As Julian Opie's pop art sculptures get carted away this week, officials are in talks with New York City artist Chakaia
Booker about featuring her work in next year's public art blowout.
Booker's shtick–sculptures created entirely from used tires.
Indianapolis public arts guru Mindy Taylor Ross was hesitant to go into specifics, merely confirming that the Arts Council
of Indianapolis and Booker were in talks and the artist was in town recently for a site visit.
"We are in conversation with Chakaia Booker, but we don't have a signed contract yet," Ross said.
However, others in the local arts community said the possibility of lining up Booker for the 2008 public art display has
been bandied about for months. Many have even seen sketches of work Booker would like to create for an Indianapolis project.
Attempts to contact the 50-something black artist were unsuccessful, but experts said landing her work would be a great step
in the city's burgeoning public arts program.
The public art displays started in 2005 with a $288,000 exhibition of 25 brass sculptures by Tom Otterness. The large works
of bulbous figures and animals had a lighthearted feel but addressed heavier themes, such as greed.
In 2006, the city brought in a $250,000 exhibition by Julian Opie. His works included enormous vinyl creations of brightly
garbed, simplified figures playing guitar and LED displays featuring stick-figure-like people walking and dancing.
"[Booker] offers a different definition of sculpture than Otterness and Opie did," said Lisa Freiman, curator of
contemporary art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Booker became known in the mid-1990s for making sculptures from used tires–everything from wall-mounted pieces and works
displayed on pedestals to large, outdoor installations. When the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York included her work
in its Whitney Biennial 2000 exhibit, it launched Booker onto the international scene, Freiman said.
Booker works with tires but reshapes them by cutting and twisting them into curving, sometimes jagged forms. Critics have
interpreted the blackness of the tires as tying into her ethnic identity. And by reusing tires, her art ignites discussions
about ecology and wastefulness.
"Her work takes material that is continually produced and thrown into garbage dumps and recycles it into fine art,"
Freiman said. "It's amazing how beautiful and transformational she can make a completely mundane material.
"It shows the endlessness of creativity when you have a vision."
In 2006, Booker had three solo exhibits, including one at The Putney School, a private high school in Vermont. There, Booker
gave a lecture to students while dressed in a sculptural headdress she had created, said spokesman Don Cuerdon.
At the small, liberal arts boarding school that boasts an amazing arts program complete with an $8 million arts building
and an Alexander Calder sculpture in the auditorium, the students can be somewhat jaded.
"We've had some presentations here that weren't engaging. The student population is polite, but it's hard
to stifle the yawns," Cuerdon said. "But [with Booker] the students were engaged."
Also in 2006, Indianapolis native Wyona Lynch-McWhite lined up Booker for an exhibition at Hollins University, a private
women's college in Virginia. It included one large outside work and five pieces in the main gallery, one of which was
created specifically for the exhibit.
"She likes to make pieces for the venue," Lynch-McWhite said. "She doesn't want [an exhibit] to feel prepackaged."
She said students were "captivated" by Booker's work and donors tried unsuccessfully to raise $50,000 to buy
one of the sculptures to keep on campus.
"It's sculpture of power," she said.
Others said Booker would make a nice next step for Indianapolis' public art program. Otterness' roly-poly figures
were a good starting point–likable and easily accessible. Opie's pop art was a bit more challenging, since it didn't
immediately appeal to everyone. But both Ross and Guimont said they've heard from many that the works grew on them.
Now with Booker, the city could take the effort to another level.
"When we kicked this thing off with the Otternesses, we said we wanted to grow as a community in how we view public
art and how open we are to seeing new types of art," said Jenny Guimont, director of the Indianapolis Cultural Development
The city appears to have embraced the choices so far. Private donors raised $550,000 to buy three Otterness sculptures and
move them back to the city. Originally perched at the Capitol Avenue entrance of the RCA Dome, the trio have been in storage
until a home can be found for them.
They couldn't go back to their 2005 post because heavy equipment soon will be moving in to tear down the dome and make
way for an expanded Indiana Convention Center. Now they're slated to be installed at the corner of West and Maryland streets,
in a plaza on the west end of the convention center; an unveiling celebration is set for Sept. 25.
And the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission is crunching the numbers to see if there's enough grant funding
left in this year's public art budget to buy one or more Julian Opie works–most likely one of the LED displays in the
city center of figures walking or dancing.
"We have heard from a lot of people in the community that they feel like the Opie exhibition had an impact," Ross
And if the city signs on the dotted line with Booker, her works would, too.
"It would be unlike anything our city's seen before," Guimont said. "[Her work] is compelling and meaningful
… and it would be a huge opportunity for Indianapolis.