Magazine article Artforum International

Mimi Smith

Magazine article Artforum International

Mimi Smith

Article excerpt

ANNA KUSTERA GALLERY

Cross Meret Oppenheim with Barbara Kruger and you come real dose to the acute feminism of Mimi Smith's art of apparel. A welcome reprise of the excellent survey curated three years ago by Judith Tannenbaum at Philadelphia's Institute of Contemporary Art, this recent exhibition of Smith's sculpture and painting from the '60s to the present began with her "teacups," early sculptures that have so often served as textbook examples of "feminist art," and that were to overshadow the next thirty years of her career. (Oppenheim suffered a similar fate - until the Guggenheim's recent survey proved how extensively her oeuvre went beyond the 1936 fur-lined object.) Bringing Smith's reputation up to date was one of the accomplishments of this recent gallery show.

Smith's most famous work, Steel Wool Peignoir, 1966, deserves a place of honor in some museum's permanent collection. It comes, like a sleeping beauty, with its own soft vitrine in the form of a clear vinyl garment bag. This nightmare nightgown, stitched from nylon and lace and trimmed at the arms and throat with steel wool, looks like it could have been made yesterday; not only because it's in such good shape, but because it so clearly anticipates contemporary work by Maureen Connor, Beverly Semmes, and Jana Sterbak. Most of Smith's apparel doubles as protection, pliant hardware for a critical body. There is a monstrous girdle, made of rubber bath mats, and a vinyl maternity dress. The latter, a sci-fi vision of woman as test tube or "gro-box," boasts a plastic observation window (recycled from an old washing machine) projecting from the midriff. It anticipates another Smith staple, the widely exhibited Knit Baby Kit, 1968, which comes with instructions "so that every woman (or man) can knit her own baby."

In a noteworthy work from the '70s, Smith outlined on a wall a fully furnished house using knotted thread and measuring tape. …

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