Just one day before a group calling itself Citizens Against Slave Image holds a rally to protest a proposed Fred Wilson sculpture in downtown Indianapolis, the project’s lead funder, the Central Indiana Community Foundation, has told MAN that it will no longer support the project at its intended site. The move, which will be formally announced later today in a press release, puts the future of the project in doubt.
Wilson conceived the sculpture, titled E Pluribus Unum (renderings at right and below), as a site-specific artwork in response to a commission from the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. (For details on the artwork, the project, the site and Saturday’s rally, click here.) The site Wilson chose is on the plaza in front of Indianapolis’ City-County Building, near the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial, from which the Wilson appropriates the sculpture’s figure.
Payne said that CICF would still be willing to fund the project anywhere along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.
“Fred mining a non-for-profit museum [for subject matter] is not the same as Fred mining works in public to put on public land,” Payne said. ” That this is public art makes it more complex than if he’s mining a museum, where a person can elect to go or not go.”
Payne said that he and Wilson spoke about other sites more than six months ago, but that he does not know what Wilson would think of moving the piece now. Payne added that he has not yet spoken with Wilson about CICF’s announcement, but that he hoped to talk with Wilson soon.
Wilson told MAN that he was deeply disappointed but indicated that he was not immediately prepared to walk away from the project.
“I have spent a long time trying to figure out a place for the work that would have some fellowship to the [Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument] and also be within downtown,” Wilson said. “There really were no other great locations that I saw for this kind of thing, for this work along the trail. The siting I thought spoke well on many different levels. However, I am ultimately a very generous person and would like to still keep lines of communication open about the piece and not close the door on it by saying that [the City-County Building] was the only site possible. I’m open to conversations about it.”
While it’s possible that another funder could step forward to fund the work at its intended site, it’s not clear whether the city would be willing to continue with the City-County Building as the site. UPDATE, 3:22pm ET, 7/29: A spokesperson for Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard said that the mayor was opposed to siting E Pluribus Unum at the City-County Building. “The mayor did encourage the CICF to move the sculpture from City-County Building property,” Ballard spokeseperson Marc Lotter said. “If [they] want to find a location on another part of the ICT for the artwork that would be their decision. They mayor felt that due to the controversy and some of the concerns that were brought up, using the City-County Building itself would be not be the best location.”
Wilson also sounded potentially willing to site the piece off of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail should he be unable to find a suitable ICT site.
“I assumed that if this piece was nowhere near the monument that it would fade into the background as [the figure on the monument] had for 100 years,” Wilson said. “That is a reason for having something else permanent, to think about the relationship between the past and now. So I’ll keep everything open until it’s clear that the work is compromised.”
Reaction from the arts community was swift.
“I’m disappointed in the immediate outcome but very much hope that the project will find a prominent place on the cultural trail,” Indianapolis Museum of Art director Max Anderson told MAN.
“Indianapolis is crazy not to go ahead with it,” said Los Angeles Times art critic and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Christopher Knight. “Wilson is a first-rate artist. Not only is this one of the most provocative ideas he’s come up with, it’s one of the most compelling ideas for a public art project that I’ve encountered in a very long time.”
ICT project manager and curator Mindy Taylor Ross also expressed frustration. “I have been working with the Cultural Trail, the community and Fred Wilson for almost five years on this project and I am very disappointed to learn of this decision while on vacation with my family,” she said.
The extent of CICF’s commitment to the project has been in question for months. As I reported on MAN yesterday, nine months ago CICF president Brian Payne said that his organization planned to hold a series of public meetings in an effort to foster dialogue about the project and build consensus. Despite a$50,000 display of public support for the project (and the public forums) from the Joyce Foundation, CICF has held no public meetings.
Still, Payne emphasized that CICF reached its decision based on input from the community.
“I’m in conversation with lots of people, all the time,” he said. “It hasn’t been as all-conclusive about the work, but I’m in conversations with lots of people, including mayor Ballard, and it seems as if the location is defining the conversation in a negative way. It seemed like it was better to go ahead and eliminate the location as a part of the conversation because it was clear to me as a result of this community process that it was not going to end up at that location. I’m very confident about that. It’s not like we’re going to hear a big rallying cry of, ‘Why didn’t you put it at the City-County Building?’ So we said, ‘Why don’t we take that off the table and talk about the piece somewhere else?’
Payne said that CICF would move forward with its plans to instigate community conversations about the piece, but did not specify a timeline for when they would happen.