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Josh Smith: Hidden Darts at Museum of Modern Art in Vienna
Installation view, Josh Smith – Hidden Dart. Photo: MUMOK, Lisa Rastl. © MUMOK

VIENNA.- For his first European solo exhibition at the MUMOK the young American artist Josh Smith plans a large scale installation with 116 new pictures in the middle of which there will be a life-size statue by Duane Hanson. Smith reworks the central myths and clichés of modern painting and links that to the vitality of an expressionist mode of working and knowledge of appropriation art as well as institutional critique.

Josh Smith hangs the works in multiple rows, one above the other, edge to edge, on the walls of the exhibition space. Thus an excessive flood of information is produced in which Smith brings together all the genres of painting he has established over the last few years: the ‘name paintings’ in which ever-new variations of the commonplace name Josh Smith serve as the motif for the pictures; the ‘palette paintings’ on which he mixes the pigment for his pictures; the ‘announcements’ that are simultaneously posters for the artist’s exhibitions and, finally, the ‘collages’ in which found materials such as posters, newspaper clippings or maps are melded on top of each other together with his own drawings and prints. In this crossover, subjective experience and external living conditions become woven together on the surface of the picture.

The Football Vignette (1969) by Duane Hanson can be seen in the centre of the MUMOK Factory. It is one of the incunabulum of hyper-realism from the museum’s collection (Österreichische Ludwig Stiftung). The pyramidically composed sculpture focuses on a highly dramatic moment in which a football player is in the process of being brutally attacked by two opponents. Against the background of the Vietnam war the figural group is a reference to the naked, interpersonal violence in competitive sport that is masked and socially sanctioned. Situated within the context of Josh Smith’s exhibition, an intense and dynamic interplay develops between the sculpture and the pictures. In both cases the relationship between the realism of everyday American culture and its artistic and symbolic transformation is examined though in quite different ways.

Above all, the metaphorical imagery of competitive sport turns a bright spotlight on the processes of artistic creativity: wrestling with finding relevant art in between personal integrity and predictable success.

The exhibition title, “Hidden Darts”, refers to the conceptually planned aggressiveness of Josh Smith’s art as well as the incalculable nature of his work methods. Smith paints and makes collages in series, as if in a sketchbook, in a way which reveals the painting and thought process: the spontaneous ideas that he follows up, varies, effects changes of meaning but also the mistakes and (apparent) wrong directions. In the search for “Hidden Darts” the viewer gets involved in a game: is the artistic postulate in question simply coincidence or is it an enigmatic allusion? Is it a meaningful whole or a superfluous disturbance? Smith’s recourse to an expressionist formal idiom differs fundamentally to the painting of the Eighties with its expansive rhetorical and ironic gestures. On the contrary, “Hidden Darts” draws attention to the emotionally charged moments in a picture which, according to Smith, “you can’t see but can feel”.

Josh Smith was born in 1976 in Okinawa. He lives and works in New York.

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