What do artists Patti Smith, Emily Mae Smith, Lucien Smith and Bob and Roberta Smith all have in common apart from their last name? Well, not much really, apart from their latest group show at Marlborough gallery in London curated by Maurizio Cattelan. The tongue-in-cheek exhibition is appropriately called The Smiths and it brings together over 30 artists from different generations, disciplines, mediums and styles but all share the same last name.
Cattelan curated the show and included both established names as well as less familiar artists side by side. The summer group exhibition idea had supposedly been conceived from a debate between Marlborough director Pascal Spengemann and Cattelan about whether it’s possible for interesting connections to be made from a random common thread. This was perfect for Cattelan, the provocateur he is, and he admitted that he had always wanted to stage a show with such a line-up.
Among the many Smiths presented, a gelatin silver print by poet and musician Patti Smith makes a shy appearance; a floral collage in mixed media by fashion designer Sir Paul Smith; a haunting print from Kiki Smith; and an intricate copper etching suspended from the ceiling by Anj Smith. John Smith’s 1986 video work fills the space with ohm chants, drawing attention to Joshua Smith’s abstract works and Harry Smith’s collotype.
The curation and overall show pokes fun at the need for artists to stand out and be distinguished. In an interview with the Guardian, Emily Mae Smith lamented her last name while growing up an aspiring artist. “Growing up in a world where the persona of the artist has been made so very important—think of Picasso—I thought: ‘I’m never going to be successful because I have the most boring name in the world! This is never going to work for me… being an artist named Smith is a terrible thing,’”
“I have included my middle name ever since I was little because it was the only way I could be differentiated,” she added. “But when Marlborough galleries contacted me about the show, I started laughing because being called Smith has suddenly become the opposite of a terrible thing in a very funny, cute way.”
Patrick Brill, better known by his pseudonym Bob and Roberta Smith, asks ‘R U Bobtimistic?’ in his series of placards, Make Your Own Damn Art, next to Adam Parker Smith’s inflatable dolphin. Matt Sheridan Smith’s striking piece Passerby (1969), a face with a banana mouth drooping in sadness, captures the spirit of the show and how absurd it all is.