Allison Smith is known for creating large-scale installations that critically engage popular forms of historical reenactment, along with crafts and other traditional cultural conventions, to redo, restage, and refigure historical memories. Her work often draws on “living history” museums, battlegrounds, and most recently the Internet to explore gendered conventions of craft, constructions of national identity, and experiences of violence.
Allison Smith: Needle Work centers on Smith's recreation of European and American gas masks from World War I and World War II. Appearing crudely fashioned, from textiles such as canvas and twill tape as opposed to the more familiar industrial black rubber, these early masks — which Smith first encountered while visiting the Musée de l’Armée in Paris — struck her as meticulously, even lovingly, crafted, yet also functionally inadequate to their task. The exhibition also includes staged photographs in which masks are worn, held or otherwise positioned as props, variously evoking survival, cruelty, modesty, camouflage and disguise. Representing another tradition of wartime needlework are four large silk parachutes — printed by Washington University’s Island Press — suspended from the ceiling.
As the inaugural Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Visiting Artist in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Smith developed Needle Work in conjunction with multiple visits in fall 2009 to participate with Washington University faculty member Lauren Adams in her interdisciplinary course “Past Perfect, Present Tense,” which investigated the use of historical research as a strategy within contemporary artistic practice.
Allison Smith: Needle Work is on view from February 5 to April 19, 2010, and is curated by Lauren Adams, assistant professor of painting in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.
Support for Allison Smith: Needle Work was provided by Bunny and Charles Burson, the Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Art Endowment Fund, Washington University’s College and Graduate School of Art in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.
Smith is an assistant professor of sculpture at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She has exhibited in venues throughout the US and abroad, including the Palais de Tokyo in Paris; the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams; the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; the Arario Gallery in Cheonan, South Korea; and the P.S.1 MoMA Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, New York. In 1999 she earned an MFA from the Yale University School of Art and in 1999-2000 she participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program.
A fully illustrated color catalog will accompany the exhibition. The catalog includes an essay by Wendy Vogel and interviews with the artist and faculty member Lauren Adams.
The Museum's Education department connects special exhibitions with students of all levels through specialized tours, curriculum plans, hands-on activities, and more. Download the Educator's Guide for the exhibition for more details.