Jack Smith

Marlborough Contemporary | New York
545 West 25th Street
December 8, 2016–January 14, 2017

Jack Smith, L.B. Was really loving Shirley . . . , date unknown, pencil on paper, 16 x 13".

“ROACH FARTS OF SHARK STAMPEDE” reads a collage in this modest exhibition of Jack Smith’s drawings, photographs, and assorted ephemera. The phrase is mysterious, funny, Instagrammable—and it nicely summarizes the late artist/filmmaker’s mischievous imagination, which was always more fabulous than real life. Smith is best known for his 1963 film Flaming Creatures, an erotic romp filled with all manner of homosexy lasciviousness. Fliers for screenings appear alongside notes, printed materials, and correspondences—an unexpected letter from Playboy discloses the magazine’s endorsement of the artist. A trio of untitled photographs from circa 1958–62, which were reprinted in 2011, highlights Smith’s blend of camp and ritual. They feature a creepy couple—in tatty, flamboyant costumes and Day of the Dead makeup—on a butterfly-catching expedition.

Smith’s drawings on napkins and craft paper just hint at the breadth of his experimentation. Though he made things from junk, he turned it all into gold—or beautiful fool’s gold, anyway. The undated Mirage Publications gives us covers for made-up erotic novels, with titles such as Pasty Glamour, Tales of Uranus, and Slavery Stories; while an untitled and undated bit of roundabout doodling calls to mind ancient Egyptian devotionals. But . . . Who Would Punish Us? (From “The White Pig of the Medina”), ca. 1967, is an endearing portrait of a fat prostitute reclining, smoking and smiling. L.B. was really loving Shirley . . . (undated), shows a doctor clutching a needle, his lovely patient strung out on “munchkin glands.” It makes your skin crawl. Most of the exhibition’s framed materials are “date unknown,” an ambiguity which enhances the show’s intimate scope. Smith’s jouissance—or explosive mental orgasm—does wonders for our dreadful postelection malaise.

Sam Korman