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First Friday Began at the 91st Annual Hoosier Salon Exhibition and Ended at iMOCA..

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Cafe Scene by Robert Merkel
  • Cafe Scene by Roger Merkel


Well, what can I say? I was expecting to see at least one painting of a covered bridge here at the 91st Annual Hoosier Salon Exhibition on the fourth floor of the Indiana History Center but I saw none. Since it's 2015, I thought maybe that I might just possibly see a 3D-printer-extruded sculpture of a covered bridge.

Anyway, I started my First Friday at the Indiana History Center, not your typical First Friday venue, at 3pm in the afternoon and, because I had started so early, I had some time to savor this juried exhibition of Hoosier Salon artists.

There were, not surprisingly, plenty of landscapes. Take, for example, Anthony King's oil painting "Corner Pasture," depicting a typical Indiana landscape of forested low hills in a hyper-realistic style, suggesting the first hint of fall with the changing color of the trees in the foreground yet the oppressive heat of summer seeming to weigh down the low hills in the background with a blanket of haze. There were also Chicago cityscapes, abstract sculpture, and abstract painting. There was, to sum it up, a wide array of work stretching stylistically well outside the impressionistic and plein air landscape genres with which Hoosier Salon is typically associated, moving into realms of abstraction and even surrealism.

A painting by Roger Merkel, with its 1930s era depiction of three women seated at a table in a restaurant - and the waiter standing at the entrance - recalled in my mind "That Ayres Look" exhibition that was going on downstairs in the Indiana History Center. I just so happened to take a walk through this exhibition before heading up to the fourth floor to see the Hoosier Salon show.

L.S. Ayres was a Midwest department store chain that was incorporated in the late 19th century with a long history in Indianapolis - my mom sometimes dragged me along on these seemingly endless shopping expeditions to the Ayres at Castleton - but none of its locations have survived. I found the exhibition a little creepy, with its tweed-dressed actor playing Mr. Ayres coming up to me, as if rising from the crypt of the last century, and shaking my hand as I pondered the meaning of the exhibition.

But the depicted women in Merkel's painting might very well have been the kind of women to whom Ayres was marketing; they were certainly well-dressed with their fox shawls and colorful hats. It's 1933 give or take a decade in this scene and maybe they're talking about the latest fashion. This painting bespeaks a Rockwellesque realism, for the most part. What is particularly striking about it, however, is that the three women seated at the table share the same manic, smiling expression. What was on the artist's mind to depict these women as if they were channeling not just "That Ayres Look" but The Stepford Wives?

This painting leads me to ask some questions. What is it about certain paintings that make them stand the test of time? Does happenstance sometimes play a role? Can an accident on the part of the artist, or misinterpretation on the part of the viewer - or the strongly held opinions of an art critic - make a certain work become part of the historical canon? And is there danger in reading irony into a particular artwork when there, perhaps, is none?

The real standout for me was a mixed media painting by William Carpenter entitled "The Transfiguration of Shards" which depicts a low-rise urban landscape crowded with single family homes pained primarily in grayscale. The farther up your eye travels in the painting, looking for some kind of horizon, the more abstract the painting becomes. The hope of a horizon is nixed as your eye travels up between the narrow rectangular confines of the painting - about eight times taller than it is wide - seeing home upon home were piled on top of one another in a great big heap as if you were looking at a hillside in Brazil. But it's clearly not Brazil, as the house at the bottom of the canvas looks just like a typical American home with a two-car garage and a mailbox at roadside. The outlines of the houses lose their distinctness as your eye travels upward and there are some bizarre double-image-like effects here and there and you wonder perhaps if this is a dreamscape, an ode to a particular home hanging around in the recesses of the artist's memory, a home lost in a mortgage gone bad or lost to unforeseen circumstances. It's a real shame that this standout painting, in this juried exhibition, didn't receive any kind of award.

Transfiguraton of Shards by William Carpenter
  • Transfiguraton of Shards by William Carpenter


The Indiana History Center, where this exhibition is taking place, is about to close. Gotta go..... onward into
Firstfridayland....

