Focusing on what Kathryn Kanjo, director and general manager of the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, calls “the power of transformation,” the institution unveiled a new exhibition of multimedia collages drawn from film, literature and of pop culture.
“Alexis Smith: The American Way” opens Thursday, Sept. 15 at MCASD’s flagship location at 700 Prospect St. in La Jolla. It will run until Sunday, February 5.
The exhibition, the first retrospective of Smith’s work in 30 years, features 50 of his pieces from 1978 to 2016.
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Smith’s use of wit and humor “examines the narratives that are embedded in our culture and asks us to think critically about how they inform our sense of self and our society,” Anthony said. Graham, Associate Curator of MCASD.
‘The American Way’ piece, mounted at the entrance to the exhibition, features an “energetic, poetic and enigmatic combination” of passages from a novel combined with images of newspaper clippings and advertisements that resonate differently each time. someone look at her,” Graham said.
Smith, born in 1949 in Los Angeles, began her career in the 1970s at the height of conceptual and pop art.
“There’s a lingering theme to Alexis’ self-inventive work,” Kanjo said.
“She really took those ideas and made them her own,” Graham said, noting that her work incorporates creations like the opera “Madama Butterfly” or a poem by Walt Whitman and tells them “from her own angle.”
Smith, who also created two of the works in UC San Diego’s Stuart Collection, was committed to collage, “a medium that takes humble objects and transforms them into something spectacular,” Graham said.
Many of Smith’s pieces are murals painted on the walls of MCASD by an outside firm, with his original collages superimposed.
Some of the plays display concise quotes from American playwrights and other notable figures who “challenge established hierarchies [and] standards of what was considered tasteful or tasteless,” Graham said.
The collection’s signature piece, “Men Rarely Make Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses,” which features a mural of Marilyn Monroe with collages in the lenses of her glasses, is a “stellar example of caring Smith’s playful but subversive about the roles of women in our culture,” Graham said.
Many of Smith’s collages include images seen as sexist while repositioning them and revealing the influence of the feminist movement on her work, Graham added.
Unwilling to cement herself as a feminist artist, Smith went on to create works that showcase a “sense of adventure, of the will to invent…thinking about the role the West plays in the American imagination,” Graham said.
One of those pieces, “Red Carpet,” is a large installation featuring a 35-foot-long carpet and a Mark Twain quote that Graham says juxtaposes the desert sky and Hollywood’s use of red carpets.
The Smith exhibit is the museum’s second to be shown since it reopened after a comprehensive four-year renovation.
The first was “Niki de Saint Phalle in the 1960s,” a retrospective of the work of the Franco-American artist who spent his final years in La Jolla before his death in 2002.
Hosting the Smith exhibit now follows MCASD’s goal “to celebrate significant female artists who may have had less recognition than they deserve,” Kanjo said.
The exposure also brings new scholarship to Smith, which Kanjo says is “much needed.”
The San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Tickets are $25, with various discounts available. For more information, visit mcasd.org. ◆