Two new exhibitions opened at Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI on March 22. “Pen Pals” was created by Sydney Craig, a professor of the foundations program, and Jared Cru Smith, the sculpture facilities manager. “It’s the only life that I’ve ever known” was curated by Robert Horvath, a painting professor.
Craig is the coordinator and a professor of the foundations program at Herron. An Indianapolis native, Craig received her bachelor’s degree in printmaking from IU Bloomington. After her undergraduate years, she spent time traveling, teaching English as a second language, teaching art workshops and participating in art collectives. She then returned to Indianapolis to earn her master’s degree in printmaking from Herron.
Smith is the sculpture facilities manager and technician at Herron. He graduated with an undergraduate double major in sculpture and furniture design from Herron. He attended Virginia Commonwealth University for his master’s degree. He worked in the fabrication industry with furniture and architectural goods before returning to Indianapolis for his current position.
With a need to fill gallery spaces in the middle of the academic year, Craig and Smith decided to step in and accept the challenge. The two have worked to support each other in their individual projects as close friends, but had yet to professionally collaborate on an exhibition.
In creating “Pen Pals,” Craig built off of some pieces that had already been constructed by Smith, working to create a conversation between their two styles. Smith continued to create pieces throughout the process as well. Both Craig and Smith explained that they were working up until the last minute to make sure that the exhibition was up to their visions for the project.
“Our colleagues were laughing at us,” Craig said. “They're like, ‘What are you gonna put in the show?’ And we're like, ‘We're working on it, don't worry about it.’ And that was four days before install.”
Craig and Smith explained that while art has to be self motivated, they appreciated having the other person to brainstorm with and rely on.
“I am much more of a loud, exuberant person,” Craig said. “And Jared is much more on the minimalistic scale. So I think that kind of helps our personalities balance.”
In the process of creating their conversational works, Craig and Smith communicated a lot more virtually than in person, which led to the exhibition theme of “Pen Pals.” They expressed the importance of being a part of an artistic community both in their individual practices and the creation of this exhibition.
“Even though art is very much an individual thing, you still have the collaboration,” Smith said. “Having that group and that collective around you helps motivate you and makes you want to make work.”
A challenge that both Craig and Smith worked to address in this exhibition is the idea of what is and is not “art.” Smith discussed the idea of using found objects and non-traditional art material in the creation of his pieces.
“Another goal with this exhibition is to show students that it doesn't have to be a traditional idea of what an art piece or collaboration is,” Craig said. “You have the power as the artist, and that needs to be empowering rather than condemning. My piece is kind of commenting on the fact that anything in this prescribed gallery space is art.”
Craig also expressed that she has found a lot of inspiration in Smith’s use of these non-traditional materials throughout the last few years.
“I was just blown away with the freedom he had by just putting objects together,” Craig said. “It was an eye opening thing for me. I felt like I was bogged down by image making, meaning making. This was a very freeing experience for me, especially seeing how we could help students and viewers make meaning on their own with given concepts and contextualization.”
Smith also commented on the idea of challenging preconceived societal notions of art.
“So many people, especially outside of Herron, and the art world, they just have this perceived concept of what art is, and it’s always traditional,” Smith said. “So, I think being able to walk in and see that things are a little weird, but it's still art, is good.”
Horvath served as an assistant professor of painting at Herron from 2010-2015, and has served as an associate professor since 2015. Horvath received his bachelor’s degree from Midwestern State University and his master’s degree in painting from the University of Illinois. He has worked to expand his practice through different mediums, including ceramics and digital art.
The second exhibition, “It’s the only life that I’ve ever known”, is an exhibition focusing on representing the voices of Herron alumni who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. It was made possible due to a grant that Herron received from the IU Queer Philanthropy Circle in 2021. Along with the exhibition, there was an artist talk featuring Anthony Sonnenberg and a panel discussion entitled “Beauty, Death, and Our Bodies.”
“Organizing events such as Herron’s LGBTQ+ Student Forum is crucial when supporting our queer community,” Horvath said. “Since the LGBTQ+ community remains under constant attack, the exhibition's primary focus was to invite our LGBTQ+ alums to highlight their creative practices and to allow their voices to speak to the importance of diversity at our institutions and in society.”
Horvath cited that one challenge in curating this exhibition came from difficulty in finding alumni who were willing to contribute.
“In the past, many of our students might not have felt as comfortable sharing their queer identity as they do today,” Horvath said. “Even today, students lack equal representation of queer faculty and staff at their schools, which might be challenging when looking for a sense of belonging at IU. I wonder if this fact contributes to challenges when locating Herron's LGBTQ+ alumnus.”
Horvath hopes that IUPUI students, faculty and staff will visit the exhibition to support both the LGBTQ+ community and alumni of Herron.
These exhibitions will be open until April 22. 2023, with “Pen Pals” being hosted in the Basile Gallery and “It’s the only life that I’ve ever known” in the Marsh Gallery.
Ashley Wilson is a sophomore double majoring in creative writing and journalism at IUPUI. She is a writer and photographer who covers campus and culture for The Campus Citizen.