A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Jan 26, 2011
When visitors walk into the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s latest exhibition, Shinique Smith: Menagerie, they find assemblages of fabrics set on the ground and dangling from the ceiling. It's a challenging show at first glance, and viewers might wonder how they should approach these works or whether they’ll make a connection with them.
But examine the works up close and you'll discover that they're startlingly and deeply personal.
Menagerie is the first large-scale exhibition for New York artist Shinique Smith, and it features nearly fifty two- and three-dimensional mixed-media works, including two installations modified specifically for the MMoCA space.
Set near the entrance, Bale Variant No. 0012 is a rectangular bale of clothing held together with twine. It’s a mix of textures, patterns and colors, from red chenille and blue nylon to khaki pants, baby clothes and even a few plush pieces. As you look at these fabrics, questions arise: Who wore these clothes? When? For what purpose? The sweaters and slacks only hint such intimate details.
Bale Variant No. 0018 (Black) is a tower of black cotton, velvet, lace and other fabrics bundled with black ribbon. It’s imposing until one considers the materials—clothing worn to work, sleep and special occasions brings the massive structure down to a more human scale.
Meanwhile, in Bale Variant No. 0017 (shown above) Smith takes old T-shirts and fabric samples and arranges them into a cube with an ombre effect—white on top deepening through shades of blue to black on the bottom. A nearby sign explains that she forms these bundles to resemble the way discarded clothing is shipped overseas. Smith’s manipulation of the material creates beauty, but is re-appropriation on a mass scale and to different parts of the world good or bad?
Several dynamic works hang on the gallery walls. Message is primarily black and white, featuring paper fragments, ribbon and markings that resemble calligraphy and graffiti. In the center is a medallion of feathers, and all other elements on the canvas radiate from this form. In Rose Colored Times, an abstract, slightly floral design washes across the surface, capturing bunched, layered papers, patterned cloth and a plastic bag in its swirling.
For the installation No dust, no stain, Smith collaborated with students from Malcolm Shabazz City High School and Middleton Alternative Senior High School to create a room decorated with wall coverings, carpet remnants, framed photos and notes. Visitors must remove their shoes before entering the space, and it’s an unsettling experience to read letters and look at photos of smiling faces when no one in them is familiar. It’s a contrast to much of Smith’s work: Instead of finding a connection to inanimate items, viewers feel a disconnect to highly personal objects.
On a back corner of the gallery is the installation Twilight’s Compendium. Where two walls meet, blue paint and materials are concentrated and disperse outward in curious marks; in front, a bundle of blue and white clothing hangs from a rope. One wonders what happened here. Viewing this scene is similar to looking at a cave painting and drawing conclusions about the lives spent there. It’s a reminder that what physically remains is sometimes the only information others have to gather. What are we leaving behind to speak for us?
Shinique Smith: Menagerie runs through May 8 at MMoCA. For more information, visit mmoca.org.
Images courtesy of MMoCA.