Thursday, February 01, 2001

Expelled From the Gardens - White River Gardens - Feb. 1, 2001

White River Gardens is a glorious facility. They have orchids, butterflies and now they have art. Local galleries regularly rotate work in the Schaefer Rotunda and Grand Hallway, adding another aesthetic dimension to the Gardens experience. Earlier this month, I visited the Gardens to see two quirky oil portraits by Claudia Rush, a friend, whose work is part of the current exhibit from Byron and Sons Galleries. The largely flora and fauna paintings perfectly suit the environment.

On a sunny Thursday afternoon, I sat on a bench and observed visitors (all aged 50 plus) chattering about the art. Most were fascinated by Claudia’s unconventional work. A painting called “Wired” depicting a serene young woman wearing a chicken wire cage contraption around her head was affectionately termed “strange” by one fascinated visitor. “Not Alone” depicts the same woman sitting at a dressing table cluttered with mementos. Intrigued, one man said, “I bet there are 50 levels of interpretation to this piece.” I was thrilled to see local art displayed so successfully at this bustling civic venue.

But when I called Claudia to relay the active interest Gardens audiences had taken in her work, I learned that a painting of hers was censored from the show for its nude content by White River Gardens administrators. Curious, I went straight to Byron and Sons Galleries to view it.

This was it? This was expelled from the Gardens? I expected something explicit, obscene, vulgar. This little painting of a nude pregnant woman seemed modest and subdued compared to more traditional nudes — for instance, “Glow of Gold, Gleam of Pearl” by William McGregor Paxton, on view in the American Gallery at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

I wondered: Who is responsible for this censorious insecurity and for what reason? How unsophisticated do White River Gardens administrators believe their audience to be? As lovely as the White River Gardens exhibit is, it’s a burning reminder of how artistically unprogressive Indianapolis is — and not by the fault of its artists.

The White River Gardens exhibit, Seasons, will continue through March 4; 1200 W. Washington St. (630-2001). Byron and Sons Galleries is located at 876 Massachusetts Ave. (916-2465).

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