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Institute of Contemporary Art, LA
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Barbara T. Smith at the ICA LA


On view at the ICA LA is the largest collection of works yet by performance artist Barbara T. Smith, an artist for whom art and life were one and the same. Born in 1931), Smith began to devote herself more fully to her art-making in the mid-60s. Her work often took the form of performance (she’s done over 160 performances across her long career) although her output also ranged across a variety of mediums and methods. Early experiments saw her utilizing a Xerox machine, pressing body parts and various objects to its surface as a means of experimental image-making (even these, while resulting in objects, can be viewed as performative acts). 

In the late ’60s, a divorce resulted in losing custody of her three children, and her performances became a vessel for her to process loss and grief. Often utilizing her own nude body, she experimented with her own limits, sexuality, and vulnerabilities. Across dinner parties, an homage to a giant squash, and later, a durational knitting project, her oeuvre plays with humor and absurdity as much as her personal experience. ICA LA’s extensive exhibition, curated by Jenelle Porter, is an excellent opportunity to dive into the extensive output of an artist who pursued experimentation and vulnerability, melding the messiness of life with her creative output.

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Photo: Installation view(s), Barbara T. Smith: Proof, Institution of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, October 7, 2023–January 14, 2024. Photo: Jeff McLane/ICA LA.