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A&E: At Herron, those who teach, can

July 9, 2007

One of the things that keeps people from fully engaging with art exhibitions is the sense that the work has to be considered in a vacuum-that it's not OK to bring your own life to it.

I'm not talking about your history with art or anything as highfalutin as that. I'm talking about mundane or not-so-mundane details of your dayto-day existence.

To site a very trivial example: On my way out of the office to see the Herron Faculty Exhibition at IUPUI's Herron Gallery, I was offered an umbrella by Jane, the office manager extraordinaire here at IBJ. I politely turned it down, making all kinds of posturing statements about not minding a little rain.

When I stepped outside, though, I discovered this wasn't just a summer shower. Buckets appeared to be involved. And, after a moment to calculate the distance to the parking lot and the amount of H2O involved, I humbly retraced my steps, went back upstairs, and accepted the umbrella.

I'm sharing this not-much-of-a-story with you because the first piece you see at the Herron Faculty Exhibition is a chandelier-like collection of black umbrellas, the opening and closing of which are triggered by a mechanical creation that seems dreamed up by The Penguin's henchmen. How much of my reaction to artist Greg Hull's chandelier-like art has to do with my confrontation with the elements just 15 minutes earlier? Is there any way I could consider the piece without thinking about that? And, even if I could, isn't part of the point that we all bring to the piece our own umbrella stories?

Okay, so maybe talking about umbrella stories sounds ridiculous. Instead, I could say that, from most angles, Hull's piece has a budding/contracting rhythm that evokes the passage of time, the inevitability of change, and the adversity/recovery cycle. It's oddly hopeful, even considering the well-known superstition about not opening an umbrella-let alone a black umbrella-indoors.

Hull's work is a highlight of this show, for which all Herron School of Art faculty members were invited to submit work. Some other specifics:

Surely you've driven past Eric Nordgulen's threetowered glass sculpture that marks the southwest entrance to Mass Ave. Here, he offers "Plenty," a collection of Fresnel lenses, Plexiglas and aluminum that looks like a Dr. Evil device for taking over the world. Parked on a long table, it begs for more interesting lighting or something to play off the lenses.

The playfulness of the names warms up the already warm creamsicle-colored square screen prints by Lenore Thomas. How can you not like something called "Let's start at ridiculous and move backwards."

Lamar Richcreek presents a pair from "Untitled: Cold War Series" in which military images are imposed on innocuous family photos. And Stephanie Duty's "Self Portrait" gives us plaster hands balancing word-covered balls. Neither artist seems to be stretching much beyond student work.

The most compelling piece for me was Mark Jacobson's "DQ on New York," a streetscape of sorts in which a nondescript residential landscape is fronted by a blurred building. Is Jacobson confronting us with our inability to focus? Does this have to do with the fading power of the small town? I'm not sure the intent, but I know that it brings the artist's skill to the table while leaving plenty of room for me to interpret. It's the kind of work that makes me want to spend more time in galleries-and to encourage you to do the same.

And don't be shy about bringing some baggage along.

There are plenty of laughs-plus a nicely beating heart-in the Phoenix Theatre's Midwest premiere of the Broadway play "The Little Dog Laughed." The fastpaced, four-character comedy tale concerns a not-quite-in-touch-with-his-sexuality actor falling for a male prostitute (who has a girlfriend) at the same time he's up for a starring part in a movie where he would play a homosexual. The problem? In Hollywood, his sharptongued agent makes clear, you have to be straight to play gay. Unless you're from across the pond. "Are you knighted?" she asks, "If not, shut up."

For "Dog" to laugh its loudest and most effectively, though, the production needs an innate understanding of both New York and Hollywood life. The absence of both takes the sharp edge off an otherwise entertaining evening. And the credibility-crunching device of Hollywood giving a heterosex change to a hit play's gay couple feels more 1977 than 2007. Still, a well-tuned performance by Chris Roe as the rent boy, an effectively simple set, and those blistering one-liners help considerably.

The Boston Comerata's music director, Joel Cohen (think a happier Lewis Black), clearly believes that for 13th century music to rise above merely academic interest, it needs to stay lively. And so his group's period-instrument performance of the original "Carmina Burana" June 3 at the Indiana History Center gilded a piece from the "Officium Lusorum" (Gambler's Mass) with Luck-be-a-Ladytonight style dice-rolling action and offered a decidedly PG-13 libretto that came in handy in appreciating some of the often-off-color lyrics, such as " ... the gourmet throws up his wine to make room for his breakfast ... ."

The audience friendliness-plus expert musicianship-worked, allowing his world-class group to remind us that, when it comes to music, the profane can be as beautiful as the sacred.
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