Simone Subal Gallery

Emily Mae Smith

The Sphinx or The Caress

September 10 – October 29, 2017
Opening Sunday, September 10, from 6-8pm

  • Emily Mae Smith. "The Riddle," 2017 (detail)
  • Installation view.
  • Emily Mae Smith. "Study for A Thousand Hours," 2017. Watercolor, ink, acrylic on paper. 8 × 6 inches (20.32 × 15.24 cm)
  • Installation view.
  • Emily Mae Smith. "Portrait as a Klein Bottle," 2017. Oil on linen. 67 × 51 inches (170.18 × 129.54 cm)
  • Installation view.
  • Emily Mae Smith. "Bathers," 2017. Oil on linen. 51 × 67 inches (129.54 × 170.18 cm)
  • Installation view.
  • Emily Mae Smith. "Cyclops," 2017. Carbon and gouache on paper. 14 × 11 inches (35.56 × 27.94 cm)
  • Installation view.
  • Emily Mae Smith. "The Riddle," 2017. Oil on linen. 67 × 51 inches (170.18 × 129.54 cm)
  • Installation view.
  • Emily Mae Smith. "Deus," 2017. Oil on linen. 14 × 11 inches (35.56 × 27.94 cm)
  • Installation view.
  • Emily Mae Smith. "The Caress," 2017. Oil on linen. 48 × 37 inches (121.92 × 93.98 cm)
  • Installation view.
  • Emily Mae Smith. "The Valley," 2017. Oil on linen. 14 × 11 inches (35.56 × 27.94 cm)
  • Emily Mae Smith. "The Other End," 2017. Oil on linen. 38 × 30 inches (96.52 × 76.20 cm)
  • Installation view.
  • Emily Mae Smith. "Sentinel Madonnas (Monument Valley)," 2017. Oil on linen. 47 × 58 inches (119.38 × 147.32 cm)
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Simone Subal Gallery is very excited to announce the opening of Emily Mae Smith’s The Sphinx or The Caress on Sunday, September 10, 2017. This is Smith’s first solo show at the gallery. The exhibition runs until October 29, 2017. Please join us for an opening reception on September 10 from 6 – 8 pm.

Emily Mae Smith is versed in various strategies of representation. She pulls from disparate sources to create paintings that reflect the complexity of our time and personhood. She has been particularly interested in a wide range of neo-classical and symbolist works—commonly known as the twisted end of academic painting—in part because these compositions delve deeply into the abyss of the subconscious.

Paintings such as The Other End playfully manipulate a bookplate from the fin-de-siècle journal The Studio into a gendered portal addressing the frame of painting itself. Another work Sentinel Madonnas (Monument Valley) brings together imagery drawn from M.C. Escher, a popular video game, and medieval icon painting. A larger painting, The Riddle, riffs on Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ famous work Oedipus and the Sphinx from 1808. Smith maintains many of Ingres’ distinctive elements. She has, however, made a crucial alteration: Oedipus has been replaced by Smith’s recurring “broom lady” character, a clear reference to the bewitched broom in the film Fantasia and also a vehicle for Smith to explore the anxiety surrounding the creative act as well as the formation of subjectivity.

A central aspect of Smith’s imagery is a re-working of art history’s exclusion of the inner lives of women. This critique is bound up in her own assessment of the present day—a moment in which misogyny is rampant yet deeply buried in our shared myths—and the ways in which works of art have traditionally represented women as either a muse or as a femme fatale. She is particularly interested in how identity is inscribed on a body, and her surreal, anthropomorphic figures become sites to construct complex narratives and internal dialogues. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her Portrait as a Klein Bottle, which transforms the Mobius strip-like vessel—it has no discernable inside or outsides and thus cannot contain anything—into a metaphor for the self and the constant mutability of subjectivity.

A subtle, dry humor lurks on the surface of the works on view. However, Smith does not look for cheap laughs. Instead, she uses humor to reveal a sense of pain and truth, a means to express inequities and disparities. Smith’s most recent paintings are powerful, complex worlds that compress historical time, raise questions about authorship, and display trenchant social critique through the cipher of remarkably rendered compositions.

Emily Mae Smith was born in 1979 in Austin Texas. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Recent solo exhibitions include: Tesla Girls, Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels, Belgium (2016); Honest Espionage, Mary Mary. Glasgow, Scotland, UK (2016); Medusa, Laurel Gitlen. New York, NY (2015). Select group exhibitions include Scarlet Street, Lucien Terras. New York, NY (2016); Me, Myself, I, China Art Objects Galleries. Los Angeles, CA (2016); Surrreal, König Galerie (St. Agnes). Berlin, Germany (2016); Untitled Body Parts, Simone Subal Gallery. New York, NY (2016); Six Advertisements, Marlborough Chelsea. New York, NY (2015); Unrealism, organized by Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian, The Moore Building. Miami, FL (2015); Mrs. Benway, Fourteen30 Contemporary. Portland, OR (2015); I Dropped the Lemon Tart, Lisa Cooley. New York, NY (2015); Parallax Futured: Transtemporal Subjectivities, Skirball Museum. Cincinnati, OH (2014). Smith’s first institutional solo show is scheduled for Fall 2018.