Art Crust of Spiritual Oasis

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Jack Smith: Untitled (Jack Smith as Lobster), c.1975 Color Photograph 9 ½ X 6 ½ Inches (24,1 X 16,5 Cm) 14 ⅞ X 11 ¾ Inches (37,8 X 29,8 Cm) Framed © Jack Smith Archive Courtesy Jack Smith Archive and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels
Art Crust of Spiritual Oasis

55 Walker Street
10013 New York
June 22nd - September 16th
Opening: June 21st 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

212 226 3970
Wed-Sun 12-6


Artists Space presents an exhibition of theatrical and live performance works by Jack Smith, the first extensive institutional retrospective in New York of his groundbreaking art in over twenty years.

Jack Smith (1932–1989) was a New York-based filmmaker, photographer, and actor known for his pioneering influence in experimental filmmaking and performance art. Smith moved to New York City in 1953, where he attended film classes at the City College of New York, finding employment as a photographer. He studied dance with Ruth St. Denis, direction with Lee Strasberg, and worked as an actor and assistant with Ken Jacobs before shooting his first film, Scotch Tape, in 1959. His best-known film, Flaming Creatures (1963), was confiscated by the New York Police Department and banned throughout the US due to nudity and charges of obscenity. Smith never again created a finished artwork. His next film, Normal Love (1963), was often re-spliced as it ran, repeatedly reedited, and regularly awarded new titles such as Normal Fantasy, Exotic Landlordism of Crab Lagoon, and The Great Pasty Triumph.

From the late 1960s into the 1980s, Smith focused on theater and performance, and combined live happenings with screenings of films and slideshows. Shows created during this period include Brassieres of Atlantis (1969), Secret of Rented Island (1976–77), I Was a Mekas Collaborator (1978), Art Crust on Crab Lagoon (1981), What’s Underground About Marshmallows (1981), I Was a Male Yvonne De Carlo for the Lucky Landlord Underground (1982) and Death of a Penguin (1985). Smith published essays and short stories in Film Culture and other periodicals, and appeared in productions by Andy Warhol, Robert Wilson, and Ken Jacobs.

Smith’s influence pervades experimental filmmaking and performance art in the US, and is present in the works of Warhol, John Waters, Laurie Anderson, and Cindy Sherman. In 1997, The Institute for Contemporary Art/P.S.1 Museum mounted Jack Smith: Flaming Creature: His Amazing Life and Times, a retrospective of his work that traveled to Pittsburgh, PA, Berkeley, CA, and Berlin, Germany. Jack Smith Archive is represented by Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.


Art Crust of Spiritual Oasis Supporters:
The Friends of Artists Space, The Artists Space Program Fund, Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

A note on access:

Artists Space is accessible via elevator from street level, welcomes assistance dogs, and has wheelchair accessible non-gender-segregated toilet facilities. For access inquiries please contact Artists Space at or 212 226 3970.


With his shadow looming over the development of avant-garde film, performance art, photography, and critical discourse in New York between the 1960s and 1980s, and through the formative years of Artists Space, Jack Smith nonetheless remains an outlier among the many artistic contexts within which he has played an important role. His virtuosic output is revered for its caustic humor, self-invention, and debasement of institutional authority, which intensified throughout an ever-evolving "career." Yet, since his death from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1989, his artistic legacy has proven to be similarly incalcitrant and resistant to clean-cut narrativization. In history, as in life, Smith's comprehensive ouevre exists in renegade defiance of the capitalist imperatives of commodification and containment, as vilified in his ideas of "lucky landlordism," "rented island," "claptailism," "art crust," and so forth.

Art Crust of Spiritual Oasis marks the first time that many of Smith's performances—composed and chronicled in drawings, scripts, film fragments, "boiled lobster color slideshows," audio recordings, and costumes—have been articulated. Particularly, it will frame Smith's time "in exile," as described by film historian and Smith archivist J. Hoberman. This period was marked by the artist's eviction from his legendary SoHo loft The Plaster Foundation of Atlantis in 1971 and, consequently, by a movement towards performances staged in ad-hoc theater spaces, clubs, and notably in the literal outside of a morphing urban environment, as the artist found himself at the margins of a professionalizing art world, with the city of New York transformed by a bullish real estate market.

The final exhibition to take place at Artists Space's current location at 55 Walker Street, Art Crust of Spiritual Oasis will occupy two floors and provide access to some of Smith's most startling yet unknown performances, as well as extensive documentation and materials from The Plaster Foundation of Atlantis.