The long-anticipated volume recounting the 100-year history of the Herron art institution, The Herron Chronicle, has finally docked. While such a niche publication may, on first glance, threaten to be of limited appeal beyond Herron alumni and faculty, there's more to the story.
The exhibit, Herron School of Art Centennial: Students and Teachers, 1950-Present, now on view at Herron Gallery, provides a few surprises that speak to more savory elements of the institution's trajectory and give it a larger context that is likely to be of interest to anyone keen on the city's history.
James Wille Faust"s "Migration," 2001
Few are aware, for example, that in 1950, the John Herron Art Institute was still home to both the museum - which would soon become the Indianapolis Museum of Art - and the art school. This move, a controversial one at the time, included the transfer of the institution's art collection, the library's books and slides and most of the scholarship funds to its 38th Street location. Soon after this, in the '60s, the newly named Herron School of Art officially became part of Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis as the result of an Indiana General Assembly vote.
The exhibit reveals such facts and anecdotes directly from the text of the Chronicle, as well as a tip-of-the-iceberg selection of artwork from alumni and faculty, many of whom continue to teach there. As Herron Gallery's curator David Russick explains, "It's more like the chip of paint, a little nick indicator of what's been done."
Russick, who put together the exhibit using the book as his guide, knew there was no way to include everyone connected with Herron in the past 50 years who has made a mark with their careers and/or within the institution and the community. "I just basically played detective, not curator," he admits. "Every one of these people could have done a one-person show here."
Although the split between the museum and the art school was a tumultuous one - Russick dubs it "the great divide," as it signaled "a lot of rough times ahead" - the school has come out on top, and the IMA, too, has done well for itself. Both institutions are in the throes of major renovation: Herron anticipates much more than a fresh coat of paint when it makes its move from its historic location at 16th and Pennsylvania to the main IUPUI campus. Bigger digs will enhance the learning experience for all. The IMA, meanwhile, is undergoing its own transformation, its existing buildings also under the brush of heavy construction equipment.
In the end, there appear to be no hard feelings between the institutions. The IMA is hosting the exhibit recalling the first 50 years of Herron's history; that exhibit, similarly titled Herron School of Art Centennial: Teachers and Students, 1902-1950, is on view at the museum through December 2003. Herron's exhibit is up through April 12. Space is at a premium here - and the shows must go on.
Herron's history may be captured best in "Angry Sea," a ceramic work by Herron professor Mark Richardson. The circular piece, set on a low pedestal, is at once beautiful, complex and turbulent. All the same, there is a cohesiveness, a sense of direction, as if there were some predestined outcome from the turmoil, one that would not seem apparent until the storm clouds have passed. For Herron, the clouds seem to have all but dissipated over some far horizon.
Herron School of Art Centennial: Students and Teachers, 1950-Present is on view at Herron Gallery, Herron School of Art/IUPUI, 1701 N. Pennsylvania St., 920-2420, www.herron.iupui.edu.