Shinique Smith

View from inside the exhibit. Photo credit: Alex Kittle.

The Contemporary Special Exhibit Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has seen its fair share of hits and misses. This time around, the MFA has found a hit with Shinique Smith’s “Bright Matter” collection. This collection features 30 pieces of Smith’s work from over the past decade. “Bright Matter” is a unique exhibit that contains paintings and sculptures of mixed media, including clothing, twine, fabric, paint, and more.

Smith’s pieces remind us of the beautiful, cluttered chaos of human expression. In her artist’s mission statement painted on the wall, she writes: “Welcome to Bright Matter. In these works, I have strived to make connections between our desires, beliefs, and struggles through clothing and objects, which were consumed, loved and abandoned. My brush strokes are calligraphic lines of text that allow me to directly express my thoughts and imbue each work with energy from my heart and soul.”

Smith’s installations use a wide variety of styles. Her paint choices are often neon, reminding us of 1980s fashion trends, or black, emulating graffiti. The paint strokes convey contradicting feelings: we see the fluidity of calligraphy and the harshness of modern graffiti all in one.

Her pieces heavily rely on the art of layering, often piling on different works, which encourages the viewer to really examine the piece. In “Splendid,” Smith uses various paints, rope, ribbon, yarn, and even some wood pieces. It takes a long moment of intense analyzing to recognize all the different mediums and how they work together to create one cohesive piece of art.

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“Splendid.” Photo credit: Boston Globe.

Smith also interestingly uses clothing and stuffed animals in her sculpture pieces. These pieces are bundled together and are meant to represent the piles of clothing that the United States (as well as other western countries) send out to Africa for re-use each year. These bundles, which Smith calls “Bale,” make an interesting statement of consumerism. It is fun to find notable items within them, such as a Snow White doll or a Target shopping bag.

Another must-see in the exhibit is a small room attached to the main exhibit called, “Breath and Line.” This room is covered in mirrors and beautiful hand-painted graffiti calligraphy on the walls. In the room, the lights are dimmed and as you look around at the calligraphy on the wall, as well as your own face in the mirrors, you are surrounded by the audio of Smith’s very own breathing set to a light musical piece.

This exhibit would be enjoyable for people of all ages, from small children to adults. Smith’s pieces are bright, fun, nostalgic, and thought-provoking all at once. Museum-goers will leave the exhibit smiling and satisfied, like they have just had a breath of fresh air.

Price: Free with ENC student ID

Exhibit: Until March 1, 2015