Weird. Ugly. Beautiful. All three words have been used to describe the work of Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto.

Visitors to the Indianapolis Museum of Art can form their own opinions of Neto’s work as part of the reopening of the museum’s contemporary galleries.

The galleries feature work from contemporary artists including Neto, who is known for creating large-scale installations using unexpected materials — like dried herbs and plastic orbs suspended in stretchy nylon.

Pieces in the contemporary galleries are not always what they seem at first glance. From a distance, a new acquisition by South Korean artist Do-Ho Suh looks like a multicolored deep shag rug, encased in glass on the floor. A closer look reveals that the glass case, which is meant to be walked on, contains tiny plastic people — about 145,000 of them — with arms upstretched and palms pressed against the glass.

“You have this whole idea of all the people of the world holding up the few,” said Lisa Freiman, associate curator of contemporary art at the IMA.

The meaning behind other works, however, isn’t as obvious. Some in the art world contend the goal of contemporary artists is not to produce something pretty or likable or recognizable, but simply to get a reaction — no matter what that reaction might be.

“Many of the artists that you see in these galleries are obviously interested in the visual, but not necessarily the beautiful,” Freiman said. “You’ll always find artists that are still interested in beauty, but there are a lot of artists who are more interested in what some critics have described as the anti-aesthetic ... art where ideas are the most important part of the work.”

That may be why some people find contemporary art confusing or alienating, said Nancy Heller, professor of modern art history at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

“It’s just human nature, first of all, to feel uncomfortable around something you’re not aware of,” Heller said. “What I usually try to suggest ... is to try to enjoy it, the same way you would enjoy the taste and texture of your favorite ice cream flavor; you don’t worry about what it means.”

The gallery’s new acquisitions include three video shorts by Indiana University professor Jawshing Arthur Liou, whose work is an interpretation of his daughter’s struggle with leukemia. Another piece by Ellsworth Kelly features a room full of 11 colored panels of different shapes — one of only nine complete editions in the world.

Neto’s work has been featured in exhibitions from Sydney, Australia, to Mexico City, and he’s created sets for the internationally touring Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

A week before the galleries’ opening, he sat at a sewing machine stitching together panels of fabric and talked about what he wanted visitors to experience when they see his work at the IMA.

“This place is a very interactive place in the sense that you can meet people in this unusual situation,” Neto said.

He said he hoped the installation, on display through Feb. 12, would result in “people talking with people that they never saw before, in a completely different way, because they are in an unexpected situation, so it breaks (down) your walls in relation to other people.”

Red and white fabric in one of Neto’s installations creates a tent-like environment where visitors in stocking feet lounged together on a large biomorphic pillow that’s part of the artwork. A woman and her niece walked across the squishy foam-covered floor to play in a smaller, cylindrical red tent with a floor of red plastic balls.

“She’s having a great time,” Marcia Lenski said of her niece, Ashleigh Anderson, who initially said she was scared of the red tent but broke into raucous laughter once inside.

Outside the room, other visitors were more reserved, moving silently through the gallery halls.

“It’s pretty cool — it’s really interesting,” first-time IMA visitor Rob Cassaday said.

The revamped gallery space comes with a price tag of $220 million — $74 million for building costs and the rest for art. Gone are the old dark floors and cramped spaces; the new space features blond wood floors and airy rooms more suited to some of the large works on display, like Fred Sandback’s untitled piece that incorporates long sections of yarn.

“I think these are really interesting pieces that for some people ... could be really difficult or troubling or challenging, because they’re made out of just the most mundane thing in the world — a skein of yarn,” Freiman said. “It’s like, ’Where’s the art? It seems so minimal.’ But that’s the point. It’s supposed to be. It’s really pushing the limits of what we define as art.”

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