Jack Smith

Jack with elf ears

“The whole of western culture exudes the distinctive aroma of slowing frying mermaid filleted.”

- Jack Smith, letter to Jonas Mekas 1963

Jack Smith, 1932-1989, was a master of the exotic idiom, working in theatre, film, photography, graphic design, drawing, and slideshows. He was one of the path-finding pioneers of American post-war underground aesthetics. Boo-Hooray in collaboration with Jonas Mekas is exhibiting handbills, posters, photographs, letters, artwork and collages by Jack Smith. The show is the starting point for work on a major, illustrated book devoted to our favorite artist for publication in the winter of 2014.

 “Wait For Me At The Bottom Of The Pool” 

is Boo-Hooray’s second installment of exhibitions celebrating Jonas Mekas’ 90th birthday.

Through a set of strange and mysterious circumstances, several batches of original Jack Smith materials started to unearth while we were working on Boo-Hooray’s Angus MacLise exhibition a few years back. The culmination came when we saw Jonas Mekas’ private collection, and as we started archiving it at Boo-Hooray, the idea of staging an exhibition was presented to Jonas who agreed with great relish and enthusiasm.

We decided rather quickly that what we wanted to present were the handbills, posters, photographs and artworks that the man himself had created, and that the historical context was to be provided by contemporary voices from the 1950’s onward. Plenty has certainly been writ on the man, some of it good (Jim Hoberman!) a lot of it bad (we aren’t naming any of those lobsters), so what we decided to do was to provide imagery and writing by Jack Smith himself for the audience to enjoy and interpret and turn into roach-crust.

The oddest thing about all this, is that every consecutive look at the work of Jack Smith increases in… Exoticism. It is difficult to explain why the art of Jack Smith is so wonderful, but it is. My 12-year old daughter says that she feels that the art is wonderful, but doesn’t know why, and I agree with that. Art that went from the heart to the hand without taking a detour via the brain, then comes in through our eye and goes straight to our heart without side-stepping through our brain. Maybe that uncanny, toothsome and sublime art experience that is purely visceral is what exoticism actually is, or means. Please don’t think of this work as picturesque, it can prevent one from experiencing it as the sublime.

- Johan Kugelberg

Beautiful book cover

“Free Ritz Crackers With Lobster-Flavored Wallpaper Dip Will Be Served”

 From an advertisement placed in the Village Voice 2/4/1965 for the Jack Smith photography exhibit “The Great Pasty Triumph” at the Erewhon Gallery

“The Plaster Movie Studio broods in a deep shadow, obscured by scaffolding… Director prays to Miss Montez. They use a corpse as leading lady. Record them fluffing their lines, Freudian slips—complaining—asking director for pins, being retouched by makeup woman, staring—lost into mirrors.”

- Jack Smith from his 1962/1963 journal

Swirly Jack

Where the hell is the porthold building

“Jack Smith was to Republic Pictures what an idiot savant is to square roots.”

- Rene Ricard

 “We’re at the water faucets deep in the cool interior of a midtown cafeteria, broke, our sensibilities offended by the décor, hungry. Scattered patrons feed themselves, a Julius Knipl here and a Julius Knipl there. Heads will lift but not a word will be spoken during the following, my eyewitness account. Jack approaches a table and lifts a slice of bread from a man’s serving. Undulates forward to another hunched fellow and lifts a morsel from his dish onto the bread. He continues table by table the length of the cafeteria, transfixing selected donors. Close to the revolving street doors he tops his hefty sandwich with another slice of bread and steps unhurriedly, munching, out into the street. Fluid as Keaton, not a wasted frame.”

- Ken Jacobs in Art Forum October 1997

Horror of the rented world

Flaming creatures flyer

[On Flaming Creatures] “At once primitive and sophisticated, hilarious and poignant, spontaneous and studied, frenzied and languid, crude and delicate, avant and nostalgic, gritty and fanciful, fresh and faded, innocent and jaded, high and low, raw and cooked, underground and camp, black and white and white-on-white, composed and decomposed, richly perverse and gloriously impoverished, Flaming Creatures was something new under the sun. Had Jack Smith produced nothing other than this amazing artifact, he would still rank among the great visionaries of American film.”

- Jim Hoberman


Exotic consultant


 “Unlike Warhol, who had a genius for attracting and holding on to collaborators and powerful supporters, Smith, who was fully as charismatic, was a Blakean agonist in his personal relations, thriving on enmity, with the power to mythologize his antagonisms, his obsessions, and his fantasies.”

- P. Adams Sitney

Jack Smith with girls

“Flaming Creatures” is great, and uninhibited: a film without tension, with no feeling of compulsion, a film that seems to happen of its own accord. A subconsciousness  presented and realized, relating to life. We think of ourselves as ‘civilized’ and rational, but we are still dreamers, creatures of hidden mysteries and feeling. We very often suppress this but when someone or something comes and releases some of it for us it becomes our opium. It relates to those hidden (and feared) abstractions and the unknown composition of our instincts. It is that part that creates our myths; our sensations; our hopes; our weaknesses, but most of all our strengths. We appear to be the only creatures to have this and without fear it becomes our poetry.”

                                                    – Stephen Dwoskin in Film Is – The International Free Cinema

“He could spend hours readjusting some peripheral aspect of a pile of debris, puncturing long silences only with occasional cryptic non sequiturs about penguins or a startling piece of extremely bad nutritional advice.

- Gary Indiana



Jonas Mekas and Johan Kugelberg present

 “Wait For Me At The Bottom Of The Pool,”

- artwork, ephemera, and photography by Jack Smith.

 Exhibition at Boo-Hooray open from Valentine’s Day until March 10th 2013.