Shinique Smith: The Proposition

By Hall, Emily | Artforum International, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Shinique Smith: The Proposition


Hall, Emily, Artforum International


Walking among Shinique Smith's boxy sculptures is like wandering through an abandoned city in which the presence of those who have vanished is still palpable. Some of the works are tall and solid, as imposing and insistent as memorial stelae; others are small and square, the kind of things you're likely to trip over, like the gravestones of children. The fact that all these sculptures are made of bundled clothes and other cast-offs--old skirts and stray pom-poms, garbage bags and action figures, even a T-shirt bearing the logo for the 2004 Armory Show--adds a suggestion of compound narrative, retaining too the melancholy of the secondhand.

The sadness of unwanted things has been thoroughly mined by such artists as Mike Kelley and Christian Boltanski, but in her best works, Smith's impulse is more akin to the intricate assemblage practiced by Petah Coyne. Voodoo Children, 2005, is made entirely of black objects--a Playboy purse with the handles wrapped around its body, black clothes tied off like sausages, and bunches of dark, sparkling fabric--with calligraphic graffiti rising on the wall behind it like smoke from a funeral pyre. The constituent parts, despite or perhaps because of their tacky glamour, evince the kind of dejection that comes with abandonment--the work transcends its parts and conveys the mannered grief of a Victorian memento mori.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Not all of the sculptures in the show are as effective as Voodoo Children, but taken together they have an appealing dignity. The sculptures are accompanied by a series of related works on paper. Two of these are elegant works of layered graffiti; the rest are collages of images clipped from magazines, each one titled Bundle Study and dating from 2005. The images in the studies--jewelry, feathers, hairstyles--are arranged in clusters and waves that channel the flourishes of graffiti and look like the result of one of the bundles of clothes exploding. …

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