Saturday, September 06, 2003

Strange Messenger 

Speaking of genre-crossing, STRANGE MESSENGER: THE WORK OF PATTI SMITH opened
Thursday night at the ICA. Tom & I caught the preview walk-through with curator
John Smith (from the Warhol Museum) & Patti Smith (no relation). The poet/musician/visual artist sees her drawings as "a result of merging calligraphy with geometric planes, poetry & mathematics."

Some of my favorite Smith works I'd seen years ago upstairs at Gotham Book
ISLAND- all dated around 1968, what would have to be called Smith's "De Kooning
Period." The shades & undulations lend more than a nod to WDK's unmistakable

The South Tower silk-screens work in a deceptively powerful manner. The cultural inundation of the Tower image- one of jagged ruin, has been used for the past two years as a symbol of an American end/beginning. The wall is lined with (from a distance, at least) the same desensitizing image of wreckage- in all its overexposure. A closer look reveals tiny texts woven into, or lining the fallen structure. Stories are told in great attentive detail as part of the visual presentation, calling traditions of Islamic calligraphy. In one South Tower, the structure itself tells its story- pronouncing itself an American sphinx, a former architectural wonder referring to itself in the past tense. In another South Tower is the story of a hijacker's fiance, an unwitting medical student in the USA. Her life too, comes down with the tower. She loses her love, her future & security in her country. It's these kinds of particulars that cut through the suspicion of yet more WTC wreckage as gallery art.

What follows for an artist after working with a contemporary world disaster? Since going grander in scale seems out of the question, Smith chooses to work in small photographs, a natural thematic progression after her South Tower project. The pictures explore the quietly personal as well as the broad political. The latter photos are especially compelling. Smith's close-ups of the Declaration of Independence are texturally rich & poignant. Her childhood fascination with the Declaration was the beginning of her calligraphic interest, which later
inspired her to study Sufi, Arabic & Chinese calligraphies. Beyond its artistic value, Smith calls for the content to be applied directly. There is an invitation to read the document closely, & enact it accordingly. Another serial photograph project explores the phenomenon of John Walker Lindh. Smith brings together the now-famous interrogation photo of Lindh
with a close-up shot of the Koran. Lindh appears to be bound to the Koran, as one in distress would be tied to the railroad tracks.

The genres blur at points of the exhibit- her poetry books are presented with some of
the photographs, text utilized as image, & image used as text. Those who know her music/poetry can't help but read these disciplines into her visual work- and rightly so. Smith has crossed genres by not splitting them into solitary compartments. Instead, she takes down the dividers- allowing her Blakean, De Koonish NY punk rock sensibilities to converse, argue & share the same space.

Frank Sherlock

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?