5 stars

Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art


From the beginning of Malcolm Mobutu

Smith’s career as a ceramicist, graffiti has influenced his

work. This exhibit does a spectacular job making such influences

explicit by incorporating a large-scale graffiti wall and a smaller

“collaborative wall” that you can tag.

Smith's clearly fond of graffiti

lettering. The abstract forms that are cut into the body of his

“Totem Jar,” from 1993, are certainly inspired by

graffiti art. At the same time, this work is also evocative, in a

general sense, of the role of ceramics in ritual tradition. There is

a blend of ancient and contemporary in Smith’s work.

While his recent computer-generated

“Doppods” leads you to the event horizon of ceramic art,

“We Did it” brings you smack into the age of Obama with a

work questioning the state of American race relations.

You see a very contemporary, fluid

sensibility in the shape of the front of this sculpture that evokes

African pottery-making traditions. But its backside looks like it was

sliced open with a machete. On this slice, as it were, you see a

painted “jigaboo” African villager caricature. It's

evocative of derogatory 1940s comic images—his hair’s

tied up in a bone as he reaches for a crown. You might wonder if this

is the mental image that certain politicians carry with them when

they fulminate about the president’s Kenyan ancestry.

Through May 14

Managing Editor

Having lived and worked in Indy on and off since 1977, and currently living in Carmel, I've seen the city change a great deal. I love covering the arts in all its forms, and the places where the arts and broader cultural issues intersect.