The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) is the ninth oldest and eighth largest encyclopedic art museum in the United States. The permanent collection comprises over 54,000 works, including African, American, Asian, and European pieces. The Indianapolis Museum of Art is located on a 152-acre campus of lush gardens, historic homes, outdoor sculptures, inspiring performance and gallery spaces. Founded in 1883, the IMA is among the 10 oldest and 10 largest encyclopedic art museums in the United States and features significant collections of African, American, Asian, European, contemporary art and design arts that span 5,000 years of history.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art (known colloquially as the IMA) is an encyclopedic art museum located in Indianapolis, Indiana, United States. The museum, which underwent a $74 million expansion in 2005, is located on a 152-acre (0.62 km2) campus on the near northwest area outside downtown Indianapolis, northwest of Crown Hill Cemetery.
With innovative programming to engage guests of all ages, the IMA offers a variety of interactive experiences inside the galleries, throughout the campus and within the local community. From gardening demos in the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse to outdoor film screenings in the IMA Amphitheater to community celebrations in The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, guests are invited to interact with art and nature in exciting new ways at the IMA. Along with the Indianapolis campus, the IMA also owns the Miller House and Garden in Columbus, Ind., one of the nation’s most highly regarded examples of mid-century Modernist residences.
Significant areas of the collection include: Neo-Impressionist paintings; Japanese paintings of the Edo period; Chinese ceramics and bronzes; paintings, sculptures, and prints by Paul Gauguin and the Pont-Aven School; a large number of works by J. M. W. Turner; and a growing contemporary art collection. Other areas of emphasis include textiles and fashion arts as well as a recent focus on modern design.
In addition to its collections, the museum consists of 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park; Oldfields, a restored American Country Place era estate once owned by Josiah K. Lilly, Jr.; and restored gardens and grounds originally designed by Percival Gallagher of the Olmsted Brothers firm. The IMA also owns the Miller House, a Mid-Century modern home designed by Eero Saarinen and located in Columbus, Indiana. The museum’s holdings demonstrate the institution’s emphasis on the connections among art, design, and the natural environment.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art was founded as the Art Association of Indianapolis, an open-membership group led by the suffragist May Wright Sewall. Formed in 1883, the organization aimed to inform the public about visual art and provide art education. The Art Association’s first exhibition, which opened November 7, 1883, contained 453 artworks from 137 artists. The death of wealthy Indianapolis resident John Herron in 1895 left a substantial bequest with the stipulation that the money be used for a gallery and a school with his name. The John Herron Art Institute opened in 1902 at the corner of 16th and Pennsylvania street. Emphasis on the Arts and Crafts movement grew throughout the early years of the school, with a focus on applied art. William Henry Fox was hired in 1905 as the Art Institute’s first director. From 1905 to 1910, Fox managed both the museum and the school while constructing two new buildings on the 16th street site.
From the 1930s until the 1950s, the John Herron Art Institute placed an emphasis on professionalism and growth in collections. Wilbur Peat, director of the museum from 1929 until 1965, acquired significant portions of the collection. Peat also made connections with benefactors such as Dr. George H. A. Clowes, Booth Tarkington, and Eli Lilly. Caroline Marmon Fesler, president of the Art Association of Indianapolis, gave a number of artworks in the 1940s, including 20th-century modern artworks and Post-Impressionist works by Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Seurat. After years of debate surrounding expansion and relocation of the museum and school, the great grandchildren of Eli Lilly, J.K. Lilly III and Ruth Lilly, donated the family estate, Oldfields, to the Art Association of Indianapolis in 1966. One year later it was decided that the school would become a part of Indiana University’s Indianapolis campus in an effort to assist with accreditation. That same year it was confirmed that the museum would relocate to Oldfields, with the new Krannert Pavilion opening to the public in October 1970. In 1969, prior to moving to the new site, the Art Association of Indianapolis officially changed its name to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
In 2008, the museum changed its main entrance and address from 1200 West 38th Street to 4000 North Michigan Road.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art has a permanent collection of over 54,000 works that represent cultures from around the world and span over 5,000 years. Areas of the collection include: European painting and sculpture; American painting and sculpture; prints, drawings, and photographs; Asian art; art of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas; ancient art of the Mediterranean; Design Arts; textile and fashion arts; and contemporary art. The museum holds a significant collection of Neo-Impressionist paintings and prints, many of which were given in 1977 by local industrialist W. J. Holliday. Combined with the Neo-Impressionist collection is the Samuel Josefowitz Collection of Gauguin and the School of Pont-Aven, which includes highlights such as Bretons in a Ferryboat by Émile Bernard. The IMA also holds a large collection of works by J.M.W. Turner, containing highlights such as the 1820 watercolor, Rosslyn Castle. The collection, which was formed by a substantial donation by philanthropist Kurt Pantzer in 1979, includes over fifty watercolors, as well as oil paintings, prints, and etchings.
