From Rube Goldberg machines to life-sized military tanks, no machinery is out of the museum’s scope for Sarah Green, curator of the contemporary arts at the Indianapolis Museum of Arts. “We’re an encyclopedic museum, but we realize that with contemporary art, we engage people right away,” said Green in her lecture Tuesday, October 30, at the Snite Museum of Art’s Annenberg Auditorium as part of a lecture series on contemporary art.
Green spoke about the museum’s ambiguous identity in the central location of Indiana, being neither East or West, nor Chicago, which she implied as a more art-minded cultural center. “Indiana, as you know, is sports-centered,” said Green. As she talked about commissions for the entrance to the museum, temporary exhibitions and the development of the sculpture park, it was clear that Green focuses on utilizing the museum’s local character and architectural space to their maximum potential.
For instance, in the entrance to the IMA, Green sought an artist who would “use the enormity of the space.” Brooklyn artist William Lamson considered Indiana’s Midwestern landscape of empty fields strewn with towers. Green collaborated with Lamson to install a floor-to-ceiling radio tower in the IMA’s entrance pavilion. But interpreting local technological architecture did not stop at the structure’s form. Lamson developed a computer program to interpret the radio’s weather forecast in musical vibrations so that viewers could “feel and hear an interpretation of the weather… It is not just a sculpture but also a performance piece,” said Green.
Although the massive structure was impossible to acquire, Green collected a video, which is often the solution to collecting of multimedia or performative contemporary art. “We like to acquire pieces from the exhibitions that we commission so that they become part of our permanent collection,” said Green.
Another entrance installation piece, Body in Flight, by international artists Allora & Calzadilla, featured trained US Olympic athletes performing alongside sculptures of US commercial transportation. The audience gathered around the gymnast, who performed a slow choreographed dance atop a pair of wooden American airlines business class airplane seats. Her slow gestures cued the audience to give attention to sculptural details, her flexible poses to the curvilinear qualities of design.
Green noted that, in order to conserve such a work, she sought to train local teenaged gymnasts for future performances. Because USA Gymnastics is located in Indianapolis, the choice of this athletic performance was obvious; the team invests locality in the international piece. Green also worked with conservators to fashion and preserve identical costumes of varying sizes for the budding performers.
In an outdoor installation by the same artist, a member from the US Olympic Track and Field team, also located in Indiana, ran on a treadmill atop an overturned military tank. The national and local symbolic intersections involve absurd interaction with objects decontextualized and recontextualized within the IMA.
Jeppe Hein’s Distance was another successful installation that reinvented the viewer’s interaction with the museum gallery. A structure containing white balls sat in the entrance of the galleries. When a patron passed a motion sensor, a single ball was released, and the visitor could follow the ball throughout its winding and spiraling path throughout the galleries.
“When you think about how a visitor walks through a space, it’s very prescribed. This broke through the walls… People were running through the galleries,” said Green.
Hein also worked with Green to install an interactive piece in the development of the sculpture park, a project specifically in Green’s charge.
“It was one of the main attractions to come to the IMA.” Called 100 Acres, the park is home to temporary sculpture.
As part of the project, Green recounted her adventures in landscaping, which included rerouting plumbing and power lines and steering backhoe. “Sometimes you realize that projects don’t work, and you have to scrap them,” said Green, recounting those experiences in trying to actualize Hein’s idea for a moving bush.
Instead, Green and Hein installed Bench Around the Lake, bright yellow, curving benches that seem to emerge from the ground at 15 locations across the park. Visitors have to wander and discover them in an interactive way. The organically planted benches reflect Green’s vision for the park to be “a wild and wooly place” and “a counterpoint to the tame gardens.”
Like the location of Notre Dame’s future Sculpture Park near Eddy Street, the IMA’s park was originally a neglected space. Green was happy with the transformation, noting that children and families interact with the sculpture on many levels.
Some sculpture is distant and multi-medial, like Eden II by artist Tea Mäkipää. While the sculpture is a boat in the lake, visitors may view videos in a guard box on land, which shows Mäkipää’s vision of passengers onboard the boat. “People love it or hate it,” said Green, “but it really is an interesting interactive work.”
Works like the Swedish architects Visiondvision’s [sic] concession stand and Atelier van Lieshout’s benches offer rest and relaxation for children and families. Chop Stick is a 100-foot tulip tree, the state tree of Indiana, turned on its side, cured, and refashioned as a fully functional concession stand, swing set, tables and seats. Funky Bones recalls Native American ancestors in the form of a gigantic skeleton, whose bones are benches. “Kids love to jump from bone to bone. They love it,” said Green, laughing at the irony of celebrating life atop the skeletal structure. “It’s a wonderful juxtaposition.”
Curator Green is a master of juxtaposition–working with international artists to interpret local phenomena in a phenomenally interactive way.
Madeline Roe is a senior double majoring in art history and English. She knows a great Basque restaurant in Paris if anyone’s willing to take her there. Contact Madeline at email@example.com.