This Charming Clan: London’s Marlborough shows 35 artists with the last name Smith

John Smith with his work Om (1986) Courtesy of Marlborough gallery

John Smith with his work Om (1986) Courtesy of Marlborough gallery

The Buck stopped here

The Buck stopped here is a weekly blog by our contemporary art correspondent Louisa Buck covering the hottest events and must-see exhibitions in London and beyond

What’s in a name? Everything it would seem, at the Marlborough gallery, who have just used the most ubiquitous family handle in the English speaking world as the curatorial criteria for their summer show. The Smiths is just that: 35 artists who all share the same surname. But there the similarity ends.

In this multimedia, multigenerational, multinational lineup there’s Kiki Smith’s giant fantastical animal print influenced by Lewis Carroll, David Smith’s blocky black Indian ink drawing of Cape Cod made from the vantage point of Ad Reinhardt’s house and the Royal Academician Bob and Roberta Smith’s Make your Own Damn Art (2019) painted onto a wooden sign. In the window is a cardboard sculpture of a housing block made this year by the young self-taught Philadelphia artist Kambel Smith.

Bob and Roberta Smith’s Make your Own Damn Art (2019) Courtesy Louisa Buck

As London-based John Smith puts it, “there are known Smiths, unknown Smiths and medium-known Smiths—it’s a real mixed-bag and a great equaliser”. John Smith may have the most ordinary name, but his work is always playfully surprising and innovative. Here our preconceptions are slyly subverted in a video of a smoke-wreathed, orange-draped Buddhist monk who turns out to be a cigarette-chugging skinhead getting a close head shave. A more direct humour is used in the surreal simplicity of Matt Sheridan Smith’s wall mounted face with a (real) banana mouth and two round eye-slices which grins across the room at a lushly coloured oil still life by Matthew Smith, a pupil of Matisse.

The initial idea for bringing together this motley crew of Smiths arose out of a conversation between that most mischievous of artists, Maurizio Cattelan and Marlborough's director Pascal Spengemann, and the lively lineup also includes eminent Smiths who are better known for working in other disciplines. These include poet-musician Patti Smith, who is showing a delicate gelatin silver print and fashion designer Paul Smith who has made a collaged mash-up of paint, fabric and flowers. And if, having seen the show, you want some merchandise to remember it by, it is possible to purchase a limited edition The Smiths t-shirt emblazoned with the faces of the art critic Roberta Smith and her husband Jerry Saltz. Smith may be a mundane name but these artist namesakes are anything but.


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