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Last updated: Fri. Apr. 04, 2014 - 01:23 am EDT

Seeing art inside out

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If you go

What: “Biological Canvas” ArtScene discussion with artists Justin Henry Miller and Yis Goodwin

When: 6 p.m. Saturday; exhibit ends June 22

Where: Fort Wayne Museum of Art, 311 E. Main St.

Admission: $5 general admission, free for members; call 422-6467 or go to for regular hours

Human and animal anatomy have been the inspiration of artists for centuries, but rarely have they been dissected the way they are in the current exhibit at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.

With pieces featuring tentacles, strands of organs and quirky creatures, “Biological Canvas” represents an emerging pattern of artists using a contemporary eye to survey the biology of real and imaginary beings. Exhibiting artists Justin Henry Miller and Yis Goodwin will join adjunct curator Josef Zimmerman for the museum’s ArtScene discussion Saturday.

“It’s really good for people to have a chance to talk to the artist. It’s like having your favorite musician play and then getting to talk to them after they’re done,” Zimmerman says. “They’re living artists, you can find what they are trying to say, what they are trying to do. It’s your chance to talk to them before they’re dead and have to have other people explain it.”

The exhibit displays the work of national-exhibiting artists Scott Teplin, Miller and Goodwin. Teplin, a son of a surgeon, was inspired by his father’s anatomical textbooks. His large pieces for the exhibit display the internal maze of systems within the body and automobile. Miller’s work is inspired by his life growing up on a horse farm. Combining science fiction with science fact, the work includes a world of creatures born out of experimental procedures to enhance nature.

Goodwin’s work is inspired by how his piles of toys appeared to be one entity within his toy box growing up. His imaginative creatures are made up of elements of the surrounding environment.

“I think these artists, who each are beginning to be successful, are refreshing for audiences. It’s just not another Hoosier landscape or not another portrait of somebody,” Executive Director Charles Shepard says. “It’s really fresh; it’s neat.”

“Biological Canvas” is Zimmerman’s follow-up to his visually playful exhibit, “Brilliant Optics,” last year. He says that this exhibit has a similar color palette with more of a focus on the subject matter than the aesthetic.

Although the three artists have a similar concept, they are coming at the common thread from different angles. Zimmerman says it’s difficult to pinpoint how this emerging biological trend began.

“They all have been working on their art for more than 10 years, they are all around the same age, but they have only learned about each other from doing this show. It’s hard to place why this happens because they were all inspired for different reasons,” he says. “I think they do this work because they can. We live in a world where they could do anything they want nowadays.”

Shepard says that as the art world grows, there are certain subgenres of artists who no longer look for validation in more traditional art realms.

“The art world is just so much bigger than it really ever has been. In particular, it’s bigger than when you go back to World War II. From 1945 to 1965, you had abstract expressionism; the art world was a pretty small world in terms of art galleries, and the depth of work. From 1965 to the 1970s, you have pop art, and the art world is getting bigger. More art schools have students graduating with BFAs and MFAs, but even up through the mid-’70s and ’80s, you have one dominant way of working,” he says.

“The situation now in the 21st century is that it’s expanding again. You’re finding work and subject matter that’s not in the mainstream. That’s what got Josef and I together. We discussed what we made of these people who do stuff that doesn’t necessarily come from our art school background. Although they went to art school, this isn’t the subject matter they did to get their grades. They’re doing what they want to do,” Shepard says.

Zimmerman says he enjoys working with Shepard to bring something relevant in the art world to the city.

“It’s great to work with someone who is willing to stay current,” he says. “It’s a professional environment, and Charles definitely gives me insight when needed, but he kind of let’s me do what I need to do.”

Shepard says Zimmerman is the first active curator of 18 potential adjunct curators who are involved in putting together specialized exhibits for the museum. With 10 adjunct curators in line, Shepard says more guest curators will begin this year and the program should be fully running by 2015.

Shepard says by offering a stipend to guest curators, he is able to bring in artistic insight and work with individuals the museum would not be able to afford for a full-time position.

“ … It wouldn’t be that they’re all working on a show in a given year; two people may be working on a show for 2016, maybe two for 2017,” he says. “By staggering the people, it helps me to get an incredible amount of brain power at a museum that can really only afford a couple of curators. There’s all this intelligence in a way that I can afford to have it.”

Shepard says “Biological Canvas” is an example of how guest curators can enhance what the museum offers and save viewers the expense of traveling to a larger city.

“This is the step into a whole new part of the art world that has never been brought to Fort Wayne before,” he says. “I think that it’s important for it to come to Fort Wayne on a couple of levels. It’s important for the art community. Fort Wayne artists and regional artists should see what colleagues are doing around the country. I also think it’s important for the audience.

“We try to do shows that make you feel like you don’t have to go Indianapolis or to Chicago to see art shows.”

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