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Ramapo College of New Jersey Presents a Career Survey of Artist Mimi Smith’s Work

(PDF) (DOC) (JPG)February 4, 2004

(Mahwah) – A career survey of the work of feminist artist Mimi Smith will be exhibited in the Kresge and Pascal Galleries at Ramapo College of New Jersey beginning February 18 and continuing through March 19. An opening reception and artist’s talk will be held Wednesday, February 18 from 5 – 7 p.m. The exhibit is presented in recognition of Women’s Herstory Month (March).

Smith’s innovative clothing art, begun in 1965 when she was a 22-year-old student enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, provided a foundation for much of her subsequent work.

Like her Rutgers colleagues, Smith closed the gap between art and life by using real or found objects and fabrics to make art more related to everyday concerns. She is known as one of the first contemporary artists to fabricate clothing in her work.

The artist’s earliest works are Model Dress and Bikini, works first made in 1965 and redone in 1993. Model Dress resembles couture designed for a woman with a model’s physique. Catalogue essayist Joe Jacobs notes that Smith’s clothing art is filled with social commentary. The dress is transparent, meant to reveal a divine beauty underneath,” he says. The sweeping contours of the dress, the refined stitching, and the precisely-placed buttons reinforce the aura of exquisiteness. In reality, however, few women have the small shoulders, thin hips, and long torso and legs the dress is meant to highlight. The ideal to which women are expected to aspire is unachievable, and it is exaggerated in Model Dress to the point of distortion and unattainability.”

Smith’s creative genius is a result of personal experience and concerns. Her sculptures reflect her feelings about her body and her frustrating encounters with societal expectations and stereotyping,” says Jacobs. Steel Wool Peignoir, which combines steel wool with lace and ribbons, relates her experience with romance. Instead of a mythic Doris Day enchantment, she got a steel wool reality”. Knit Baby was conceived as a conceptual piece about her own pregnancy. It was part of Knit Baby Kit that came with instructions for both women and men to knit their own babies. Jacobs comments that Smith thought of the time spent knitting the piece as replicating the endless waiting of pregnancy.

In the 1970s Smith began a series of wall drawings made of knotted thread and measuring tapes, like her clothing art, a medium associated with women. Living in Cleveland, Ohio at the time, she felt entrapped by the machine-like nature of her existence and its connection to the house that surrounded her. She measured the furnishings, appliances, and architectural details-and used the tape measures and knotted thread to make exact size drawings of all those things in her house. Evident in these drawings is the labor-intensive and tedious process of knotting the thread, which replicated Smith’s rote housework and child-care demands.

Later in the’ 70s, hand-written scripts from actual news broadcasts were used to outline the television, screen and control knobs in a series of pen and pencil drawings on paper of television news. Instead of an image in the screen, there was more script. These drawings were then accompanied by audiotape readings of the words in the drawings. The script has the same nervous, wiry quality of the knotted-thread drawings, yet a constant evenness throughout,” writes Jacobs. This evenness, or lack of stresses, powerfully echoes the constant unemotional drone of the news, a monotone that gives the same emphasis to a frightening report. . . as it does to a warm and fuzzy story.”

Among Smith’s most powerful works of the 1980s are a series of enormous drawings of houses made of colored pencil, ink and oil stick on paper, and inspired by the threat and effects of pollution and radioactive emissions to people in their houses.

Beginning in the late 1970s and increasingly in the 1980s, Smith made a series of clocks that were a catalogue of the nation’s social problems, with themes encompassing the lack of gun control, destruction of the environment, the AIDS epidemic, the right to abortion and nuclear Armageddon. The clock faces were covered with news clippings, photocopied images, computer printouts, paint and drawings. Jacobs, the catalogue essayist, says their complexity, visual busyness, and use of news clippings mirror the hectic tenor of the times.

Smith revisited clothing art in the 1990s and often combined it with clocks and computer paintings, while addressing more recent societal themes such as the friction women encounter when climbing the corporate ladder in Slave Ready Corporate. The career survey exhibit includes Smith’s Paper Dolls, a series about child abuse. It is remarkable how minimal many of Smith’s gestures are, and yet how powerful their impact is,” notes Jacobs.

Ramapo College professor Carol Duncan, who met Mimi Smith in a 1970s study group, recalls that during that time it was difficult for women artists to show their work. . . . However, none of this discouraged her from making art. Much of Mimi’s art is a somewhat surreal take on domestic space. Since TV and radio news intrude into that space with great intensity, it was logical for her to take it on as subject matter. One of her points is that the ‘news’ blocks out reality. It prevents us from knowing our world in any authentic way. The import of these works is as urgent and relevant today as ever, and, as with so much of Mimi’s art, raises questions that go far beyond the usual concerns of ‘art.'”

Smith’s work is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, NY, The Newark Museum, NJ and the Spencer Art Museum, KS. She is the recipient of the NEA Artist’s Fellowship Grant, the NY Foundation of the Arts Fellowship and the Joan Mitchell Grant.

Gallery hours are Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 1 – 5 p.m. and Wednesday from 1 – 7 p.m. Admission to all galleries is free. For more information call 201.684.7147.


About Ramapo College

Ramapo College of New Jersey is the state’s premier public liberal arts college and is committed to academic excellence through interdisciplinary and experiential learning, and international and intercultural understanding. The comprehensive college is situated among the beautiful Ramapo Mountains, is within commuting distance to New York City, was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America by CondeNast Traveler, and boasts the best on-campus housing in New Jersey per Established in 1969, Ramapo College offers bachelor’s degrees in the arts, business, data science, humanities, social sciences and the sciences, as well as in professional studies, which include business, education, nursing and social work. In addition, the College offers courses leading to teacher certification at the elementary and secondary levels, and offers graduate programs leading to master’s degrees in Accounting, Applied Mathematics, Business Administration, Contemporary Instructional Design, Computer Science, Creative Music Technology, Data Science, Educational Leadership, Nursing, Social Work and Special Education, as well as a Doctor of Nursing Practice.


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