The exhibition is the first presentation of the artist’s vintage work in a New York gallery in more than 25 years. Five of the artist’s meticulously crafted, mixed-media narrative collages will be on view, as well as the monumental installations Hello Hollywood (1980) and Isadora(1980–1981).
Composed of thirteen distinct elements, the exhibition summarizes Smith’s search during the 1970s for an American voice through the writings of early twentieth-century authors. Architecturally scaled wall paintings enhance the mood of many of the collages, including power lines, palm trees, and an ocean liner’s smokestack. Isadora, taken from John Dos Passos’ The Big Money, chronicles Isadora Duncan’s loss of innocence and dramatic death by strangulation—infamously, the dancer’s scarf got caught in the wheel of a friend’s Bugatti.
The somewhat sparer Hello Hollywood enshrines the roadside advertisements for Burma Shave that dotted America’s landscape until about fifty years ago. Each of the five wood-framed parallelograms contains one line of a ditty presented much like the sequential signs that characterized the Burma Shave advertisements. Installed over three contiguous walls on top of two rows of palm trees of decreasing height and proximity, Smith plays on the steadily receding perspective experienced in driving. A bale of hay reinforces the rural setting of this kind of commercial “literature,” while infusing the space with the evocatively rich aroma of dried grass—far from the stale smell of the city.
In many of Smith’s works, the city of Los Angeles appears as part of the subject. The artist exploits the universal allure and fascination around Hollywood as a place where dreams are made, where imagination, hope, and illusion are realized. According to Smith, this is an extension of the story of the West, that a move west equals a better life. It is the quintessential American transformation myth, the American Dream.