News
08.18.2010
Crit> 100 Acres at the Indianapolis Museum of Art
Aaron Betsky strolls a new showcase of landscape art that looks an awful lot like architecture
Andrea Zittel's Indianapolis Island at the Indianapolis Museum of Art's new 100 Acres sculpture park.
Courtesy IMA

“Who needs another Richard Serra sculpture plunked down on a lawn?” asked Indianapolis Museum of Art Director Max Anderson. “What we wanted was something that was a space, an experience that was art, a landscape that would always be changing.” 100 Acres, the museum’s new art park of that size, manages to fulfill that vision: a place where art appears out of, or is part of, the landscape, creating spaces and inhabitable objects that may or may not outlast the passing of a few seasons.

The site for this new showcase—a hybrid of landscape, art, and architecture increasingly prevalent around the world—is a former gravel pit between a bend in the White River and a tow canal that separates the new park from the Olmsted & Olmsted landscape of the museum grounds proper that holds more traditional “plunk art.” After the pit was donated to the museum several decades ago, it continued as a wilderness, its void, denuded of Indiana limestone, filling up with water and becoming a popular swimming hole.

Park of the Laments (Top) by Alfredo Jaar. Free Basket by Los Carpinteros.

Once the museum raised enough money to recuperate the area, it hired landscape architect Edward L. Blake, principal of the Hattiesburg, Mississippi–based Landscape Studio. Blake’s work in itself is a lesson in what (landscape) architecture can and increasingly does do: It is an act of recuperation and subtle adjustment, wherein he removed most of the non-native “blow-ins” and planted trees and bushes to define larger and smaller spaces, winding paths through the park to connect it all together. Spaces appear and sequences evolve, what can be is preserved, and the new appears as a comment on or in contrast to the old.

A small visitor center, designed by the Arkansas architect Marlon Blackwell, serves not so much as a focal point but as a respite in the woods, providing geothermally produced warmth or cooling in a triangular volume lifted off the floodplain between a sandwich of Ipe wood planes. It is the only piece of more or less traditional architecture. The one other inhabitable and enclosed space is a fiberglass volume by artist Andrea Zittel that floats in the middle of the lake. Inhabited in the summer months by art students and accessible by rowboat, its blob-like shape might seem a condensation of current theories on computer-assisted form-making, but for the artist it is a simple, non-referential form.

Four pieces from Jeppe Hein's Bench Around the Lake, with Andrea Zittel's Indianapolis Island at bottom left.

Near the Zittel piece, a rusty boat appears to make its way across the lake. It is part of Eden II, an installation by Tea Makipaa, and includes a guard tower on the shore. In this bit of set design, invisible performers, whose voices you hear in the tower, worry about illegal immigrants trying to come onshore, and gunfire rings out somewhere in the woods. You can watch it all from an undulating bench, a work by Kendall Buster, which traces the shoreline and provides a place for local fishermen to pass the day. Another set of benches designed by Jeppe Hein pop up throughout the park. They are part of a continuous ribbon that, at least conceptually, runs through the park, surfacing mid-curve or swerve to give you a place to sit and rest.

The most complete space is a square carved out by the usually strident political artist Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments. A path guides you into a tunnel that slopes into the ground before you rise on steps into a raised platform surrounded by loose stone walls. It is an isolated, empty, demarcated space, where he encourages you to contemplate all those who have been displaced or lost in wars. It might, however, also become a party space, a place for a picnic, or a site for sunbathing. It is above all a clearly human-made space, a monument of sorts that stands in contrast to the near-chaos of the landscape surrounding it.

 

Stratum Pier (top) by Kendall Buster. A visitor's center designed specifically for 100 acres by Marlon Blackwell Architect.

The Park of the Laments is, however, not the best space in the park. Much more successful is Team Building (Align) by the artist duo calling itself Type A. It consists of two aluminum rings suspended between trees. At the summer solstice, they project a perfect circle in the middle of the little clearing they define, but the rest of the time they inscribe a much more complex and allusive space, a moment of the difficult, shifting, and elusive perfection you find, like Adolf Loos’ gravemarker, in the middle of the woods.

The most exuberant space, however, is Los Carpinteros’ Free Basket. Its blue- and red-painted steel loops surround two basketball backboards, mimicking possible throws and leaps. It forms the park’s back door, and has become a popular place for neighborhood kids to play in and with the art. Here, 100 Acres achieves its goal of art as a real part of community everyday life, which comes out of and provides an alternative to both the natural and the human landscape from which it arose. Over the years, Anderson said, the museum might add a few pieces, and a few might fade into the landscape as they deteriorate. But 100 Acres will remain a place where landscape becomes art, and art that looks an awful lot like good architecture.

Aaron Betsky

Aaron Betsky is director of the Cincinnati Museum of Art.