A pioneering sculpture park opens three hours from Chicago.
You won’t find “plop art” at 100 Acres: the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, which opened June 20 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA). But you will find an island created by Andrea Zittel and a skeleton that invites you to sit down and have lunch.
“Plop art” is what Lisa Freiman, the IMA’s curator of contemporary art and director of 100 Acres, calls the kind of work found in most sculpture parks: art that has no relationship to its site and that isn’t “really public in terms of the experience of it or the meaning of it.”
Recently, as we looked at Free Basket, a basketball court that’s one of 100 Acres’ eight inaugural projects, it was hard to imagine a more community-friendly spot. Created by Los Carpinteros, a Cuban collective, the court’s dominated by towering red- and blue-painted steel arches that evoke a basketball’s trajectory. Freiman and Sarah Green, the IMA’s associate curator of contemporary art, assure us they want visitors to play basketball there. It’s even okay to climb on Dutch studio Atelier van Lieshout’s Funky Bones (pictured), which doubles as a picnic spot, and Danish artist Jeppe Hein’s cheerful yellow Bench Around the Lake.
Decades ago, there was a blighted landscape where 100 Acres’ trees and grass flourish, a few minutes’ walk from the IMA’s main building. The park’s 35-acre lake is a former quarry that yielded the limestone for Interstate 65. The IMA acquired the property in the 1970s and began envisioning it as a sculpture park in 1996.
When Freiman joined the museum eight years ago, she decided 100 Acres should engage the public in two unusual ways: Unlike most sculpture parks, it would commission site-specific works and define those works as “temporary,” lasting a few years to a decade, to tempt visitors back to Indianapolis. “[100 Acres] hinges on the notion of change,” Freiman says. “We wanted to introduce a sense of surprise and wonder into this park.” The park’s free (like the IMA’s permanent galleries) and open from dawn to dusk.
While we assume no one got to know IMA staff as well as Type A, whose suspended double-ring sculpture is inspired by team-building exercises the duo did with employees, the 100 Acres artists traveled to Indianapolis several times during the past three years. “They found the sites where they wanted to work; it wasn’t predetermined,” Freiman explains. After studying topographic maps of the area, sculptor Kendall Buster extended a metal fishing pier into the lake. (Buster taught Tara Donovan, whose phenomenal show “Untitled” is on view at the IMA through August 8.) Finnish artist Tea Mäkipää launched a ship nearby—the Eden II—which, she imagines, carries refugees displaced by rising sea levels. Onshore, eerie audio recordings of IMA security staff and videos of the ship play in an abandoned guard station. Eden II is really a massive sculpture on an anchored dock, not a ship, Green says: “As art-museum people, we’re not used to building structures that can float.”
The IMA must have more nautical expertise than most museums, however. During our visit, Zittel’s Indianapolis Island sat serenely on the water, awaiting the two Herron School of Art and Design students who are taking turns living in the floating fiberglass hut this summer, sometimes hosting visitors and blogging about their experience on the IMA website.
Given how the economic downturn’s slammed arts institutions, we wondered how the IMA afforded an island. According to Freiman, 100 Acres’ funding was in place “before the recession hit.” The museum’s secured $23.6 million of its $25 million goal; an endowment will support future commissions. One piece that probably isn’t going anywhere for a while is Alfredo Jaar’s Park of the Laments—a quiet refuge within a remarkably stimulating place.
For more information, visit imamuseum.org/100acres.