Josh Smith, one of the most closely watched figurative painters working today, is no stranger to unusual antics. For his most iconic series, he created large paintings of his own name, which he repeated over and over via signatures on canvases with changing color palettes each time. And for a 2019 outing at David Zwirner gallery, the prolific painter—whose work critic Peter Schjeldahl once described as being “something more or less lively to hang on a wall,” as a means of praising Smith’s sly sensibility—produced more than 100 canvases for a show that was oversize by any artist’s standards.
Smith’s latest show brings with it a new gambit: For an exhibition titled “High As Fuck,” he is displaying paintings on the roof of the building where he lives and works in Brooklyn. (The show went on view in April, and documentation of it will later be viewable on David Zwirner’s website from May 21 to June 21.)
With a stay-at-home order still in place in New York, Smith turned to this style of presentation as a way to mount an exhibition without a gallery to go inside. Asked how he thought viewers might react to a show that has been staged but will be seeable only through photo documentation, Smith told ARTnews, “These are the questions I am asking myself. Curiosity about the reaction is a large part of why I exhibit work.”
The paintings themselves are a response to the artist’s quarantine, with new works produced for the exhibition depicting New York as a city whose streets are devoid of their typical life. Smith is also showing ceramic works produced between 2013 and 2014 that he has called “prisons.” They are placed six feet apart, to reference social distancing measures.
Smith has sometimes been labeled a nihilist by critics, but the artist—and his new work—might strike some as more optimistic than usual. When asked how he was doing while in quarantine, he said, “Great, happy to be alive.”
Correction, 5/14/20 1:10 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated that the works in “High As Fuck” were for sale. After this article was published, a representative for David Zwirner confirmed that the works are not for sale.