Pick one.

9 January 2013

Simone Menegoi on Michael E. Smith’s Untitled (2012)
with Beetlejuice Dub, an unreleased video from the artist

Artist Michael E. Smith was born in 1977 in Detroit where he still resides. His works include painting and assemblage as well as installation and video, but according to Italian art critic Simone Menegoi, who knows him up close and personal, Smith’s work is to be considered mainly sculptural. So on the occasion of Michael E. Smith’s solo exhibition that opened last September at the Galleria Zero in Milan we asked Menegoi to pick one particular artwork from the show and to depict his vision of Smith’s art through it.

Michael E. Smith, Untitled (2012)
text by Simone Menegoi

Michael E. Smith is a sculptor. He is a sculptor even when he realizes two-dimensional works, like this one. “You see, they are all sculptures”, he told me, pointing his finger at a series of canvases leaning on the floor of the Galleria Zero in Milan, while installing his personal exhibition. In fact, they were not real canvases but ordinary materials: dirty fabrics, pieces of fake leather – stretched on frames: and all works, he pointed out to me while turning them around, had been worked on both sides, with no specific hierarchy between  front and back. When displaying his painting-sculptures, Michael often tries to render both sides visible, and the schemes he thinks up in order to achieve this are part of the reason his works are so fascinating. In this case, he decided to place his work outside the gallery window, sticking it between the window glass and the grating (thus leaving it exposed to the elements). The side which looks toward the inside of the room is a thin black crust, the last, transparent layer of which contains some dead moths. When one is standing in front of the window, the daylight reveals a figure on the other side of the canvas: the head of a man whose features are impossible to see, probably cut out of a magazine. Seen against the light, the resin goes from black to a warm and gloomy colour; the moths, suspended around the head, appear trapped in the fossil amber.
There is something sinister, vampiresque even, in this painting with its nocturnal insects, in the faceless figure that leans in to look inside the window. Knowing that Michael comes from Detroit, one is tempted to see in his work all the obscure imagery of contemporary suburban America, of an urban landscape physically and psychologically devastated by the economic recession. At the same time, nothing could be more misleading than interpreting Michael’s work in a mimetic sense, as though it were merely a representation (or a symptom) of his surroundings. In his fragile sculptures made of debris there is a lot more than that, in terms of form, composition and most importantly, in terms of poetic density. In this particular exhibition, Michael has removed most of the lights; after six o’ clock in the evening, some of the rooms in the gallery are so dark you almost have to fumble through them and you can hardly (if at all) see the works exposed. But that darkness is as literal as it is metaphorical. It alludes to the dramatic power cuts of cities collapsing, but also to other, more unfathomable obscurities. The black head looking into the window, with its crown of dead moths, arises from that very obscurity.

As a personal line to be added to Simone Menegoi’s text, Michael E. Smith sent us his unreleased video Beetlejuice Dub, a tiny piece full of creepy irony we proudly post here for you.