Joshua Bleecker, “Elijah McClain” (2020). Acrylic on canvas.
One of America’s most famous autodidacts. Dial was born into poverty in the rural south during Jim Crow. His work did not become known to the nation until the 1970s.
A virtuoso in realistic watercolor painting. In his 60s, Mitchell’s work has been widely praised, collected and exhibited for three decades.
Among the most famous contemporary artists working today. Cave’s sound suits and mixed media installations can be seen in exhibitions in the country’s leading art museums.
A product made in a small Indiana town – Lanesville – six years away from Indiana University Southeast Graduate School to make it as a visual artist.
Four powerful works of art.
Dials don’t matter how ragged the flag is, it still has to bind us together (2003).
Mitchell’s For Freedom (2020)
Cave Sound Suit (2018)
Bleeckers Elijah McClain (2020)
Four art institutions in Indianapolis.
Newfields. The Eiteljorg Museum of Indian and Western Art. The Alexander Hotel. The Herron School of Art and Design.
Newfields ‘Core, White Art Audience’
While writing and researching this story that would highlight these four artists and works of art as examples of how the tragedies and triumphs of black Americans were creatively expressed, Newfields was the umbrella name for the campus that houses the Indianapolis Museum of Art is found that a position has been advertised for a new position as director at the IMA that contains this shockingly racist passage:
Hours after the publication that codified white supremacy in Newfields sparked a firestorm on social media in the late evening of February 12, “white” was removed from advertising.
Newfields published this statement on the afternoon of February 13th:
No apology. No action steps. Nobody shot. No change of course. No lessons learned.
Newfield director and executive Charles L. Venable doubled the implicit racism of posting in an interview with the New York Times on the 13th. The paper tells Venable, “The decision to use ‘white’ was intentional.” In addition, Venable attempted to justify the hostile passage by declaring his intention “to indicate that the museum would not abandon its existing audience as part of its efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion”.
A more disturbing public view of the race of the leader of one of America’s largest art institutions in 2021 is hard to imagine.
Recognizing that the museum’s “core” audience is a “white” audience, priority is given to these members to the exclusion of minorities. All of Newfields’ other numerous attempts to trumpet its goals for greater diversity are exposed as window dressing.
Venables’ belief that diversifying the museum’s collection and programming will necessarily abandon the existing “white” audience means that he believes white museum-goers are averse to works of art created by or shared with colored people. Venables’ comments make it clear that he believes his audience is racist and that the institution risks a riot by “white” members when Newfields welcomes non-white artwork and visitors.
That Venables so nakedly expressed these racist views in the face of an avalanche of national contempt given hours to process his comments further shows that the Newfields Board of Trustees clears the messaging. A board of trustees that is astonishingly lacking in racial diversity.
Maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Newfields has a history of racialism under the leadership of Venables.
As a result of this latest example of Newfields’ antagonism towards minority guests and artwork, the organizers and curators of an upcoming IMA exhibition showcasing the Indiana Avenue Black Lives Matter muralists, scheduled to debut on April 16, have withdrawn, indicating the future the exhibition leaves uncertain.
A visit to the IMA to see the importance of Dial’s still binding us together (2003) cannot be recommended given the stench of white supremacy that veils the museum. However, after visiting the three other art institutions in person and finding them all inviting, don’t be prejudiced by Venables and Newfields.
Artworks across Indianapolis reveal the American experience, the black experience in America
Joshua Bleecker, “Elijah McClain” (2020), detail. Acrylic on canvas.
Joshua Bleecker Elijah McClain (2020)
In August 2019, 23-year-old Elijah McClain was walking home from a supermarket when he was bullied by three Aurora, Colorado police officers after receiving a 9-1-1 call from a suspect in the area. McClain was wrestled to the ground and placed in a carotid choke handle, which restricted blood flow to his brain.
When paramedics arrived, they gave McClain a strong anesthetic, who suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital and was pronounced brain dead three days later.
“After the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many stories of black people murdered came to light and Elijah McClain hit a certain thread in me,” Bleecker told Forbes.com. “What struck me the most was how his sweet, gentle demeanor met such a vicious and wild reaction. This young man was known to his family and colleagues as a kind, sensitive soul who loved music and played the fiddle to cats in animal shelters to make them feel better. “
Bleecker paints McClain in bold, vivid colors while he plays the violin, with a gentle smile on his face and the outline of a transparent cat in the center of the picture.
“It was a photo of Elijah playing his violin that inspired the painting – it was a crystallized image of pure tenderness,” said Bleecker. “His smile was loving and serene. A living blessing that has been forcibly stolen from the world. I painted him when I imagined his ghost. He’s still playing the violin. Still creating music for those who live in fear and pain. His last words were haunted by the silhouetted face of a cat, a reminder of his plea for mercy that was rejected. “
McClain’s last words are written across the cat’s ears and head:
“I can not breath. I have my ID here. My name is Elijah McClain. This is my house. I just went home. I am an introvert. I’m just different, that’s all. I am sorry.”
“Even while he was being nailed down and suffocated, he apologized and even complimented the three policemen,” notes Bleecker. “It was a disgusting realization that people with color, no matter how polite or cooperative they might be, still face fatal law enforcement reactions.”
If you visit this painting at Herron School on the IUPUI campus, bring tissues and a face mask. The school’s “The Sum of Unity” exhibition, which runs until April 17, features dozens of charged works of art, such as Bleeckers, that address a spectrum of the country’s most pressing social problems.
Dean Mitchell, “For Freedom,” 2020. Watercolor 30 “by 22”. Gift of Catherine Turner, 2020.6.1.
Dean Mitchell for Freedom (2020)
Mitchell’s inspiration for painting Black Civil War soldiers began after his first visit to Fort Scott, Kansas. Kansas was the first state in the north to recruit, train, and fight black soldiers during the Civil War, a story interpreted at the local National Historic Site.
Mitchell had taken a black history class in high school but didn’t know the blacks had fought in the Civil War.
Moving to Kansas City after college was the reason he attended Fort Scott. Mitchell began a series of paintings depicting Black Civil War soldiers that began in 1989. A motif he returned to last year.
“After the murder of George Floyd, I decided that this country – and the mainstream museums in particular – needed to be reminded of those who sacrificed their lives for freedom and advanced the country,” Mitchell told Forbes.com. “Black men died for all of us on the battlefield.”
Due to the delicate nature of watercolor paintings on paper, the Eiteljorg, who recently acquired the painting as part of their permanent collection, will be on display for Freedom until April 12th before resting from the public.
“I want (visitor) to take a close look at the rich history of human sacrifice in this country, which included black men, the strength and power it took to fight war, with no real guarantee of freedom, but one Hope Americans Might Be Better for Future Generations, ”said Mitchell.
Nick Cave, ‘Soundsuit’ (2018) on view at the Alexander, Indianapolis.
Nick Cave Soundsuit (2018)
Like Bleecker’s Elijah McClain, Cave’s sound suits were inspired by a vicious police attack on a black man. Rodney King in his case.
Trying to process his emotions in response to the stunning video of King’s attack, Cave remembered his mother’s words as a child telling him about the complexities he had to deal with as a black. a second, thicker skin, a way of hiding one’s identity, one’s color.
Caves sound suits look solemn on the outside due to their wild colors and the found object construction, but are inspired by terror. A fabulous example can be found near the check-in desk at The Alexander Hotel.
“The Alexander was specially built to showcase modern and contemporary art. By the way, it is a four-star hotel,” says General Manager Barry Cockrum.