[January 12 2017]
Closing this week in the Viewing Room at Marlborough Chelsea is an exhibit featuring art by the late Jack Smith who heavily influenced some of our time’s greatest artists including Warhol and Fellini. Though his films were most popular, especially “Flaming Creatures,” the show focuses on his lesser-known photographs and drawings, as well as assorted ephemera. A pioneer, the multimedia artist is widely regarded as a founder of performance art as well as the aesthetic of camp as it’s known today.
PAIGE SILVERIA — How did you go about curating the space? Did you have certain items of his work in mind or did it happen more organically?
LEO FITZPATRICK — With an artist like Jack Smith it’s tricky because most people know his films “Flaming Creatures,” “Normal Love,” maybe “Scotch Tape” and a few others and some of the performances he would hold at his loft, but for those who truly look into Jack‘s life and lifestyle you will see a blur between performance and reality. There’s too much to go into in this small interview but if you look up some of his writings you will understand my point more clearly.
PAIGE SILVERIA — What was it like going through the ephemera? Where is the work archived (in what condition)?
LEO FITZPATRICK — Well I love to research things so going through ephemera is my favorite. A problem I ran into with the show again relates to the films. They have to presented in a certain way and I could not do that in the gallery with the limited time and space that I had, so I had to come up with another way to present Jack through other outlets like photography and ephemera. Also as the curator of a non-representational project space you must rely on other galleries or resources to provide you with the work. They are doing you a huge favor by consigning the work so you can not be greedy or expect too much. You must be able to work with what you get and make the best show out of it possible. That being said I had a lot of support from Johan Kugelberg at Boo Hooray and Isaac Alpert at Gladstone Gallery. I couldn’t have done the show with out their help.
PAIGE SILVERIA — What’s the response been like? It’s so important to maintain awareness of these great artists who are often overlooked.
LEO FITZPATRICK —The response has been great. I have met a lot of Jack‘s friends who really appreciated the show and hopefully turned a few younger people onto him as well. A lot of people thought they were coming to see the films and were surprised to see something completely different and I feel that that in a sense was very Jack Smith … you never knew what to expect. I just feel lucky to be in the position to curate these things for the audience; when they’re happy I’m happy. That being said, I couldn’t do it without Marlborough Chelsea‘s help.
PAIGE SILVERIA — What do you make of his statement during an interview in Semiotext(e): “The people that collect art are always criminal. There’s something wrong with that, anybody that wants to collect other people’s art. It’s a very abnormal thing because that’s missing the point of art completely. The point is that they’ve got to collect this sort of thing because it’s missing in their personality.”
LEO FITZPATRICK — Well obviously I can see that point of view and if you collect art for profit well that’s a different story in a different book, but for me my very small and personal art collection that lives on my wall serves as a inspiration to leave your mark. Most of the things I own are from friends and I didn’t really spend any money on it but that doesn’t mean to me it’s not priceless.
PAIGE SILVERIA — When were you first introduced to Jack‘s work and what was your initial impression?
LEO FITZPATRICK — I’m not sure exactly when I found out about Jack Smith‘s work but I have always been drawn to outsiders and extreme people since I was very young, which is why I moved to New York. Obviously New York has changed over the years and I think that I try to hold onto the past a little more than other people … I don’t know if somebody like Jack Smith could survive and make work in today’s New York which saddens me. As a gallerist I, like many others, try to have a well-rounded program to try to show the audience that art can be much more than just painting …. I just want to start the conversation between the artist and the audience and hopefully the audience will go out and do further research.
PAIGE SILVERIA — How has New York changed and why do you think that someone like Jack wouldn’t be able to survive in its current state?
LEO FITZPATRICK — What I mean by that is that New York is all financial now, isn’t it? It’s a luxury to even live here and you pay dearly. From the ’50s up to the late ’80s early ’90s, you could still work a day job, afford your apartment and make your art on the side. Now you simply work to survive and hope you don’t get priced out. I long for the days where most people had these big lofts and could experiment and make sculpture or hold performances or concerts or what have you; now people are being forced to live in cramped conditions and if they’re lucky enough to have a studio, generally it’s small. You can see it in the work that’s being produced now. Everyone’s a painter because paintings are easy to store. To be anything more means a real commitment on the person to give up whatever personal space they have. If Jack saw beauty in the trash he walked past on his way home, he would drag whatever it was that caught his eye with him to have in his loft (an artwork unto itself) to use at a later date. You just can’t do that anymore.I think it’s a real shame that whenever an artist or writer or dancer or any kind of creative force moves away or passes away that there is not someone with the same outlook to replace them. I feel my obsession with the past and older artists is to keep some of that passion alive and not give up so easily. But there are definitely times when I question why I would want to live in a city that does not value the same things I value. And it’s not just New York; it’s happening everywhere which is a shame. But it’s a story as old as the day is long … bad neighborhood, artist’s move in, it becomes cool and then the gentrification happens. It’s a shame but it’s life.
On view until January 14th, at Marlborough Chelsea, 545 West 25th Street, New York.
Text and photo Paige Silveria