The European collection, which is organized into works before 1800 and works from 1800–1945, includes highlights such as Aristotle by Jusepe de Ribera and The Flageolet Player on the Cliff by Paul Gauguin. Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait is part of the Clowes Fund Collection, which comprises a number of significant Old Masters pieces. Part of the Neo-Impressionist collection, The Channel of Gravelines, Petit Fort Philippe by Georges Seurat was one of the first works to be donated by Caroline Marmon Fesler in the 1940s. Fesler would go on to donate a number of important works, including her bequest in 1961 of notable 20th-century modernism pieces that included Pablo Picasso, Chagall, and Matisse. Pieces in the American collection represent American Impressionism and Modernism, including works by Georgia O’Keeffe and George Inness. Significant pieces include Hotel Lobby (1943) by Edward Hopper and Boat Builders by Winslow Homer.
The museum has a substantial Asian art collection, with more than 5,000 pieces spanning 4,000 years. Most notable is the IMA’s acclaimed collection of Japanese Edo Period paintings, scrolls, and screens. Highlights include A Thousand Peaks and Myriad Ravines, a Ming Dynasty work by Wu Bin, and Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian Patriarchs, an Edo period panel by Kano Sanraku, in addition to a number of Chinese ceramics and bronzes that were donated by Eli Lilly in 1961, such as a fine Shang bronze guang. The IMA’s collection is also made up of more than 2,000 pieces of African art and artifacts, 1,200 of which were donated by Harrison Eiteljorg in 1989. The IMA has expanded the collection to include both historical and contemporary objects from every major region of Africa, including Egypt. The museum is unique in its inclusive display of Islamic and ancient Egyptian works within the African gallery, rather than with Greek or Roman antiquities. Significant pieces include a female ancestor figure of the Senufo people and Magbo helmet mask for Oro association by master carver Onabanjo of Itu Meko.
The museum’s textile and fashion art collection is made up of 7,000 items, including 20th-century, custom-designed costumes by Givenchy, Chanel, and Balmain. The collection includes a number of the world’s fabric traditions, including African textiles donated by sisters Eliza and Sarah Niblack between 1916 and 1933 and a significant collection of Baluchi rugs. Based on the museum’s early history of collecting textiles, items range from couture to silks and antique laces spanning 500 years. Some notable pieces include an Imperial Russian court dress by designer Charles Frederick Worth and Bodhisattva of Wisdom (Mañjusri), a Ming Dynasty silk panel. The museum’s Design Arts collection is made up of European and American pieces from the Renaissance to the present. The collection includes Eliel Saarinen’s sideboard designed in 1929 for The Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition The Architect and the Industrial Arts: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design and the Bubbles chaise longue designed by Frank Gehry in 1979 for the Experimental Edges Series.
In recent years the IMA has begun to focus on developing its contemporary art collection, which includes works such as Two White Dots in the Air by Alexander Calder and Light and Space III, a permanent installation by Robert Irwin located in the Pulliam Great Hall. Since 2007 the museum has featured site-specific contemporary installations in the Efroymson Pavilion, rotating the temporary works every six months. The Efroymson Pavilion has featured works by artists such as William Lamson, Ball-Nogues Studio, Orly Genger, and Heather Rowe to name a few. Contemporary art is also featured in 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park, which is unique in its inclusion of commissioned works by emerging mid-career artists. Since 2007, the IMA has committed to building a modern design collection that illustrates the artistic merits of utilitarian objects. The focus on international contemporary design, combined with the opening of the Miller House in 2011, is expected to reposition the museum as an authority on design.
