Gene Smith in Germany

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Michael Seiwert, a longtime reader of this blog, sent notice today that a major retrospective of Smith’s work opened in Berlin this week.  He sends links here and here.  We are very happy to promote this show.  It’s a great chance to see Smith’s prints from non-JLP areas of his career.  Thank you for the tip, Michael.

My only complaint about this show, which has been traveling in Europe for a couple of years, is that it’s a standard look at Smith’s life and work.  JLP indicates, in my view, that there’s an alternative way to see him, and that’s what I’ll try to do in my next (and final) Smith book, Gene Smith’s Sink, a biography (of sorts) for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  It’s also what we’re trying to do with Chaos Manor. Smith was a conveyor of this standard view himself.  (I don’t have time or space to go into what that standard perspective is, but I may have contributed to it with some of my writing on the Pittsburgh project, before I got so deeply into the JLP materials especially the still-mysterious tapes).  Like many great artists, Smith wasn’t the best promoter of himself.  Ironically, the standard he helped create works against him in today’s art world (Steichen’s Family of Man isn’t as popular as it once was, either).

The other problem with this retrospective is that its existence may rule out an alternative Smith retrospective anytime soon.  These master prints are not allowed to be in public circulation for longer than a couple of years every dozen years to two decades.  This could be a good thing for me, because at some point I’ve got to move on to something else (the Durham Bulls, Joseph Mitchell, Sonny Clark, Monk and Coltrane, Bernard Malamud, Dean Smith, Marcia Davenport, an oral history project on doctors and nurses over age 75, and a literary non-profit are near the top of the current list).

Smith’s prodigious printing techniques will be on clear display in this exhibition, and in the age of digital reproduction his manner of darkroom printing is becoming a dinosaur.  If you are in the vicinity, go see this show.  And if there’s anybody in Europe that wants to bring Chaos Manor to town in 2012, let us know.

-S.S.

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