Saturday, June 25, 2016

Disappointed in Indianapolis

The SAQA-sponsored exhibit of quilts inspired by Marie Webster opened on Thursday, and I am sorry to report that I'm disappointed.  Not so much in the quilts, which were all attractive and nicely made, but in the presentation.

First, the premise: the Indianapolis Museum of Art owns a large collection of quilts by Marie Webster, an artist and entrepreneur who worked in the 1910s and 20s to design many applique quilts that were sold as patterns, kits or even completed tops.  They're very much of their time, or perhaps a bit ahead of their time, with clean, modern symmetrical designs on white backgrounds, mostly of stylized and elegant flowers.  SAQA artists were asked to make quilts inspired by a specific Marie design, but updated in some way(s) as a contemporary response.

Joanne Alberda, Morning Glories: A Joy Forever

Not surprisingly, most of the quilts were also flowers.  Several artists printed computer-manipulated designs onto whole-cloth quilts.  Many used raw-edge applique and thread painting; there was Tyvek and felt, beads and metallic thread.  Hardly any piecing, not much hand-stitching.  All on the small side, as called for in the rules.  Nothing in the least bit edgy, ironic or tongue-in-cheek.

Sharon Buck, Roses / American Beauty

But as you contemplate these photos, notice the terrible lighting that cast a heavy shadow over the top several inches of most of the quilts.  The small gallery used for this show has a soffit around the edge of the room, with the can lights suspended from the higher ceiling, so close to the soffit that it interrupts the beams.  I wonder how this gallery is used on other days; only the tiniest picture would hang low enough to be fully lit.

Arlene Blackburn, A Day at the Botanic Garden: Iris Study

As all of the artists were required to specify which Marie quilt was used as inspiration, the viewer might want to see the a thumbnail of the original along with the artist statement and info.  In fact, this idea was a frequent topic of conversation among the viewers I mingled with.  But when I suggested it to one of the exhibit organizers, she said that wasn't necessary because all the Marie quilts were on display upstairs and after you saw them, you would know how they influenced the quilts downstairs.

Well, to me that isn't a very good explanation.  How well can you remember each of the 25 works you saw in a different room of a museum to compare to the ones you're looking at now?  It's probably easy to remember that the five new sunflowers were inspired by the sunflower quilt upstairs, but how about a quilt showing anemones or wind turbines, also inspired by Marie's sunflower?  When you read that in the artist statements, wouldn't you like to consult a picture of the original and try to figure out what elements were carried over to the new interpretation?

And another reason: while the SAQA exhibit is free, the Marie originals upstairs require an $18 admission fee.  Some viewers might not want to pop for the admission fee, especially if they don't have a whole day to enjoy the IMA's admittedly great art.  And I thought it would have been gracious for the museum to allow the SAQA exhibitors to see the Marie exhibit for nothing, since it was the opening day and all.  Heck, they could have given us a special sticker that would allow the guards to identify and shoot us if we sneaked into the room with the Turners.

Sonia Brown Martin, Signature Daisy

I'll show you a few of the other quilts in another post.  The show continues at IMA through September 4.  (Don't be confused if you go to the museum web page to plan your visit; the show isn't listed under current or upcoming exhibits but yes, it's there, hidden away under the title "Bret Waller Gallery," without any photos.  I don't think we stand very high in the museum's estimation.)


  1. The poor lighting rivals the dismal lighting in the Dairy Barn for the Momentum show. It seems the IMA is more about getting paying visitors and less about art.

  2. It does seem as though the museum fell down on a couple of fronts ... I am amazed that a museum curator didn't ensure the SAQA quilts were well lit and that the labels did not reference/show the corresponding inspiration quilt. I wonder if the curator just has a bias against quilts that aren't made in the traditional way (or maybe isn't a quilt person at all?) And year, they should have AT LEAST shown the participating SAQA members some courtesy with a free admission to the "main show."

    1. I'm told that the museum staff, not the SAQA people, were responsible for hanging the show.

  3. I had a different thought, that the museum missed a marketing opportunity by not posting thumbnail pics of the inspiration quilts. Perhaps they feared people would not pay to see the original quilts if a small pic was displayed in the free area. On the contrary, I think many would have their interest piqued and decide to it would be worth the price of admission to see the real thing. A very odd situation all round.

  4. What a disappointment. Further evidence that installation decisions can make or break even the finest collection of work.

  5. I was in a similar show at a nearby museum. The antique quilts were hung or folded near the new quilts and all had labels showing the antique quilt.
    It looks like it was a great show anyway, even with the poor lighting. I loved your interpretation.