Thursday, December 14, 2006

Arts: Shudder, Release: Patti Smith’s Photography

By Josh Kurp

Jesus might have died for somebody’s sins, but not Patti Smith’s. In an exhibit entitled A Phythagorean Traveler, at the Robert Miller Gallery at 524 W 26th St., photographs and drawings of the dark and tortured songstress show that Smith isn't ready to quit anytime soon. The show ends January 13th.

This isn’t Smith's first collaboration with the Robert Miller Gallery. Back in 1978, she and Robert Mapplethorpe—the photographer who took the shot that became the album cover for Smith's Horses—had a joint exhibit of her drawings and his pictures.

The work on display at this exhibition consists of mostly small photographs of images ranging from William Butler Yeats' tombstone to a picture of shoes on top of some sort of religious figure. Around the pictures run small, almost undecipherable text, of which you can only pick out every other word. But sentences like, “Rain…horses…fit…into…eggplant…birds” would actually work quite nicely in a Patti Smith song.

When Lou Reed had a photo exhibition at the Steven Kasher Gallery, I found myself wondering whether I enjoyed the pictures because they were superior pieces of art or because they were done by one of my heroes. I wanted to believe that they were stunning glimpses of New York City, but after a lot of time "leaning on the parking meter,” to steal a line from Smith, I realized that I had succumbed to Mr. Reed’s star power. That’s not true with the Patti Smith exhibition. The pieces are quite good and give us a real glimpse into the mind of a person who got Jimi Hendrix, Jesus Christ, Grandma and Jackson Pollock all into the same song.

On its opening night, I got to the exhibition a little late, but Patti Smith was still roaming around. A friend—who happened to have a slight buzz from the free wine that flows like a waterfall at the Robert Miller Gallery—ran up to me exclaiming, “Patti Smith came up to me and said ‘Hi!”

Wearing a pair of tight jeans covered partially by stylish boots and a blazer over a white button dress-shirt, Smith evoked an aura of “you’d better not mess with me” while retaining a sense of girlishness that’s been prevalent throughout her 30-plus years in the spotlight.

Unfortunately, I never got to meet her, but judging solely by the work on display (and the fact that I’ve listened to Horses too many times to count), I know that Patti can still provoke that artistic creativity that began in the early '70s. And that she can probably kick my ass.

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