Art

Stairs


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(Brookline, MA born 1942)
Stairs, 1974
Drawing
American
,
20th century
Knotted thread, tape measures, eyelets
266.7 x 121.9 cm (105 x 48 in.)
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fund
, 2009.53
Department of Modern & Contemporary Art
,
Commentary
In 1972 Mimi Smith moved, with her husband and small children, to a suburban neighborhood in Cleveland. Describing feelings of entrapment (she had begun her career as an artist in NY), Smith began top measure the contents and rooms of her domestic space. Translating these measurements into thread, which she knotted obsessively, and tape measures Smith, who referred to these works as drawings, began to enact conceptual art's affection for measurement and precision within the domestic sphere. Like Sylvia Plimack Mangold's paintings of her domestic interior these drawings explore the "trick" of perspective by showing the contradiction between actual measurement and the appearance of objects in space. Cleaving open the space between "reality" and "representation" can be seen in this context to have as much to do with Mel Bochner's exercises in measurement as they do with the feminist agenda of bringing reality and representation into a closer proximity to one another. "Stairs" is a classic work of Smith's evoking not only receding space, but space upwards, as well as access to another plane (i.e. another floor). In this regard its play with space is quite fanciful-albeit lonely in their evocation of a staircase to no where. But the work also plays with the tradition of trompe l'oeil, tricking the eye into a belief in a space not present. Despite the works playfulness, the emotional connotation of the work is vexed-the knotted thread speaks to a kind of obsessive, mindless activity (Smith was to make the analogy between knotting and housework) and the stairs (and other pieces of furniture meticulously made by Smith) have a kind of stark emptiness that subtly undermine the so-called American dream of a house in the suburb being the embodiment of fulfillment. In Smith's case it appears rather as an empty shell.
Provenance
Collection of the artist, sold; [through Anna Kustera Gallery]; to Harvard Art Museum, March 2009.
Bibliography
"Uber die Kleidung, die durch das Lebenbegleitet: Ein Gesprach mit Mimi Smith von Heinz-Norb", Titel (Germany), p. 154, ill.

Lisa Gabrielle Mark, ed., WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA and London, 2007), p. 55, 303, ill.