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Moment of Indiana History

Taking a Gamble on Contemporary Art

The story of modern art in the United States can not be told without acknowledging the role played by “Indiana’s wild bunch of gamblers in art.”

Bound by a common “interest in contemporary art, together with a willingness to take chances” and to pay annual dues of $25, an Indianapolis-based group calling itself the Gamboliers informed the direction of the avant-garde with their adventuresome collecting.

The predominantly female group coalesced in 1928 under the leadership of Hoosier-born Mary Quinn Sullivan. The Shortridge High School graduate had studied and taught at New York’s Pratt Institute, and made significant social connections.

Marrying in 1917, Sullivan and her husband traveled frequently to Europe to collect art by the post-Impressionist masters whose work had been characterized as “vulgar,” “degenerate” or “simply pathological” by more staid American museum-goers.

Having joined forces with Abby Rockefeller and Lizzie Bliss to found New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1929, back in Indianapolis, Sullivan and her renegade band of art patrons, along with Herron Art Institute director Wilbur Peat, did much to “create a wholesome attitude in [the] city toward the newer ideas”.

Using their own funds, the Gamboliers acquired over 160 works of art by living American and European artists—including Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse and Walt Kuhn—that represent the first modernist works in the collection of Indianapolis Museum of Art.

This Moment of Indiana History draws upon the following source: Schlagenhauff, Annette. “Gifts of the Gamboliers: Modern Art in Indianapolis.” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History (Vol 21, No. 1).

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