New York

Guy Richards Smit

Team Gallery | Grand Street

Guy Richards Smit's latest exhibition opened with a bash on New Year's Eve, as if to announce that in 2002 art could be funny again. Reveling in self-parody, Smit's videos and related watercolors offered a deft mockery of the excesses, attitudes, and social pretensions of the New York art world. This is familiar ground for Smit: In previous videos, he cast himself as his own artistic alter ego, Jonathan Grossmalerman (“big painter guy” in German), a narcissist with a high substance intake who spends more time in nightclubs than in the studio. Grossmalerman embodies the overindulgence of '80s-style life in the fast lane. Smit's recent works extend the long-running narrative with the same unrelenting sarcasm but with new characters and an emphasis on multiscreen installations.

In one of the videos, Grossmaleman is replaced by another art-world stereotype, the Angry Female Artist (played by Smit's friend Zoë Lister-Jones). The room-filling five-screen installation Zoë Come Home, 2001, plays like a music video on a giant scale. Band members, each on his or her own screen, perform against alternating background colors. The title character, in requisite edgy ensemble of tight shirt and chicly torn denim skirt, tells her story in a confident, haughty tone: “I am unstoppable . . . . I want to be sexually threatening to everyone. . . . I will burn every bridge, I will bury you all, and I refuse to be influenced by anyone who came of age in the '60s.” Ultimately she concludes, “I work very hard and I have the best ideas. That is why I am a great artist.”

The satire of careerism and self-importance continues in Passerby, 2001–2002, three projections in the second gallery that flesh out a bitter tale of art's social and financial undercurrents. One video shows Smit's real-life band, Maxi Geil and Play Colt, performing earnestly in a gallery space hung with a few paintings. The no-frills production values and the band's preppie punk style evoke early MTV. Smit sports a yellow-and-blacktie and a rumpled blue oxford shirt; the female backup singer wears a miniskirt and Ray-Bans. On the opposite wall, a perspiring artist (Smit himself) is seen greeting guests at an opening, nervously playing the endless handshake and air-kiss game. The adjacent projection shows an art dealer (played by gallerist John Post Lee, who has appeared in Smit's earlier videos) anxiously reading the Financial Times: The days of young buyers flush with dot-com cash are over. From this the footage cuts to a group of would-be gallerygoers roaming the streets of Chelsea, approaching sets of tall glass doors only to find them locked. It's an amusing if obvious simile for the “exclusivity” of galleries and that shut-out feeling experienced by many artists trying to get a foothold: Those doors may be just glass, but sometimes it feels as if there might as well be a moat and drawbridge before them.

The theme of exclusivity comes full circle in the song Smit and his band perform in the video; “Passerby” refers to the eponymous bar at Gavin Brown's Enterprise, a generally overcrowded, very loud, smoke-filled watering hole immortalized in Smit's lyric description, “where the art world comes together in a hideous crush, where they degrade themselves and whomever they touch.” Smit implicates himself in the game too, and the work manages to walk the line between one-note sarcasm and a genuine longing for a real sense of community.

Meghan Dailey