Installation view of Melanie Smith at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 2014. Photo: Jerry Jones.

Installation view of Melanie Smith at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 2014. Photo: Jerry Jones.

Past Exhibition

Melanie Smith

March 15, 2014 - June 15, 2014
Nina and Michael Zilkha Gallery


Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) is pleased to present video and sculpture by Mexico City-based artist Melanie Smith. CAMH’s exhibition focuses on three video-based installation works: Xilitla: Dismantled 1; Bulto: Fragments; and Elevator (2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively). Working in cinematic installations since the late 1990s, Smith, as an English-born artist living in Mexico, initially took an almost ethnographic approach to the eccentricities of the sprawling, chaotic mass of her adopted home city, considering as worthy of critical examination the markets full of plastic and the shear physical expanse of the massive metropolis. Since 2010 her works have grown less analytical and increasingly poetic, sensual, and surreal.

Xilitla is named after the town in Northern Mexico where the eccentric English artist, poet, and patron of the surrealist art movement, Edward James, built the architectural folly called Las Pozas. Now half returned to the jungle, its sculptures recall an expatriate Englishman’s response to the indigenous culture of the Americas through the lens of the surrealist’s subconscious interpretations of it. A tall, vertical projection filmed by the artist shows a magical world and simultaneously its more quotidian underbelly–workers maintaining this rapidly decaying artwork. Yet even in that, Smith locates a deconstructed magic. Manipulating large mirrors that appear throughout the film, Smith doubles and dissects what is left of James’ life’s work creating a mesmerizing effect.

Bulto: Fragments was filmed in Lima, Peru, and in it we see a large, ungainly mass being carried, dragged, abandoned, and reclaimed throughout the urban center of the city as well as nearby archaeological sites, without anyone questioning what is hidden inside the bundled object. At CAMH, the video will be presented in its dissected form in which fragments appear on multiple small monitors throughout the public areas of the Museum, including the bathrooms and elevator. The short and darkly humorous Elevator presents episodic tableaux that appear and vanish as an elevator opens on different floors, becoming increasingly comic and surreal. This work is presented with associated objects that are derived from the increasingly wild scenes.

Although considered one of the best known Mexican artists working today–her standing among her fellow artists made clear by her representation of her adopted country with a solo pavilion exhibition at the 2011 Venice Biennale–Smith enjoys the ex-patriot’s ability to perceive the culture that fuels her work through her critical, bifurcated gaze. Through her finely tuned aesthetic choices, she seduces viewers visually, letting those of us for whom Mexican culture is less familiar gain a respect and appreciation of its mysteries. This exhibition will speak directly to both the reality and dream of Mexico and showcase an artist of rare analytic, aesthetic, and poetic sensibility.

Melanie Smith is presented in CAMH’s Zilkha Gallery and is curated by Bill Arning, Director. In Houston, an exhibition of new work by Smith, including paintings and a video, is also on view at Sicardi Gallery, February 27-April 19, 2014.


Melanie Smith is curated by Bill Arning, Director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.


Melanie Smith is made possible in part by a grant from AMEXCID, MEXICAN MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, and the CONSULATE GENERAL OF MÉXICO. The Perspectives Series is made possible by a major grant from FayezSarofim and by donors to the Museum’s Perspectives Fund: Allison and David Ayers, Bright Star Productions Inc., The Brown Foundation, Inc., Dillon Kyle Architecture, Heidi and David Gerger, Glen Gonzalez and Steve Summers, Kerry Inman and Denby Auble, Mady and Ken Kades, Poppi Massey, Leslie and Shannon Sasser in Honor of Lynn Herbert, Andrew Schirrmeister III, William F. Stern, and 20K Group, LLC.

Extended Media