In the fall of 2008, the Indianapolis Museum of Art marked its 125th Anniversary. From a special publicationabout the IMA’s history to an unprecedented gala and the unveiling of a historical commission, this year the Museum commemorates its remarkable past as it enthusiastically embraces its future.
On November 7, 1883, an exhibition of 453 works by 137 artists opened at the English Hotel on the downtown Indianapolis Circle. It was the first exhibition organized by the Art Association of Indianapolis, which well-known suffragette May Wright Sewell, her husband Theodore and a small group of art-minded citizens had formed a few months earlier. In the process, they wrote the mission statement that spelled out their intentions. The success of that exhibition, which attracted sizeable crowds throughout its three-week run, established the Art Association as a viable factor in the local cultural scene and led to more exhibitions, as well as lectures and eventually a campus featuring both a museum and an art school. 

Though the Sewalls were never timid about dreaming big, even they would be shocked to see what the small group they helped found 125 years ago has become. Since the Art Association of Indianapolis changed its name to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1969—a precursor to its move the following year from its longtime home on the campus of the John Herron Art Institute at 16thand Pennsylvania streets into a new building at 38th Street and Michigan Road—the organization has evolved into the fifth largest general art museum in the country, with active exhibition and education programs that far surpass anything the Art Association’s founders could have imagined.

Along the way, there have been many highlights, including:

·         The posthumous donation in 1895 of $225,000 from local businessman John Herron, whose only stipulation was that the Art Association use it to build an art school and gallery bearing his name. On November 22, 1906, the John Herron Art Institute opened to the public in a building designed by the local firm Vonnegut and Bohn; one of the principals in that firm was Bernard Vonnegut, grandfather of the writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

·         The first major exhibition held at the Herron Museum was a retrospective of the work of American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1910. It attracted some 56,000 visitors over its three-month run, setting an attendance record that stood for more than 80 years before being topped by the 60,000 who came to see the 1992 exhibition, William S. Paley Collection.

·         The generosity of other individuals have helped the Museum build some of its most important collections: Eliza Niblack (textiles), Caroline Marmon Fesler (20th-century modernism), Eli Lilly (Chinese bronzes and ceramics), George and Edith Clowes (Old Masters), Kurt Pantzer (J. M.W. Turner), Samuel Josefowitz (School of Pont-Aven), and Christopher and Ann Stack (contemporary art), to name a few.

·         When the Art Association’s board began looking for a new site for the Museum, Ruth and J.K. Lilly III, the children of J.K. Lilly Jr. and his wife Ruth, stepped forward in 1966 and offered Oldfields. The Lilly family had owned the estate for more than 30 years, J.K. Lilly, Jr. having bought it from original owner Hugh McKennan Landon, who first developed the property in 1912.

·         In 1997, the Museum received the largest financial donation it had ever received: a $40 million bequest from Enid Goodrich, the widow of Pierre Goodrich who had helped finance local publisher Eugene C. Pulliam’s Central Newspapers Inc. (CNI), the parent company of The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News.

These are just a small selection of the many ways the Museum has lived up to the mission established by its founders 125 years ago. Another came to light in October 2009 when the IMA unveiled a new work by internationally renowned sculptor Robert Irwin.|Light and Space III, a $1 million installation, was made possible through a combination of art purchase funds and a gift from Ann M. and Chris Stack. Measuring 60 feet by 60 feet, the piece, made of neon light tubes behind translucent scrims, extends floor to ceiling along the escalator in Pulliam Great Hall. The Irwin piece will remain on display permanently.

Contributed by Anonymous
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