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May 17, 2012

International exhibit to feature painting in ISU collection

TERRE HAUTE — An oil painting from Indiana State University’s Permanent Art Collection will be featured at an international exhibition in Belgium.

The 1935 painting “Smoke Stacks” by American artist Joseph Stella will be part of the historical exhibition at “MANIFESTA 9, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art” in Genk, Belgium. “Smoke Stacks” will be on display June 2 through Sept. 30.

“‘Smoke Stacks’ is one of only a few industrial paintings created by Joseph Stella,” said Barbara Räcker, university curator. “Indiana State is fortunate to have been chosen by the Federal Government, almost 70 years ago, to protect and interpret the painting, as well as other artwork from the [Works Progress Administration] programs. We are pleased to share this masterpiece with Manifesta’s international audience.”

Exhibition curator Dawn Ades, who resides in London, approached only three museums in the United States for loans to this exhibition – the ISU Permanent Art Collection, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio.

The historic and contemporary exhibitions offer a unique dialogue between art, history and social reflection, which addresses the changing patterns of production, industrialism and post-industrialism, and economic restructuring.

ISU’s painting will be included in the exhibition’s section “The Aesthetics of Pollution,” which explores both the way coal smoke was denounced and formalized by modern painters, from Joseph Mallord William Turner to Stella.

Stella resolved to build a bridge between his modernist European training and his American experience. An Italian immigrant who often returned to Europe, Stella was familiar with Futurism, an art and social movement originating in Italy, and shared an enthusiasm for industrialization and the vitality of modern life. He created a personal style, combining Futurist concepts with his romantic responses to industrial sites in his adopted country.

The painting depicts gray billowing smoke emerging from darkly silhouetted smokestacks.

“It seems to be an image of pollution, but it is really an image of progress,” said Racker. “We view it differently now. It was originally a positive image even though we may view it as negative.”

The work, until its recent departure to Belgium, could be found in the office of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“While I’m sorry to ‘lose’ the Stella for a few months, it is exciting to know that people around the world will be able to view a very important work of art — and one that exists in our Permanent Art Collection,” said Dean John Murray. “Every time I look at the empty space on my wall, I’ll know that someone else is probably viewing the painting and deriving joy from seeing it.”

In 1994 “Smoke Stacks” was loaned to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York for the first museum retrospective devoted to Stella. The painting was recently included in the University Art Gallery’s exhibition “Faith, Fear and Failure: Selections from Indiana State University’s WPA Art Collection.”

“Increased loans to major museums and exhibitions are one of many new initiatives to make Indiana State’s permanent art collection more accessible," Racker said.

For more information about the painting, pick up the WPA exhibition catalog free of charge at the University Art Gallery or contact Räcker at barbara.racker@indstate.edu.

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