Melanie Smith

Article Works Images
everyday life, transformation
Visual Arts (installation art, painting, photography, sculpture, video art)
America, Central, Europe, Western
Mexico, England (UK)
created on:
May 7, 2003
last changed on:
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Festive rebellion of forms

Melanie Smith was born in Great Britain in 1965 and has been living since 1989 in Mexico. In her installations, photography, video works, paintings and sculptures she turns to a wide spectrum of philosophically and socially relevant themes. This conceptual artist is also known for the works in which she confronts the hue orange. Her works are exhibited in Mexico, Europe and the USA.
Melanie Smith is an artist active in various thematic areas. ´(...) my areas of interest include feminism/queer theory, language/discourse, quantum consciousness/philosophy, subjectivity/agency´ (Smith, Melanie, in: This versatility is reflected in her range of materials, since her media and materials vary according to the results of her artistic investigations. For several works she has used print and three-dimensional objects. ´In this instance both print and three-dimensional pieces are incorporated to consider the structures of discourse that mark out the difference while paradoxically making the subject of that difference invisible“ (Smith, Melanie, zit. nach:

Melanie Smith believes that a theme can be presented in more than one way so resorts to various materials to do so. Besides, no single material is enough to express a theme strongly and fully, and though she has made the main aspects of her work clear enough, the use of various materials makes her work more ambiguous and various. It can be interpreted from various point of view.

A central aspect of her work is the investigation of symbolically expressed concepts, ideas and feelings. She is also interested in the juxtaposition of two elements, either to show that they are equivalent or not so. Hence in her older works she was preoccupied with the opposition of empty and full, disclosure and enclosure, accumulation and reduction. Many of the opposites can be taken to refer to the female anatomy, and some of the works have autobiographical traits.

Since about the mid-eighties the works became more differentiated and varied and had more social body. They incorporated earlier themes but also referred to phenomena like materialism, consumerism and artificiality.

The hue orange plays an important role in Melanie Smith´s works. ´Orange Lush VI´ from 1997, on show at the Johannesburg Biennale 1997, may be taken as an example. It is a mixed media installation consisting of orange toys, balloons, clothes, food, pails, ropes, crates and household utensils etc. ´It seems to be the colour of authority, used in public for road signs, advertising and grabbing the attention of the consumer´ (Smith, Melanie, in: www.

This authority is as attractive as it is repellent to the observer, says Melanie Smith. In using only the hue orange in the above mentioned work, she manages, despite using various utensils, to create a great homogeneity: the individuality of the objects and images is neutralised. This reflects the individual´s wish to rise above the mass and to be seen and admired.

In her first solo exhibition in Switzerland in 2001 (in the Gallery Kilchmann in Zürich), Melanie Smith combined large-scale photography with sprayed images. One of these images shows a garish, chaotic, vulgar accumulation of various hair-clips and rubber combs. Another shows the interior of a gigantic and megalomaniac Mexican store, whose orderly but vast range of wares can only confuse viewers and customers. Each of these photos is accompanied by a picture influenced by op-art and notable for its completely controlled structures. The lines and curves are regularly horizontal or vertical, often in many layers, one above the other.

The chaotic components of the photos seems to be brought together into a rhythmic system in the paintings. Herzog recognises in them the attempt ´ to grab for oneself, in the endless alienation of such a metropolis (Mexico City, J.S.) a personal point of view, a personal metric and thus a personal position´ (Herzog, Samuel, in: Kunst-Bulletin, March 2000 p. 45). Smith understands the photos and images as being symbols of the cheap, genuine and contemporary. ´However there is an abstract element in the compositions that I make. I want people to use that abstraction as a point of departure from the reality of what they are actually seeing. On the other hand the photos are an attempt to render the real. A lot of my work ist based on finding objects in shops that sell the same thing. In the photos I wanted to comment on that homogeneity, not only within the objects but also within the architectural space´ (Smith, Malanie, in: Press Release Kilchmann Galerie. 20. January through 3rd March 2001, Switzerland).

