Indianapolis' 5 Most Powerful People in Art
Recently, I was reading ArtReview's Power 100 list for 2022, and thinking about what it means to have power in the art world. What even is the "art world"? Who is included, and what does power mean in this context?
ArtReview's list is an annual ranking of the most influential people in art, and this year, ruangrupa took the top spot. The artist collective curated the most recent Documenta (with plenty of controversy), and while they undoubtedly have a robust artistic practice, that wasn't the main reason for their inclusion on the list. Cecilia Alemani came in second for
her curation and directorship over the 59th Venice Biennale. It isn't until #4 that we finally see someone named solely for their artistic practice - Hito Steyerl, whose work I had the privilege to see in the German Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
What can we learn from this ranking? More than you might think. It's telling that the top two spots are occupied by curators, both of whom are associated with two of the most important European exhibitions. It's clear that power - at least in the West - is still centered in the Venice Biennale. What's also evident is that power is beginning to decentralize from individuals, as ruangrupa rests comfortably in the #1 spot, while "Unions" seem to loom in #3.
The list can be critiqued and analyzed to no end, and perhaps someday I'll do a breakdown of some of the lessons that can be gleaned from it, but for now I'll take it at face value. Reading about these players navigating the international arena got me thinking about my own little world here in Indianapolis. Who are the major players here?
The following list was actually kind of difficult to narrow down - once I started thinking about it, I realized that there were a lot more than five entities in the local art scene that have significant social capital and influence. The culture industry in Indianapolis is, perhaps, somewhat larger than I've given it credit for. Without further ado, here are the top five people that I say run the art scene in this town.
1. GANGGANG - Cultural Development & Social Justice Organization
GANGGANG is a non-profit organization that is best known for its annual art fair, BUTTER. The exhibition aims to showcase and celebrate the work of Black artists. The past two editions of BUTTER Art Fair, held in the Stutz building, have taken Indianapolis by storm, attracting crowds and the attention of The New York Times. The exhibition often took on the aesthetics and energy of a festival.
GANGGANG's meteoric rise to prominence is noteworthy because it suggests a growing demand for alternative art environments that break from the traditional (core white audience, anyone?) art scene. While museums are struggling to get people in the door, BUTTER’s vibrant and energetic setting has proven to be a hit with attendees.
2. Malina "Mali" Simone Jeffers - Co-founder of GANGGANG, Member of the Newfields Board of Governors
In my opinion, Mali is currently the most influential person in the Indianapolis art scene. She has achieved this position due to her exceptional ability to navigate two distinct worlds successfully. As a co-founder of GANGGANG, Mali works as a revolutionary, challenging the status quo and striving for change. Her position as a leader in GANGGANG makes her particularly effective in guiding Newfields towards a more inclusive future. By bridging the gap between these two different worlds, Mali has established herself as a vital voice in shaping the direction of the Indianapolis art community.
3. Colette Pierce Burnette - President & CEO of Newfields
Following the 2021 controversy at Newfields, the institution's long-standing racism issue finally came to the forefront, and it was clear that change had to start from within, beginning with its leadership. When Colette Pierce Burnette assumed office in August 2022, I was unsure of what to expect.
Within a month of taking office, "We. The Culture: Works by The Eighteen Art Collective" opened, and it is a must-see exhibition. While Newfields still faces valid criticisms for its overplayed Lume exhibitions, "We. The Culture" is a promising step towards welcoming a contemporary audience.
4. Braydee Euliss - BUTTER Curator, Director of COMPANION
I first met Braydee in 2019 when she came to sit in on a critique group that I was part of, and I was immediately struck by her thoughtfulness. She speaks in such a way that you can tell she's careful with her words. At the time, we talked casually about her metals work, and my collage practice, and went our separate ways. I didn't see her again for about a year, when I sat down to interview her for PATTERN Magazine about her directorship of Indy Contemporary. A few weeks later, we were in lockdown, and i/c was no more.
Now, in March 2023, I can say that Braydee is everywhere. She helped to curate BUTTER, BUTTER 2, and Indiana Beach, she runs a gallery (of sorts) out of her home, and maintains a metals practice, the products of which can be found online and in local shops. She often coordinates with Brent Lehker of Storage Space, and artists Nick Witten and Danielle Graves. She is a consistent presence in the Indianapolis art scene, and her influence is significant.
5. Justin Brown - Artist, Director of Hoy Polloy
It's difficult to write about Justin simply because there is so much to say. I knew him first as a gallery director, and only later did I come to understand his artistic practice and the trajectory of his career. His art gallery, Hoy Polloy, was founded with young artists in mind. I'm one of the many artists that he helped, as he gave me my first show in August of 2019.
His artwork is a different thing entirely. Working almost exclusively in black and white, Justin collages together images, definitions, and FBI files to create work that is often humorous, and often profoundly frightening. Before i/c closed, Justin had an exhibition called "Intelligence Countered," and featured large-scale portraits of Black people that were being surveilled by the FBI. His work is deeply self-aware, and has a call-and-response relationship with Art History, and the art market.
So, that's my list of the top 5 Indianapolis players in the art scene. Do you agree with the list? Is there anyone that you would add, or you think doesn't belong? Sound off in the comments.