The IMA’s collecting and deaccessioning practices have utilized technology to provide public access, openness, and transparency in museum operations. Unveiled in March 2009, the museum’s online deaccession database lists every object being deaccessioned and links new acquisitions to the sold objects that provided funds for their purchase. The IMA has been praised for being the first among museums to openly share their deaccessioning practices and for including the ability to post public comments on entries in the searchable database. The IMA also developed the Association of Art Museum Director’s (AAMD) Object Registry, a database that helps museums more easily abide by the 1970 UNESCO ruling that prevents illicit trafficking of antiquities. Since 2003, the IMA has systematically researched the provenance of artworks created before 1946 and acquired after 1932.
The IMA’s conservation department was established in 1970 by the museum’s first full-time conservator, Paul Spheeris, and quickly became known as a regional center for conservation. In 1978 the department began providing consulting services to regional institutions, taking on contracts from across the Midwest. An early high-profile contract involved the preservation of 45 governors’ portraits over the course of 15 months. The 1979 exhibit, Portraits and Painters of the Governors of Indiana, was held at the IMA from January to March before the portraits were placed on permanent display at the Indiana Statehouse. Other major regional projects have included the conservation and restoration of the Thomas Hart Benton murals, first created for the Indiana Hall at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and now located at Indiana University, the Wishard Memorial Hospital murals, the Otto Stark and Clifton Wheeler murals in Indianapolis Public School 54, and most recently the restoration of the May Wright Sewall Memorial Torches at Herron High School, the former site of the John Herron Art Institute.
Currently, the conservation department serves the needs of the museum through the expertise of specialists in paintings, textiles, works on paper, frames, and objects conservation. The department has grown in both size and staff throughout the years, with the most recent expansion occurring in 2007. As of 2007, the IMA owned one of the few computer-based X-ray units in the United States, continuing a trend in X-ray technology that the department began in the 1970s. In 1980, the department helped organize and establish the Midwest Regional Conservation Guild, which includes conservators and conservation scientists from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan. In the mid-1980s, the department received attention when head conservator Martin Radecki assisted local authorities in uncovering over two dozen forged T.C. Steele and William Forsythe paintings worth more than $200,000. The high-profile forgery case led Radecki to organize an exhibit in 1989, Is it Genuine? Steele, Forsythe and Forgery in Indiana. The exhibit highlighted conservation techniques and examined how forgeries can be discovered. Another public presentation of conservation took place in 2007 with Sebastiano Mainardi: The Science of Art, a Star Studio exhibit that allowed visitors to watch conservators as they worked on the 16th-century altarpiece. The IMA’s Star Studio is an interactive gallery that enables visitors to learn, through the process of art-making and observation, about the museum’s collections.
In February 2010, the IMA shifted from current environmental control standards within their exhibition spaces, allowing temperature and humidity fluctuation of a few degrees on either side of the suggested standard. The IMA relinquished the standard after concluding that the majority of artworks could sustain a greater range of humidity, so permitting the museum to save on the cost of energy bills and reduce its carbon footprint.
In October 2008, the IMA announced a $2.6 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to be used toward the creation of a state-of-the-art conservation science lab. Through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Dr. Gregory Dale Smith, was hired in October 2009 to lead the lab as its senior conservation scientist. A main focus of the lab is researching the IMA’s collection, including couture fashion in the textile collection and objects made of synthetic materials in the design collection. Another focus is scientific research on materials found in the collections, such as resins and dyes on African art pieces and glazes on Asian ceramics. Through the addition of the lab, the IMA aims to establish itself as an internationally recognized conservation center and to increase its potential as a training and professional development resource in conservation science.
In 1909 the Art Association campaigned for a major retrospective, the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial Exhibition, to be brought to Indianapolis. The exhibition, also referred to as the Saint-Gaudens Memorial Exhibition of Statuary, attracted 56,000 visitors during its three-month run, well beyond the board’s goal of attracting 50,000 visitors. A 1937 exhibition, Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, included loans from the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. The six-week exhibition presented 65 pieces, including several Rembrandts, and was considered the beginning of the museum’s rise to connoisseurship.
