The current exhibition of artist Barbara T. Smith at The Box displays two early works done in the mid 1960s and early 1970s. Smith, an artist primarily known for her performative actions, also exhibits two major pieces that are more concrete in nature and more traditional in form. One of these pieces is a series of paintings that she began in 1965. This series of paintings, entitled: The Black Paintings were meant to create a reflection of the viewers back upon themselves. The paintings are 5 feet tall by 4 feet wide painted primarily black (although the black was usually mixed with other colors such as cobalt blue to make the black more rich) with minimalist shapes on each one; for example one has a red triangle on the vertical edge another has one white dot floating in space. Each painting was then framed with a thin aluminum frame and covered by a ¼ inch thick piece of glass. The quarter inch glass in combination with the primarily black surface creates a vivid reflection of whoever stands in front of it. The paintings are meant to make the viewer self-reflect, forcing them into their own minds, and forcing them to explore their own confrontation with the art.
The second work exhibited is the ruminants of a conceptually related piece entitled Field Piece, 1968/71. This monumental sculpture was Smith’s envisionment of a field of grass, which symbolized an escape from a void (and example being The Black Paintings). This sculpture was composed of 180 9-½ foot tall hallow blades, made of translucent resin that would light up as the viewer passed through and a harmonic drone would emit from under the blade as they passed through. This installation sculpture could be directly accessed by the viewer, the complete opposite of The Black Paintings in which the viewer is unable to access the piece at all. These two artworks while conceptually opposed to one another, but connected for their very opposition. The viewer, unable to affect the paintings is instead pushed back upon themselves, while the Field Piece, was instantaneously affected by the viewer with them triggering light and sound with their very presence. How this piece might be reassembled for this exhibition has yet to be decided, but what remains are 16 of 180 original blades, that whether installed in their original glory or not, are remnants of what was a monumental sculpture in size, concept and experience and were obviously predictive of the performance work that Smith began to create at the same time.
These pieces that were made during a very complex time in Smith’s life, enabled the artist to better understand her wants and needs as an artist and as a woman. She was pushing through an internal void to find vast space.
Along with these two major works, the exhibition at The Box includse other related pieces, including numerous photographs taken in connection to The Black Paintings and Field Piece.