Maccarone Gallery is pleased to present, BARBARA T. SMITH, an exhibition of two not-widely-shown early works considered masterpieces of those years.
Smith has become critically known within the trajectory and forefront of West Coast performance art of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and as a sustained contributor to the feminist movement. The projects on view at maccarone hold true to a rigorous practice based on the notion of experience and interaction, pioneering transitional works that broke with traditional form.
As Smith’s marriage and home life began to splinter in the 1960s, she transitioned to a lifestyle consumed by art making. Autobiography and the creation of community via relations with her audience and peers became vital to Smith’s art, exploring themes of the body, ritual, nurturing, sexuality, female desire, spiritual transformation, love and death. This operative handling of the body and personal storytelling in contemporary art was an early challenge to the conventional patriarchal narrative.
The Black Paintings, a series from 1965 of primarily black surfaces under 3/8 inch-glass, each generate a striking reflection of the individual situated before its void. Faint minimalist shapes can be detected on each facade; a red triangle on the vertical edge or a white dot floating in space for example. By offering painting as mirror, Smith physically forces viewer into self-reflection, thus mandating an exploratory confrontation with the work and the locus of the art experience. In contrast to the archetypal act of the gaze, the mirror effect becomes so powerful that its renderings hinder access to the painting itself. In these “performative surfaces” the viewer concurrently acts as both a figure on the picture plane and one who is part of the surrounding environment.
Situated in the gallery’s center is Smith’s existing edition of the monumental sculptural project Field Piece, 1968/72, the artist’s visualization of a giant field of grass. This highly labor-intensive sculpture in today’s world appears industrially-made, however Smith and her team completed every element by hand. A sequence of tall, hollow grass blades made from colorful translucent resin function as an implication of infinity. If The Black Paintings contend with mental containment then Field Piece, in its assertion of an unbounded physical experience, performs in direct conceptual opposition. As the viewer moves through the work, each blade illuminates. Calling to mind Smith’s performative actions using her own body as medium, with Field Piece the viewer is instantaneously the activator, affecting their surroundings and triggering light with their very presence. With this process Smith calls upon the viewer to participate and assume responsibility for his or her own art experience, and succumb to human vulnerability. The artist in this manner achieves one the most cherished and often unattainable 1960’s utopian ideals; in Field Piece everyone is treated equal.
Barbara T. Smith studied painting, art history and religion as an undergraduate at Pomona College, and she received her MFA from University of California, Irvine in 1971 where she and fellow artists founded the notorious experimental gallery called F-Space. Recent exhibitions include “Barbara Smith” at The Box gallery Los Angeles (2006), “The 21st Century Odyssey Part II: The Performances of Barbara T. Smith”, a retrospective shown at the Pomona College Museum of Art (2005), as well as several group exhibitions currently including “Art Since the 1960s: California Experiments” at the Orange County Museum of Art, “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution” PS1 Contemporary Art Center, now on view thru May, 2008.