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New Art Center : Melanie Smith and others at MIT

Posted by Ben Terris  March 9, 2009 11:31 AM

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By Cori Champagne
Education Director, New Art Center in Newton

It’s no small thing to take on a city as the subject of a gallery show. When that city is the megalopolis Mexico City, it becomes an even more impressive undertaking. In Spiral City and Other Vicarious Pleasures at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, Melanie Smith gives the viewer a multipart and sophisticated arrangement of pieces that delve into the socio-economic climate of Mexico City. British by birth, Smith moved to Mexico City in 1989 and has lived and worked there ever since. The Spiral City exhibition gathers a selection of Smith’s videos, sculpture, installations and photographs together into a powerful show: alternately vibrant and subtle in its formal qualities, consistently thought-provoking in its content.

Smith moves the viewer physically through the city in a variety of ways, from aerial shots of sprawling city blocks, to street level and gazing through storefront windows, to intangible places that feel more like the city’s subconscious than any fixed location. Placing the viewer in a variety of observation points, Smith draws attention to aspects of the city that make it distinctive and enigmatic. Consumption and consumerism are explored in all of their varied and interconnected ways, from the high gloss and color of products on display in “Jam Side Up, Jam Side Down,” to the empty market stalls created from colored tarps that interrupt the city grid in the

“Tianguis Aerial” series of photographs. The pattern of spectator and display that consumption places on aspects of urban life is perfectly realized in the video installation, “Aerobics Class.” The bank of 12 televisions showing an aerobics class shot at street level through the front window cleanly marries the store display quality of the presentation with the class going on inside to create what feels like one more article for sale.

Smith worked collaboratively on several pieces in the show; with Rafael Ortega on video pieces, and with Francis Alÿs on the “Jam” installation. But whether working independently or collaboratively, Smith has a great facility for producing work of high quality across several different media. It is perhaps a result of Smith’s affection and sustained interest in Mexico City that allows one artist to successfully develop a show that achieves as many multiple layers of complexity as an entire city creates.

Melanie Smith: Spiral City & Other Vicarious Pleasures at The MIT List Visual Arts Center through April 5th, http://listart.mit.edu/node/486
The New Art Center is dedicated to supporting artistic creation and education through classes, exhibitions, and public programs. At the New Art Center, we nurture children’s creativity, encourage emerging artists, develop teaching opportunities and enrich the community through exhibitions.

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