André Smits: Artist in the World, Los Angeles
At SoLA Gallery
Curator: André Smits
On View: Sunday, February 17, 2019, 5-9pm
Special Guests: Musical performance by Zilverhorse, wall drawings and collage by Monika Dahlberg and Alicia Ziff
By Genie Davis
Ten years ago, André Smits started an incredible art project that has taken him around the world and into the art studios of artists worldwide. With an upcoming show of his ARTIST IN THE WORLD series here in LA at SoLA Gallery, he will mark his first visit to Los Angeles with a series of over 150 photographs.
Currently based in Kattendijke, Netherlands, Smits began his project in Rotterdam. “I did painting for almost 20 years, and at a certain point I started a photo blog to add to my painting work. I was a slow painter, and I thought I needed some more action.” In that blog, he first posted a photo taken in his now iconic style: a photo of a person taken from the back. “I didn’t realize the strength of that concept, until a little later I saw a show of paintings of figures seen from the back, and that was when I saw it was a good concept.”
At a residency in Rotterdam, working in a building with some forty other artists, he was asked to design a website for the building, and decided to create portraits of the artists in their studios from the back.
He laughs, “I realized it was an alibi for getting in their studios, because most artists keep their doors shut and otherwise I would not get to come in. That was the beginning of the project, really. Then artists from other buildings in Rotterdam asked me to come to their place, it was like a snowball, it just started happening,” he recalls.
After Rotterdam, he visited Amsterdam and Antwerp, realizing the strength of the concept could take him all over the world. “So, I sold my house, quit my job, and now I am traveling everywhere, the project was developing in all different directions.”
First came his photographs, then drawings, then murals, and now he has added in another component to his work, of creating exhibitions in different areas.
“They work a little like social sculptures. It is beautiful to do the mural with all the names and invite the artists I met, and when they show up – the show is a really amazing movement. It is always amazing how people connect, and how great that is.”
Smits has created in China, Tehran, Naples, and Berlin among other locations. While he has visited New York City as often as twice a year in the last seven years, his current 3-month visit to LA is his first.
Meeting artist Virginia Katz in Rotterdam during her residency led to an offer of a place to stay from artist Alicia Ziff who will be exhibiting work at the SOLA exhibition along with Smits and artist Monika Dahlberg.
“Alicia introduced me to a lot of artists, and that way I thought okay, let’s go to LA,” Smits laughs.
He finds Los Angeles different than other cities he’s traveled in. “It’s the most intense trip so far. Going through the city, taking Metro, and all the differences in neighborhoods. It’s so spread out. It is a little more unexpected and surprising and weird; more free. For me it is really an adventure here. New York is also big but it’s contained, like Berlin or Paris. Here it is almost like walking on the moon.”
Smits arrived in LA in December, and with one month to go, he is following his usual procedure in assembling an exhibition.
“One of the important things about the series is that I don’t curate it, I don’t have a wish list, I just follow directions people give me, going into all these networks without selecting. The series is not my point of view; sometimes I get in studios that I think ‘this is crazy,’ and I don’t know if I like it, but this is not important. It is just one person wandering around and exploring the art world. It’s all coincidence.”
His exhibition will include a large mural that serves as a map of all the connections he has made, filled with names and arrows, and how people he met are connected, who introduced him to whom, and a collage of his friends from the Netherlands.
“My work will be a collaboration with the two other artists, and it will reflect the experience of this trip. On the other wall, will be all the photographs, they will be letter-size, and displayed with pins on the wall.” The exhibition will end with participants showing up and taking the photo from the wall. “It will be a present from me to them.”
He asserts that he never plays favorites, and that every artist he photographs is important to him. “They are part of a chain. I decided never to make a choice between them. If I make a book, it will have to be all the artists in them. I don’t list famous artists, you have to discover everyone for yourself. If there is a museum or a gallery that exhibits my series, they are free to curate it, but I never will.”
Over the years, Smits has amassed over 5000 photographs to date, shooting digitally using a Canon camera. He features what he calls “two tracks, the artists and also the art world, individuals such as curators, museum directors, writers. Those are the two different paths that I do.”
See Smits’ ARTISTINTHEWORLD Los Angeles Edition at SoLA Gallery February 17th from 5- 9 p.m., in a show that includes Smits, Monika Dahlberg, and Alicia Ziff, with music by Zilverhorse. The community-building show will feature the photos, taken from behind, giving greater value to the work of the artists than the artists themselves. Smits says that taking the photos so that the faces of the artists are not seen “speaks to the notion that the artist is the mere vehicle for creation, the hand of some deeper invisible force.”
Participating artists will be invited to take home their image from 7:30 p.m. on.
South Bay Contemporary Art Gallery