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Review: Sam Jones After Fred Wilson

A review of the visual exhibit from iMOCA

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Sam Jones in front of "Talk to Me" - SUBMITTED
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  • Sam Jones in front of "Talk to Me"


3 stars


The Fred Wilson sculpture controversy, which erupted in 2010, is now in Indy's rearview mirror. Wilson's "E Pluribus Unum" was a proposed sculpture depicting a freed slave — based on an image found on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument — that was never realized on the Cultural Trail thanks to the controversy that ensued in the wake of its proposal. And the controversy might be nutshelled with one question: Is a depiction of a freed slave the best way to represent the African American community in the 21st century? The title of Sam Jones's exhibition After Fred Wilson evokes this controversy.

One of Jones's three works at iMOCA is entitled "Poplar trees" which refers to a lynching in Marion, Indiana in 1930. (One of those lynched was Jones's great uncle.) What you see here are two large square canvases, each covered with 126 decayed book covers.

"The materials are primarily law books," Jones explained to me. "A couple of pieces, the black rectangles, are actually from encyclopedias. The black ones represent the two figures that are hanging in the trees.... And then the white ones at the bottom are representative of the onlookers to the event..."

This lynching was captured in a photograph by Lawrence Bitler, which was widely circulated, and which inspired the song "Strange Fruit" sung by Billie Holliday.

Jones's subject is compelling. But aside from the patches of black and white meant to represent viewer and victim, there isn't much representationally going on here. It's true that there's much to discuss conceptually — considering what is symbolized by the law books — with so many abusive acts by law enforcement available on YouTube that might be seen as lynching in a contemporary context. But these largely abstract canvases, when viewed without scaffolding of interpretive text or artist's explanation, remain conceptually abstract. And that's problematic, considering the concrete passions that the proposed Fred Wilson sculpture aroused.

running through Nov. 19 at iMOCA, Murphy Building, FREE, indymoca.org

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