David Winton Bell Gallery

Currently on View

February 22, 2024 - June 2, 2024

Barbara T. Smith: Proof

In winter 2024, the Bell Gallery at Brown University will present a comprehensive survey exhibition of artist Barbara T. Smith (b. 1931, Pasadena; lives Los Angeles). An innovator within the performance art movement of the late 1960s, Smith has long produced work that explores the self, sexuality, gender roles, physical and spiritual sustenance, love, life, and death. Assembling an expansive range of artwork and performance-related ephemera, the exhibition will survey Smith’s bold experimentation. While her groundbreaking performances have received critical attention, the objects Smith has made over nearly sixty years—many for, or as a result of, performances—are less known. This includes the artist’s radical Xerox works, mixed media assemblages, sculptures, artist’s books, drawings, paintings, photographs, and videos. This survey will celebrate Smith’s incomparable contributions to contemporary art, feminism, performance, and technology.

Brown University, with its celebrated Open Curriculum and its encouragement of interdisciplinary faculty and student research and cross-departmental collaboration, is a natural site for presenting Smith’s six decades of work. Barbara T. Smith: Proof marks the first time that a performance artist has been featured in a solo presentation in the Bell Gallery’s long history, yet the university has a long history of cultivating performance through Brown Art Institute’s IGNITE series; the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies (TAPS); Africana Studies / Rites and Reason Theatre; and the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA Programs in Acting and Directing. Smith’s innovations in melding art, science, and technology– emerging from her collaborations with STEM faculty in southern California– are a powerful example of experimentation across disciplines which we see in action daily at Brown. Finally, Smith’s complicated relationship with the women’s movement and feminist performance art of the 1960s and 1970s is worthy of reappraisal, and contributes to the conversations on gender, sexuality, and the body happening through the Pembroke Center and elsewhere across our campus.

This exhibition builds on notable solo presentations such as Barbara T. Smith: The Way To Be (2023, Getty Research Institute), The Radicalization of a 50s Housewife (2011, University of California, Irvine), and The 21st Century Odyssey Part II: The Performances of Barbara T. Smith (2005, Pomona College Museum of Art). To accompany this singular presentation, ICA LA will publish Smith’s first survey catalogue, co-published by Gregory R. Miller & Co. and designed by Content Object (C/O). Featuring an illustrated chronology compiled by Jenelle Porter and Barbara T. Smith, the catalogue will also include commissioned texts by leading scholars Gloria Sutton, Catherine Taft, and Pietro Rigolo, on, respectively, Smith’s work as it relates to new technologies, ecofeminism, and the archive.

Barbara T. Smith: Proof is organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and guest curated by Jenelle Porter with support from Amanda Sroka, Senior Curator, and Caroline Ellen Liou, Curatorial Assistant. The presentation at the Brown Arts Institute / The David Winton Bell Gallery, part of the Perelman Arts District at Brown University, is organized by Thea Quiray Tagle, Associate Curator.


About the Artist

Since the 1960s, Barbara T. Smith’s work has demonstrated an engagement with issues of spirituality, gender, and power, making vital contributions to both feminist discourse and performance art as it developed on the west coast. In 1953, Smith received her BA from Pomona College and in 1971, her MFA from the University of California, Irvine. With her fellow UCI students Nancy Buchanan and Chris Burden, she founded the now legendary F-Space gallery. Smith’s work has been exhibited widely since the 1960s, and included in several historic survey exhibitions at institutions including WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2007); Whatever Happened to Sex in Scandinavia?, Office for Contemporary Art, Oslo (2009); and State of Mind: New California Art since 1970, Orange County Museum, Costa Mesa and Bronx Museum, New York (2012). Smith is the recipient of several prestigious awards, such as the Foundation Fellowship for Visual Art, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, and Art Matters Inc., among others.

Image: Barbara T. Smith, Trunk Piece (detail), 1969–72. Mixed media, installation dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and The Box, Los Angeles.


About the Organizing Curator:

Jenelle Porter is a curator and writer. Recent projects include An Indigenous Present, co-edited with Jeffrey Gibson (2023), and the exhibitions Kay Sekimachi: Geometries, Berkeley Art Museum (2021), and Less Is a Bore: Maximalist Art & Design, Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (2019). She has held curatorial positions at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Artists Space, New York; Walker Art Center; and Whitney Museum of American Art. 


About the Receiving Curator:

Thea Quiray Tagle, PhD is a transdisciplinary scholar, writer, and Associate Curator of the Brown Arts Institute and Bell Gallery. As an independent curator, Thea’s most recent project was as co-curator of New York Now: Home, the inaugural contemporary photography triennial at the Museum of the City of New York (2023). Her writing on contemporary art and performance has been published in popular and scholarly venues including American Quarterly, ASAP/J, BOMB Magazine, and Hyperallergic. Prior to joining Brown University, she was Assistant Professor of Critical Ethnic & Community Studies, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. 

David Winton Bell Gallery and List Lobby Gallery