University of Southern Indiana

New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art


 September 12 - October 24


New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art


a short utopian experiment

John Begley


Closing Reception October 24th, 2015 from 3-5 p.m.


An exhibition of the impressions created by artists who worked at the New Harmony Print Workshop (NHPW) in the days of the second "Boatload."


“The Title of the exhibition, The Small Utopia. Ars Multiplicata, is a reference to the dream, handed down from the historic avant-gardes to the artists of today, of achieving the democratic dissemination of art through a multiplication of the work of art as object, in order to favor a different perception and use of it from the aesthetic and social standpoint.”

                                                            Germano Celant, Curator

                                                            The Small Utopia. Ars Multiplicata

                                                            fondazione prada at ca’ corner della regina, venice

                                                            July 6 - November 25, 2012



Conditional to my acceptance of employment as Gallery Director for Historic New Harmony in 1975 to open what has become the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art was the understanding that it came with the opportunity to establish an artist's press. 


Born out of the same optimism that allowed houses to move down streets to return to their original locations and reassemble where they had been built but later deconstructed and scattered; or to open contemporary art galleries, or to have fine dining restaurants, gourmet shops and bookstores in a small rural Hoosier outpost in between local banks, drugstores and oil rigs, the New Harmony Print Workshop came about as a related utopian experiment.  This particular dream lasted almost eight years.


Forty years later this dream has become even more dreamlike, scattered and disassembled like old Rappites houses, residing mostly in the closed print drawers, forgotten portfolios and the memories of the now scattered artists who came to a lithographic workshop at Tavern and Brewery Streets to escape from the world, to find Utopia.


From Futurism to Fluxus, virtually every twentieth-century avant-garde produced art multiples of some kind, whether to defuse the auratic power of the unique artwork, or to foster a more democratic art culture.” 1


This issue of how to deal with art production the issue of art in the age of mechanical reproduction and how artists have used multiplication of various sorts is at the heart of my involvement in the founding of the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art and the contemporaneous start-up of the New Harmony Print Workshop. 2 The egalitarianism of a contemporary art gallery nestled with the rest of small, rural American community life in the mid 1970’s was the motivator to start both enterprises.  This was a necessary link in my mind between production and display, and as an artist it was a natural requirement that the display leg was an important as the production one.  Although not called this till much later, it was the DIY imperative. They established the corollary connection of artwork being like oil work, or shop work.


Elissa Auther, in her introduction to her recent book, West of Center, talks about liminal practices, art on the edge. 3  New Harmony in 1975 was the edge, and using the analogy of erosion, may lie even closer to the edge today than even in 1975. When the gallery began, the notion of contemporaneity was central to this effort.  The question or problem of establishing New Harmony as a place of ideas, or current-ness, within the name of Historic New Harmony was a central vexation to the leadership of the organization.  And one solution was to sponsor a gallery of  “contemporary” art.


Additional challenges of seeming active and engaging rather dry and solely antique could also be addressed with openings and performances, such as feeding spaghetti to life size puppets that occurred in an early NHGCA exhibition. This play between art and life was extended by the NHPW, which brought workshop and classes, and consequently students and artists into the community in situations that were both provocative and exciting.


The NHPW was located in a 1950’s  era workshop/garage outbuilding behind an early 1816 Harmonist single family residence at the corner of Tavern and Brewery.  A more Dada contrast of history and anti-history could not be found.

By the summer of 1976 with the completion of the lithographic print shop equipped with two presses, stones, graining sink, and drawing space, under the auspices of the University of Evansville and its already existing summer workshop programs in ceramics and weaving, the printmaking workshop at the NHPW began to hum.  That summer and for the next six, its lights burned through the night into early morning, as press time was a valuable commodity that needed to shared and allocated in order to be available for all.  Both established artist/teachers seeking to expand their knowledge and to produce viable personal work in the space of time allowed by the summer break in teaching duties, and novice printmaking students worked shoulder to shoulder on equal footing.


Having been an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico in the second half of the sixties, my countercultural leanings, despite a time in the Army, were firmly established.  Nor was I alone in these inclinations in New Harmony, other art students such as Rodney Myers and Gene Nix, who had already established his own custom art furniture workshop had gathered in an expectant mood that had been in part established by the second New Harmony commission and its setting up a non-profit corporation to oversee restoration of the town’s historic properties.  And with a history of both artistic and intellectual engagement dating back to its first utopian roots, New Harmony seemed a likely, even destined, place for another run at the Utopian dream.


The New Harmony Print Workshop was from its beginnings a guerilla operation.

A collection of hand built and scavenged presses and litho stones, hand fashioned tools, racks and tables and operated on mostly a word of moth basis of invitation to provide access and opportunity without much exchange of cash or contracts.  Artists from a variety of sources began to congregate in order to work in the shop. And this is where the utopian optimism is crucial to the success of publishing significant examples of lithographic art.


First of all New Harmony exists “outside of history,” in the Mid-west, the flyover zone., consequently also outside of art history. 4 So in counterculture parlance it is the perfect opportunity to be free.5 Re-invention of self, a trait first established by new Harmony’s German immigrants, followed in successive ways by the Owenites, and then by subsequent searchers from Maximiliam of Wied to Merton and Tillich.  As a place of great social experimentation from its communal days through its restoration revivals first in the 20”s and 30’s with the first New Harmony Commission through the restoration revival occurring at the time of the gallery and print workshop’s establishment the idea of it being a transformative place had become ingrained in its identity. Its utopian sense was further extended by its built environment from Stedman Whitwell’s proposed design for a “great quadrangle’ based on the principles of Plato, Bacon and Sir Thomas Moore to David Dale Owen’s geologic laboratory to Philip Johnson’s Roofless Church. Yearnings for change, the new abound and in the middle 70’s is seemed also that an alternative print workshop could take its place along the alternative galleries movement that the NHGCA saw itself as part of along with other Indiana spaces like Herron and Artlink in Ft. Wayne.

The New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art is an outreach partner of the University of Southern Indiana. The gallery is located at 506 Main Street in New Harmony, Indiana. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 812/682-3156 

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