Visit Museum of Art for ‘China’s Ming Dynasty Exhibit,’ and the Phoenix Theatre for political one acts

It feels as if every time I set foot in the Indianapolis Museum of Art  –  something I’ve been doing with increased
pleasure
since
Max Anderson took over — there’s more to see. And it’s not just the special exhibitions that keep things lively.

For instance, on my most recent stop — to see "The Power and Glory: Court Arts of China’s Ming Dynasty" —
I also had
my first
encounter with the recently installed "Light and Space III" by Robert Irwin. This piece, with its neon tube grid
and translucent
scrims, gives a sense of both completeness and openness to the space it’s been commissioned to fill. The only negative: its
positioning. Most visitors will enter the space from its side, experiencing it peripherally. Ideally, it should first be seen
head-on.

This visit also took me to the Forefront Gallery, now housing Dawoud Bey’s "Class Pictures." What I’d seen online
and in press
materials of the show’s photos of teens didn’t look like anything special. On the walls, though, the experience of the large
photographs and the accompanying first-person personal statements by its high school student subjects proved confrontational,
moving and difficult to digest in one visit. I opted to read just a few before a whirlwind of sadness, anger,
joy, melancholy, hope and dread made for diminished returns. I hope to get back to absorb more before the show ends Nov. 23.

Also on the contemporary art floor, the twisted rigging of Tim Hawkinson’s "Mobious Ship," has taken a
prime spot outside
the amazing "Untitled (Floor)" by Do-Ho Suh. The recently unveiled newcomer gives one more reason why this part
of the IMA
is a mandatory stop whenever I’m hosting out-of-town visitors. It’s also a mandatory stop for anyone whose dorm room wall
carried an Escher print.

And then there’s the IMA’s quietly opened new Design Center (yes, artsy bride-and-groom-to-be with generous friends, you can
register there).

With all the terrific distraction, I still somehow managed to get to the Chinese art show. And here, again, I was richly rewarded.

Organized by the Asian Art Museum, "Power and Glory" has a much more serene sense than the IMA’s recent, bold, Roman
show
or the restless Egyptian one. Its more than 240 objects from the 17 emperor-stretch between 1368 and 1644 includes an impressive
sampling of the expected porcelain and silk scrolls. But it also smartly weaves in samples of architectural pieces, purposeful
objects (a backgammon board, a "Tube with four tools" that looks like the 1620s equivalent of a Swiss army knife)
and jewelry.
Don’t judge the latter by the amber piece rendered hideous on "Ming Bling" billboards around town. The actual work
is richly
detailed in its less-than-gargantuan reality.

The show is presented chronologically, with no attempt to impose an artificial drama on the work. Accompanying text is informative.
And what-to-look-for guides are tucked away at the end of the show, out of the way but encouraging a repeat trip.

All in all, another IMA winner.

At the Phoenix Theatre, an uncomfortable bit of matchmaking has paired the meandering, one-act "June 8, 1968" with
the sharp,
vitriolic short "Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?"

Granted, "Drunk Enough" isn’t the easiest piece to find a companion for. Playwright Caryl Churchill, whose well-received
works
include "Cloud Nine," imagines U.S.-Great Britain relations as a dysfunctional, dominant-submissive relationship
between two
men (portrayed here by the realistically sinister Michael Shelton and the suitably marshmallowy Roger Ortman). The play is
harsh, making no bones about its political agenda, but it’s also compelling theater, confidently written, directed and designed
— even
if it takes a scene or two to get used to the fragmented text.

It’s also only a little over 30 minutes. Which means something had to be added to make an evening of theater. And so the Phoenix
has paired it with another play with political ideas.

Anna Theresa Cascio’s "June 8, 1968" (which, a helpful program note states, takes place on June 8, 1968) posits
an encounter
in a New Jersey bog between a teen Mafia princess and a former pop star now on the CIA dole. The guy is out to kill the girl
over tapes regarding the assassination of Robert Kennedy, whose funeral train is about to pass. Once these two are in each
other’s company, though, no tone is found for the proceedings. Are we to take these characters seriously? Are we on some metaphorical
plane? Is the third character really as unimportant as he seems?

The result is a double date of an evening with a fascinating woman and her awkward mate. Gauging the satisfaction of the evening
depends on one’s ability to accentuate the positive.

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