MACBA presents Melanie Smith: Farce and Artifice
MACBA presents Melanie Smith: Farce and Artifice, the largest and most comprehensive institutional exhibition of the artist’s work in Europe to date, encompassing the full breadth of media she has embraced from her early sculptural works, assemblages, reliefs and paintings to her work in video, photography and installation.
Smith (b. 1965) was born in the U.K. but established her career in the Mexican art scene of the 1990s. She moved from the political and economic tensions of Thatcher’s Britain to Mexico in 1989, where she witnessed the impact of capitalist modernisation, neo-liberal globalisation and hyper-consumerism, the development of an informal economy alongside traditional forms of manufacture, and the idiosyncratic manifestations or collapse of modernity. The two contexts, Mexico, or more broadly Latin America, and Britain, or a wider Anglo-Saxon or Eurocentric culture, are central to her work.
The exhibition surveys Smith’s work from the early 1990s until today. Rather than follow a chronological arrangement, it is organised according to a series of deceptively simple themes or motifs that recur in her work: Abstraction, Urban, Colour, Body, Archaeology, Nature and Scale. This allows works from different moments in Smith’s career to be brought into juxtaposition, showing the continuities and yet also embracing tensions, conflicts, irrationality and chaos. She has described her body of work as a "giant palimpsest."
The exhibition includes key earlier works such us Spiral City (2002-2004) and Farce and Artifice (2006). Spiral City is a film, series of photographs and paintings of Mexico City but responds to Robert Smithson's earthwork Spiral Jetty. The film is a testament to a city that is subject to a crystalline process of incremental growth and erosion, whereby structures build upon each other and collapse, suggesting a constantly evolving cartography of the future. these works are shown with later works including Fordlandia (2014), which explores a similar, seemingly limitless immensity in nature in the Brazilian Amazon. Shot in the abandoned city in the Amazon founded by automobile mogul Henry Ford to produce rubber, this filmic essay on entropy focuses on details of the settlement and its state of dereliction, the local communities currently living in the region, the river, and the flora and fauna of the locale.
In Xilitla: Dismantled 1 (2010), the Surrealist collector Edward James’s garden provides a lush, tropical backdrop for the concrete modernist follies that appear like 20th century counterparts to "lost" Mayan ruins. Bulto (2011) presents a bundle that looks like an archaeological artefact found in Peru, except that it is a startlingly bright pink, which is being transported around the city of Lima in a variety of vehicles and situations. It is in fact a modern, synthetic fardo funerario (a funerary bundle containing mummified remains) where, says Smith, the body takes on "a phantasmagoric state of unresolved identity."
The exhibition also includes more recent works such as the performative tableaux Fake and Farce (2017–18), drawn from the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Breughel, and shown for the first time, Smith’s latest film María Elena (2018), which was shot in the Atacama desert and bears witness to the operations and contaminations of capitalism within the Latin American landscape.
Melanie Smith: Farce and Artifice is organised and produced by MACBA Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, in collaboration with MUAC Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, UNAM, Mexico City, and the Museo Amparo, Puebla, Mexico, which will present the exhibition in 2019.
Curator: Tanya Barson