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  • Writer's pictureBryn Foreman


Labor Day Weekend in Indianapolis was, for the third year in a row, a lightning-strike celebration of Black Fine Arts. Over the course of four days, the Stutz building crackled with energy from the throngs of visitors coming to celebrate.

One of the BUTTER entrances

BUTTER's footprint has expanded, and grown upward. This year's fair featured a performance stage and a conversation stage on the ground floor. To get in, visitors passed beneath a gigantic flower arch, or through a more intimate, textured chrome gateway, both paying homage to Fei's entrance sculpture from BUTTER 2021, which now resides in Future Friends Holographic's gallery space in the Murphy Building.

Located on the fourth floor, the main exhibition hall was accessible only via elevator, the interiors of which were transformed by artist Caleb Poer, giving visitors a feeling of excitement and anticipation - like creeping up the hill of a roller coaster.

The star of the show was artist Aaron S. Coleman's "Sentinals," curated by GANGGANG's own Alyse Tucker-Bounds. Emerging from the elevators, BUTTER guests were greeted by the four massive panels made from basketball court flooring, siding from an abandoned house, turf, and chainlink fence among other things. The panels loomed large, evoking both Catholic carved panels and Ghanaian masks, and were rendered in the bright colors found in the Ghana cloth.

This polyptych greeting visitors to the gallery space, while remarkable, is not the work of Coleman's that impressed me the most. Rather, the object of my obsession is a taxidermy pigeon, "The Art of Storytelling," (2022). Deftly positioned by the curators in the center of the room, atop a pedestal made of basketball flooring, a preserved racing pigeon (purchased by the artist just outside of Tulsa) pulls a red thread from a ball of yarn that's nestled inside a caricaturized head. The vision is stunning and visceral, I haven't stopped thinking about it since I first laid eyes on it at the volunteer orientation.

Coleman expertly wields materials that are every bit as useful narratively as the technical arrangements of said materials, which function to "challenge the fundamental disparity that defines the viewing practice," as described by Tina M. Campt. "The Art of Storytelling," borne from a Black Gaze, is an uncomfortable revelation, and something found in delirium.

There was no shortage of talent to keep Coleman company at the top of the Stutz. While volunteering as a gallery attendant, I overheard one visitor call "Glory" (2023), a massive, understated yet powerful portrait of a Black woman wearing an exquisite white and ivory gown, "Ashley Nora's Black 'Mona Lisa.'" This particular gem of the exhibition was curated by both Malina Simone Bacon and Alan Bacon, founders of GANGGANG.

Shabez Jamal, curated by Kia Davis and Greg Rose, stunned visitors in multiple mediums,

One of Shabez Jamal's works in the main gallery

with a video installation on the first floor, and 3D collage-sculpture, shadow boxes, and polaroids encased in concrete on the main exhibition floor. The spread of mediums coalesce into a clear, coherent voice to leave the viewer feeling haunted, curious, and just a bit guilty for the voyeurism inherent in the act of looking.

Some of my other favorite artists included Desi, Justin A. Carney, Chris Hill, and Miss Jaws.

Whether real or imagined, it felt like there was less art than last year's BUTTER, but I'm not necessarily sure that this is a bad thing. The artworks were expertly curated, and it's evident that the entire curatorial team worked together to put together a collection that's the best of the best. The limited visual art collection held room for extensive programming, and provided opportunities for human connection; in other words, this year's BUTTER felt more potent.

BUTTER 2023 was a love letter. In the midst of so much transition, growth, and evolution, the team at GANGGANG found new heights with this year's iteration of the Fine Arts fair, and sets the stage for an even more jaw-dropping return in 2024. With another overwhelming success under their belt, GANGGANG appears poised to continue to put Indianapolis on the cultural map and trail-blaze towards a more equitable contemporary art world.

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