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Hoosier Painters: Treasures in Plain Sight

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Works from the Indianapolis Public Schools Collection

Indianapolis Art Center

This selection from the more than 900 paintings that adorn the walls of IPS schools is something of a throwback to the kind of art show you might have seen in Indy half a century ago. The selected works are by artists who have connections to the Indianapolis Art Center, now celebrating its 75th year, and some of these artists were also members of the Indiana Artists' Club.

In writing about a show sponsored by the Indiana Artists' Club, in an article dated Oct. 5, 1953, Indianapolis News reporter Walter Whitworth praised the work there by saying that the flowers depicted "look like real flowers, not Freudian reactions to flowers." That you're just as likely to see something approximating the latter, as you tour the downtown Indy galleries on any given First Friday, is an indication of how much tastes have changed.

Regardless of your tastes in art, this particular show is worth seeing on both a historical and an artistic level. The most interesting works in this particular exhibit - which includes portraiture, impressionistic landscapes, and a series of pencil sketches of the Arsenal Technical High School campus - illustrate just how much the Hoosier state has changed, for both good and ill, in the last century.

A woodcut relief by Gustave Baumann, "Peach and Plum Blossoms," depicts a young boy and his sister going about their choirs in a rural front yard with trees blossoming with white flowers all around them. Composed very early in the 20th century, it depicts a rural way of life with great skill and detail - a way of life that is no longer as quiet and isolated as it once was. Baumann was a member of the Brown County Arts Colony, formed in the early 1900s, and their work is well represented in this show.

Other rural landscapes depict rural life in Indiana as it was before the advent of agribusiness. In Floyd Hopper's "Making Sorghum" (oil on canvas) you see a farmer applying horse-drawn power to accomplish her task. It's a process long eclipsed by mechanized farming techniques while Harry Davis' oil painting "Indiana Theater" depicts said building, now occupied by the Indiana Repertory Theater, as it appeared before its renovation. In composing this canvas, Davis precisely captured the dilapidated state of Indy's downtown in the early seventies.

The birth of a vital arts culture downtown, of which the IRT is only a part, has helped transform downtown Indianapolis. It's a scene, all things considered, that's a lot less conservative than it once was. You can only wonder what Walter Whitworth, who used the term "esoteric dabblers" in his Indiana Artists' Club show review to describe anyone with an interest in abstract art, would think of the Indy arts scene today. Through Nov. 12; 317-255-2464, www.IndplsArtCenter.org.

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