Installations comprised of various prismatic and patterned fabric, stuffed animals, old clothing with GAP labels, are all jumbled and tied together in small bundles. Larger bales featuring discarded clothing stacked in methodical order from dark values down to lighter ones mimic Benjamin Moore paint chips. A canopy of ribbons and multi-colored cloths hang from the ceiling while paintings filled with both calligraphic and graffiti-like marks mingle with bits of fabric, beads, and feathers in a frenetic energy that looks as if it could jump from the canvas and onto the wall.
There is a bit of sensory overload first walking into Shinique Smith’s Menagerie. The Bonnie Clearwater curated exhibition opened last Thursday at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami. Swatting the buzz and energy of the opening aside, I focused my eyes on the buzz and energy happening within the work, which spans from 2002 to the present and includes sculpture, installation, painting, works on paper and video.
The smaller sculptural fabric pieces, caringly tied together with ribbon, such as Their First Bundle, evoke sentimentality of the sort belonging to two young teenage squatters tackling the streets together. Twilight’s Compendium is the recreation of a previous installation Smith had produced at the Denver Art Museum in 2009 in which she utilizes her own body to paint two walls meeting at a corner. They are calligraphic like her paintings but less delicate, leaving marks on the wall as one leaves their impression on clothing long after it's gone. The larger, organized, and colored-coded fabric blocks are made up of discarded clothing; here recycling and reusing is the most apparent. You can imagine bales being loaded onto a freighter and set sail to a far away place, maybe Haiti or Pakistan.
Menagerie is woven together with a common thread (no pun intended). The lines in the paintings and in the delicate pencil drawings relate to the ribbons hanging from the ceiling and the twine tying the bundles together. The one place where I could not follow this line neither aesthetically nor conceptually was to a video piece originally recorded in 1989. Later turned into an artwork in 2005, Letter to Johnny features the artist, then about 18 years old, dancing in front of a Johnny Depp poster in her room. She goes on to chat with the camera, essentially making her plea for Johnny to get to know her. Although charming, I’m not sure how this video fits in with the rest of the exhibition. One could argue that like the reused clothing, this teenager’s endearing digital love letter was discarded and resurrected to art. For me, the black and white piece loses focus within the rest of the kaleidoscope that makes up Smith’s otherwise captivating Menagerie.
(Images: Shinique Smith, Favorite Of The Gods, 2008, Mixed Media Collage on Canvas over Wood. Rodney Miller Collection; Shinique Smith, Firedog, 2006, Ink and Collage on Paper, Collection of Lisa LaMattina and Blake Henry; Shinique Smith, Their First Bundle, 2004, Fabric, Clothing, Ribbon. Collection of the artist; Courtesy of Yvon Lambert Paris, New York)