Look closely and you might see not only clothing and clocks and full-sized representations of household goods, but meticulously measured and knotted threads among other domestic materials. The process, she says, “symbolized my existence, both visually and conceptually, which had become machinelike and repetitive.”
Born in 1942, Smith grew up in Milton, Massachusetts, earned her BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art, and received her MFA from Rutgers University in 1966. While her early works, despite being displayed, were largely ignored, many now repose in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, the Spencer Museum in Lawrence, Kansas and the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge. Her iconic clothing sculptures and installations have been recognized as having quietly created a revolution by using what was all around her in ways both intimate and prescient. Her pairing of surprising materials, from as far back as the 1960s, can still jolt the viewer.
Even when charming or humorous, her pieces can be dark and angry. See, for instance, an early work, Girdle, which she has called “an uncomfortable torture. It doesn’t let a woman breathe. It sticks to her like an octopus. It doesn’t let air in or out.” Or look at her bras, red and black, both titled Protector Against Illness, that are decorated with Tamoxifen pills. Truly, just as New York Times art critic Roberta Smith said of her knotted thread and tape measure installations, “they sparkle with light and wit and all the charm of children’s drawings, but in some ways they are quite mad.”
[Hint: We have tried out some zoom functions to highlight the details. Play around with the different magnifying tools and see what you get.]
Girdle: (made from rubber bath mats)
“One of the most frightening items of clothing that I can imagine…
an uncomfortable torture. It doesn’t let a woman breathe.
It sticks to her like an octopus. It doesn’t let air in or out.”
(hangs on padded, luxury hangars)
Red Tamoxifen Bra
Black Tamoxifen Bra
Breast cancer pills are delicately placed in the embroidered patterns.
Camouflage Maternity Dress
Don’t Turn Back
I am simply in love with this work.
the work is evocative and moving – I’m so glad to have this chance to see it this way – it makes me think, and smile!
Very powerful pioneering work, so inspiring in it’s sincerity! Great to read and see. Feel as though this work influenced me significantly. It feels like the direct opposite of ‘cynical’ (which is not my taste)…Many Greetings and Congratulations to Mimi from Amsterdam.
I’m glad to see this appreciative article on some of the many brilliant and barbed objects you have made over the years. Maybe the times are catching up with you.
Congratulations on this lovely spread of your work. So thoughtful, much beauty and a great sense of humor. You hit the nail on the head with your flowing commentary about women’s lives as young, middle aged and as elders. Don’t stop, you just keep that up.
Best wishes, Jaune
Being an artist – expressing a relationship with personal experiences – being true and honest – happening to be a woman. Beautiful heart felt work. Loved seeing it again and together.
Magnificent work! I was blown away by the pieces shown here today, and look forward to seeing more. Shared with daughters and best friend. Elegant and resonant art. Thank you.
I love your work. You are a wonderful storyteller in a unique way with a lot of meaning. Love it.
Your work really speaks to me. Nice job!