Richard Smith: Kite Works from the 1970’s
The exhibition catalogue for Richard Smith’s solo show at the Tate in 1975 begins this way:
“Richard Smith is an odd artist, at once in and out of touch with the currents in the mainstream. For the past fifteen years his work has in some way contacted every variety of contemporary innovation; yet Smith has sworn no unconditional allegiance to any school or category of style. This duality – the ability to be au courant and aloof at the same time – is typical of Smith’s personality as well as of his art. Because of the inherent tension involved in balancing simultaneously two (or more) essentially antithetical attitudes, his work continues to compel interest, to remain mysteriously and provocatively ambiguous.”
Smith began his career in New York. He was associated with Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin and Jack Youngerman, all artists working on Coenties Slip on the southern tip of Manhattan. In 1961 he had a solo exhibition at Richard Bellamy’s famed Green Gallery in Manhattan (which showed di Suvero, Flavin, Judd, Morris, Oldenberg, Segal, Samaras and Wesselmann, among others) and over the many following years has had a long and steady career. The early 1970’s were a particularly famed period for the artist, beginning with representing the UK at the Venice Biennale in 1970 and culminating in the 1975 survey exhibition at the Tate.
Barbara Krakow Gallery’s exhibition’s primary focus is the year, 1975. Smith’s work, by that time, was transparent in its presentation. Each piece showed how it was made, what materials were used, how it is suspended in space, etc.. For the works with paper, one can see clearly that the placement of the hole on each sheet explains how it hangs at the angle that it does. Yet, Smith didn’t stop there – “imagery”, “shapes” and or “lines” point out the variation from sheet to sheet, play with the notion of representational weight and yet also provide a unified ‘system’ within each work.
The artist has continually asserted that the method (more than the medium or the message) is key for him. To quote M.I.T.’s 1978 Richard Smith exhibition catalogue by Marjory Jacobson, “the most compelling virtues of Smith’s recent work is its synthesis of contradictory modes. By subverting the conventions he sets forth as representative of a particular disposition, tensile ambiguity results”.