On FailureReturn to previous page.
Of the original five “Pictures” artists, only four are acknowledged. No work by Mr. Smith is on view; his name is mentioned only once in the catalog. His portrait has effectively been removed from the hall of fame.
In this the Met has followed Mr. Crimp’s lead. In the October magazine version of his exhibition essay, he dropped the discussion of Mr. Smith and focused instead on Cindy Sherman, an artist who hadn’t been in the show. Such revisionism is, perhaps, a curator’s privilege but not a historian’s. In the interest of accuracy Mr. Smith should have been included in the Met show. As it is, his absence turns historical record into invention and suggests how exclusionary a “generational” history can be.
-Holland Cotter, The New York Times, May 29, 2009
Yesterday a remarkable and seasoned performer asked me to collaborate with him on a project about his own sense of failure. I was taken aback even though I am quite used to artists sharing their stories of truncated careers, critical neglect and adversarial colleagues. This was the first time I had been approached about documenting failure rather than creating or re-creating it. Of course, I agreed. We will start filming a sitcom about his path between failure and success this Fall . A sitcom seemed to be the appropriate format since its snarky simplistic 22 minute minimalism is packaged for an audience that deems itself superior even though it really is inert.
My conversation with one artist reminded me of the tribulations of another.
I have been painfully aware of the Philip Smith story since the “Pictures” exhibit appeared last year at the Met. Philip Smith, one of five artists in a landmark 1983 show at Artists Space in New York was virtually eliminated from a retrospective of the show, its artists and the era when a generational retrospective was held at the Met. How a museum could have allowed a curator, Douglas Crimp, to erase an artist from an art movement he very clearly was a part of speaks to the integrity of major museums as much as antiquity poaching does. Mr. Crimp does not appear to like Philip Smith’s work, so he has simply Stalinized his place in art history. In doing so, Mr. Crimp has made Philip Smith far more interesting and controversial than those artists– Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman—whom he has mummified at the Met.
What is it about Philip Smith’s art that invited exclusion? And what must it be like to be Philip Smith? He has a rightful place in art history and is being denied that opportunity. His market value must be affected; his reputation and work is now subject to an additional critical gauntlet even as the other artists are celebrated. And where are the other artists? Where is their outrage and sense of camaraderie? Where was their unified outrage and boycott of the show? Where is their courage? Aren’t artists supposed to be lions? Has one come forward to protect and defend Philip Smith or are they all ensconced in The Hamptons as little, rich, benign Pollacks.
Or perhaps Cindy Sherman can photograph herself disguised as Philip Smith.
Thanks to Holland Cotter for his courage in examining this disgrace. His full article can be found here.