MATRIX, the Wadsworth Atheneum
s groundbreaking contemporary exhibition series, has set some new goals. Upcoming projects will embrace experimental art, performance art, and explore new developments in painting. In looking at contemporary painting the Wadsworth found a unique vision in the work of Emily Mae Smith. The exhibition marks the first MATRIX show since 2013 to feature an artist who is solely a painter. For her MATRIX project, Smith engages with a masterpiece from the Wadsworths permanent collection: William Holman Hunts The Lady of Shalott (c. 1888‒1905). Emily Mae Smith / MATRIX 181 is on view February 7 through May 5, 2019.
Smith was chosen by Artsy as 1 of 20 female artists pushing figurative painting forward. With a nod to distinct painting movements from the history of art, such as Symbolism, Surrealism, and Pop art, Smith creates lively compositions that offer sly social and political commentary. Teeming with symbols, Hunts The Lady of Shalott (below) is the catalyst for this project, in which Smith provides a feminist reimagining of the narrative. For MATRIX 181, her first solo museum exhibition in the United States, Smith has selected seven paintings, dated 2015 to 2018, that relate to The Lady of Shalott, and created three new paintings, dated 2019, directly inspired by Hunts masterwork.
In The Lady of Shalott Smith finds a familiar image, shes had a postcard of the painting since she was a teenager. It became the perfect source to address the outdated psychology of female oppression, male authority, and implied violence, still pertinent today.
There is an uncanny affinity between the coded iconography of Smith and Hunt. According to Patricia Hickson, the Wadsworths Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art, Emily Mae Smith offers a raucous and empowering retelling of The Lady of Shalott, leading with her eccentric broomstick avatar along with her usual toolbox of gendered symbols. She employs a refreshing, satirical approach to social commentary.
Smiths lexicon of signs and symbols begins with her avatar, inspired by the broomstick figure from Disneys Fantasia (1940). Simultaneously referring to a painters brush, a domestic tool associated with womens work, and the phallus, the figure continually transforms across Smiths body of work. The first broom I put in a painting was
a way for me to paint an object, figure, female, and phallus all at the same time. I thought it was funny and an ideal vehicle, said Smith. The ideas for my broom figure have changed and expanded since then; it has been molded to my painting needs. You can say more difficult things with a character. Smiths depiction of the female body is all visual wit and dark humor. By adopting a variety of guises, the broom and other symbols speak to contemporary subjects, including gender, sexuality, capitalism, and violence.
Emily Mae Smith was born in 1979 in Austin Texas. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received her M.F.A. in Visual Art from Columbia University, New York in 2006 and her B. F. A. in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin. Recent solo and dual exhibitions include: Emily Mae Smith, Le Consortium, Lyon, France (2018-19); A Strange Relative, Perrotin, New York, NY (2018); The Sphinx or The Caress, Simone Subal Gallery, New York, NY (2017); Tesla Girls, Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels, Belgium (2016); Honest Espionage, Mary Mary, Glasgow, Scotland, UK (2016); Medusa, Laurel Gitlen, New York, NY (2015). Select group exhibitions include Summer, curated by Ugo Rondinone, Peter Freeman Inc., New York, NY (2018); Pine Barrens, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, NY (2018); Pharmacy for Idiots, Rob Tufnell and Tanya Leighton, Köln, Germany (2017); Women to the Front, Works from the Miller Meigs Collection, Lumber Room, Portland, OR (2017); Le Quatrième Sexe, curated by Marie Maertens, Le Coeur, Paris, France (2017); Scarlet Street, Lucien Terras, New York, NY (2016); Me, Myself, I, China Art Objects Galleries, Los Angeles, CA (2016); Surrreal, König Galerie (St. Agnes), Berlin, Germany (2016); Untitled Body Parts, Simone Subal Gallery, New York, NY (2016).