Critics’ Picks

Jenn Smith, Being a Wheel (detail), 2019, ink-jet prints, graphite, ink, paper, found objects, 5 3/8 x 12 1/2'.

Jenn Smith, Being a Wheel (detail), 2019, ink-jet prints, graphite, ink, paper, found objects, 5 3/8 x 12 1/2'.


Jenn Smith

1965 W Pershing Ave Building A, 3rd Floor
October 27–December 8, 2019

Wobbly and geometric all at once, Jenn Smith’s fervently painted canvases are the epitome of “organized chaos.” The artist seems to say the same of her primary subjects: conservative Christianity and white Jesus (the bearded dude who just wants to love you lest you wind up sandwiched between fire and brimstone). On a wall of her one-room show “Soup Kite Laser Church,” at Flatland, Being a Wheel, 2019, is installed as two enormous circles full of found and handmade objects—pamphlets, ink-jet prints, graphite and ink drawings of abstract shapes—that unveil her process and her personal relationship with the divine. The mayhem of the evangelical marketing team is on full display. Everything from Sunday school coloring sheets to propaganda featuring black-clad apostates swirls around the circles alongside images of “godly” men so hypermasculine that they accidentally become homoerotic. These eddies of salvation face a sculptural stack of books titled Fifty-One Books About Christian Puppetry, 2016–19.

Smith clearly sees the mockery that Christianity imposes on itself, though she focuses more on its paranoid earnestness than faith’s hypocrisy. That being said, she doesn’t seem quite ready to turn it into a punchline. With such paintings as The Eye-Gate Travels the Distance and Visitors III, both 2019, Smith brilliantly employs a balance of bold and pastel colors, and sharp and rigid shapes, against fluid strokes of movement. In the latter picture, two magenta figures demonstrate Smith’s use of ambiguity: The cartoon-like characters possess both angel wings and a demonic, hostile gaze. We can learn from this dissolution of threat into grace: Salvation comes not from power but with softness, if we can find it.