Critics’ Picks

Patti Smith, Paul Verlaine’s Revolver, Brussels, Belgium, 2016, pencil on digital ink-jet print, 16 x 20''.

Patti Smith, Paul Verlaine’s Revolver, Brussels, Belgium, 2016, pencil on digital ink-jet print, 16 x 20''.

New York

Patti Smith

Robert Miller Gallery
(Currently Relocating)
March 3–April 16, 2016

One encounters a table and chair from the now defunct Café ‘Ino. They sit there like relics, memorializing a place that exists only in unassuming photographs, fissuring the linearity of time. With no regard to chronology, this exhibition echoes the modus operandi of human memory, navigating different episodes of history—personal and public—in no specific order. Each image is a signpost for the many interlacing narratives that make up Patti Smith’s life and travels.

Beds, statues, rivers, open roads, and tombstones, which bear the names of figures who’ve shaped our culture, form a visual diary. Jean Genet, Frida Kahlo, and Paul Verlaine are resurrected through pictures of their belongings or their final resting place. It’s morbid, but it is essentially a desire to embrace mortality, and one’s heroes. Smith’s photographs create a rich web of elusive moments—much like the language of her books and songs. “Perhaps there is no past or future, only the perpetual present that contains this trinity of memory,” writes Smith in M Train (2015), her latest memoir, which functions as a kind of script for this show.

Smith is a nostalgist, and though her assessments of the past may look “pretty,” they are far from treacly sentimentality. She is an unrepentant romantic, a troubadour who can only follow where her heart takes her—places and moments that are beautiful, sad, and rich with longing.