Works Exhibitions Biography VIMEO (pass: dangunnlondon)
Michael Smith (born 1951) is an American artist known for his performance, video and installation works. He emerged in the mid-1970s at a time when performance and narrative-based art was beginning to claim space in contemporary art. Included among the Pictures Generation artists, he also appropriated pop culture, using television conventions rather than tropes from static media. Since 1979, much of Smith's work has centered on an Everyman character, "Mike", that he has portrayed in various domestic, entrepreneurial and artistic endeavors. Writers have described his videos and immersive installations as "poker-faced parodies" that sit on the edge between art and entertainment, examining ideas, cultural shifts and absurdities involving the American dream, consumerism, the art world, and aging. Village Voice critic Jerry Saltz called Smith "a consummate explorer of the land of the loser... limning a fine line between reality and satire [in] a genre sometimes called installation verité."
Smith's early performances took place at avant-garde venues like The Kitchen, Franklin Furnace and Artists Space and downtown clubs such as CBGB and Mudd Club. He eventually performed in other, more mainstream clubs and institutions, such as The Bottom Line, Carolines, the Whitney Museum and Museum of Modern Art, and produced videos for Saturday Night Live and PBS and a comedy special for Cinemax. In later years, he has exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Tate Modern, among others. In 2007-8, a retrospective, "Mike's World", was presented at the Blanton Museum of Art and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. Smith has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation in addition to a 1985 Guggenheim Fellowship and an Alpert Award in Visual Arts in 2012.
Smith's "Mike" persona has been described as a bland, naïve, "perpetually hapless, perennially upbeat everyman" or "wise fool," who stubbornly pursues small-time entrepreneurial schemes and social goals with knotted brows and a "peculiar combination of puppyish enthusiasm and quiet desperation." His attempts to achieve the American Dream - through exhausted trends, dominant viewpoints, and ad-copy tropes - are presented with a mix of gullibility, can-do Dale Carnegie-like optimism, pathos and culpability and in environments employing knowingly tacky design. New York Times critic Roberta Smith described Mike as "a latter-day Willie Loman, who makes everything in sight ricochet between post-modern irony and a genuine sense of sorrow for the many Mikes drifting across the American landscape."
Mike first appeared in performance works and then video collaborations between Smith and director Mark Fischer. In the video Down in the Rec Room (1979), Mike is presented endlessly waiting in signature boxer shorts for party guests that never arrive and interacting instead with cheesy media personalities heard on the audio track or viewed on a television. Secret Horror (1980) depicted a Muzak-scored nightmare in which Mike's apartment is besieged by a mysteriously dropping ceiling, a "party" attended only by tall ghosts, and 1960s pop-culture imperatives from TV game shows, sitcoms, music and commercial brands. Smith also performed as Mike in USA Free-Style Disco Championship (1979), competing at the twilight of the disco era in a real disco contest at New York's Copacabana nightclub and placing twelfth (last).
Art historian David Joselit called It Starts at Home (1982, first shown at the Whitney Museum in the installation Mike's House) "a watershed work" in video art that placed avant-garde practice within the debased rhetoric of the middlebrow TV sitcom and inverted the usual relationship between audience and spectacle. In its play on public access TV, Mike's mundane domestic life is being beamed to the world due to a cable installation snafu, making him inexplicably famous; among the work's other features were a purported agent (literally, a "deal-making piece of fur" named "Bob") and various disorienting sight gags, doublings and mismatches between the installation's home (also the cable-show set) and the video. In the satirical installation Government Approved Home Fallout Shelter/Snack Bar (1983), Smith examined cold-war anxieties by transforming Mike's rec room into a fallout bunker (based on a 1950s FEMA manual), complete with a yellow concrete snack bar and a video game programmed to always lose.
Some of Smith's subsequent projects included the satirical music video Go For It, Mike (1984); the deadpan OYMA (Outstanding Young Men of America) (1996), which spoofed Reaganomics, the Horatio Alger myth and all-American stereotypes (e.g., the Marlboro Man, individualism); and 1990s adult-oriented puppet/performance collaborations with Doug Skinner, collectively titled Doug & Mike's Adult Entertainment. He also began to reflect on creative production and the business of the art world in the mock-instructional videos The World of Photography (1986, with William Wegman) and How to Curate Your Own Group Exhibition (Do It) (1996).
Smith's other recurring performance persona is "Baby Ikki," an oversized infant described as "pre-linguistic, genderless" and gorilla-like, with conspicuous facial hair, oversized diapers, a bonnet and undersized sunglasses. First created in 1975 in Chicago and performed by Smith with a tensed body and impulsive, precisely mimicked movements, the character was a crowd-pleaser that enabled direct audience interaction and elicited a combination of repulsion and concern; in the 1978 video Baby Ikki, he ventures out into traffic, only to be dragged back to the sidewalk, bawling, by a visibly unamused policeman.
Baby Ikki has appeared internationally in performances, videos and installations in New York (Electronic Arts Intermix, MoMA), Los Angeles and Europe. He was featured in a collaborative exhibition with Seth Price, "Playground" (2003, Galleria Emi Fontana, Milan), that included an installation of playground toys and video projections depicting him visiting various deserted meeting places. In 2009, Smith collaborated with artist Mike Kelley on a multimedia installation based on Baby Ikki's adventures at Burning Man, A Voyage of Growth and Discovery (Sculpture Center, 2009; West of Rome, 2010). The project combined aspects of both artists' past work - dancing, dressing up, infantilism - with the festival's ethos of weeklong "radical self-expression." It included an eighteen-foot Baby Ikki junk sculpture and skeletal metal playground structures designed by Kelley and projected video of Ikki at the festival, playing tetherball, dancing, and interacting amid the mass of people.
Smith has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (1985) and Herb Alpert Foundation (2012, Visual Arts), awards from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation (2007) and New York Foundation for the Arts (2007, with Joshua White), and grants from the National Endowment for the Artsand Art Matters, among others. His work belongs to the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou, Blanton Museum of Art, Inhotim Institute (Brazil), LWL Museum für Kunst und Kultur (Munster), Migros Museum of Contemporary Art (Zurich), Paley Center for Media, and Walker Art Center among others.