Melanie Smith: Spiral City & Other Vicarious Pleasures

Two facing moveable walls with colorful props hanging from racks, and a set w lights, fake palm trees, a red and white panel

Installation view Melanie Smith: Spiral City & Other Vicarious Pleasures, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 2009

Hayden, Reference, & Bakalar Galleries
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Melanie Smith
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Melanie Smith: Spiral City & Other Vicarious Pleasures, an exhibition organized by curator Cuauhtémoc Medina, includes paintings, photography, and video works, that artist Melanie Smith has made by herself and in collaboration with other artists. These works constitute an aesthetic and social investigation of Mexico City, where she has lived and worked since 1989.

Examining the city from all angles–from the air and the ground; from the crowded grid of city blocks to the commerce on the street–Smith has created a visual vocabulary that draws from the visual impact of the megalopolis while simultaneously relaying an interest in the history of art and the ways in which “abstract” art relates to the urban environment. Using colors, textures, materials, and found objects from the urban environment, Smith examines the complex and chaotic visual elements of the 21st-century city.

A central work in Spiral City & Other Vicarious Pleasures is the video Spiral City (2002), created in collaboration with Rafael Ortega. Nearly six minutes in length, the video features a dynamic aerial view of the city; it recalls, both in the work’s title and the helicopter cinematography, Robert Smithson’s 1970 film of his seminal earthwork Spiral Jetty. The video builds on earlier works that depict urban moments in detail, taking a more inclusive look at the mass of the city by depicting a seemingly unending accumulation of buildings, streets, factories, and parking lots, and establishing the visual patterns of urban living.

About the Artist

Born in 1965, in Poole, England, Melanie Smith has lived and worked in Mexico City for nearly two decades. Since moving there at the age of 24, she has engaged in an exploration of her adopted hometown, one of the world’s most populous and cosmopolitan cities. Smith’s art explores, through a diverse range of media and multiple perspectives, the economic and social patterns of the city and how they translate into artistic forms.

Smith’s work has recently been exhibited at the Tate Gallery, London, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. She has exhibited with Peter Kilchmann in Zurich, Switzerland; OMR Gallery in Mexico City, Mexico; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain; The Tamayo Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City; UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts.

About the Curator

Born in 1965 and based in Mexico City, Cuauhtémoc Medina has an international reputation as an independent art critic, curator, and professor. He studied for his PhD at the University of Essex, is on the International Advisory Board of the University of Essex Collection of Latin American Art, and was on the advisory committee for the 2004 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. He has served as a visiting professor at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, New York, and is Associate Curator of Latin American Art at the Tate Gallery, London. Medina is also a member of Teratoma, a Mexico City-based arts organization made up of curators, critics, and anthropologists.

Melanie Smith: Spiral City & Other Vicarious Pleasures was organized by Cuauhtémoc Medina, researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas at the National University of Mexico, since 1992, and Associate Curator of Latin American Art Collections at Tate Gallery in London. The exhibition was first presented at the University Museum of Sciences and Arts (MUCA) at the National University of Mexico, Mexico City. The exhibition was presented by The Lab at Belmar, Belmar, Colorado from September 26-December 30, 2007.


Support for the presentation of Melanie Smith: Spiral City & Other Vicarious Pleasures at the MIT List Visual Arts Center has been made possible by the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Trust, the Council for the Arts at MIT, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Media Sponsor: Phoenix Media/Communications Group.