IS WHAT YOU SEE
Rebecca Smith has her father David Smith's languid, limpid eyes and also his sense of heavy whimsy in arranging metal. The sculptures in her current show at Jeannie Freilich Fine Art at first appear slight, if not fragile, especially compared to her father's protean work, but spend half an hour with them and these pieces not only advance David Smith's esthetic concerns but reveal themselves as perfectly integrated small masterpieces.
Looking at them first, without reading the press materials, I was reminded of fire escapes, which, as a previously lifelong New York City apartment dweller, I have gazed at with fascination for half a century. The deceptively simple frieze of these essential structures shadowed on the brick walls of an apartment dwelling change with every viewing. Looking at Rebecca Smith's sculptures I thought of 9/11, perhaps because I had experienced a recurring dream about that terrible day the night before. There were no fire escapes on that day, and Smith's "fire escapes," painted in transparent blue gray hues, emerged for me as soul catchers.
I looked again. Religious symbols began to emerge: bold crosses, the Hebrew letters Urim and Thummin, and Arabic script, conjoined and flowing over and through each other. In Passover week, Rebecca's sculptures are religious talismans of a religiously diverse and, in many quarters, observant city. Arranged high upon the walls of Jeannie Freilich's new white cube on East 72nd Street, they embrace the light of Central Park and in turn bestow light and contemplation on the viewer below.
These Smiths are called "Blue Cage Sculptures," but the cage doors are always open, inviting contemplation. Falling in love with my own interpretation, I didn't wish to read what they were about (so much art these days requires an explanation "avant la letter"), but temptation took control of me and I fell. Michael Brenson's catalogue blurb says, "Moving in many directions, welcoming manifold languages of experiencing and knowing, including psychological and ecosystem awareness, these sculptures insistently and joyfully act." The usual critical polenta. And the press release? "The glacier titles make reference to global warming, a threat that calls for immediate human action in the face of global catastrophe." God gave Noah the rainbow sign/ No more water the fire next time streamed through my head. Art as beautiful and restrained in its abstract manifestation as Rebecca Smith's new sculptures can have many meanings outside the cage of the artist's intentions. Why not go look at them and find your own?
Rebecca Smith, "Blue Cage Sculptures," Mar. 23-Apr. 28, 2007, at Jeannie Freilich Fine Art, 22 East 72nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10021.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).