By Mike Tanier
February 1, 2012, 4:31 pm
Throughout the week, Mike Tanier will be out and about and filing dispatches from the Super Bowl city.
INDIANAPOLIS–In the Super Bowl Village, the closest things a visitor can see to public art are some football-themed ice sculptures and the enormous, inescapable advertising banners: a movie poster here, a giant beer bottle there, Lombardi Trophies everywhere.
But, more thoughtful, evocative images can be seen just a few blocks away along the streets of Indianapolis. Nineteen vignettes portraying everyday joys, from baking cookies to gardening, line the walls of a railroad underpass at Capitol Avenue, just a few paces from the line for the popular Super Bowl zip line ride. Around the corner, a 160-foot wide vinyl banner atop the Illinois Avenue train trestle advertises nothing at all: it depicts a tangle of busses, trains and historical figures surrounding a bearded astronaut with angelic wings.
The underpass paintings and the Icarus-as-space traveler installation are just two of the 46 murals created for the “46 for XLVI” public art initiative, organized to dovetail with the Super Bowl festivities by the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the city government.
“Simple Pleasures,” the underpass mural, is the work of regional artist Tom Torluemke. “The Death of Ambition” was created by Artur Silva, a Brazilian-born artist and Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant recipient who now lives in Indianapolis. A total of 34 artists completed 46 murals in just over six months, some of them working through the wind and rain of the Midwestern winter to finish just days before the start of Super Bowl festivities.
Public art and football may make strange bedfellows, but the Arts Council’s president and chief executive, Dave Lawrence, said that the city used the arrival of the Super Bowl as an opportunity to improve some blighted patches of downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods.
“There were a lot of articles in the local media about eyesores that needed to be fixed before the Super Bowl came to town,” he said. Lawrence pitched the mural project to the deputy mayor in November 2010. “I told him I had a wacky idea to run by him,” he said. “His eyes got huge, and he texted the mayor.”
The sheer scale of the project made Lawrence leery at first. “I thought, ‘What Super Bowl is this? Forty-six? That’s a lot of murals.’” With the help of the city, the Arts Council raised $500,000, assembled a selection committee, began soliciting entries from around the country and overseas, and arranged everything from zoning rights to insuring the artists and the buildings they worked upon. Work itself began in late July. The last artist put down her brush on Jan. 12.
There was no set theme for the murals, allowing artists to choose their own subjects, mediums and styles. “Some artists thought: will I have to put a football in it somewhere?” Lawrence said. Artist Michael Kirby, working on the Jobsite Supply Wall across the street from Lucas Oil Stadium, chose a football-related theme: a W.P.A.-style salute to Colts history. The work betrays its creator’s Baltimore roots by prominently featuring Johnny Unitas, while Peyton Manning is slightly closer to the work’s margin. Other artists, working in everything from spray paint to mosaic, chose abstract themes, nature scenes, and portraits of local luminaries, including a 38-foot-high painting of the Indiana native Kurt Vonnegut by the local muralist Pamela Bliss.
Silva’s computer-designed vinyl installation is just one block from the stadium and clearly visible through windows from the inside, but Silva, a lifelong soccer fan, felt no urge to incorporate football in his creation. “That would be like challenging the Super Bowl fans, claiming that they couldn’t get into something else,” Silva said, explaining that the work addresses the contrast between seeking comfort and the human instinct to explore (the winged astronaut at the work’s center is a self-portrait). “People are much more complicated and much smarter than that. It would be a mistake to believe that we live for one thing.”
Torluemke’s “Simple Pleasures” and Kirby’s “Indy Colts” cover what Lawrence calls “fix-it zones,” the eyesores the city and Arts Council specifically targeted for improvement. The Jobsite Supply wall was a long expanse of gray concrete blocks covered with graffiti tags, and rust stains the metal roof. The railroad underpass was typically foreboding, with dripping water and layers of graffiti, but it was also one of the main pedestrian walkways between downtown and the stadium. The Arts Council did not have the budget to reface the wall itself – the artist worked around chips and gashes in the concrete – but a small awning now diverts railroad runoff to the edge of the underpass.
The ambitious project had its share of hitches. Paint will not stick to walls in temperatures below 40 degrees, so artists got a huge break as a result of the exceptionally mild winter weather. Artist Michael Cooper, who created the optical illusion of a peel-away building wall in the trompe l’oeil style on Virginia Avenue, spent several weeks working around rain and high winds. A wheeled scaffolding blew into the middle of Capitol Avenue while Bliss worked on her second mural, a photorealistic tribute to four local jazz legends. Luckily, Bliss was not on it, and there was no traffic. “When we got that call, I was a little weak in the knees,” Lawrence said.
Residents have reacted positively to the murals; one couple had their engagement photos taken under the Vonnegut portrait. Visitors can find small-scale reproductions of several murals in the Huddle, one of the shops in the Super Bowl Village, and can also pick up brochures and maps there for walking tours.
Unlike the advertising banners in Super Bowl Village, the murals are semi-permanent. The Arts Council has secured funds for repair and maintenance, and while the original plan was to replace the murals with new ones every 10 years, the Vonnegut portrait and a few others may become permanent fixtures of the cityscape. “We have created 46 canvasses around the region,” Lawrence said. “This is just the beginning.”
Silva’s vinyl installation may not be around as long: the colors will fade more quickly, and the fabric will not survive many harsh winters. Silva recognizes the similarity between his chosen medium and the advertisements that overwhelm the senses a few blocks away, and uses the observer’s expectations to his advantage. “People are looking for the brand when they see these things,” he said. “They are expecting to be sold something, but what they come away with is a free idea.”
Mike Tanier writes about the N.F.L. for The Times, Football Outsiders and NBC Sports. If you are in Indianapolis, look for him out and about: he will be the one complaining about the lack of authentic cheese steaks.
From: The New York Times