The self-contained nature of life under quarantine lends itself to Smith’s exploration of infinite variation within a determined formal structure. The sense of openness and possibility conveyed in these canvases represents an artistic response to the constraints of the present moment that is at once immediate and hopeful.
Along the front edge of the roof, Smith has installed a sequence of ceramic sculptures. These sculptures depict single figures confined within small, barred prisons. Set roughly six feet between one another, the sculptures playfully reference the mandated distancing allowed between people when out in public. Ceramics have been a part of the artist’s practice throughout his career. For Smith, clay allows for a closer, more tactile engagement, which serves as a counterpart to the projected dimensionality of painting. The caged enclosures, while made in 2013–2014, take on new meaning in the context of the present moment. The ceramic works also stand in as a foil to the expansiveness suggested by the painted streetscapes, and further engage with the dualities of interior and exterior, constraint and possibility, at play in the overall exhibition.
“It seems now is a good time to share the ceramic prisons,” Smith notes. ”These sculptures allude to the sadness in the air, while the paintings, at least for myself, present a contemplative depiction of New York as it currently exists. This time won’t last forever. Abandoned, the feel of this place is strangely hopeful. It is inspiring.”
The exhibition follows in a lineage of artist-initiated projects while displaying a unique and deeply personal approach—a kind of creative gesture that embraces the spirit of the present moment. Precursors of artists experimenting with alternative ways to show their work include Lucio Fontana’s spatialist paintings presented on and around a tree trunk in the garden outside his Milan studio (1955); Manfred Kuttner, Konrad Lueg (later Fisher), Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter’s self-staged Vorgartenaustellung, which they presented on the grounds of Galerie Parnass, Villa Jährling, Wuppertal (1964); and Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece (1971), among other examples.
Josh Smith was born in 1976 in Okinawa, Japan. Smith’s father was in the US Army, and his family moved frequently, eventually settling in East Tennessee, where the artist mostly grew up. His work has been presented in numerous solo exhibitions at museums and arts institutions in the United States and abroad, including the Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn, Germany (2016); Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma, Rome (2015); Zabludowicz Collection, London (2013); The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, Connecticut (2011); Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Geneva (2009); De Hallen Haarlem, The Netherlands (2009–2010); Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (mumok), Vienna (2008); and SculptureCenter, Long Island City, New York (2004).