Alexis Smith’s monumental wall painting-installation has not been exhibited since the artist’s 1990 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. When it was created, Smith’s fascination with cliché had supplanted her previous literary appropriations. By turning to fragments of popular texts, she located a written counterpart to the physical detritus that so often constituted her visual vocabulary. She became intrigued by popular fiction – especially the interchangeable, standardized plots of pulp novels, most of them blatantly escapist and written for the female reader. In Fool’s Gold, a desert scene of cacti, a broiling sun, buzzards, an old prospector and his burro sit inside a painted frame, itself inscribed ‘Sometimes men went crazy from the heat.’ This phrase is typical of the romantic boilerplate often recontextualized in Smith’s work. It simultaneously alludes to the ambience of a cheap Mexican restaurant and the prospector’s existential despair. The cowgirl – riding sidesaddle on the donkey, plastered onto the painting – adds a layer of erotic complexity.
Alexis Smith (born 1949 in Los Angeles) is known for her meticulously crafted mixed-media collages. Combining images, objects, and texts rescued from the detritus of popular culture – pulp novels of the 1940s and 1950s, postcards, road maps, movie stills, and advertising art – into witty, often sardonic statements, Smith examines and reconfigures American identity. In much of her work, the city of Los Angeles, where she lives and works, is a favored subject.
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