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Joe Willie Smith
Gebert Contemporary, Scottsdale, Arizona
Recommendation by Deborah Ross

Joe Willie Smith, ''Black Like Me?'' oil on steel patio chairs.


Continuing through September 28, 2013


Abandoned objects in junkyards call out to veteran Arizona artist Joe Willie Smith. Flattened steel chairs are turned into whimsical sculptures that each stand for something meaningful in the artist's life. There’s the red metal piece — still somewhat recognizable as patio furniture — that juts out from the wall on dowels. Smith calls it “Calder's Red,” because he wanted to duplicate the red in the sculptures of Alexander Calder, an artist he admires. Nearby is another found chair, revitalized with thick ebony paint, that Smith has named “Black Like Me?” as a rumination on the way we label people. 


But what elevates Smith’s pieces from curiosities to objects of admiration is the discovery that they are participatory sound sculptures. Visitors are invited to attach a small magnetic microphone anywhere on the steel, then use their fingers to drum or plink on the sculptures. With enough speed, rhythm and amplification, it’s possible to create something quite melodic.


The concept is best demonstrated on the centerpiece of the show, a 9-foot-wide piece called “Musical Chairs,” a tangle of five smashed steel chairs suspended from a wall and painted in stripes. Depending on mic placement, the sound can be ominous, lively, tinkly, echo-like — there are myriad possibilities. 

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