Under the Big Top: The Circus as Art in America

The Midwest Museum of American Art is pleased to present an exciting look at the Circus as a theme in American Art over the past century. The exhibit opened on Friday, April 1 and will continue on view through the museum’s 37th Anniversary and conclude on Sunday, July 10.

The genesis of this exhibition began in late 2013 with the awareness and organization of works from the Midwest Museum of American Art Permanent Collection by Curator Brian Byrn. A conversation with collector and museum patron, Dr. Steven Conant of Indianapolis, continued the research as a result of his donations of American art with “circus” themes since 1993. Upon this foundation it was further discovered that few, perhaps less than five exhibits and none exclusively of American Art of the past 100 years, had ever been produced by an art institution around this theme even though it was apparent that many American artists throughout the 20th Century had created works about clowns, acrobats, aerialists, equestriennes, and other circus subject matter.

Utilizing the museum’s permanent collection as a starting point, and works never-before-seen, the exhibit “Under the Big Top”, features nearly seventy pieces. Augmenting the MMAA collection are works by artists invited to interpret the subject matter of the circus. Paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture depicting clowns, acrobats, animals, & other circus performers will be displayed. Other works that are inspired by the circus without being a literal interpretation will present the energy and dynamics of the Big Top through the innovative use of color and shape.

Artists selected from the museum’s holdings represent those of notoriety on a local, regional and national level. Some of them include Alexander Calder, Charles Demuth, Walt Kuhn, John Steuart Curry, and Adam Grant. Contemporary Indiana artists invited to participate include, Lea Goldman (South Bend), Todd Hoover (South Bend), Susan B. Lehman (Elkhart), Marcia Sindone (LaPorte), Jackie MacKenzie (Elkhart), & Kathy Zienty (Goshen). These are but a few of the 35 artists represented. Finally, vintage circus posters and over fifty other photographic artifacts of circus and carnival life will add another folk art, historical or material culture dimension to the exhibition.

MMAA is excited to present this exhibition to the general public during the Bi-Centennial activities of our State in accordance with the historical connections of the circus with Peru, Indiana, where the International Circus Hall of Fame Museum is located. It is not meant to be complete or exhaustive but rather, like the circus itself, entertaining and provide the viewer with thoughtful reminders about the Circus as Art in America.
Join us Under the Big Top!