There’s more than a bit of Jasper Johns in Josh Smith’s assertion that his prolifically painted subjects are chosen to be overlooked. You have to ignore them both. Smith’s exhibition of 47 stylized turtles serves as a metaphor for the artist’s practice and medium. Executed hawkishly, with something of a velociraptor to them, the arms and legs are angled at different directions and approach a certain ancient symbol of auspiciousness. Depicted from above, their shells become additional picture planes where the artist stages a two decade-long interest in the possibilities of painters’ palette abstraction. They remind one of the globe-spanning mythologies of World Turtles, earth resting on the back of creatures moving slowly through time and space. Smith’s operatic paintings nested within paintings might not depict the world, but they do represent an idea of endless retracted realities in his work. It’s this desire to show as many of these dimensions concurrently that is central to his exhibitions and the viewer’s experience. Like Avengers: Endgame or Into the Spider-Verse, recent cinematic depictions of cohabitual alternate realities, this show is a handsome and compelling blockbuster. Turtles are emblems of stability, longevity and creation, so perhaps homologous with painting and Josh Smith’s painting itself.
Josh Smith: Life, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Rämistrasse, Zurich
13 March – 23 May 2020
Image: Josh Smith, Untitled, 2020, courtesy the artist, David Zwirner and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich / New York. Photo: Dan Bradica. Installation view: Stefan Altenburger Photography.
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