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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

COMMENTARYNothing short of amazingNew IMA art and nature park is stunning

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Upon my first visit, I’ll have to admit, I was not prepared. A skirt and stilettos are not conducive to this terrain. And in my true fashion, I choose one of the hottest days of summer to be curious … but I can’t resist. I have to go back and see what this park is all about.

So I grab my sneakers and head to 100 Acres: Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park, a new attraction adjacent to the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA).

The wooded area nestled in the heart of the city is nothing short of amazing; 100 Acres is unique to any public space in Indy. Entering the grounds, bricked pathways and the soft lull of insects and birds lead me to a bright red bridge while a gravel road becomes an introduction to what’s about to come.

Plus the neat, but not too manicured grounds and modern amenities, such as signs, trails and emergency phones make a city girl like me more comfortable in the woods.

The winding roadway leads to the first “exhibit,” “Park of the Laments” by Alfredo Jaar. Caged rocks surround me as I walk down the narrow, wooded trail. After passing through a dark tunnel, I arrive in a cavernous area that’s very garden like.

“It really is a contemplative, quiet space that is an example of land art,” said Lisa Freiman, chair of the department of contemporary art for the IMA.

You can’t help but notice the random yellow benches around the park that are sometimes functional, sometimes eccentric. “Bench Around the Lake” is a series of 15 vivid yellow benches that interact with sites around the park. The artist, Jeppe Hein, envisioned one continuous bench that emerges from the ground, twists and submerges into the earth around the park’s lake.

The primary path takes me deeper into the art and nature park and I arrive at a whimsical basketball court. “Free Basket” is the work of Cuban artistic duo Los Carpinteros. Interestingly, for much of the project they were not able to get into the U.S., which forced them to complete a lot of their design by e-mail. The “Free Basket” exhibit pays homage to Hoosier basketball.

I walk a short distance and come upon two oval rings suspended in the air. Honestly, I don’t get the symbolism until hearing of its origins. The idea of “Type A: Team Building (Align)” was created from an IMA employee workshop. What makes this piece interesting is the metal rings come into alignment during the summer solstice.

Photos of Type A don’t do it justice because it’s amazing up close. I get an added treat when the sun comes out: I see the shadow of one circle. Perfect timing!

The “Funky Bones” exhibit by Atelier Van Lieshout reminds me of my old “Operation” game and Andrea Zittel’s “Indianapolis Island” looks like a floating igloo. Two Herron Art School students actually lived on the “island” for six weeks.

Also out on the 35-acre lake is “Eden II” by Tea Mäkipää. It blends art with technology and is the only piece in the park to do so. This exhibit is cool, but chilling. It tells the story of Eden II’s passengers, imagined as refugees displaced by rising sea levels and the ecological impact of climate change.

Visitors are able to see what’s happening on the ship from surveillance-like screens, where its passengers’ frustrations are quite evident.

The last piece in the art component of the park doesn’t really look like an art piece, but more like a mini-golf course. Kendall Buster’s “Stratum Pier” was created from shapes of the topographical survey maps of the site itself.

Each of the eight art pieces was commissioned (or created special) for the IMA from artists around the world.

The interesting aspect of 100 Acres is how it came to be. Freiman said a construction company quarried rock from the area when I-65 was being built. After the highway’s completion, nature took over and the construction company gave the 100 acres to the newly built Indianapolis Museum of Art.

In about 1996, the IMA began discussing developing the space as a sculpture park. Six years later, Freiman was given the task to hone the idea.

“There were a lot of people behind this project, but the vision and conceptual premise for the park is mine,” said Freiman, proudly. “One of my goals was to put the IMA and Indianapolis on the map in terms of a place that did interesting contemporary projects and do something that had never been done before.”

It took about five years to build 100 Acres, which is actually located on a flood plain. The space is built to embrace this issue and is home to native Indiana plants. The eight pieces are very exciting, but the park was also built so that some of the art could be changed out.

The 100 Acres: Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park is one that all must see. It’s surreal, yet normal and luckily it’s free and open year round.

Freiman said, “My hope is that this increases people’s desire for more exciting artistic experiences in their daily lives – just to know those kinds of ways of experiencing life are valued and life isn’t about work and money.”

You can e-mail comments to Jessica Williams-Gibson at Jessica-recorder@indy.rr.com.

Art imitates life

Formed in 1991, Los Carpinteros is a Havana, Cuba-based art collective comprised of Marco Antonio Castillo Valdés and Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez. Their work typically combines meticulous craftsmanship with shrewd political and social commentary.

Their sculpture, “Free Basket,” in the 100 Acres imitates the trajectory of a bouncing ball. The sculpture juxtaposes the practical and the imaginary, drawing on the form of an international basketball court, turning it into an aesthetically-surprising sculpture that offers the community a place to play.

What’s at the IMA?

The Eiteljorg Gallery of African Art includes masks, figures, textiles and other objects that represent many regions in Africa.

“Body Unbound: Contemporary Couture from the IMA’s Collection,” on view until Jan. 30, 2011, will examine the many ways designers have manipulated, transformed and liberated the female figure.

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