The Permanent Art Collection has loaned two works by Ralph Arnold to the Museum of Contemporary Photography, which is exhibiting the first major retrospective of Arnold’s work since his death.
Two famed pieces of art went from lost to found with one email.
Jocelyn Krueger, Indiana State’s Permanent Art Collection curator, reached out to the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago to determine their interest in Ralph Arnold’s “Male Bag” and “Music Bag.”
Krueger’s message about the pieces came as a surprise, though, since records from the gallery where the pieces were purchased indicated that they were purchased by Indiana University, not Indiana State University.
“When the museum contacted Indiana University, they didn’t know what they talking about and never had those pieces,” Krueger said. “After discovering the pieces were at Indiana State, the Museum of Contemporary Photography was also able to change the listing inventory of Ralph Arnold’s work to say that these pieces weren’t missing but were at Indiana State.”
They’ve been on loan since August. “I regularly do searches to see what upcoming exhibits are happening for the artists that are in our collection because a lot of stuff in out Permanent Art Collection hasn’t historically been published or accessible like our collection online, so people don’t necessarily know what we have,” she said.
Krueger discovered that the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s Ralph Arnold exhibit would run from Oct. 11-Dec. 21. The timing was also about when the pieces were to be taken down from Root Hall for the first time since they were installed in the building right after they were purchased from Commercial Gallery in Chicago in the early ’70s.
“I had Ralph Arnold on my mind and did a search and contacted the Museum of Contemporary Photography and shared images of the pieces we have,” she said. “They contacted me back and said they were interested in having them in the exhibit, which is the first major retrospective of Ralph Arnold’s work since his death.”
Arnold’s connection to the Chicago area runs deep — he was born there, taught there for many years and worked for the Illinois Arts Council for decades. Since this is his first major retrospective, a lot of information about Ralph Arnold has yet to be written, although his impact on his students and through the Art Council in Illinois has made him a major figure in the state’s art world.
Both pieces date back to 1972 and are from a moment in Arnold’s career that he is most well-known for — between 1968 to the mid-70s where he worked on mixed media collages. Both works also have more three-dimensional elements, something Arnold always dabbled in until he started working more extensively in shadow boxes and assemblages at the end of this time period.
They are also not a collage with a structured composition.
“There are things that more about connections because that was what was important in talking about his ideas,” Krueger said. “As you go around and see one thing or element in the piece, you’re supposed to think about how that piece is connected to other pieces in the artwork. Sometimes some of the popular culture references are a little dated and not every understands them, but I don’t necessarily think that that is the case for the two pieces we have but some of the other pieces of his that I’ve seen it is.”
The works, which have the original tags and price stickers on back, also combine images from print media and touch on television and movies, including television personalities or movie stars or televisions themselves. Arnold also included sheet music and images from art history, which he drew on top of in pencil and crayons.
“Thematically, these two pieces are similar to one of the other artworks that Ralph Arnold did during this time period. A lot of his artwork deals with how identity is performed and shared and created through mass media and a lot of times he incorporated his own identity as a black, gay, veteran,” Krueger said. “Sometimes one of those parts, sometimes all of those parts are in the artwork, but it’s also about how television might portray those identities or inform people or obscure people’s identities. The pieces we have also have references to his identity and art history and television.”
Krueger sent the Arnold pieces to Chicago in August, which was made easier than normal because the boxes were supplied by the museum and because the pieces were nicely and professionally framed and required no premier matting.
“We did a little bit of touch up and dusting to clean up the frame and glazing, then did some photography and condition work so we know what it was like when it left campus,” she said. “They’ll do the same when they receive it.”
When the pieces are finally returned, Krueger doesn’t expect them to be hung around campus for public view, although people can contact her at the library to view these or any of the collection’s other works.
This is the first time these particular pieces have been on loan, but it’s not the first time works from the university’s Permanent Art Collection have left campus for exhibits elsewhere.
“We have two pieces that travel regularly, including Joseph Stella’s ‘Smoke Stacks’ that went to France a few years ago,” Krueger said. “At the time I was negotiating the Ralph Arnold pieces we had loans to four other institutions — a Robert Malcolm piece called ‘Dance Variations’ loaned to Cascadia Museum of Art outside of Seattle, a bunch of WPA work loaned to a college in New York state, work at the Swope Museum in Terre Haute and I purchased a piece from a dealer in New York that I didn’t know at the time was already scheduled to be in a major exhibit in the new museum in New York, which is one of the most important exhibits on gender in the last few years. That piece finally arrived here last year.”