Guy Richards Smit, Jan. 2-Feb. 9, 2002, at Team Gallery, 527 West 26th Street, New York, NY, 10001.
Guy Richards Smit is the biggest diva in Brooklyn -- and soon, one presumes, the entire global art world. Singer, lyricist, performer and video artist, he stars in his own musicales, which tend to be satirical romps through the bleak realm of artistic anxiety and self-obsession.
Who could forget the Ballad of Bad Orpheus (2000)? Shown at Roebling Hall in Brooklyn, the video features Smit in the title role, playing a promiscuous sailor who can't love; he's doomed to an empty life of perpetual one-night stands. Another Smit routine, also presented at Roebling Hall, stars the artist's alter-ego, an egomaniacal, drug-dependent painter named John Grosmalerman, or "Big Painting Guy." Needless to say, it too is unforgettable.
Smit's current exhibition at Team Gallery features two multiple-channel video installations and a series of watercolors (yes, he's also a fervent painter of large-scale, narrative works).
Installed in the front gallery is Zoe Come Home (2001), a five-channel, synchronized DVD projection that is basically a short rock video. The show opens with one performer on each of the five screens -- Smit, whose rock 'n' roll persona is named Maxi Geil; the real-life ingénue Zoe Lister, who has stage presence to spare; and members of Smit's fictional rock band, Play Colt.
After staring defiantly at the audience, the band starts playing while the backgrounds flash in a loud variety of colors -- purple, blue, red, yellow, green -- like the old Simon Says game. The catchy anthem builds as Smit croons: "Zoe come home/You've lost control/I'm scared/And it's not funny anymore..."
The song features an extended monologue by Zoe, who voices rock-star delusions such as "I want to be sexually threatening to everyone... all the time." A moment later, she admits that really she's "scared of everything." Then she rebounds, saying she's a great artist who's "too good to work." By the end of the tape, it's clear that Zoe is sweet and naïve despite her hostile posturing.
Passerby (2001-02) is a three-channel DVD projection named after a bar on West 15th Street in the Chelsea art district. Here again, Smit provides a music video to accompany the main narrative. Three grainy films erratically jump back and forth between two screens, spoofing the artist's desperation over his uncertain market and mourning the passing of the 1980s art boom.
On one screen, Smit greets visitors to his first solo exhibition. According to the lyrics, his "jaw is a wreck, from talking, smiling and cheap blow." Smit then faints from all the attention and an ambulance rushes him to the hospital, where he fails to respond to CPR.
In a chauvinistic turn worthy of Penthouse Forum, the female nurse revives Smit with a handjob. Snapping awake, he begins to sing: "I think my friends are still out/I think I know where they are." Back at the club, Smit drinks, talks, falls down and collides with people in a state of goony eagerness. Then suddenly the party's over and he's all alone, looking like he's been stood up.
The second narrative offers outtakes of the surrounding scene at Passerby. In one vignette, a young woman tries to get past the bouncer with a fake ID. Later, she responds to a man's attentions by pouring her drink down her shirt. Other images include a couple making out, and some shifty-eyed cokeheads exiting a bathroom.
In the third tale, Chelsea art dealer John Post Lee plays a party-haggard gallery owner, decked out in shades and blue blazer. Strutting into work, he accosts his secretary with aggressive kissing. A moment later, he's reading the Financial Times. The news is terrible, and he pours his drink down his chin as he weeps. Staggering into the gallery that he'll probably lose, Lee wheels around in despair and collapses to the floor. Later, a trio of gallery-goers try to get into Sonnabend, which they find closed. They're mystified and disappointed. Consulting Time Out, they stroll dejectedly toward the horizon, like actors in a cowboy melodrama.
In his watercolors, Smit's characters often have the flat, stunned awkwardness that Alex Katz has made his trademark. In one, Smit sits in an office, facing an official who holds Smit's notepad, which reads "List of My Friends." A wanted poster hangs on the wall. The caption reads, "Yes. I denounce them all."
All of my reasons seem stupid now (2001) shows a dazed woman lying on the floor, an empty pill bottle at her side. A man with a goofy '70s haircut kneels beside her, tenderly offering help. The sweet, cartoony quality of the figures offers a note of sympathy even as it mocks them.
In I offer endless permutatons on a single idea (2001), a young artist presents his latest work, a painting consisting only of five drops of red paint on a white canvas. He looks like a fraud, who hopes to skate through life without working. Complementing this work is Brainstorm (2001), showing a young artist staring interminably at a blank canvas.
Smit's self-mocking humor does a lot to hide his ambition, for he's produced a lot of work -- video, music and painting -- seemingly all at once. Presenting himself as a glory-seeking buffoon allows him to try everything without self-consciousness or fear of criticism. Lampooning the artist's self-doubt turns out to be great promotion. It makes you want to quit your job, start painting and join a band.
NED HIGGINS is managing editor of Artnet Magazine.