Consistently Unpredictable: Josh Smith at Luhring Augustine

Don't paint Josh Smith into a corner. He's 100% likely to surprise you. Calling him “prolific” is about as obvious as saying Rene Magritte depicted a lot of men in bowler hats. In his latest exhibition at Luhring Augustine, Smith matches his tireless production and humanizing brushwork in two modern stalwarts: beach scenes and the mighty monochrome. — Brian Fee, Austin contributor

Josh Smith | Installation view, Luhring Augustine Chelsea. September 13 – October 19, 2013. Photos by Farzad Owrang. Images courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

A few elements I've evinced from Smith's past exhibitions and around the city (including his painted-directly-on-the-wall installation at Deitch in Long Island City): gestural subject matter (fish, leaves, his name), seriality (in canvas size, subject matter, and hanging — like his 2011 show at Luhring Augustine featured panel grids), synthesized flatness and depth (the mixed-media compositions in his 2009 show Currents resembled large-scale flatbed scans, while neighboring canvases maintained every brushy, gloopy instance of Smith's hand). Yet what could prepare me for encountering that sapphire-blue monochrome Blue at Luhring Augustine's entryway? I wondered going in what direction Smith would take, particularly with his latest exhibition a two-venue affair (Chelsea and the gallery's newer Knickerbocker Avenue hall). So, of course, monochromes.

Josh Smith | Blue, 2013, oil on panel, 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Josh Smith | Installation view, Luhring Augustine Chelsea. September 13 – October 19, 2013.

Josh Smith | Deep Purple, 2013, oil on panel, 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Some eighteen same-sized oil on panel compositions line the perimeter, including a corporeal primary trio in the back. This is an important note, for photos only hint at the physicality of these monochromes. All emphasize Smith's brushwork, from the mixed diagonal swooshes of opener Blue (like schools of fish evading an unseen predator), to Brown's sticky, magnified finger-painting, to frozen palette-knife globules accentuating Blue's (this is the other Blue, the primary in the back) somehow insectile carapace. Despite the straightforwardness of Smith's titling, some interesting hues assert themselves: like the two layers of color that seem to intermingle in Bluish Green and the glossy grime of Lemon Yellow's shimmering strokes.

Josh Smith | Installation view, Luhring Augustine Chelsea. September 13 – October 19, 2013.

Josh Smith | Installation view, Luhring Augustine Bushwick. September 12 – October 26, 2013.

Josh Smith | Untitled, 2013, oil on panel, 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

The huge bronze Happy Fish hanging out in Bushwick, from Le Printemps de Toulouse in 2011, surprised me as well. I've seen Smith's ceramics before (their glistening physicality suits his madcap yet methodical output), but despite its familiar subject matter, this medium was totally new to me. Shelves of ceramics — each lavishly hand-rendered, some vaguely biomorphic (Grimace from McDonald's? Pac-Man ghosts?), others tricked out in texture (a basketball's pebbly surface, the rattlesnake diamonds of a cleaning bottle) — accentuate a room of lyrically rendered beaches at perpetual sunset. Smith sneaks his initials into the incandescent blue-orange skies, or at least I think that's what I'm seeing. Some feature soft-edged color-field blocks resting against one other, others vibrant gestural abstraction — and at least two appear to be palm tree sunsets slapped obliquely over older collaged works. Each is unique, singular on its own, and, like the Chelsea venue's monochromes, absolutely resounding when shown as a group. With Josh Smith, there is always much, much more.

Josh Smith | Untitled, 2013, ceramic sculptures; set of 31, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Josh Smith | Untitled, 2013, oil on panel, 60 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Josh Smith | Installation view, Luhring Augustine Bushwick. September 12 – October 26, 2013.

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Josh Smith (b. 1976; Knoxville, Tennessee) lives and works between Pennsylvania and New York. He has had several solo exhibitions in the United States and abroad, most notably The American Dream at The Brant Foundation in Greenwich, CT in 2011; Josh Smith at the Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève in 2009; Who Am I at De Hallen Haarlem in 2009; and Hidden Darts at MUMOK in Vienna in 2008. He has also participated in important group exhibitions such as The Painting Factory: Abstraction after Warhol at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Le Printemps de Septembre in Toulouse; ILLUMInations in the 2011 Venice Biennale; and The Generational: Younger Than Jesus at the New Museum in New York. His works are in numerous public collections including the Centre Pompidou, Paris, MUMOK, Vienna, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Smith's exhibition in Luhring Augustine Chelsea continues through October 19, and his exhibition in Bushwick concludes on October 26.

Brian Fee is an art punk based currently in Austin, TX, but he can usually be found in New York, Tokyo, or Berlin, depending on the art season.

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