I made a quick stop at the Raymond James Stutz Art Gallery "Gimme Sugar" show featuring the paintings of Laura LaForge and the photography of Faith Blackwell. Both the artwork and the sugary treats outside for sale by various vendors were very sweet...... The photography, transfers onto canvas and such, are what you might expect on the walls of your typical wedding photography studio. And the mixed media artwork, such as "Eye Candy" - a mosaic depicting a pair of eyes made of actual pieces of candy - might serve just as well as a decorative work in a candy store. And it was by far my favorite work in the show because of its clever use of media and its engaging visual pun. But frankly this show as a whole didn't really rate for me on a night when a host of other IDADA galleries were displaying work that demanded to be seen - Jerome Neal at Gallery 924 for example - and that I was in a hurry to get to. I'll leave it there for now.

Eye Candy by Laura LaForge
  • Eye Candy by Laura LaForge


I wanted a cup of black coffee after all that sweetness, and I found it - at the refreshment table - just south of that venue at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (KVML) where J.T. Whitehead was giving a reading from his book The Table of the Elements published by Broadkill River Books and nominated for the National Book Award. (J.T.'s wife Julia just so happens to be the Executive Director of KVML) J.T.'s also an attorney, and in his poetry I've always found a flair for language, street smarts, a deep knowledge of history and literature (particularly Beat literature), so I didn't want to miss his reading but, as he's reading his poems in the other room, I'm typing these words into my Internet connected laptop, sharing a table with Kurt Vonnegut's favorite electric typewriter... I should say that I've known J.T. for 20 odd years and we've had poems published together in the local lit mag pLopLop. Here's a (shorter) poem of his:

Oxygen


O

O

O

O

Why life itself

is almost her moan -

More

More

O

J.T. Whitehead signing his book at KVML
  • J.T. Whitehead signing his book at KVML


After the reading, I hightailed it northeast about a mile (as the crow flies) and paid a visit to Jerome Neal's show at Gallery 924, Circle City 360° and it was great to see Neal have this solo show and learn that two of his paintings had already sold. I had a great time working on the NUVO cover story I wrote on him, "Painting the Town in a Whole New Way," and it was a delight to see paintings such as "The Yellow Bikes" given space to breathe on the walls of the Gallery 924 space. Usually, when I've had the occasion to see Neal's work, they're crammed together edge-to-edge on the walls (as in the annual April Show or in Neal's own apartment).

The Yellow Bikes by Jerome Neal
  • The Yellow Bikes by Jerome Neal

I barely had time to exchange a few words with Neal and take a walk through the gallery before heading off to the next venue, the Harrison Center for the Arts - to catch the show of selected works by the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition - before my time-horizon collapsed in on me. If I am accused of blowing through these First Friday shows like an American tourist, I have to say in my defense that I am, after all, an American....

And as Americans we are distinguished not only as tourists but - thanks to the George W. Bush administration - agents of destruction in the Middle East. W. wanted to be a war president and therefore his administration declared war against Saddam Hussein.... because he could, not because there was any justifiable reason for doing so. As a result, the balance of power between nations was disrupted in the Middle East, a massive power vacuum was created and the Sunnis and the Shiites in Iraq went to war with each other.

In 2007, a car bomb exploded on Al-Mutanabbi Street in a mixed Sunni-Shiite area in Baghdad, killing 30 and injuring more than a hundred. This street just so happened to be the historic center of Baghdadi bookselling and a popular shopping district, where you could sip coffee and read the book you just bought from the local bookselling stand. This tragedy is commemorated by an exhibition of work selected from the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition, sponsored by the Harrison Center for the Arts and the IUPUI University Library. The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition was founded, according to the promotional text for the show, by San Francisco-based bookseller, Beau Beausoleil.

According to the text, "Beausoleil rallied a community of international artists and writers to produce a collection of letterpress-printed broadsides (posterlike works on paper), artists books (unique works of art in book form) and an anthology of witing, all focused on expressing solidarity with Iraqi booksellers, writers, and readers."

