performances, presentations and film programming at Toby theater, it also managed to pull off a couple of significant openings, one of which added a major new dimension to our cultural landscape.

I am referring, of course, to the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park. Located across the historic Central Canal, 100 Acres had existed for years as an all-but-forgotten swatch of semi-wilderness with a small lake at its center, a bonus left behind by the building of the local highway system.

Rather than impose a commonplace sculpture park on this land, the IMA, under the direction of CEO Maxwell Anderson and its curator of contemporary art, Lisa Freiman, have created something completely different. The result is a park that utilizes what comes naturally to we humans – works of art that are, in many cases, transitory – to enhance and inspire a greater engagement with nature itself.

If 100 Acres represents an extraordinary approach to the public art experience, it is also a unique way to experience a museum, a fact that was noted by media from around the world, who came to Indianapolis to cover the opening.

But the IMA's accomplishments this year weren't limited to the great outdoors. Its themed exhibition dealing with Andy Warhol's fascination with the relationship between art and commerce in American culture, Andy Warhol Enterprises, curated by the museum's Sarah Urist Green, made a significant contribution to our understanding of this influential artist's controversial career.

The standard take on Warhol is that he spent himself in the 1960s, when he showed that everyday commercial icons, like the labels on soup cans or a Brillo box, could be turned into the stuff that art is made of. After that, the story goes, Warhol spent the rest of his days trading on his celebrity and playing the artistic equivalent of practical jokes, albeit for high fees.

The IMA exhibition does a convincing job of challenging these assumptions, deploying an insightfully arrayed selection of Warhol's works in a variety of media, as well as artifacts related to his life, to present his career as a continuous arc, during which he explored and illuminated the complex, dynamic and, at times, perverse symbiosis we have created for ourselves involving materialism, the arts, celebrity and cash.

Worth noting is that the show's sponsor was PNC Bank. Although a newcomer to Indianapolis, PNC Bank has, in a short time, established itself as an actively engaged corporate citizen with a fully functioning understanding that, to be successful, cities have to be more than one-trick ponies – they can't live by sports alone. PNC Bank's financial muscle (and sense of humor) made the Warhol show possible; the depth of talent at the IMA made it a success. — David Hoppe

Kurt Vonnegut finally gets his bed

Kurt Vonnegut once gave an interview in which he commented on the feeling of displacement he often got when visiting his hometown. Although Indianapolis was still on the map, many of the people and places Vonnegut associated with his growing up here were gone. "Where is my bed?" he asked.

Well, that bed, or a reasonable facsimile, is finally here. The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, located in the historic Emelie Building at 340 N. Senate Ave., was unveiled for the public in November and promises to be completed by Jan. 29, 2011.

Julia Whitehead came up with the idea for the library, which is actually a combination museum, gallery, reading room and creative space where a variety of programs, either having to do with Kurt Vonnegut, or inspired by ideas that were important to him, can take place.

And so you can see Kurt's typewriter there, and his Purple Heart. But you'll also find a few samples of his artwork, and be able to get a sense of the role Indianapolis played in his development.

It's about time Indianapolis created a permanent site acknowledging its native son. Vonnegut was one of America's great literary masters, a writer and public figure whose influence has spanned generations and continents. All of his books are still in print and the sale of these titles remains robust – a feat few writers of any age or era can claim.

So it came as no surprise to see that The New York Times and Chicago Tribune have already run prominent feature stories on the library; National Public Radio has also come calling.

This is the kind of cultural news Indianapolis can use.

The best part of this, though, is that the city's role in Kurt Vonnegut's story is truly authentic. You can't fully appreciate his work without learning about this place. As Vonnegut's daughter, Edie said it: there were other important places in Kurt

Vonnegut's life – Cape Cod, New York City, Dresden – but the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library belongs in Indianapolis.

His bed is here at last.— David Hoppe

Artist Robert Berkshire
  • Artist Robert Berkshire
Robert Berkshire: In Memoriam

When the poet Diane Ackerman wrote that "a poem records emotions and moods that lie beyond normal language, that can only be patched together and hinted at metaphorically," she might have been describing the painting of Robert Berkshire (1932-2010). As a reviewer of Berkshire's work on at least a handful of occasions over the years, I was struck, always, by the consistency of his singular vision, while each painting was at once distinct and fully engaged in an abstract expressionist discourse between the artist and his muse.

The last time I had the opportunity to give my full reviewer's attention to Berkshire's work, at Woodburn & Westcott Gallery, in 2004, I found the work to be as generous in spirit and as rich with possibility as it ever was, calling forth inspiration from mythology, the performing arts and contemporary culture. Each Berkshire painting could be construed as a poem, alive with feeling: from a lightning flash of line spanning the diagonal of an entire canvas to the subtlest punctuation of red emerging from beneath an orchestra of blues. Berkshire's work, in its essence and its concreteness, was a pleasure to love — for its brilliance, its zealousness, its confident beauty.

To learn more about Berkshire's legacy as a painter and Professor Emeritus at Herron School of Art and Design, visit — Julianna Thibodeaux

'Made for Each Other' event at Saraga International Market
  • 'Made for Each Other' event at Saraga International Market
Big Car brings art to neighborhoods

Big Car Gallery has made a well-deserved name for itself over the past few years by putting on shows and happenings mixing various media to attract diverse audiences. But in 2010, the Big Car collective burst its seams and extended its reach to eight other city neighborhoods with a project called Made For Each Other.

Funded by a $50,000 IMAGINE Big grant from the Great Indy Neighborhoods Initiative (GINI), Made For Each Other instigated performances, shows, arts actions and other events at a variety of locations not always associated with the arts, including the Mary Rigg Center in West Indy; a number of locations around Haughville; The Project School in Martindale-Brightwood; the Moon Block Building on the near Eastside; the Skiles Test Nature Park in the Binford area; and Saraga International Market at Lafayette Square. Still to come, a project in Crooked Creek.

In every case, the point was to show how art and artists could connect with people who tend to say that art is for somebody else, engaging these folks in the actual creation of works dealing with where they live.

Whether by luck or design, it happened that while the Made For Each Other Project was underway, a national group called CEOs for Cities held a workshop dealing with urban livability issues in Indianapolis. In a mission statement, this group identified beauty as the key to creating livable places in cities and it encouraged planners and activists to think in terms of making a difference in often neglected or overlooked neighborhoods.

For once Indianapolis appears to be ahead of an arts-related curve. Big Car's Made For Each Other project brilliantly anticipated the CEOs for Cities call to action. Its emphasis on making a variety of neighborhoods partners and participants in creating works of art shows the way to what could be the Next Big Thing in the arts here: A socially engaged approach that takes the emphasis off of support for artists in favor of putting artists to work in the revitalization of neighborhoods throughout the city. — David Hoppe


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