|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following is from NYTimes.com, April 15, 2001: |
An Artist's Long Eclipse Yields to Light
By MARTIN FILLER
WHEN the Los Angeles-born artist Alexis Smith was 17 and still called
Patti Anne Smith, she rechristened herself after a 1940's Hollywood
star in a burst of pop adulation. Taking on the name of an actress was
the younger Ms. Smith's first step in forging an independent identity,
one that has remained focused despite her ups and downs in the last
Ms. Smith is now 51, and her current show of mixed-media
collages of found objects, "An Embarrassment of Riches," is on view at
Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren Fine Art, at 730 Fifth Avenue,
through Saturday. Remarkably, this is her first one- person New York
exhibition since her retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American
Art 10 years ago.
The Whitney survey received rave reviews,
but rather than cementing Ms. Smith's stature as a leading member of
her generation, the show marked the beginning of an extended eclipse,
at least as far as the New York art world was concerned. In rapid
succession, the curator of her Whitney show, Richard Armstrong, left
the museum and deprived her of an institutional advocate in New York, the center of the international art scene.
New York dealer, Josh Baer, went out of business after giving her only
one show, confounding her earlier move from Holly Solomon, who hadn't
mounted a solo exhibition for Ms. Smith since 1981. . . . And for the
last decade, Ms. Smith has been concentrating on a series of
large-scale, site- specific installation projects, which have kept her
from producing smaller, portable works that could be displayed and sold in galleries.
be sure, inflated artistic reputations of the 1980's were brought down
to size in the 90's. Yet the cautionary case of Alexis Smith
illuminates how events can conspire to rob even seemingly well-
established figures not only of critical attention but also of public
exposure. And it's not as if the issues that Ms. Smith has addressed in
her work "gender and sexuality, self and celebrity, myth and mass
media, consumerism and its discontents" are out of step with concerns
shared by other esteemed artists.
When Ms. Smith came to New
York from her home in Los Angeles three weeks ago for the opening of
her long-awaited show, she seemed notably philosophical about what a
more egotistical or insecure person might view as a Judy Garland-like
comeback. "It's great to have a home base in the city again," she said
as she relaxed at her new gallery the day after her vernissage. "I may
be underexposed by New York standards, but I don't think it's been such
a terrible thing for me. My retrospective summed up 20 years of work,
and it had a weird sort of finality. Psychologically, you need to find
new things to say. And that's not something you can achieve in five minutes.
you don't have a New York show for a long time, it's harder to get
one," Ms. Smith continued. "I'm not the kind of person who goes out and
hustles. I'm a great believer in waiting for the right thing to turn
up. But it's not like I didn't have anything to do."
New York dry spell she completed vast terrazzo floors for a sports
arena at Ohio State University in Columbus and the Los Angeles
Convention Center, a slate-and-concrete walkway at the La Jolla branch
of the University of California, San Diego, and a mixed-media mural in
the restaurant of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, among other
Those commissions did wonders for her self-confidence at a time of diminished
press coverage and market demand. "The tolerance for stress and
aggravation that you need to do public art changed me," she said. "When
you're a woman working on big construction jobs, you really get pushed
and either learn to push back or you don't survive."
