Art Seen: National

JOSH SMITH // LUHRING AUGUSTINE

by Josh Reames

While in New York, I had the pleasure of seeing Josh Smith’s current exhibition at Luhring Augustine – self-titled and split between both the Chelsea and Bushwick locations. Though they are considered one single exhibition, the two shows are strikingly different. In Chelsea, Smith mounts a series of austere, brushy monochromes on panels of the same scale. The multi-colored series has a much quicker read than I am accustomed to with his work, seeming quite a bit more serious than what he usually presents His usual theatrics and his self-branding style are reduced to almost blank, reductive repetition. In the Brooklyn location, Smith compiles a much different selection of work, including a large series of tropical sunset/palm tree paintings, coupled with shelves of quick, aggressive ceramic works. The ceramics and paintings have a drastically different attitude than the monochromes. They are funny, sexy, and point to something outside of art – namely a type of pictorial escapism demonstrated by his automatic, phrenetic style of production –fucked-up pop art for the Internet age.

Josh Smith, installation view, Bushwick.

Josh Smith, installation view, Bushwick.

Given the nature of the concurrent exhibitions, I cannot help but draw comparisons between the exhibitions (for the sake of this argument, I will consider them two separate entities) and their locations. The icy emotional temperature of the monochromes fits in quite well in Chelsea – an art-neighborhood that seems to be overrun with dry, art-fodder. Rarely do you see an exhibition in Chelsea that is challenging or exciting anymore; it is much more common to find expensive-looking shows that repeat historical tropes in a safe, marketable fashion. Though what is marketable is largely dictated by the dealer selling it; the freshness that you encounter at Gavin Brown, CANADA, the Hole, and other “younger” galleries is seldom found in the area. Instead the galleries seem to deal with their high rent by mounting shows that are more product display than Art exhibition.  The creativity, risk-taking, and excitement seem to be shifting elsewhere – to the lower east side, Chinatown, and Brooklyn. So it makes sense to see an exhibition by Smith in Bushwick that has a starkly different feel to it; and with that a more materially/contextually complicated read, with an edgier aesthetic, and that is so much more fun.

Josh Smith, installation view, Chelsea.

Josh Smith, installation view, Chelsea.

Smith has to be one of the most polarizing artists I have ever encountered, everyone I talk to about his work either loves him or hates him. The two exhibitions, and their differences, illustrate this polarity without causing Smith to break stride. His snarky references to art history and pop culture keep the work fresh, and relatable to both young and old crowds. It remains critical in a hands-off kind of way, but doesn’t end there; his “tireless production” (as they describe it in the press release) makes his individual, technically unimpressive paintings into something much greater than the individual. Smith’s work is emergent, has strength in numbers, and it becomes impressive.

Untitled, 2013 Oil on canvas 60 x 48 inches (152.4 x 121.92 cm)

Untitled, 2013. Oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches (152.4 x 121.92 cm)





Josh Reames is a Chicago-based artist and writer.

Josh Smith, at the Bushwick location, runs through November 17.

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