Melanie Smith´s most recent work ´Six steps toward abstraction´ (2001-02) consists of a double video-projection and six paintings whose size is 120 cm x 140 cm. In the projection there are six 6-minute short films next to one another, showing the repetitiveness of everyday life. They include folk sitting in a waiting-room, a salesman explaining a ware to a potential customer, and another person cleaning a storeroom stuffed to the ceiling. In the monotony of repetition without any context, the folk became pointless. In precisely this respect the films gain a certain, surprising dynamic of their own and become abstract. As earlier, Melanie Smith is here working with contrasts. The films are accompanied by six paintings, to which the films seem to lead.

Melanie Smith is concerned with isolating the void of daily life and with creating from it forms which question the real world. About many of her works she says that they are a kind of festive rebellion of forms, hopping this way and that from the fully known to the fully unknown.
Author: Julia Schnitzler 


Solo Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2005 “Melanie Smith“, Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, Switzerland 2004 “Six Steps to the Unpredictable“, Mark Quint Contemporary, La Joya, USA “Cerca Series – Melanie Smith”, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, USA 2003 “Six Steps to Reality“, Galería OMR, Mexico City, Mexico 2002 “Six Steps to Abstraction”, Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, Switzerland “Six steps to reality”, Laboratorio Arte Alameda, Mexico City, Mexico 2001 “100% Acrílico“, Galería OMR, Mexico City, Mexico 1997 “Orange Lush“, The Anglo, Mexico City, Mexico 1996 “Obra reciente: 1916-1996“, Galería OMR, Mexico City, Mexico “Installation”, Randolph Street Gallery, Chicago, USA “Dream spots: Taxqueña bus station”, San Antonio, USA 1994 Galería OMR, Mexico City, Mexico 1992 L´Escaut Gallery, Brussels, Belgium 1989 Salón de los Aztecas, Mexico City, Mexico

