Winter 2008: Register

Contemporary Scene Setter

By Mary J. Loftus

Contemporary art has long been an area of passion for Lisa Freiman 01PhD, but she was torn as to whether she wanted to teach or curate. Then came the opportunity to head up the contemporary art program at one of the largest and oldest general art museums in the country.

Lisa Freiman 01PhD is the Indianapolis Museum of Art curator of contemporary art.

Courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art

Freiman is now the curator of contemporary art and the codirector of the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA).

While at Emory, Freiman studied under Winship Distinguished Associate Professor of Art History James Meyer, who became a strong influence.

“He’s an incredibly rigorous, gifted teacher and scholar,” she says. “My specialty was modern and contemporary art, and there’s no question he’s one of the most important voices in the field. He was also one of the few academics I knew in the art world open to museum work—he really encouraged me to take it seriously.”

As curator of contemporary art at the IMA since 2002, Freiman has met famous artists, traveled the world searching for acquisitions and attending international art exhibitions, and helped develop the museum’s permanent collection as well as a slate of changing exhibitions.

She’s also the mother of four-year-old Michaela and two-year-old Tess, with husband Ed Coleman 95G, who runs the IB and AP English programs at North Central High School in Indianapolis.

“It’s a busy life, but an extraordinarily rewarding one,” she says.

Freiman has largely succeeded in her charge, which was to transform what was “basically an unknown program” at the IMA into one of the most active contemporary art programs associated with a general art museum in the United States.

“I’ve been given the opportunity to be intellectually, creatively, and socially engaged simultaneously,” she says, “and to be able to make a contribution to history while living in the present.”

The IMA has twenty-five thousand square feet of exhibition space devoted to contemporary art and soon will open the first art park in the country to display solely commissioned projects on an ongoing basis. Scheduled to open in 2009, the Fairbanks Art and Nature Park is spread over a hundred acres of woodland and wetland. Environmental artist Mary Miss was selected to create the park’s first work, a pedestrian bridge suspended through a tree canopy that will serve as a gateway between the museum and the art park.

Freiman views museums not just as elite sanctuaries of art, but as art education and community building in action. In the end, then, she has become a teacher after all.

“Our intent is always to allow the public to become more familiar with an artist’s work. Artists will often give a talk the night of their openings,” she says. “These are huge, successful events for the city. The lectures will attract hundreds of people, and they’ll stay for the reception and get to meet with the artist—it has created a contemporary scene here in Indianapolis.”

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