“Henry Taylor: B Side” & “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Arts of Harry Smith”
October 4th, 2023 to January 28th, 2024
The Whitney Museum of Art
99 Gansevoort St, New York, NY 10014
The Whitney Museum of Art in New York City is set to present two exhibitions opening on October 4th: “Henry Taylor: B Side” and “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith“. Both exhibitions will run until January 28, 2024.
Henry Taylor: B Side
This exhibition celebrates the survey of prominent contemporary artist Henry Taylor and emphasizes his innovative style, keen attention to detail, and incisive social commentary.
The exhibit marks the first expansive New York showcase of eminent contemporary artist Henry Taylor and is the largest showcase of Taylor’s work to date, with over 130 works being displayed. Taylor was born in 1958 and resides in Los Angeles. The exhibition applauds his distinctive style, societal insight, and bold experimentation. Paintings, sculptures, rarely-seen drawings, and a newly crafted installation are on display. The presentation chronicles the artist’s career spanning over three decades. It presents many of his iconic pieces encompassing portraits of his family, peers in the art world, and renowned figures and notable personalities, including Barack and Michelle Obama, JAY-Z, and Martin Luther King Jr. Taylor’s artworks, deeply rooted in his personal experiences and surroundings, radiate an inherent sense of urgency and profound empathy articulated through meticulous observation and insightful social commentary.
While Taylor is celebrated for his figurative art, his creations span various genres and draw from an extensive range of art-historical inspirations. Amidst this eclectic style, Taylor’s narrative contrasts his representations of family, friends, and peers in the art realm with his depictions of imprisonment, economic hardships, and frequent dangerous encounters with law enforcement disproportionately faced by Black Americans. Crafted with dynamic vigor from recollections, newspaper excerpts, personal photos, and direct observations, his portraits encapsulate his subjects’ essence, societal context, and temperament. His paintings exude a palpable sense of life by merging vivid, saturated color blocks with regions of intricate detail and freeform brushwork.
Arranged by themes, “Henry Taylor: B Side” showcases several vital subjects from the artist. These include his family and artistic peers, urban vignettes from Los Angeles and other locales, notable figures from politics, literature, sports, and music, as well as interactions with anti-Black prejudice, law enforcement, and facets of American history. Beyond paintings, the exhibit presents a unique installation tailored for the Whitney, a collection of Taylor’s assembled sculptures, infrequently displayed early sketches, and a substantial set of his “painted objects” — insightful commentaries illustrated on repurposed items like cigarette packs and cereal boxes.
Among his portrait subjects are many artists whose work is in the Whitney Museum collection, including Andrea Bowers, Deana Lawson, and Robert Pruitt. While continuing to maintain studios in downtown Los Angeles, in recent years, Taylor has traveled and painted widely in New York, the Caribbean, and Africa, extending the international scope of his career. In 2017, Taylor’s work THE TIMES THAY AINT A CHANGING, FAST ENOUGH! (2017), was featured in the seventy-eighth installment of the Whitney Biennial, the longest-running survey of American art.
Sponsored by Delta, Henry Taylor: B Side is organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Generous support is provided by Judy Hart Angelo, the Barbara Haskell American Fellows Legacy Fund, Kevin and Rosemary McNeely, Manitou Fund, and the Whitney’s National Committee, The Keith Haring Foundation Exhibition Fund, Hauser & Wirth, and Sueyun and Gene Locks. New York magazine is the exclusive media sponsor.
Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith
This exhibition is the first solo exhibit of artist, filmmaker, musicologist, collector, and radical nonconformist Harry Smith (1923–1991). Renowned primarily for his collection of song recordings, The Anthology of American Folk Music, Smith was instrumental in popularizing folk music during the 1960s. This pivotal exhibition showcases Smith’s life and achievements in a museum context for the first time, displaying his paintings, drawings, designs, experimental films, audio recordings, and samples of his collected items. Collaboratively crafted with artist Carol Bove, “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten” suggests innovative approaches to engage with American cultural narratives of the twentieth century.
This exhibition traces Smith’s life alongside his art and collections of overlooked yet revealing objects, such as string figures and paper airplanes gathered on the streets of New York. “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten” follows Smith from an isolated Depression-era childhood in the Pacific Northwest, to a decades-long residence in New York City, where he maneuvered to the center of the avant-garde fringe with Allen Ginsberg, Jonas Mekas, Patti Smith, Lionel Ziprin, and more. Keenly attuned to the changing technologies of the day, Smith embraced innovation and used whatever was new and of the moment.
Simultaneously, he consistently engaged with historical narratives. His enduring fascinations with abstract art, metaphysics, spiritualism, folk art, and global music were evident as he innovatively gathered sounds and produced films. These interests highlight the forward-thinking nature of his work, especially as the collection, consumption, and dissemination of media remain influential in shaping twenty-first-century culture.
The exhibition amalgamates remnants of Smith’s influential roles as a painter, filmmaker, folklorist, ethnomusicologist, and collector within an immersive setting crafted by Bove. By condensing his diverse outputs into specific sculptural zones, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten emphasizes Smith’s fascination with the cosmic and mystical, a sentiment he resonated with mid-century Bay Area and Beat poets, filmmakers, writers, and artists. Displayed within are Smith’s initial paintings, his abstract hand-painted films, footage of Seminole textiles, Andy Warhol’s Screen Test featuring Smith, and stills from the liner notes of the Anthology of American Folk Music, among other pieces.
Harry Smith was an artist who explored various disciplines, seeking to comprehend what he perceived as universal patterns, positioning him at the heart of the mid-twentieth-century American avant-garde. While he’s most recognized for his contributions as a filmmaker and musicologist, he often identified primarily as a painter. Throughout his life, he was deeply intrigued by the occult and arcane domains, leading him to discuss his art with alchemical and cosmic perspectives. His diverse curiosities and insatiable thirst for knowledge culminated in remarkable collections, encompassing items like records, Seminole textiles, string art, Ukrainian Easter eggs, and, notably, the world’s most extensive collection of paper airplanes.
This 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 at the Whitney Museum of American Art; with Kelly Long, Senior Curatorial Assistant, and McClain Groff, Curatorial Project Assistant, at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Judy Hart Angelo, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, and Whitney’s National Committee provide generous support for Fragments of a Faith Forgotten. The June Leaf and Robert Frank Foundation, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and the Yurman Family Foundation provide additional support.