In the fall of 2023, the Whitney Museum of American Art will open Harry Smith, the first solo exhibition of works by the artist, filmmaker and ethnographer. This exhibition introduces Smith’s life and work within a museum setting for the first time and includes paintings, drawings, experimental films, designs, and examples of Smith’s collecting alongside his historic folk music collection. Seen throughout this hybrid display of art and ephemera are signs of the esoteric, fantastic, and alternative cosmologies basic to Smith’s view of culture. The exhibition proposes new ways to experience diverse strains of 20th-century American cultural histories.
Throughout his life, Harry Smith (1923–1991) collected and recorded the sounds, images, artifacts, and customs of creative communities previously unseen by mainstream society. Though his work garnered a cult-like following that continues to reverberate among artists, filmmakers, and musicians, Smith lived and practiced outside of conventional institutions and capitalist structures, and much of his work has been lost. The exhibition will bring to life the invisible history of Smith’s practice and expose audiences to his unorthodox mode of cultural engagement and production that nevertheless remains relevant and influential today.
The exhibition is co-organized by The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University, where a version of the project will open in November 2024. The exhibition is curated by artist Carol Bove; Dan Byers, the John R. and Barbara Robinson Director of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts; Rani Singh, Director of the Harry Smith Archives; Elisabeth Sussman, Curator and Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography at the Whitney Museum of American Art; with Kelly Long, Senior Curatorial assistant at the Whitney Museum of American Art.