LOU’S VIEWS: Sticking around: Midwestern and proud, then and now-WEB ONLY

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This week, artists who stayed, a star-tobe at the ISO, and a return to India for Gregory Hancock.

I’d be very interested in hearing where Indiana State Museum visitors spend more time-at “Making It in the Midwest: Artists Who Chose to Stay” or across the hall at its sister show “T.C. Steele and the Society of Western Artists, 1896-1914.”

Do the established masters (and a few lesser lights) of a century ago have more pull than a curated selection of Indiana artists today? Is the draw of the now-familiar Hoosier Group artists stronger than the what’s-next quality of the cream (in the ISM’s eyes) of the current crop?

The historical work certainly has a stronger collective story. Each of the pieces in that show was featured in one of the Society of Western Artists exhibitions, which was designed to draw national and international attention to the fact that not all American artists of quality had New York addresses. (The story of its rise and fall is well-documented in a new Indiana University Press book with the same title as the exhibition).

The contemporary show seems less like a retrospective and more of a solid sampling. Unlike the period one, it focuses only on artists residing in Indiana. That fact, however, dozen’t make it homogeneous.

While Todd Reifers’ work could well slip into the “Society of Western Artists” show, with landscapes clearly anchored in the plein air tradition, most of the rest show no connection to the Midwest artists who came before. At least, not to those represented in the other show.

James Wille Faust, represented by six pieces, is a colorful anchoring force. Rob Day’s fanciful illustrations, including “Founding Fathers” and “Bare Naked Ladies” have clear roots as magazine assignments, which don’t make them lesser work, just different than the rest in the show. Maria Tomasula, of South Bend, provides a pair of related pieces, “My Ava,” (shown above right) and “My Alba,” created nine years apart but each dealing with iconic imagery with an unusual gravity.

David Morrison’s impractical but fascinating wooden devices “Spiral Trap” and “Temptation” and Les Miley’s porcelain and stoneware vessels help keep this from being a strictly on-the-wall show.

Two pieces are featured outside the gallery walls. Greg Hulls’ “Urban Geometry,” hanging in a corner above the museum atrium, doesn’t have the connective clutter of his “Breath” work at the new Indianapolis International Airport terminal, but is still less compelling than much of his other work. Likely to get more attention is Artur Silva’s inkjet-on-vinyl untitled floor mural, which will have to do battle with the shoes of museum visitors walking on it in the lobby. We’ll see how it looks in October.

Unlike some of the other, equally worthy art shows that the Indiana State Museum has presented, this one clearly belongs in this building. It plays on our interest in both our region’s history and our creative life. Don’t wait to chaperone a school field trip to check it out.

As evidenced by his show-stopping turns in each act of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s pops concert, “Irving Berlin: From Ragtime to Riches” (June 12-14), Tony DeSare is a crooner-pianist to be reckoned with. I was already familiar with his work from his top-notch recent CD “Radio Show” (Telarc), but I wasn’t prepared for him to own the stage so effectively.


In the first act, he offered a joyous take on “I Love a Piano,” with the orchestrations allowing the ISO to come in at just the right time (kudos to the team of arrangers who respected and sparked the music throughout). In the second, DeSare demonstrated his ability to provide flourish and subtlety with a charmingly deceptive “Play a Simple Melody.”

The numbers worked not only because of DeSare’s talent but also because they put him completely in his element-at the piano with a great band behind and around him. In other parts of the show, the guest vocalists-including Broadway stars Ashley Brown and Hugh Panaro returning from 2008’s wonderful “Guys and Dolls” concert-seemed neutered by the costumes and choreography. Here, DeSare seemed the most ill-at-ease.

Hard to blame him. At times, the show had all the coolness of an episode of “The Lawrence Welk Show.” (A “White Christmas”/”Easter Parade” pairing with an accomplished singer appearing in a humiliating bunny suit? Seriously?)

Still, the ISO and the talented vocal recruits managed to rise above the program’s trappings, offering blissful takes on “They Say It’s Wonderful,” “(You Forgot to) Remember,” “How Deep is the Ocean?” and many more.

Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s “Indian Ever After” (June 12-13) nobly attempted to build-rather than rest-on the success of last season’s “Hooray for Bollywood” production. Saying this show lacked the spark of its predecessor is probably betraying too high an expectation.

The new production included influences of other Indian regions and dance styles-and featured the athletic if not always precise work by Hancock’s able company, supplemented by his trainee corps. An abstract tribute to Indira Gandhi fell flat, but a Tollywood piece (using film music from the Telugu film industry) and an inspired show-closing “Bhangra Bash” more than made up for it.

And, once again, it was wonderful to see a diverse, multi-generational crowd attending-and reacting enthusiastically-to contemporary dance. •

This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming events to lharry@IBJ.com. Visit IBJ.com/arts for additional reviews, previews and arts discussion.

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