Group Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2005 “Beyond Delirious”, Indeterminate States Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Miami, USA “inSITE 2005”, inSITE San Diego, Tijuana, Mexico “Glasgow International 2005”, Glasgow International, Glasgow, Scotland “Declaraciones“, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain “Eco. Arte Mexicano Contemporáneo“, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain “ARCO´05”, Representación de México, Madrid, Spain 2004 “Only Characters Change”, ARCO, Monterrey, Mexico “Sólo los personajes cambian”, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Monterrey, Mexico “Sodio y Asfalto”, Arte Británico Contemporáneo en México, Mexico City, Mexico “The Armory Show”, Stand Galería OMR, New York, USA “La relatividad del tempo”, OPA, Guadalajara, Mexico “ARCO’04”, Stand Galería OMR, Madrid, Spain “La Col mena”, La Colección Jumex, Mexico City, Mexico “Al otro lado de la puerta”, Subasta Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico “Sodium and Asphalt”, Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, Mexico 2003 “Within Temporay Crossroads“, Central de Arte en WTC, Guadalajara, Mexico “Printemps de septembre”, Festival of Contemporary Images, Tolouse, France “Art 34 Basel”, Stand Galería OMR, Basel, Switzerland “VIII Habana Biennal”, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wilfredo Lam, Havana, Cuba “ARCO 03”, Stand Galería OMR, Madrid, Spain “20 Million Mexicans Can´t be Wrong”, John Hansard, Southampton, Great Britain 2002 “Art Forum Berlin 02“, Stand Galeria OMR, Berlin, Germany “Colored Surfaces”, Mexican Embassy, Berlin, Germany “Zebra Crossing“, Mexartes Festival, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany “20 Million Mexicans Can´t be Wrong”, South London Gallery, London, Great Britain “Mexico City: An Exhibition about the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values”, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, USA “Sala de recuperación“, Museo Carrillo Gil, Mexico City, Mexico “Twenty Million People Can´t Be Wrong”, South London Gallery, London, Great Britain “ARCO´02”, Stand Galería OMR, Madrid, Spain “Here is There”, Weiner Secession, Vienna, Austria 2001 “ArtBasel 01“, Stand Galería OMR, Basel, Switzerland “La Persistencia de la Imagen”, Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City, Mexico “Escultura Mexicana”, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, Mexico “Superficial”, Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City, Mexico “ARCO ’01”, Stand Galería OMR, Madrid, Spain 2000 “Caleidoscopio: Lenguajes Contemporáneos“, Banco Nacional de Comercio Exterior, Mexico City, Mexico “Territorios Abstractos”, Museo del Chopo, Mexico City, Mexico “VI Salón de Arte”, Grupo Financiero BBVA/Bancomer, Mexico City, Mexico “America, foto Latina”, Museo de las Artes, Guadalajara, Jal, Mexico 1999 “Art Chicago’99”, Stand Galería OMR, Chicago, USA “Keep Fit Be Happy”, DeChiara Stewart, New York, USA “IV Biennial of Monterrey”, Museo de Monterrey, Monterrey, Mexico “Mexico Now, Point of Departure”, The Mexican Cultural Institute, Washington, USA “Five Continents and one City”, Museo de la Ciudad de México, Mexico City, Mexico 1998 “Situacionism”, Galería OMR, Mexico City, Mexico “Multi-Nationals”, University of Boulder, Boulder, USA 1997 “Mexico Now. Point of Departure“, The Ohio Arts Council´s Riffe Gallery, Columbus, USA “The Conceptual Trend: Six Artists from Mexico”, El Museo del Barrio, New York, USA “ARCO’97”, Stand Galería OMR, Madrid, Spain “Cultural Hybrids”, Oboro Gallery, Montreal, Canada “Inauténtico: Hecho en México”, Museo de las Artes, Guadalajara, Jal, Mexico “ExpoArte Guadalajara”, Stand Galería OMR, Guadalajara, Jal, Mexico “Shopping”, Art & Idea, Mexico City, Mexico “Noche de los 1997 papeles”, Subasta a beneficio de Casa de Agua, Museo Universitario del Chopo, Mexico City, Mexico “Life’s Little Necessities”, Second Biennial of Johannesburg, Cape Town, South Africa 1996 “Cuadro x cuadro“, Museo Regional de Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Jal, Mexico 1995 “Plantón en el Zócalo”, Temístocles 44, Mexico City, Mexico “Juntos y revueltos”, Hospicio Cabañas, Guadalajara, Jal, Mexico “It’s my Life, I’m Going to Change the World”, ACME Gallery, Los Angeles, USA “Par avion”, L.A.C.E., Los Angles, USA „Es mi vida, voy a cambiar el mundo”, X’Teresa Arte Alternativo, Mexico City, Mexico “Pautas y tendencias paralelas de los 90’s”, Galería ACME, Los Angeles, USA “La demanda está en barata”, Galería OMR, Mexico City, Mexico 1994 “NEO?”, Galería OMR, Mexico City, Mexico “Las nuevas majas”, Otis Gallery, Los Angeles, USA “Arte mexicano: imágenes en el siglo del SIDA”, CU Art Galleries, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, USA 1991 “Marcas“, Galería Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico “D.F. Art from Mexico City”, Blue Star Space, San Antonio, USA “Registro Forma I”, Casona II, Mexico City, Mexico “Acción-Reacción”, Universidad de Jalapa y Veracruz, Mexico City, Mexico 1990 “Estancia“, Installation at Museo Carrillo Gil, Mexico City, Mexico 1989 “A propósito“, Ex-Convento del Desierto de los Leones, Mexico City, Mexico “Sympathy es simpatía”, Museo del Chopo, Mexiko-Stadt, Mexico
Orange Lush I