Mass Ave and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Artists and Galleries and Visual Arts and Small Business

Art-gallery operators opening new spaces on Mass Ave

September 5, 2009

Two longtime gallery operators will open new exhibit space on Massachusetts Avenue this fall.

Dean Johnson Design is partnering with curator Christopher West to coordinate exhibits on the ground floor of the firm’s office building at 646 Massachusetts Ave. West also will open his own gallery, Christopher West Presents, in a small adjoining room.

With West’s help, design firm partners Bruce Dean and Scott Johnson hope to refocus their long-standing gallery space on design arts. West’s own gallery will feature contemporary artists.

Across the street, building owner and contemporary art promoter Shawn Miller is reopening 4 Star Gallery after a two-year hiatus.

The two new gallery ventures come on the heels of the closing of one of the city’s most well-established fine contemporary art galleries. Ruschman Gallery, which began on Mass Ave and was in the St. Joseph neighborhood since 1996, closed in July after nearly 25 years.

Ruschman had suffered 18 months of lagging sales and said he couldn’t afford to wait out the recession.

West

With 4 Star and Christopher West Presents, the gallery count on Mass Ave will grow from six to eight.

There’s no shortage of talent in the region to fill new gallery space, Ruschman said.

“It’s having that viable community of people to appreciate it, and people to buy it,” he said. “That’s the key.”

Neither Miller, who brokers vintage cars, nor the design firm expects to turn a profit.

“My only goal is to provide the space and get my expenses covered as a landlord,” Miller said.

Both gallery owners hope to reinvigorate the Mass Ave art scene while adapting to a down economy.

Dean Johnson Design has operated a free exhibit space since 1996, using staff members to coordinate the shows.

West, who last worked as curator at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, will help run the firm’s gallery while also staging his own exhibits.

“Part of what I want to do is continue to educate people about what art can be,” West said.

West’s first show, which opens Oct. 1, will feature an installation by local painting professor Danielle Riede. Her primary medium is dried paint, which she collects from other artists’ used palates.

Miller

Scott Johnson contacted West after the design firm’s most recent gallery coordinator left to pursue her art. Rather than join the firm’s payroll, West will work for commissions.

“We wanted to work a deal where we can co-exist without charging him rent,” Johnson said. He said he hopes West can bring in a higher caliber of art.

Miller operated 4 Star Gallery for 12 years before his recent hiatus.

“I was lucky to pay the bills,” he said.

Miller decided to reopen after his tenant Arts A Poppin, a gift shop, moved to 425 Massachusetts Ave.

The gallery will focus on solo exhibits, which Miller felt were lacking.

“It’s important we have a one-person exhibit space in a storefront environment in downtown Indianapolis,” he said.

It’s true that existing galleries on Mass Ave have come to rely on group shows, said Shannon Linker, director of artist services at the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

Unless an artist has a local following, solo shows are more difficult to market, Linker said.

But solo shows are an important step in an artist’s career, Linker said.

“All artists are going to be very interested in having that solo show, and it’s going to be very competitive to get it,” he said.

Miller will take his usual commission for the first two shows he’s scheduled. In the future, he hopes to come up with some sort of not-for-profit business model.

The first show, which opened Sept. 4, features paintings by Steve Paddack, one of 4 Star’s better-selling artists in the past.

Paddack had just completed two years’ worth of work when Miller contacted him about doing an exhibit.

Coincidentally, Paddack had named his central piece “Redundancy of Errata.” Miller embraced the title, which seemed apt for the occasion of reopening a gallery, “which may or may not be a good idea.”•

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