Maybe if George W. Bush had been a reader - if he had say read Karl Marx and Edward Said and Gibbon and Norman Mailer - history might have been different. But wait, I just learned that Bush is a reader. One of the titles on his reading list, back in 2005 while the Iraq war was at its worst was Tom Wolfe's teasingly soft-core evocation of undergraduate life I am Charlotte Simmons. So this was how Bush was getting off, as it were, when Iraqis were dying daily by the hundreds and American servicemen were coming home with irreversible brain trauma and in body bags.

One of the works on display is entitled " Looking Backward, Winward, and Celebration" by Stephanie Mahan Stigliano which uses collaged, painted, and sewn vintage postcards sewn together in book form, but seemingly exploded outwards as if this book was there in the moment of explosion.

Looking Backward, Winward, and Celebration by Stephanie Mahan Stigliano
  • Looking Backward, Winward, and Celebration by Stephanie Mahan Stigliano


Next venue was the Circle City Industrial Complex (CCIC) where airplane engines were tested during WWII and currently there are some brave artists who have studios. I checked out the recent iPhone/iPad photography of Ron Kern, in an exhibition entitled "A Little Exhibition of Small Photographs" at the Satch Lost and Found Gallery (Satch being Julie Kern, Ron's wife). I've been a longtime fan of Kern's photography. He has the knack of exposing bare the meat and bones of a particular subject - his subjects are most often structures - in the surrounding soup of its environment.

Noblesville, IN by Ron Kern
  • Noblesville, IN by Ron Kern


Also at CCIC, in the Nancy Lee Gallery, was an exhibition of Katrina Murray's largely abstract paintings inspired by particle physics, and particularly by the pancaking of protons that takes place in the Large Hadron Collider.

Society of Beings by Katrina Murray
  • Society of Beings by Katrina Murray

One was inspired by, and named after a painting that Murray saw in Quebec, entitled "Figure, Turned Towards the Cosmos" by Jean Paul Lemieux.His painting “Figure, Turned towards the Cosmos,” is a stylized depiction of a young child staring up at the stars. But Murray’s painting of the same name—on display with 5 others in the same series in the Nancy Lee Design Studios—depicts instead bluish and purplish abstractions against a pink field. (Then again, in “Where the Wild Things Are,” it just may be possible to make out a wild thing or two.) Certainly, there is beauty in the gestural playfulness of these painting, the odd color combinations. But then, reading the text supplied by the artist, you realize that this depicted scene most likely is taking place on the subatomic level.

My final destination on Friday night was iMOCA vs. Hoosier Salon at iMOCA at the Murphy in Fountain Square. There were around 80 works on display; titles and artists were listed, but not the affiliations. So when you picked up a ballot to vote for your favorite works, you would not know if a particular painting was associated with Hoosier Salon or iMOCA (both memberships were invited to submit work to this one-weekend-only exhibition). Judging by the crowd at this opening, and the swarms of people going around with ballots, picking off their top five contenders, I'd say that this was hands down the most popular IDADA event of the evening. The only question: which organization would garner the most votes: Hoosier Salon or iMOCA? What's more important is the idea behind the exhibition verbalized so well by Carmel Hoosier Salon Gallery Director Richard Anderson: “I’m so tired of compartmentalized sections in Indianapolis and in Carmel and in Greenwood and in Speedway. Because we all fall under one word….art. So let’s act it. The people who are associated with this group or that group, we want you to show that you do art.”

One of my favorites was a painting by Taylor Smith entitled "Faster Pussycat, Love! Love!"


Faster, Pussycat, Love! Love! by Taylor Smith
  • Faster, Pussycat, Love! Love! by Taylor Smith

Why do I like this painting so much? Maybe it's the nubile, naked woman in the foreground, or maybe its the four quadrant-motif evoking Robert Indiana's famous LOVE sculpture and design, or maybe its how it all comes together suggesting that Indiana's more than cornfields and covered bridges. Maybe the message is: You can have a full life in Indiana and get some too! Get some art, that is.

Talking to Richard Anderson, I learned that I had been mistaken during my first blog posting of the night, when I wrote that there were no covered bridges in the 91st Annual Hoosier Salon Exhibition, and I told him that I hadn't found a single painting of a covered bridge.

"There is one, actually," he told me. "But it's hidden away."

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