Graduate Lecture Series: Michael Smith, Artist
University Park Campus
Museum of Contemporary Art
Ahmanson AuditoriumMuseum of Contemporary Art250 South Grand AvenueLos Angeles, CA 90012
Raised in Chicago, Michael Smith graduated from Colorado College in 1973 with a degree in painting and the beginnings of an extensive network in New York's creative community, gained while participating in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in 1970 and 1973. Smith's older brother, Howard, was an abstract painter as well, and his example greatly influenced the young artist. But Smith was also intrigued by the performance art of Vito Acconci, William Wegman, and Richard Foreman, among others involved in avant-garde pursuits. Soon after graduation, he began watching comedy acts at The Pickle in Chicago with an eye for developing his own performance style. In contrast to many of his contemporaries, who explored minimalism, feminism, repetition, ritual and endurance in their works, Smith wanted to entertain. In 1975 he gave his first public performance, called Comedy Hour, in his own studio and in 1978-1980 he began working with video.
During the first two decades of his career, Smith performed in fine art and popular venues alike. His is an extensive performance and exhibition history that begins in the late 1970s, with venues as varied as Franklin Furnace, The Kitchen, Caroline's Comedy Club, CBGBs, Dance Theatre Workshop, Cinemax, the Whitney, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the New Museum, the Pompidou Center, and, in recent years, sites in São Paolo, Copenhagen, Milan, and London, among others.
Since 1979, the majority of Smith's work has centered on his extraordinarily prescient and sympathetic character, the naïve and somewhat inept Everyman, Mike, who is the focus of this exhibition. Smith's other recurring performance persona is Baby Ikki, whose bizarre and precipitous infancy is marked by conspicuous facial hair, oversized diapers, and undersized sunglasses. To elaborate these performances, which were created both for the stage and for video, Smith has generated a huge corpus of work, collaborating with a wide range of artists in many media. In addition to the time-based works, he and his collaborators have broken new ground in immersive installation art, and, working solo, he has produced several artists books and an impressive corpus of drawings and sketches that detail the creative process. Many of these were published recently in MICHAEL SMITH Drawings: Simple, Obscure and Obtuse (NY: Regency Arts Press, 2007).
Throughout his career, Smith has been actively engaged as a lecturer, critic, artist, and instructor at a number of prestigious institutions, among them Yale University, the Royal Danish Academy, and UCLA. Smith currently serves as Associate Professor of Studio Art at the University of Texas at Austin, where he has been teaching performance art since 2001. In 2007 Smith received The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation award and The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) honored both he and Joshua White for their multi-disciplinary work; Smith has received numerous other fellowships and awards, including those from the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (2005-6), Art Matters Inc (1996, 1990, 1987), the National Endowment for the Arts (1991, 1983, 1982, 1978), and the Guggenheim Foundation (1985).