New Indianapolis Museum of Art Director Wants More Blockbuster Shows

The new director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), Charles Venable, is unabashedly excited about using blockbuster exhibitions — including “Speed: The Art of the Performance Automobile,” a recent show at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts that he hopes to use as the main concept for a forthcoming show — to replenish the institution’s endowment after it dropped by $100 million in 2008, while cutting costs by $2 million. “We need to maximize audience and perform financially at a different level,” he told the Indy Star, a two-fold goal towards which he has made major strides since taking the museum’s reins in October of last year.

The first major exhibition of his directorship — which follows a five-year stint at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, where he cut spending, boosted the endowment, and raised all the funds necessary for a major expansion project — will go a long way towards accomplishing his goals. Though admission to the museum is free ordinarily, visitors to “Matisse: A Life in Color,” a show opening in the fall and boasting 79 paintings and sculptures on loan from the Baltimore Museum of Art will have to pay $18. When entrance to special exhibitions at the IMA is ticketed, admission typically costs $12. He expects the show to bring in some 80,000 visitors, adding some 2,000 households to the museum’s membership. That play for blockbuster numbers has drawn criticisms, including from ARTINFO‘s Tyler Green.

Cars and Matisses may be safe subjects for shows, but you won’t be seeing any more scholarly exhibitions on Islamic art under Venerable. The IMA’s director told the Star he disapproved of the recent exhibition “Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture,” which cost $500,000 to put together but only brought in 8,000 visitors. “Arts audiences over the last 50 years are getting smaller,” Venable told the Star before the IMA’s inaugural “Final Friday” party, “so you’ve got to appeal to more people.”

— Benjamin Sutton

(Photo via Indianapolis Museum of Art/Facebook.)