April 25–26, 2008
A public conference and related programs at IU Bloomington
In 1933, Thomas Hart Benton completed his landmark mural cycle for the Indiana Hall at Chicago's “Century of Progress” World’s Exposition. Even in an era distinguished by the work of such great muralists as José Orozco and Diego Rivera, Benton's Indiana Mural project stood out for its scale and its artistic impact. The artist’s notoriety in the wake of the exhibition of the Indiana Murals landed him on the cover of Time magazine in 1934 as one of the leading figures among the so-called Regionalists.
Yet, with the closing of the Chicago Exposition, Benton's twenty-two panels disappeared from the public eye. In 1938, Indiana University President Herman B Wells tracked them down in a building at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Wells made their installation at IU a central feature in his campaign to expand and beautify the Bloomington campus in a manner suited to his vision of the school as an international center of learning. Since 1941, the restored murals, displayed in the IU Auditorium, the old University Theater, and Woodburn Hall, have constituted one of the university's—and the state's—greatest artistic treasures. At the same time, they have served as the focus of continued controversy, dispute, and dialogue within the university community.
In 2008 we mark the 75th anniversary of this landmark of American public art. In a manner that Benton himself surely anticipated, the questions raised by his work today reflect both on our history and our future as Hoosiers. What can we learn from the bold combination of history, social comment, and art that Benton's murals epitomize? What preceded and what followed the murals, in the way of a distinctive Indiana tradition of public art? How does the architecture and planning of this campus and others around our region reflect Wells' vision of a modern university campus? What role does publicly accessible art play in either fueling or resolving the inevitable tensions that attend life in our pluralist society?
This free public conference and related 75th anniversary programs have been made possible through the assistance of the College Arts and Humanities Institute (CAHI), the American Studies Program, the Office of the Provost, Indiana University Art Museum, Indiana University Foundation, the IU Auditorium, and the Efroymson Fund.