Opening Friday, September 1, "These 'Things' I Call Art" showcases the innovative and heterogeneous oeuvre of Eskenazi alum and former faculty member Don Gene Bell (B.A. '61, M.F.A. '65). Widely exhibited, published, and collected, the Indiana-born artist with deep ties to the Eskenazi School passed away in September 2020. The posthumous retrospective at University Collections at McCalla is drawn from a large gift of Bell's work made to the university last year.
Born in Albion, Indiana in 1935, Bell created a body of work acquired by the Minneapolis Museum of Art, the University Art Gallery at SUNY-Binghamton, Security Mutual Insurance Co, the Erie Museum of Art, and the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, among other institutions. Raised in Ohio and rural Indiana, Bell attended a two-year program at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts before pursuing his visual arts education at IU where he studied design with George Sadek.
During his schooling and beyond, Bell served IU in a variety of capacities. As an undergraduate, he was employed by the university television station that would become WTIU, subsequently working as curator of exhibits at the university’s new anthropology and history museum (now the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology). Upon earning his M.F.A., Bell became an assistant professor in IU’s graphic, exhibition, and interior design program, where he taught from 1965-68.
While serving as a professor and in the administration of the Department of Art and Art History at SUNY-Binghamton for three decades, Bell developed a body of work encompassing plein-air landscape, figure painting, erotica, commercial design, storybook illustrations, and minimalist, three-dimensional canvases.
"The vitality of these paintings quickens the pulse and leaves the viewer feeling that he has hiked the trails, the hills, and the distant places depicted here,” read the introduction to a catalogue for one of Bell's exhibitions. “The paintings of wrestlers, restrained in color, appear to be about tensed energy and the elegance of the human form in motion.”
Bell retired in 1997 with his partner Bob Varga to Tucson, Arizona, where they founded their own art studio. In 2022, after Bell's passing, Varga made a gift of nearly 400 pieces of art -- 350 of which being Bell’s work -- to IU. Some of Bell’s work has been permanently installed in the Mies van der Rohe Building.
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