Blanton Museum of Art

This fall, the Blanton Museum of Art is home to Mike’s World, the first major retrospective of internationally renowned performance/video/installation artist Michael Smith and his New York-based collaborator, director/artist Joshua White. This extraordinary exhibition features some 30 years of videos, installation environments, and other performance-related materials detailing the adventures of “Mike,” a sweet but hapless Everyman character created by Smith, and his hilariously awkward and ineffectual search for a piece of the American Dream. Following its debut in Austin, Mike’s World will travel to the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia (April 24-August 3, 2008).

Mike’s World takes a tightly focused view of a single Michael Smith performance persona as it has developed over the course of many years and through innumerable presentation formats. The character “Mike” functions metaphorically as a kind of ever-hopeful Candide, adrift in a world of rapid technological advancement that he seems incapable of fully comprehending. Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, curator of American and contemporary art and organizer of the exhibition, explained, “Direct and accessible, Smith’s exquisite use of humor as a strategy for empathy and identification is rooted in the artist/audience relationships of performance. Yet the work’s amplification and variation owes much to its visual, conceptualist sources. Underscoring the hybrid nature of Smith’s accomplishment, the works selected for the exhibition also will highlight the collaborative creative process in which Smith has engaged over the years, including his most recent series of video and installation collaborations with artist-director Joshua White.”

The exhibition’s immersive installation has been designed by Michael Smith and Joshua White as a self-contained theatrical set, a strange yet familiar alternative universe inhabited by “Mike.” Alive with sound and the myriad textures of the stuff of daily life, the expansive space is densely packed with opportunities to view video in every conceivable format. Two new Blanton commissions serve as the introduction to the exhibition: a five-minute “orientation room” video by Smith and White reprising the story of “Mike,” and a video montage projected onto a spherical screen, itself surrounded by a photographic timeline that charts the
character’s history.

Excerpts from live performances, like “Keeping Up with the 80s” (1987) and “Bill Loman Master Salesman” (1983), as well as short works made for video, like “Secret Horror” (1980), “Go For It, Mike” (1984), “Mike” (1987), “How to Curate Your Own Group Exhibition” (1996), and “Portal Excursion” (2007) are shown on monitors and flat screens within installation environments, while longer videos, like Smith’s 1986 collaboration with William Wegman, “World of Photography,” are projected in a screening room.

The exhibition includes a number of fragments from early installations, including the first work in which Smith surrounded video within a contextual environment: “Mike’s House” (1982). An installation excerpt of “Open House” (1999) recalls the precise and elaborate detailing that has come to characterize the Smith & White co-productions, and three of their recent projects are being re-presented in their entirety: “MUSCO: 1969-97″ (1997), the office, storage area and showroom of a theatrical lighting company forced into bankruptcy by “its astounding failure” to keep up with post-disco-ball times; “The QuinQuag Arts and Wellness Centre Touring Exhibition”(2001), documentation of an invented art retirement colony being devoured by corporate patronage; and “Take Off Your Pants!” (2005), a revolving six-sided kiosk that offers carnivalesque elaborations of a “Mike”-designed children’s board game. The show also features an illuminating selection of drawings, notebooks, storyboards, and performance ephemera.

Mike’s World is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 140-page catalogue with contributions by Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, Michael Smith, Mike Kelley, Regine Basha, Jay Sanders, and Ingrid Schaffner. It is available through the Blanton Museum of Art and is being distributed by D.A.P.

Mike’s World: Michael Smith & Joshua White (and other collaborators) is organized by the Blanton Museum of Art. Funding for the exhibition is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Melissa Jones, and Marlene Nathan Meyerson and by a grant from Houston Endowment Inc. in honor of Melissa Jones for the presentation of contemporary art at the Blanton. This project also is supported by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts.