Critics’ Picks

Field Piece, 1968–1972, wood, lightbulbs, and electronics. Installation view.

Los Angeles

Barbara T. Smith

The Box
805 Traction Avenue
November 17 - January 5

In 1968, Barbara T. Smith began fabricating her visionary Field Piece, a technologically innovative installation of 180 translucent resin columns. Standing nine-and-a-half feet tall, these narrow, somewhat phallic objects, meant to signify blades of grass, incorporated an electronic system that, when activated by the viewer, caused the sculptures to light up and to emit harmonic tones. Although Field Piece had a successful exhibition history—having been shown in forward-thinking LA galleries F-Space and Cirrus, as well as outside of the Long Beach Museum of Art—wear and tear and a lack of funding led to the fragile artwork being reduced to just sixteen pillars. Refurbished with new electronics and installed for the first time since 1972, the work is the centerpiece of “Remnants: Artworks from 1965–1972,” an exhibition of the artist’s early paintings and sculptures. The “remnants” make clear that what Smith, as a burgeoning feminist and performance artist, borrowed from geometric abstraction and the Light and Space movement, she transformed into an intensely personal and introspective aesthetic. The seven “Black Glass Paintings,” 1965, for instance, a series of works on Masonite, feature prominent geometric designs—a green L shape, a small striated spot, a red triangle, a golden zip—set against sensually dark, monochromatic fields. Behind thick glass panes, these paintings become mirrorlike surfaces that reflect the viewer’s body within sharp colored lines. Also on view are a series of flat resin works, an additional sculpture from 1965, and a collection of photographs that document, among other subjects, Field Piece and the delightful nude happenings that occurred in and around its delicate blades.