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First Friday reviews, December 2013

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Earthquake by Jon Smith and Justin Vining
  • "Earthquake" by Jon Smith and Justin Vining

When Two Worlds Collide: Justin Vining and Jon Smith
New Day Meadery through Dec. 27
★★★★ (out of five)
Jon Smith and Justin Vining aren't the kinds of artists you'd expect to hit it off. Smith shoots pellet guns at light bulbs filled with paint or feathers and photographs their demise at high speed. Vining paints whimsical cityscapes and forsaken rural landscapes that allude to the accelerating loss of the family farm in America. What happens when Vining paints his landscapes on Smith's light bulbs? KABOOM, that's what! But you also see a vision of the world - coming apart at the seams - portrayed in an arresting way.

Toyin Odutola and The Highwaymen
iMOCA (Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art) through January 25
★★★★1/2
In Toyin Odutola's large-scale self-portrait, "The Paradox of Education," the artist stares directly at you, sizing you up. Are you comfortable among those with a different skin color than you? Are you comfortable in your own skin? This conceptually open-ended work manages - paradoxically - to provoke such specific questions, at least for this viewer. Aside from that, there's much to appreciate in these portraits (self-portraits and otherwise) on a purely aesthetic level. That is to say, the 29-year-old Nigerian-born Odutola can do a helluva lot with the art supplies she usually acquires from Walmart. She leaves the impression that she's bundling together luminous lines of black ink, charcoal and/or pastel, and then masterfully weaving those bundled cords together to create her mixed media on paper portraiture.
Odutola's work occupies iMOCA's second room through January; up front in the space are the Highwaymen, a group of 26 self-taught African-American artists who sold their art door-to-door (or out of car trunks) from the '50s to '80s. My favorite of these is an untitled oil on Upson board painting by Ellis Buckner. It's an astoundingly beautiful swampscape, lit by a crepuscular sun. The Highwaymen overcame many economic and racial barriers to create such art. Thanks to iMOCA, selected works can now be appreciated up close in Central Indiana.

TINY II
Gallery 924 through Jan. 3
★★★1/2
There are hundreds of works by 80-odd artists - each 216 square inches or smaller - in this show, but Brendan Day's work leaps off the walls for me in a really big way. One piece, "Rhuthmos" (watercolor and graphite), portrays five men in white robes. Maybe they just emerged from a sauna - or an inquisition. And then there's "In-Between," a watercolor of a worn-out landscape with a high tension power line cutting across the horizon. This is the type of neither-here-nor-there landscape that many of us find ourselves living in. Be careful, as you walk in this gallery, that Anila Agha's black, thorny installation "Unbearable Beauty" (acrylic on Hawthorne branches) doesn't install itself into your arm. Apparently, this is just the beginning of some much larger work coming down the line. Watch out.

Words of Art: Borshoff and Herron Annual Gallery Show
Harrison Center for the Arts through Dec. 27
★★★★
Eric D. Johnson's monoprint "Wash on, Wash off" was created - just like all the work by Herron School of Art and Design artists on display - in response to a tweet. The text of this particular tweet: "So I've apparently become a soap hoarder." Johnson's work suggests the rhythmic, figure eight strokes that you might use in applying soap to your body. The particular soaps you use, depending on the brand, might foam up in a variety of colors. But it's apt to be the suds' final hurrah as they roll down your nether regions towards the drain.

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