Barbara T. Smith

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Barbara Turner Smith (born 1931, in Pasadena, California) [1] is an American artist known for her performance work in the late 1960s. She studied painting, art history and religion as an undergraduate at Pomona College, graduating in 1953. In 1965, after raising three children, she returned to study at Chouinard Art Institute, making The Black Glass Paintings, a series of primarily black surfaces under glass.[2] She received her MFA from University of California, Irvine in 1971. During her time at UC Irvine, Smith and other artist such as Nancy Buchanan, and Chris Burden, founded F-Space, the experimental art gallery where she launched her career as a performance artist (it was also where Burden’s notorious “Shoot” (1971) was staged).

Tracking her transition from house wife to artist,[3] Smith's early work focused on collaged photographs of herself and her three children, impressions of portions of her body, and articles of clothing into her self-published photocopied artist books, made on a 914 Xerox that she leased and kept in her living room.[4]

Titles like “Broken Heart,” “Bond,” “Undies” and “Do Not Touch” suggest the personal nature of her subject matter. As her marriage disintegrated in the late 1960s, autobiography and the creation of community by means of interaction with her audience became central to Smith’s art. She began to explore themes of, “the body, food, nurturing, female desire, heterosexual relationships, sexuality, religion, spiritual transformation, love, and death." [5]

Smith is best known for her performance work in the late 1960s that was at the forefront of feminist, body, and performance art. Cardinal performances by Smith include: “Ritual Meal” (1969), a dinner party where guests dressed in scrubs and ate with surgical instruments with footage of the space, nudes, and surgery played overhead;[3] “Celebration of the Holy Squash” (1971), where Smith created an entire religion out of a vegetable husk, left over from a communal meal;[6] “Feed Me,” (1973) where Smith sat naked on a mattress in a bathroom during a performance festival with a selection of "food, wine, marijuana, and massage oil,"[3] while a looped recording played "feed me";[3] “Birthdaze” (1981), performed on Smith's 50th birthday, she enacted her life story in relation to the male avant-garde;[3] and “The 21st Century Odyssey” (1991–1993), a collaboration between herself and her partner at the time, UCLA professor and scientist Roy Walford, a Biospherian. During the performance she traveled the world and transmitted her performances back to the Biosphere 2, where Walford lived at the time, and the Biospherians responded.[7]

A retrospective exhibition of her work, "The 21st Century Odyssey Part II: The Performances of Barbara T. Smith" was shown at the Pomona College Museum of Art in 2005, and later traveled to the Kennedy Museum of Art at Ohio University. Her "Trunk Piece," along with video footage from past performances, were a part of the Orange County Museum of Art's permanent collection exhibition "Art Since the 1960s: California Experiments" (July 15, 2007 – September 14, 2008).[8] Her "Field Piece" (1968–1972) was the central work of a show at The Box gallery in Los Angeles (November 17, 2007 – January 5, 2008).[9]


  1. ^ "Artist's bio". Retrieved 2010-06-06. 
  2. ^ Charlotte Lindenberg 'Barbara T. Smith Revisited' vol. 24 July 2009 n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal pp.85-93
  3. ^ a b c d e Myers, Holly. "PST: Barbara T. Smith's life in the avant-garde shadows" (September 18, 2011). Tribune Publishing Company. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Mohebbi, Sohrab (June–August 2013). "Barbara T. Smith". Frieze Magazine (156). Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  5. ^ Calder, Diane (January 18, 2005). "Barbara T. Smith". Pomona College Museum of Art. Retrieved 2008-01-02. 
  6. ^ Coulson, Amanda (June–August 2009). "Barbara T. Smith". Frieze Magazine (124). Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  7. ^ Esslinger, Sandra. "The 21st Century Odyssey Part II: The Performances of Barbara T. Smith". X-TRA. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  8. ^ "Art Since the 1960s: California Experiments". Orange County Museum of Art. Retrieved 2008-01-02. 
  9. ^ "Critics' Picks". Art Forum. Retrieved 2008-01-02. 

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