In 1977, the IMA acquired a collection of Neo-Impressionist paintings from Indianapolis industrialist W.J. Holliday, which was presented in an exhibition in 1983 titled The Aura of Neo-Impressionism: The W.J. Holliday Collection. From 1986 to 1988, the exhibit traveled to seven cities in the United States and made one stop in Europe at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Opening in the summer of 1987 to coincide with the Pan American Games, Art of the Fantastic: Latin America, 1920–1987 presented 125 works by artists from a variety of nations. Well-known artists such as Frida Kahlo and Roberto Matta were featured, as well as artists who had never exhibited outside their native country. The show was the first large-scale presentation of 20th-century Latin American art in the United States in over 20 years and was the museum’s first contemporary exhibition to travel.
In 1992, the IMA hosted The William S. Paley Collection, a traveling exhibition organized by the Museum of Modern Art that included Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and modern pieces collected by the late CBS news chairman William S. Paley. The exhibit helped establish the IMA as a prominent museum venue in the Midwest and brought in a record-setting 60,837 visitors. In 2001, the IMA collaborated with the Armory Museum in Moscow to organize Gifts to the Tsars, 1500–1700: Treasures from the Kremlin. The show helped the IMA form partnerships with local arts organizations, gain international exposure, and attracted a record 70,704 visitors. Another important exhibit to travel to the IMA was Roman Art from the Louvre, which attracted 106,002 visitors during its 2008 run. The exhibition featured 184 mosaics, frescoes, statues, marble reliefs, and vessels loaned from the permanent collection of the Louvre in Paris, France. It was the largest collection ever loaned from the Louvre to date, and only stopped in three U.S. cities before returning to France.
In 2009, Sacred Spain: Art and Belief in the Spanish World brought together 71 works of art from a wide variety of lenders, including Peru, Mexico, and the Prado in Spain. The exhibit was composed of a rare collection of pieces, many of which had never been on view in the United States. It featured paintings, sculpture, metalwork, and books by artists such as El Greco, Diego Velázquez, and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Andy Warhol Enterprises was displayed at the IMA from October, 2010 to January, 2011 and featured more than 150 works of art by Andy Warhol, as well as archival materials. The exhibition was the largest to illustrate Warhol’s fascination with money and feature consumerism as a central theme. Visitors were able to view the progression of Warhol’s career, from his beginnings as a commercial artist to his multimillion-dollar empire.
European Design since 1985: Shaping the New Century was displayed from March 8 to June 21, 2009 and was the first major survey of contemporary European Design. The exhibition contained a collection of nearly 250 pieces by Western European industrial and decorative designers such as Philippe Starck, Marc Newson and Mathias Bengtsson. Three prominent modes of design emerged from 1985–2005 and could be seen in the exhibition: Geometric Minimal design, Biomorphic design and Neo-Pop design. Among the themes addressed throughout the exhibition was the question of what makes something “art” and how to distinguish a museum quality piece in a world full of mass-produced products. Rather than organizing the exhibition by designer or country, the pieces were organized based on the intellectual or philosophical precept under which they fell. After leaving the IMA, the exhibition traveled to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Milwaukee Art Museum in Milwaukee.
Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial, on display from February to September 2011, includes over 70 large-scale artworks and is the largest assemblage of Thornton Dial’s work ever mounted. The exhibition contextualizes Dial as a relevant, contemporary artist rather than a folk artist or outsider artist as many have portrayed him in the past. The pieces on view in Hard Truths cover a range of social and political themes, many of which address rural life in the south and the treatment of African Americans. After departing Indianapolis, the exhibition is scheduled to travel to New Orleans, Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta.
In 2010, the IMA was selected to be the commissioning organization for the United States pavilion at the Venice Biennale (Biennale di Venezia). The IMA’s proposal to create an exhibition featuring the work of Puerto Rican artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla was accepted by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department. Allora and Calzadilla were the first collaborative team to be exhibited at the Venice Biennale, and 2011 was the first time American artists from a Spanish-speaking community were selected. Six new works of art will be developed by the pair, who often explore geopolitical themes through their work. The pieces they created for the 2011 U.S. Pavilion will formed an exhibition entitled Gloria and highlighted competitive institutions such as the Olympic Games, the military, and international commerce. Allora and Calzadilla also brought bring elements of performance into their multimedia pieces through the participation of Olympic athletes. Three of the six pieces, entitled Body in Flight (Delta), Body in Flight (American), and Track and Field, featured Olympians Dan O’Brien, Chellsie Memmel, and David Durante.