Critics’ Picks

View of “Josh Smith,” 2004.

View of “Josh Smith,” 2004.

New York

Josh Smith

Reena Spaulings Fine Art | New York
165 East Broadway 2nd Floor
April 25–May 24, 2004

For years, Josh Smith has been making abstract paintings on which he emblazons his own name, and while this conceit may seem conceited, the effect is the opposite. Rather than coming across as aggressive self-advertisements, his canvases are relaxed to the point of messiness. In the best work here—New Swamp Thing, 2004—his name is partially obscured by a patch of red checkers that seems to grow out of the bottom-left corner of the canvas; elsewhere, the calligraphic curves of his lettering appear to be on the verge of breaking down into scribbles. His palette is nicely murky, as if he'd mixed globs of mud into his purples and greens, yet never mushy. Installed in the unrenovated interior of Reena Spaulings Fine Art (a former dress shop), the paintings are seamlessly contextualized, hung on and behind clothes racks and along one wall that is still its original salmon pink. Posters for the show lie scattered on the floor, and a black leather couch (the best seat from which to view the series of fantastic performances that have been taking place here since the gallery’s January inauguration) cuts across the middle of the room. The intentionally casual presentation lends conceptual gravitas to work that is already striking for its merry disregard of the conventions of gallery painting.