04 November 2022
Belgian/Dutch artist Job Smeets in his debut exhibition with New York gallery R & Company, presents over 20 new sculptures and original drawings, inspired by a 15,000 mile road trip across America.
Three years in the making, American Job marks the first major American exhibition of Studio Job’s work since his retrospective at the MAD Museum, New York in 2016.
Known for making monumental objects that capture his inquisitive nature and incisive cultural commentary, Smeets brings his singular aesthetic and conceptual approach to the complicated subject of America in this new exhibition. The American Job features works that reflect some of the sights, symbols and experiences in America that Smeets encountered as he traveled the expanse of the country, from car garages and forgotten monuments, to the theater of Graceland and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West.
“The trip became an intimate encounter with a society that was written in gold. I realized that the All-American icons I was familiar with had become a part of a past culture that dominated the world, relics, items of history, all gaining patina, dust and wear.” Smeets explains. The artist creates a collection of sculptures and drawings that reflect this new reality, while maintaining their place in the contemporary climate and carrying ever-important undertones of the American dream.
The inspiration for the exhibition began in 2019, when Smeets purchased a 1977 Cadillac Eldorado and embarked on an unplanned journey across the United States with his partner Rebecca Sharkey. The idea formed as he recognized that what he knew of America—a country divided and at the center of international attention—was just from visiting the main coastal cities. He began his trip on the East coast, making his way cross country through Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, staying in old motels and b&b’s, finally ending up, by chance, in the Elizabeth Taylor apartment in Chateau Marmont, LA. The exhibition will be accompanied by video footage of his travels, including snippets of conversations had along the way that capture the wider atmosphere of the experience.
The exhibition is headlined by the artist’s contemporary interpretation of the Statue of Liberty. Produced in bronze, the sculpture captures the iconic symbol of freedom in the throes of a storm with her robe, hair, and torch billowing against strong winds. Lady Liberty contains a set of bronze hidden drawers and doors as a nod to Dali’s Venus de Milo, but in a much more complex fashion, with one compartment requiring the tilting of the entire statue to access. These details exemplify Smeets’ cutting cynicism, whilst inviting the viewer to question if she is surviving or battling the storm.
The Cadillac is the centerpoint of the trip, Smeets bought the vintage car on sight in Long Island immediately after signing with the gallery, with a desire to experience a true unplanned American road trip. Despite numerous breakdowns, diversions and almost becoming stranded in Marfa, Smeets and his partner clocked up 15,000 miles and upon arrival in LA shipped the car back to his atelier in the Netherlands, becoming the physical inspiration for the collection. The sculpture ‘Eldorado’ derived from a 3D scan taken of the car then recreated at 1/5th scale. Smeets replicated the patine of dirt, not only to reflect the distance traveled but as a comment on the layer of dust that covers many of these once regarded ‘high end’ icons, which are now museum pieces. He describes it as “emotional and melancholic, the feeling of losing a culture that dominated the world”.
Another major work in the exhibition, Las Vegas, is a life-size, illuminated sculpture of one of Elvis’ famed Las Vegas costumes from the 1970s. Finely detailed, the sculpture offers a nod to Smeets’ interest in Surrealism, as the costume, with light emanating from the legs and sleeves, appears in action, on stage, without Elvis himself. As with many of the works in this show, light is featured where the person would have been, highlighting their absence. Here, even Elvis, is portrayed as more of a legend than reality.
Other objects in the show explore symbols of Americana and contemporary culture, including a cowboy, basketball, and an homage to Graceland. While all of the works appear as sculpture, they also discreetly maintain their functional qualities as cabinets, tables, and lighting, adding an additional layer of humor and complexity to the work. The show is at once a revelation of Smeets’ mastery of material and form, a love letter to his experiences in America with notes of grief, and an outsider’s reflection on a society in the midst of cultural upheaval. A deeply personal trip, Smeets final thoughts are reflected in the piece Prodigal Son, partly about his first son who was conceived on this trip, and about this time when modern society fought itself, it represents his ultimate hope.
On reflection of his journey, Smeets explains “the trip is about how we are all fading, I remember in ‘77 when Elvis died at the height of his popularity, you can still see his interiors and cars but they’ve been through time. I start to feel that we inescapably get older, and we now become part of the fairytale. The road trip was a journey through time, old icons, endless long roads, all gaining patine, dust and wear.” – Job Smeets 2022
The American Job will be on view at R & Company, 64 White Street location through January 2023.