Michael Smith’s (b. 1951, Chicago, Illinois, USA) videos, installations and performance works, produced both independently and in collaborations, explore contemporary mass media culture and its effects on those who experience it. The majority of Smith’s work chronicles the dreams and adventures of his two main alter-egos: the extraordinarily prescient and sympathetic alter-ego, the naïve and somewhat inept Everyman ‘Mike’ and ‘Baby Ikki’, an ambiguously ageless, sexless figure, as they each navigate (to varying degrees of success) the absurdities and alienation of the tragicomedy that is contemporary American life. 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.
For forty years Smith 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. 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 2015 Mike and Baby Ikki both featured in Smith’s debut ballet, Excuse Me!?!...I’m looking for the “Fountain of Youth.” In this earnest attempt on Mike’s part to participate in the art world’s contemporary interest in the medium of dance, the fictional characters’ physical ineptitude is juxtaposed with the graceful professional dancers, choreography and music. Yet, by invoking the reciprocal artist/audience relationships of performance, the artist invites his viewers to identify and empathise with these archetypal figures even at their most ridiculous. Smith’s filmed and live performances are also frequently elaborated via other media, for example in artist’s books, drawings and sketches.
Michael Smith’s collaborators have included Joshua White, Mike Kelley, Seth Price and Mayo Thompson. He cites Buster Keaton, Vito Acconci, Richard Foreman, Samuel Beckett and William Wegman as influential in his exploration of humour and form. This range of conceptual and visual sources is evident in the depth and variety of Smith’s simultaneously ironic, hilarious, poignant and poetic body of work.
Smith has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, four National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Fellowships, a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award and an Alpert Award in the Arts.
Smith has exhibited and performed at a wide range of institutions and venues, including Tate Modern London, UK; MoMA, NY, USA; the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, USA; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, USA; the New Museum, NY, USA; Sculpture Center, NY, USA; the Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA; MoMA PS1 NY, USA; Museo Jumex, Mexico City, Mexico; 5th Skulptur Projekte Münster, Germany; MANIFESTA 11, Zurich, Switzerland; Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France; Miami Art Museum, FL, USA; White Columns, NY, USA; the Walker Art Center, MN, USA; CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, CA, USA; Caroline's Comedy Club, NY, USA; Dance Theatre Workshop, Cinemax, NY, USA; MOCA LA CA, USA; the Pompidou Centre, Paris, France; the MAC, Belfast, Ireland; and South London Gallery, UK. Smith's work is represented in numerous international collections including MoMA, NY, USA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, USA; Walker Art Center, NY, USA; Pompidou Center, Paris, France; and Museum of Television and Broadcasting, NY, USA.