Advertisement

Michael E. Smith

Michael Benevento, Los Angeles, USA

Slashing the back wall of a dark room at Michael Benevento is the shape of what used to be called ‘the number sign’. If you whip out your smartphone to take a flash photo for your Instagram feed, or simply to use its torch function to view the work better, the relief jumps into soft-core clarity; the hashtag form appears sculpted from something like bloody stool. Smith has a rare ability to do a lot with a little: attracting and repulsing viewers by dimming rooms and adding garish fluorescents; cutting off the gallery’s circulation by blocking the hall with a glass-topped patio table overturned on a shellacked blowfish; or, right at the entrance, opening a door onto a grungy, carpeted lobby, where one of his signature assemblages sits – a hacked-up bicycle frame resting on a disposable nappy (all works Untitled, 2017). The scrap bike is upsetting enough; the scrap room is something else entirely. 

Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2017, installation view, Michael Benevento, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Michael Benevento, Los Angeles

Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2017, installation view, Michael Benevento, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Michael Benevento, Los Angeles

Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2017, installation view, Michael Benevento, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Michael Benevento, Los Angeles

The work here follows a pared-down, punk version of Jasper Johns’s formula: one thing plus another thing equals art. Smith strives to induce the greatest revulsion from the smallest gesture, and sleazing up a white cube’s back end proves to be an efficient method. The skylight of another room is obscured by a fleece blanket patterned with leaping Super Marios. By day, the gallery takes on a pale-blue cast; it could almost be cosy, except that those cut-rate blankets evoke both 64-bit teenage escapism and the soiled
bedding of the homeless, camped just two blocks east of the gallery. On the floor beneath the skylight are two vinyl, 3D models, printed from CAT scans of dogs with brain tumours. It’s hard to miss the joke – the combine is a little too Dr Seussian to be surrealist – but Smith’s pun is only one dry indignity. For the other: one of the heads rests on a nappy.

Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2017, vinyl rendering of canine CAT scans and diaper, installation view, Michael Benevento, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Michael Benevento, Los Angeles

Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2017, vinyl rendering of canine CAT scans and diaper, installation view, Michael Benevento, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Michael Benevento, Los Angeles

Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2017, vinyl rendering of canine CAT scans and diaper, installation view, Michael Benevento, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Michael Benevento, Los Angeles

The white, skull-like sculptures have the appearance both of inanimate objects and actual corpses; indeed, they index the deaths of real dogs. But the prints do not distinguish between the scan’s info and noise: their masses incorporate skin, fur, brain and tumour alike; meaningless, globular artefacts bleed out like tailings from a cast. The morbid sensation they transmit, in galleries lit like horror-film hospitals, carries over to the readymades. In a corner across from the heads, another overturned patio table rests on a
blowfish; legs up, it seems dead.

Michael E. Smith, Fish Oil, 2017, fish, table, installation view, Michael Benevento, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Michael Benevento, Los Angeles

Michael E. Smith, Fish Oil, 2017, fish, table, installation view, Michael Benevento, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Michael Benevento, Los Angeles

Michael E. Smith, Fish Oil, 2017, fish, table, installation view, Michael Benevento, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Michael Benevento, Los Angeles

In his reduction of Johns’s equation, Smith manages to shove a caesura between thing and thing, so that the art is more than the sum of its parts. For another work, Smith has scooted all the gallery’s office computers onto one of two desks and bracketed the remaining one with raccoon paws: two on each end, like quotation marks. Running the length of the workable desk, as well as coiled on a nail in the bathroom, are thin plastic tubes stuffed with dead bees, which – in case you’ve been distracted by other tragedies – are quietly heading towards extinction. A photograph can’t quite capture the sculptures’ dead and dying looks. On the show’s opening night, a bucket of deflated white balloons sat in the gallery’s asphalt backyard. Visitors could blow them up and set them free; bobbing around the car park like stray cats, their round, pale forms served as a reminder of those CAT-scanned dogs. It was a celebration, but with an expiration date: we’ve all seen what happens to balloons in the sun.

Main image: Michael E. Smith, Untitled (detail), 2017, video still. Courtesy: the artist and Michael Benevento, Los Angeles

Travis Diehl is a writer based in Los Angeles, USA, and is a recipient of the Creative Capital / Warhol Foundation Art Writers Grant. 

Advertisement

Most Read

With authors, curators and musicians recently denied entry, the UK is fast painting itself as a cultural pariah
Why does the ‘men’s rights’ guru to the alt-right surround himself with Soviet-era memorabilia, which he doesn’t even...
Alongside a centuries-old collection of Old Masters, Delftware and Chinoiserie, the Devonshires continue to commission...
In a Victorian-era baths in Glasgow, the artist stages her largest performance project to date, featuring a 24-woman...
In further news: UK class gap impacting young people’s engagement with the arts; Uffizi goes digital; British Museum...
Italian politicians want to censor the artist’s poster for a sailing event, which reads ‘We’re all in the same boat’
A newly-published collection of the artist’s journals allows silenced voices to speak
The arrest of the photojournalist for ‘provocative comments’ over Dhaka protests makes clear that personal liberty...
The auction house insists that there is a broad scholarly consensus that the record-breaking artwork be attributed to...
‘We need more advocates across gender lines and emphatic leaders in museums and galleries to create inclusive,...
In further news: artists rally behind detained photographer Shahidul Alam; crisis talks at London museums following...
Criticism of the show at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest comes alongside a nationalist reshaping of the...
A retrospective at Munich’s Museum Brandhorst charts the artist’s career from the 1980s to the present, from ‘fem-trash...
At the National Theatre of Wales, a performance alive with wild, tactile descriptions compels comparison between the...
There are perils in deploying bigotry to score political points, but meanings also shift from West to East
‘It’s ridiculous. It’s Picasso’: social media platform to review nudity policy after blocking Montreal Museum of Fine...
The first public exhibition of a 15th-century altar-hanging prompts the question: who made it?
Poland’s feminist ‘Bison Ladies’ storm the Japanese artist’s Warsaw exhibition in solidarity with longtime model Kaori’...
An art historian and leading Leonardo expert has cast doubt on the painting’s attribution
How will the Black Panther writer, known for his landmark critical assessments of race, take on the quintessential...
The dissident artist has posted a series of videos on Instagram documenting diggers demolishing his studio in the...
In further news: artists for Planned Parenthood; US court rules on Nazi-looted Cranachs; Munich’s Haus der Kunst...
A mother’s death, a father’s disinterest: Jean Frémon’s semi-factual biography of the artist captures a life beyond...
Jostling with its loud festival neighbours, the UK’s best attended annual visual art festival conducts a polyphonic...
It’s not clear who destroyed the project – part of the Liverpool Biennial – which names those who have died trying to...
Dating from 1949 to the early 1960s, the works which grace the stately home feel comfortable in the ostentatious pomp...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018