Indy's 100 Acres Art Park Not Just Another Sculpture Garden

The Indianapolis Museum of Art has always had one of the most beautiful settings of any Midwest art museum, but it's also had a secret: a wilder, rougher 100 acres of unused woodlands, meadows and a lake. It eventually came up with the idea of an art par

Jun 30, 2010 at 2:06 pm

The Indianapolis Museum of Art has always had one of the most beautiful settings of any Midwest art museum. It's adjacent to the meticulously maintained 26-acre Oldfields-Lilly House & Gardens, a favorite place for strolling and receptions.

But it’s also had a secret — a wilder, rougher 100 acres of unused woodlands and meadows (and 35-acre lake) that was once a quarry but was given to the museum back in the 1970s. For decades, the museum has tried to find the right use for it.

It eventually came up with the idea of an art park that would commission international artists (many of them up-and-coming) to create temporary site-related projects. Financed by a $15 million grant from Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation and named after his wife, 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park opened June 20 with its first eight projects and lovely, streamlined visitors’ pavilion in place. Lisa D. Freiman, chair of the museum’s contemporary art department, has supervised the project.

It’s definitely not your typical pristinely landscaped museum sculpture garden. I toured it on opening weekend, and it was an adventure: muddy pedestrian/bicycle trails (no cars) leading to art that, at its best, reveals itself as organically mysterious and sensitive to its surroundings. It’s a destination art site and is getting national attention for it. It’s free and open daylight to dusk, but check the Web site first ( because weather — rain, especially — could affect your ability to tour the place.

The park already has come up with one piece so colorful, spirited and fun it could become an Indiana landmark. “Free Basket” by the Cuban team known as Los Carpinteros is an abstracted basketball court whose blue-and-red steel arcs convey the springiness of basketball movement, even as they shake up the way we think we should respond to something sort of familiar. Not to mix metaphors, but it’s a real touchdown for art in a basketball-proud state.

While “Free Basket” is exuberant, Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar’s “Park of the Laments” works for being contemplative and solemn — an equally important quality for art. He has created a private courtyard reachable only by walking through a tunnel. Once inside, the larger open space is lined with cage-like Gabion baskets filled with limestone rocks (2 million of them), but there is a smaller square to be lined with plant life. Jaar works with the theme of remembering and memorializing genocide and political murders, giving us symbol-laden refuge to quietly consider the cost of trying to find the peace and beauty his “Park” provides. It’s an extraordinary work.

Space prevents me from critiquing all the pieces. I was unable to tour two that involved boats, including California artist Andrea Zittel’s “Indianapolis Island,” a Modernist, utilitarian living structure placed in the center of the lake.

Another impressive artwork, with both humorous and spiritual dimensions and which sort of hides in a clearing off a trail, is “Team Building (Align)” by Type A, a New York collective featuring Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin. They collaborated with museum staff on it.

The sculpture consists of two 30-foot-wide metal rings suspended from surrounding trees and poles. The two shadows they cast are part of the work, aligning as one on the summer solstice. This works on several levels, recalling Midwestern American Indian earthworks where the calendar was determined by the charting of shadows. It also has a cool UFO vibe — like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you wait to be invited up.

As it develops in coming years, 100 Acres is going to be a place the art world will be watching.

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: [email protected]