Grant Recipients Ellsworth Kelly Award N/A 2021

Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

 Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
  • Barbara T. Smith
  • Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA)
  • Fall 2023
  • Los Angeles, CA

About the Exhibition

In fall 2023, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) will present an exhibition of work by performance artist Barbara T. Smith. The 2021 Ellsworth Kelly Award will support the first major museum survey of the Los Angeles artist's work, and it will be curated by ICA LA Senior Curator Jamillah James. This historical survey will provide a panoramic view of Smith’s practice and contributions to contemporary art over the past five decades, including her performance work as well as drawings, collage, prints, photographs, video, artists’ books, and sculpture.

While Barbara T. Smith (b. 1931) has performed and exhibited throughout the U.S. and internationally, she remains lesser known outside of California. “Barbara T. Smith is a central figure in the history of performance art in and beyond Los Angeles and is influential to a generation of artists,” said James. “Her early embrace of new technologies at a time when these tools weren’t widely used or available is visionary and predicted much of contemporary artistic production. Further, her works in drawing, collage, and sculpture offer another entry into her extended meditation on gender, spirituality, and intimacy. We are excited to take a close look at Barbara’s practice in the many forms it has taken over the past fifty years and offer new entry points to her storied career.”

The mission of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) is to support art that sparks the pleasure of discovery and challenges the way we see and experience the world, ourselves, and each other. ICA LA is committed to upending hierarchies of race, class, gender, and culture. Through exhibitions, education programs, and community partnerships, ICA LA fosters critique of the familiar and empathy with the different. ICA LA’s mission is to support art that sparks the pleasure of discovery and challenges the way we see and experience the world, ourselves, and each other.

Artist Biography

Barbara T. Smith (b. 1931) is an important figure in the history of feminist and performance art in Southern California. Her work—which spans media and often involves her own body—explores themes of sexuality, traditional gender roles, physical and spiritual sustenance, technology, communication, love, and death.

Smith received a BA from Pomona College in 1953, and an MFA in 1971 from the University of California, Irvine. There she met fellow artists Chris Burden and Nancy Buchanan, with whom she co-founded F-Space in Santa Ana, the experimental art space where many of her performances were staged.

Smith’s work has been exhibited since the 1960s, and featured in group exhibitions including WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2007); State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970, Orange County Museum of Art, Santa Ana; and Bronx Museum of Art, New York (2011–2013). Smith is the recipient of the Civitella Ranieri Visual Arts Fellowship, Umbria, Italy (2014); Durfee Foundation’s Artists’ Resource for Completion (2005, 2009); Women’s Caucus for Art, Lifetime Achievement Award (1999); and several National Endowment for the Arts Grants (1973, 1974, 1979, 1985).

 Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Barbara T. Smith, Alien Ambassador Souvenir (Vendor Dome), 1982, collage, photo, resin
, 17 × 13 ½ × 2 ½ in (43.2 × 34.3 × 6.4 cm). Courtesy the artist and The Box, Los Angeles.

Barbara T. Smith, A Week in the Life Of, 1976, performance documentation. Courtesy the artist and The Box, Los Angeles.

 Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Barbara T. Smith, Field Piece, 1968–1972, 
16 fiberglass resin blades, Ethafoam, wood, light bulbs, electronics with two photo collage and resin schematics
, 78 × 96 × 96 in. (198.1 × 243.8 × 243.8 cm). Courtesy the artist and The Box, Los Angeles.

 Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Barbara T. Smith, Trunk Piece, 1969–72
, antique trunk, Persian carpet, 100 unique objects
, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and The Box, Los Angeles.