We had the chance to check out the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s new exhibition, Face to Face: The Neo-Impressionist Portrait during member preview days a little over a week ago. Of course, then life happened and I didn’t get to share much about it, so it’s quite possible you’ve already experienced it for yourself. If you haven’t, you should. If for no other reason than just to see the absolutely stunning Van Gogh self-portrait on display. It took my breath away.
Before we begin, let me share with you something a bit personal. I did not grow up an art appreciator. I come from a working class family in a small town, and this was at a time before the internet, so there wasn’t a whole lot of access to art, nor was there a lot of time to travel to get to this stuff. I was not a talented visual artist. I once got a C in junior high art. Because I didn’t draw right. I never took another art class. My first trip to an art museum was as a young adult, when I started dating my husband. See, the IMA is free so it makes a cheap yet classy date. I tell you all this because I want you to understand that art and art museums are for everyone. I sometimes get a vibe from some people that taking my kids, repeatedly, to see the latest exhibit makes me pretentious. I’m really not. I just have access to a great museum and try to take advantage of that as much as I can.
Back to the exhibition. Though not exclusively pointillist, Neo-Impressionism is most identified with Pointillism, the style of using lots of tiny dots instead of large brush strokes to paint. One of the most famous works in this style is Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on La Grand Jatte. This particular painting is not part of the exhibition (it resides at the Art Institute of Chicago), though they do have it on a monitor as you walk in. The video zooms in on certain parts of the painting so you can see all those little dots. There are interactive areas throughout the exhibition in which you can focus in on the dots and learn how the artists used dots of different color and then relied on the audience’s eyes to mix those colors together.
I’m going to be honest, this exhibition was a little dull of my kids’ tastes. Granted, my kids are boys and they are pretty young. They felt that after one room of portraits painted with dots, they’d seen them all. So after the first room, they were pretty much done with the paintings. Luckily, there is more to this exhibition than just paintings. As I previously mentioned, there are a few interactive displays that tell you more about color and technique. The kids liked learning about complimentary colors and things like that. Throughout there are iPads available on which you can get a closer look at the paintings. Little Man could have stayed forever just sitting on a bench zooming in on the various parts of the paintings. We all enjoyed the station set up with videos that tell you more about the time period, including the fashion and politics of the time and how those influenced the art surrounding us. When you go, definitely take the time to check out all these extras. In the past I have been tempted to rush through and just look at the art, but these interactive extras not only helped keep the boys entertained, they also taught me things I wouldn’t have otherwise known.
Before going, we read the book Katie’s Sunday Afternoon. I LOVE the Katie books, and so do the boys. These fun adventures do not drone on and on in order to educate kids, but they give them a familiarity with pieces of art and artists’ names. When Little Man began to get bored, I told him that somewhere in the exhibit he would find Felix Feneon, just like in the book, and that gave him a little adventure. If you are interested in taking your adventure one step further, I recommend this art project from Harrington Harmonies. When I taught a class on Seurat for Big Boy’s co-op class, we did a project similar to this. It is time consuming, but it gives the kids an idea of what pointillism is and what it takes.
Of course I recommend taking your kids to this exhibition, just do not be surprised if they do not want to focus on one piece of art as long as you do (isn’t that always the way?). Give them time to explore at their own pace and let them check out all the interactive features. Though admission to the museum is free, this special exhibition does need a paid ticket. The cost is $12 for adults, $6 for kids 7-17, 6 and under are free. IMA members are also free (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, get an IMA membership!).