WHEN it opens its new Hulman Pavilion in mid-October, the Indianapolis Museum of Art will not only have increased its exhibition space by more than 80 percent, it will have added a significant architectural component to what is already one of the handsomest art museums in the Midwest. It will also be another feather in the cap of architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, whose other achievements include museums in Dallas, Minneapolis, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Although not quite finished, Barnes's contribution here is already an obvious success. Simple and unostentatious, and yet stamped with undeniable individuality, it harmonizes beautifully with the older Krannert and Clowes Pavilions (currently undergoing renovation) adjacent to it.
Two things stand out: The lyrically modern, quietly monumental appearance of the museum's exterior, and the functional yet attractive layout of its interior. Movement from pavilion to pavilion is easy and uncomplicated. At odd moments, the visitor is treated to a glimpse of wilderness or countryside (the museum is situated in a large park that also includes a lake, woods, and a portion of an old water company canal). But most important, the art the visitor encounters is generally of excellent quality and quite frequently first-rate.
Several individuals helped make that possible. Among the major gifts is an important collection of Chinese art given in 1971 by R. Norris Shreve, followed in 1973 by Kurt F. Pantzer's initial gift of watercolors by Joseph Mallord Turner. (The balance was received in 1979, making the museum's collection of Turner material the largest in the United States.) In 1976, Herman and Elnora Krannert bequeathed an extensive collection of Old Master paintings and decorative objects. And in 1977, the museum was gifted with the W.J. Holliday Collection of Neo-Impressionist paintings, the largest of its kind in America. In addition to increasing exhibition space to more than 80,000 square feet, the new Hulman and renovated Krannert and Clowes Pavilions will:
Provide continuous traffic patterns through the galleries for clearer chronological and cultural continuity. In the new galleries, visitors will walk through a history of Western art without having to backtrack through galleries.
Underscore the museum's function as an instructional institution by giving more prominence to the Clowes Fund Collection, several of whose Old Master paintings are of greater art historical importance, than aesthetic.
Provide significantly more space for temporary exhibitions. The new (and huge) special exhibition gallery will have moveable walls in order to accommodate more than one show at a time.
Increase space for storage and art service functions, including major expansion of the conservation laboratories.
A museum's primary purpose, of course, is to present works of art in as attractive and unencumbered an environment as possible. Here, as I discovered recently while touring its facilities, the Indianapolis Museum of Art will continue to do itself proud. With a few exceptions - and those were designed to accommodate very small, early European works - the galleries are spacious, well lighted, and obviously intended exclusively for the display of art.
My first pleasant surprise was to discover a number of fine 14th- and 15th-century panels, including a charming Neroccio de'Landi painting of the ``Madonna and Child,'' and a four-panel depiction of saints by Agnolo Gaddi.
My second was to come across a tiny (45/8 inches in diameter) self-portrait by Hans Holbein I had seen in reproduction - and had fallen in love with - when I was a young boy, but had never seen in the original. How I wanted to take it home with me! But had that been possible, I would also have taken Jos'e de Ribera's ``A Philosopher''; Frans Hals's amazing 1650 ``Self-Portrait''; Van Dyck's precocious ``The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem'' (he was 18 or 19 and Rubens's principal assistant when he painted it); Willem Kalf's ``Still Life with Blue Jar''; and George Stubbs's stark but exquisitely executed painting of a horse.
The El Grecos, I must admit, didn't interest me. Too much El Greco ``manner'' and not enough El Greco substance. Neither was I taken by Rembrandt's very early ``Self-Portrait.'' Considering how great a painter he became, it's amazing what a clod of a painter he was in his 20s!
Once I moved into the 19th century, however, I was repeatedly moved and delighted, first by a group of Turner watercolors, and then by a cluster of outstanding Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and works on paper. Even in this company, Gauguin's ``Landscape near Arles,'' Van Gogh's ``Landscape at Saint-Remy,'' C'ezanne's ``House in Provence,'' and Redon's pastel, ``The Yellow Sail'' stand out.
Although construction work prevented my seeing them, a quick glance through the museum's publications indicates that it also owns exceptional works by 20th-century and American masters, a superb group of Neo-Impressionist paintings (including a first-rate Seurat), and other outstanding collections.
Two exhibitions will be in place for the Hulman Pavilion inaugural program this October: ``Seurat at Gravelines: The Last Landscapes,'' will include that artist's four landscapes painted during the last summer of his life, as well as preparatory studies for them. And ``Richard Pousette-Dart: A Retrospective,'' will include 120 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by a painter occasionally included among the first generation Abstract Expressionists.