The 21st Century Odyssey Part II: The Performances of Barbara T. Smith
Since her first groundbreaking performances in the late 1960s, Barbara Turner Smith has been at the forefront of feminist, body, and performance art in Southern California. “The 21st Century Odyssey Part II: The Performances of Barbara T. Smith,” is a retrospective of this important artist’s performances and includes the newly edited video of The 21st Century Odyssey. Smith created durational performances in which she used her own body, often at some personal risk, as her artistic medium. Her work is remarkable for its courage, inventiveness, intensity, and poignancy. Working in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Smith, with artists such as Nancy Buchanan, Chris Burden, Allan Kaprow, Suzanne Lacy, and Paul McCarthy, redefined the very nature of art-making.
This exhibition, curated by Rebecca McGrew and Jennie Klein, has the distinction of being Barbara T. Smith’s first retrospective and appropriately is presented at Pomona College where Smith began her career as an undergraduate art major. It will then travel to the Kennedy Museum of Art at Ohio University. The exhibition includes never-before-seen photographs, videotapes, ephemera, and other performance relics. Beginning with Ritual Meal (1969), it covers over two decades of work, including the pivotal performances Celebration of the Holy Squash (1971), Feed Me (1973), Birthdaze (1981), and The 21st Century Odyssey (1991–93).
Barbara Smith began her artistic career (in painting) at Pomona College, from which she graduated in 1953. After raising three children, she returned to graduate school at UC Irvine, turned to body and performance art, and, with fellow classmates, founded the influential F Space Gallery. Intensely aware of feminist thought and activity of the mid-60s and early 70s, Smith was among the first to reassert the primacy of female body/experience and autobiography in contemporary art. Even before the establishment of the Feminist Arts Program (1971) and the Woman's Building (1973), Smith was foregrounding her own corporeal, gendered experience in experimental performances.
A substantial, illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition (140 pp, illus, paper bound, $30.00). It includes essays by Jennie Klein, Moira Roth, Kristine Stiles, and Jenni Sorkin; a performance chronology; biography; checklist to the exhibition; and detailed descriptions of some of Smith’s most significant performances. The seminal 1974 interview by Moira Roth that accompanied Smith’s first exhibition is reproduced with a new introduction. Co-curator Jennie Klein tackles the formidable task of setting the stage for Smith’s work and framing it within contemporary scholarship. Internationally renowned scholar of performance and body art Kristine Stiles interrogates the deepest core of Smith’s work, illuminating her courage, passion, and vision. Art historian Jenni Sorkin looks at the lighter side of Smith’s oeuvre, examining her use of parody and humor. Together, these essays offer eloquent testimony to the significance of Smith’s work and place her, appropriately, alongside the greatest performance artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.