Shinique Smith has a survey of work from the past decade in the Linde Wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on view through March 2015. I stopped by on Saturday to see the former Museum School student's work.
Upon entering the exhibition, one is presented with wall text provided by the Museum, as well as an introduction by the artist herself scrawled on the opposite wall. Immediately, we are confronted with one of several polarities present throughout the exhibition- work informed by childhood experience combined with the seriousness of adulthood: the Museum's text, composed by the curator of the exhibtion, Jen Mergel, is succinct, academic and cool. Smith's, on the other hand, is free-handed, whimsical and unafraid of coming off as naive or simplistic.
All of the work in the show is driven by dichotomies: Smith's paintings take equal inspiration from graffiti/tagging, knitting/craftwork and abstract expressionism/action painting, a navigation between "high" and "low".
There are two series of sculptures composed of found clothing, "Bale Variant", and "Parade." Both series had sinister implications for me; repetitive use of clothing brings up Doris Salcedo's shoe pieces, or the remains from concentration camps. Questions arise around the source of the clothing, where it came from, who wore those clothes, why don't they have it anymore? In "Bale Variant" these questions are compressed, neatly stacked into bales. In "Parade" they are strung from the ceiling, miniature floats. In both series, the theme of loss is addressed through the rearrangement of these relics in a playful manner. In one instance (captured in an image above) a shadow cast by "Parade" creates the appearance of two legs emerging from the clothing.
The installation "Breath and Line" is a series of mirrors in a separate room of the gallery, connected by swirly (poorly drawn) black graffiti, which is reflected in several directions. The painted marks are childish, the stuff of doodles made in school while watching the clock. The viewer is implicated in the work; our shadows mingle with the ones created by the paint.
Smith's work is widely described as colorful, joyous. By the end of the show, the continued reference to childhood feels dark, with an emphasis on loss.