For many performance artists, the reality of getting older necessitates a shift in their practice. This is not the case with Michael Smith. In fact, his work improves with age. His classic characters—the slightly square “everyman” Mike and the oversize diaper-wearing Baby Ikki—have always examined the anxiety of masculinity and rapidly changing culture. Now that Smith is in his 60s, these bumbling personae acquire a new pathos. His first show at Greene Naftali, “Excuse me!?!…I’m looking for the ‘Fountain of Youth,'” is filled with new works. Photos document Mike’s visits to the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park in Florida and to KidZania, a theme park where children play-act such roles as firemen and delivery room doctors. Mike’s hammy, quizzical expressions and the kids’ seriousness are laugh-out-loud funny. Banners printed with Sudoku puzzles, videos of Mike searching for his keys, and a film about a water cooler (featuring Ballet Austin apprentices) stick with Smith’s sitcom-like approach. In contrast stands the unexpectedly beautiful, sobering installation Timeline (2015). Dates from 1951 (when Smith was born) to the present are projected against a scrim, behind which a disco ball spins above purple and blue lights.
Pictured: Michael Smith: KidZania, Experience No.2: Petrol, 2015, C-print, 22¼ by 33½ inches. Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York. Photo Everton Ballardin.