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A&E: Building connections at IU Museum

June 25, 2007

This week: An architectural art show at IU, Kurt Vonnegut's board game, "Sissies" on stage, and an Indy Jazz Fest question.

An art museum exhibition doesn't have to be a multi-room blockbuster to be enormously satisfying. Case in point, "Architecture, Real and Imagined" (running through Sept. 2 at Indiana University Art Museum). It's a must-see for architects and architectural students, but also an accessible show for anyone interested in where we live and how we adorn and perceive our environments.

Housed in a single gallery space, it includes three kinds of pieces: real architectural elements (things like a decorative meeting-house post from the Cameroon kingdom of Bali-Nyonga), artists' interpretations of real structures (for instance, a study for Saul Steinberg's oft-copied New Yorker cover, "View of the World from 9th Avenue"), and artists' visions of imaginary structures (including one of Friedensreich Hundertwasser's 80 color-variations of his "Good Morning City, Bleeding Town," right).

While I see how some people can find fascination in a 4th-century B.C. lion's head waterspout from Greece, I was more caught up in the art-as-art. Some favorites: John Marin's compellingly kinetic etching "Brooklyn Bridge #6 (Swaying)" that captures the landmark's swing more than its static nature. (The MTV generation is forgiven if it calls to mind the style of a-ha's "Take On Me" video). Also, Donald Sandstrom's fascinating mesh farm sculpture (below, left), which devotes as much room to the space below ground as it does to the area above, and "Night Shadows," Edward Hopper's noir-ish look down on a lone man on an oppressive city street.

If those are all too literal for you, there's also Marcel Duchamp's "Fresh Widow (Readymade)," in which the artist modified a found window frame by replacing the glass with leather patches. Okay, hmm.

Unlike single-artist or single-period shows where it's easy for non-scholars to skip past whole walls of art, just about every piece in "Architecture, Real and Imagined" offers a unique vision, worth lingering over.

If you find yourself with a newfound appreciation for architecture after finishing the show, take a look around at the building you are in. The Museum is celebrating it with a smaller exhibition, "A Building Lives: IU Art Museum Celebrates 25 Years in I.M. Pei's Building," housed in the entrance corner.

Oh, and before you head for your car, cross the quad to the Lilly Library, which is housing "Mustard Gas and Roses: The Life and Works of Kurt Vonnegut" through Sept. 8. I stepped in expecting to yawn at first editions and the like. Instead, I was fascinated by Vonnegut's letter exchanges with kids, his early drafts and, best of all, the complete plans for General Headquarters, his never produced checkers-meets-Stratego-like board game. Come on entrepreneurial game geeks: There has to be at least a small market for this one.

When it ran in 2005, "Southern Baptist Sissies," became the most popular play in Theatre on the Square's 18-year history. And if TV shows can rerun, why not popular plays?

I missed "Sissies" the first time, but was glad to catch it on round two. While I usually shy from "message" shows, where the agenda rather than the characters seem to be driving the drama, the details here make the difference.

Although the core story-four gay men deal with their love/hate relationships with their Christian roots-rang overly familiar, Juli Inskeep and TOTS head honcho Ron Spencer bring quirky, ultimately heartbreaking humanity to a pair of barflies who seem, at first, like mere comic relief.

The show contains nudity, which I'm not telling you because it bothered me, but because one of the lead actors resembles a young Mitch Daniels. Be warned: You may not look at a Statehouse press conference the same way again.

A nagging thought from an otherwise wonderful night at the Indy Jazz Fest: When an artist-and in this case I'm talking about Al Green-creates a song that is almost universally loved-and in this case I'm talking about "Let's Stay Together"-why does he stop singing it?

Oh, the song was certainly performed during Green's headliner set, but for the most part he turned the vocals over to the crowd. I'm all for group sing along, but come on Rev, join in a little more. We came to hear you.
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