Unconscious Couplings

Michael E Smith Sculpture Center

"Untitled," 2015, Installation view, "Michael E. Smith: -," SculptureCenter, 2015. Two channel video. 1:45 minutes, loop. Courtesy the artist and Clifton Benevento, New York. Photo by Jason Mandella.

Underneath the main level of the SculptureCenter in Queens, New York, is a cellar gallery that is nearly raw, with exposed brick and a slight dampness to the air. It is a nontraditional space, perfect for an artist like Michael E. Smith, who makes work that doesn’t always look like art. His new exhibition, curated by Ruba Katrib, is his first solo in an American museum, and includes sculpture and a two-channel video. The only piece that has an actual title is “Mud Room,”a sculpture that resembles a white shelving unit, suggesting a place where the viewer might leave their dirty boots. Of course, it won’t actually serve such a purpose; it really just sets the tone for the exhibition, which is simply called “–”, a reference to the idea of subtraction and absence. It leaves a lot of responsibility in the hands of the audience. Smith’s work can be both subtle and jarring. He takes something playful like a Nintendo console and makes it threatening (attached to a dolly, it evokes an explosive device). All of the pieces seem to be unlikely pairings that present the viewer with a different understanding of a familiar object. “He’s interested in the specific materials and histories of the objects he’s using, as well as our cultural associations with them,”Katrib says. “Objects we wouldn’t normally pay attention to—a sleeping bag, a garbage disposal—can be viewed as radically different. How does he make something so mundane into something so strange?”

Michael E. Smith*’s “−” is on view through August 3 at New York’*s SculptureCenter, 44-19 Purves St, Long Island City