By JAMES SALOMON August, 2021
People don’t really change.
And with my old friend Ned Smyth, perhaps that’s a good thing. His mannerisms, his expressions… for example, when I saw him at his home/studio on Shelter Island this past weekend, I counted the minutes before he used the expression “on one level (insert idea), then, on another level (insert a variation of that idea).” It’s almost impossible to have a conversation with Ned without that popping out. Seven minutes, by the way.
Ned and I go back to 2005. Eric Fischl introduced us when I opened my East Hampton Warehouse gallery and I had ambitions of working with outdoor sculpture. I remember the moment vividly, the 14’ dark monster in his studio, it was overwhelming. That piece wound up in my gallery the following summer with some smaller bronzes, and a relationship was born.
We spent this past weekend having lots of fun and playing catch up before he took me to his outdoor exhibition of some earlier work up on the North Fork, at a place new to me called the Landcraft Garden Foundation.
As their press release reads: Beginning in the summer of 2021, Landcraft Garden Foundation will host an artist to conceive of a special project for the sumptuous outdoor spaces of their Mattituck gardens. Showcasing artists who reside in the vibrant artistic communities of the North Fork region of Long Island, Sculpture in the Garden exhibitions will run from June until October of each year and will propose a new artist each season. One of the primary missions of the Sculpture in the Garden series is to activate the artistic community of the North Fork. The exhibitions will be curated by members of the Landcraft Garden Foundation Art Advisory Board members, Ugo Rondinone and Alison M. Gingeras, who will alternate their curatorial projects every other year. Rondinone has organized the inaugural Ned Smyth exhibition.
The place is exquisite. Dennis Schrader, the co-owner, was there to greet us and couldn’t have been more gracious and accommodating. We walked the grounds and discussed flora, the Olympics, Dennis’ time at Longhouse Reserve, his mission for the foundation, and a spectrum of other topics while waiting for Ugo who had houseguests and was running on Italian time. I finally gave up on him and hit the road, thinking of what pie I’d pick up from Briermere Farms.
While cruisin’ home on 495, Ned called me up and asked if I could go over and see his show in New York. It was Sunday and getting late, I’d think it would be difficult to get into the place. “That’s okay, you can see the whole show from the sidewalk.” Hmm. So, he directed me to the Shirley Fiterman Art Center on West Broadway all the way down at Park Place, and sure enough, the exhibition space was well lit with floor to ceiling windows, a resolved viewing experience in the covid era. It’s a beautiful show of newer work that consists of interesting twigs and stones that have been bronzed, then large scale “portraits”, where these pieces of matter take on a certain identity. I had seen this series before but was impressed with the current display, how they managed to include so much work without crowding the room. You’d think late at night the “characters” would pop off the walls and start laughing and dancing with one another.
So, “one one level”, Ned’s work fits beautifully and compellingly in Dennis’ North Fork Shangri-la (thanks in part to Mr. Rondinone), then “on another level”, the sticks and stone portraits feel perfectly at ease juxtaposed to its’ lower Manhattan environment. I’m happy to see such great work, which spans decades, being shown and seen.
Ned Smyth as part of Art in the Garden will be on exhibit at the Landcraft Garden Foundation in Mattituck through September 2021. www.landcraftgardenfoundation.org .
Ned Smyth: Moments of Matter and Life will be on exhibit through September 25, 2021 at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center in lower Manhattan. www.bmcc.cuny.edu .
All images by James Salomon