Michael Smith presents three recent bodies of work at Hales Gallery

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Installation view of Michael Smith, Yet another show of drawings and videos reflecting on youth, ageing and a future of retirement by Michael Smith, Hales London, 2020. Images courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery. Copyright the artist.
Installation view of Michael Smith, Yet another show of drawings and videos reflecting on youth, ageing and a future of retirement by Michael Smith, Hales London, 2020. Images courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery. Copyright the artist.

LONDON.-Hales, in collaboration with Dan Gunn Gallery, is presenting Yet another show of drawings and videos reflecting on youth, ageing and a future of retirement by Michael Smith. In his fourth solo exhibition with Hales, Smith presents three recent bodies of work exploring these themes, which he and his performance persona will undoubtedly struggle with for years to come.

For forty years Smith (b.1951 Chicago, IL, USA) has been producing performances, video works, large scale installations, commercial television, puppet shows, photos and drawings that have been shown in a variety of venues and contexts, including museums, galleries, cable television, nightclubs, children’s birthday parties and on the streets. Smith has been at the forefront of a generation of artists interested in crossing over and merging an art world context with popular culture. A prolific artist, Smith often collaborates with other artists, including Joshua White, Mike Kelley, Seth Price and William Wegman. Drawing on aspects and conventions of daily life and mass media, Smith creates witty and ironic works that speak to the trials and tribulations of everyday life as well as to our most human concerns.

In the late 1970s Smith conceived of two characters, who have since been featured in the majority of his works – “Mike,” a naïve, hapless but optimistic everyman, and “Baby Ikki,” a genderless, prelingual, easily-distracted infant. These consistent performance personas have developed and aged with the artist, over the course of many years. In Smith’s far reaching oeuvre, Mike has built a fallout shelter; had his own tv variety show; entered a disco dancing competition; starred in a music video; had a business that went bankrupt; and was an artist with a loft for sale, amongst other pursuits.

In the exhibition we follow Mike on a series of adventures – his search for the fountain of youth, getting a tattoo and buying a timeshare in Mexico. Each project includes a video alongside related drawings, detailing the creative process and the hilarious and serious inner workings of the artist. Smith states, ‘The drawing phase is the most fun and creative, a special window of opportunity. That’s the time I let myself go and not edit out ideas.’[1]

In Smith’s debut ballet, Excuse Me!?!…I’m looking for the “Fountain of Youth” (2015) Mike and Baby Ikki are featured in an elaborate narrative told through dance. Choreographed by Stephen Mills, with music by Mayo Thompson, the ballet odyssey follows Mike through an office setting, the surreal middle ages and finally through a security check in his search for the elixir of eternal youth. The ballet juxtaposes Mike’s lumbering technique with elegant apprentices from Ballet Austin, TX, USA. The work has previously been shown in the BMW Tate Live: Performance Room Series, livestreamed in 2015 from the Tate Modern, London, UK.

In 2017, as part of Münster Skulptur Projekte, Smith developed Not Quite Under_Ground – a fully operational tattoo studio, which was open to everyone but offered a significant discount to people over the age of 65. The idea was envisaged from his own observations of Münster and the increase in older tourists visiting the arts festival. This promotional-travelogue-style video shows Mike with a group of senior citizens as they tour the city, eventually visiting the parlour to get tattoos. In true Mike fashion, he opts for an empty to-do list in a hard to reach place on his backside. The video embraces the tropes of cultural tourism, while slyly highlighting the drawbacks and ironies of being a tourist. Smith’s accompanying works on paper suggest potential tattoo designs ranging from the conceptual, humorous to the mischievous.

Imagine the View from Here! (2018) finds Mike in Mexico visiting a timeshare location at the Museo Jumex in Mexico City, and the vibrant expatriate communities of San Miguel de Allende. Our protagonist is considering purchasing ‘an art immersive timeshare’ for a ‘fully curated lifestyle’ from The International Trade and Enrichment Association (ITEA), whose tagline reads ‘Elevation Through Association.’ The piece is underscored by a politically and economically charged subtext and climate, involving trade between the USA and Mexico.

Endlessly optimistic, Mike has always been just behind the times, highlighting the stark contrast between aspirational imagery and everyday reality. When discussing the Mike persona, artist, friend and collaborator, Mike Kelley suggested that the character acts as a grounding device for different kinds of explorations, ‘I am starting to think of him, not so much as a character, but as a kind of tone. He inflects meaning, but he is not meaning.’[2] Smith utilises the persona as a vehicle to explore ‘the absurdities of consumerism and the insecurities of creative life.’[3] Physically, Mike has grown older with the artist but what has remained is his relevance in Smith’s prescient explorations of reconciling age with youthful endeavours.

[1] Miller, J. (2000) Michael Smith. Grenoble: Magasin-Centre National d’Art Contemporain.

[2] Kelly, M in conversation with Smith, M. (2007). Mike’s world. Austin, TX, USA: Blanton Museum of Art.
[3] Fox, D. (2014) Only the Lonely Dan Fox talks to Michael Smith about minimalism, comedy and failure https://frieze.com/article/only-lonely[Accessed: 05.02.2020]

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