Like her contemporaries Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, Ms. Smith frequently
uses epigrammatic texts in her work. In her new show, the high-low
sources range from Emerson ("Things are in the saddle and ride
mankind") to Diana Vreeland ("What sells is hope") to Roman Polanski
("Pleasure is a carrot and a stick"). A piece titled "Cachet"
juxtaposes a picture of an art gallery from an old issue of Réalités
with a newspaper quotation in which a nouveau riche consumer laments,
"We want to buy the right stuff, but we don't necessarily know what it
Expanding on the contemporary cult of materialism, several
of Ms. Smith's recent efforts incorporate or simulate covers of Condé
Nast magazines, including Gourmet and a white-wicker-framed,
rose-chintz- splashed House & Garden. ("Every bird finds its own
nest charming.") And luxury logos, like the circled initial of Hèrmes,
recur as ironic signifiers of status, as does a thrift-shop amateur
still life, which Ms. Smith has brazenly emblazoned with a big, bogus
Unlike her more politically minded
contemporaries, however, Ms. Smith pursues no social agenda, and her
slyly subversive approach has more in common with the contradictions of
Pop Art, which simultaneously satirized and glamorized commercial
imagery. As she accurately observed of her pieces, which are rich with
multiple meanings, "You never know where they're coming down on an
That ambiguity was clear as Ms. Smith stood in front of
her collage "Vanity Fair," a photograph of women's legs in seductive
high- heels embellished with 1940's fashion jewelry. Two crocheted
doilies and a Walt Disney Snow White cookbook overlay the photograph,
which is bordered by a ruffled white frame. "When I read in a book of
proverbs, `Every woman would rather be beautiful than good,' " she
recalled, "I said to myself, `Oh, absolutely."
attitudes toward possessions and the arc of her career have evolved
since her marriage in 1990 to Scott Grieger, an artist and teacher.
"For 20 years I lived in my studio with a hot plate," she said. "Now we
have a house and a more traditional domesticity, and some of the ideas
in these pieces come from the increased responsibility of owning things
and maintaining your life. I started realizing that everybody I knew,
no matter how rich or famous, was only comparing themselves with people
better off than they were, not with all the people they were better off
than. You could go all the way up to the point where only 12 people
were better than you, and those 12 people were jealous of each other.
Dissatisfaction is just what we do today.
"When you're an artist
for a really long time," she continued, "it pays to take the long view.
You can't always be relevant or cutting edge. It's a circular thing,
where you come in and out of favor depending on what people are
thinking and what they are sick of.
"Which artists will be
considered seminal 50 or 100 years from now? If you want to be in the
running, it pays to make some things that get collected and are
available for reconsideration. But beyond that you gradually realize
that it pays to be ready on the up cycle and have something to do on
the down cycle."
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|A California native, Alexis Smith is widely known for her mixed-media collages. As a child she was raised on the grounds of a mental institution where her father worked in Norwalk, California. Her mother died when she was eleven years old, and to fill her hours Smith read books constantly and wrote plays. |
In 1966, she enrolled at the University of California, Irvine, where she began as a French major. Smith was persuaded by a college friend to register for some art classes in the newly formed art department of her college, and soon she found herself immersed in the art curriculum. Finding a sense of freedom in her own creativity, she was greatly inspired and encouraged by the faculty that included Vija Celmins, Robert Henri, and Craig Kauffman. In her early work she used book passages from well-known authors like John Steinbeck, Sinclair Lewis, and Nathaniel West, which she combined with objects and images.
She graduated in 1970 and her first installation appeared in the Pasadena Art Museum in 1972. Her collages developed out of her desire to make a connection between physical objects and the stories that they tell. Her pieces often consisted of typewritten text with images applied to the pages. She was a product of post World War II California, and elements from that era are reflected in her work. Many of the images she used came from the consumer-based society in which she was raised. Advertisements for travel and lifestyle from the 1950s appear in her compilations, alongside snakes and stars and other unrelated media. The viewer seems to be expected to piece it all together to form the whole of Smiths original thought behind the work.
In 1975 Smith added more elements to her collages and began to focus on the frames surrounding her pieces as part of the visual experience. She took advantage of her ability as an artist to create the desired finishes she wanted the frames to have. By incorporating the frame into the story she was telling, Smith was able to concentrate less on the found objects within the collage. This gave her more freedom to choose the exact images and objects she wanted to use. In the 1980s she created her installations on a grander scale, often painting portions of the gallery interior to emphasize her collage creations. She eventually began to use elements of humor and wit that she had admired in the works of John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha.
Smiths work has been exhibited at the Pasadena Art Museum, California (1972), and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California.
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