The Decadently Delirious Art of Jack Smith: A Feast for Open Eyes

Jack Smith, Untitled, c.1978

Jack Smith, Untitled, c.1958-1962/2011

Jack Smith, Untitled, c.1958-1962/2011

Jack Smith, Untitled, c.1958-1962/2011

Jack Smith, Untitled, c.1958-1962/2011

Jack Smith, Untitled, c.1958-1962/2011

Jack Smith, Untitled, c.1958-1962/2011

The Decadently Delirious Art of Jack Smith: A Feast for Open Eyes

Jack Smith: A Feast for Open Eyes

Jack Smith: A Feast for Open Eyes is a retrospective celebration of the underground films, performance art, photography and experimental theatre created by legendary American artist, filmmaker and actor Jack Smith (1932-1989), an exhibition that recently was presented at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). Smith was described by Andy Warhol as the only person he would ever copy and by film director John Waters as “the only true underground filmmaker.”

Working in New York from the 1950s until his death in 1989, Jack Smith resolutely resisted and upturned accepted conventions, whether artistic, moral or legal. Irreverent in tone and delirious in effect, Smith’s films are both wildly camp and subtly polemical. Just before Andy Warhol’s Factory, and well before the full flowering of New York City’s gay community, Smith made Flaming Creatures (1963), a trippy, decadently surreal tableau of cross-dressing men and women sexually molesting one another.

Flaming Creatures defined underground cinema for a generation and ended up being banned almost everywhere it was shown. The film was even banned in Europe, and Jonas Mekas ended up having to schedule a private screening in a hotel room for such luminaries as Jean-Luc Godard, Agnes Varda and Roman Polanski after a film festival in Belgium refused to show it. In 1968, Sen. Strom Thurman vehemently denounced it on the floor of the U.S. Senate. People were arrested for showing it. To this day, Smith’s works are still rarely shown; his films aren’t available from Blockbuster or NetFlix. Wagging weenies, female crotches, bare breasts and all manner of simulated sexual activities are shown in Flaming Creatures, as well as memorable lines such as a male voice asking: “Is there a lipstick that doesn’t come off when you suck cock?

While Smith is best known for his contributions to underground cinema, his influence extends across performance art, photography and experimental theater. Smith has been referenced by avant-garde artists such as Laurie Anderson, Cindy Sherman and Mike Kelley, filmmakers David Lynch and Matthew Barney, photographer Nan Goldin, musicians John Zorn, Lou Reed and David Byrne, and theater director Robert Wilson.

Jack Smith: A Feast for Open Eyes

Jack Smith: Flaming Creatures (Full Movie)

Jack Smith and the Destruction Of Atlantis

Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis is a documentary film directed by Mary Jordan that premiered in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary presents a collection of interviews and clips by and about the revolutionary artist Jack Smith. The film covers some of the difficult exhibition history of Flaming Creatures (1963) and difficult collaborations with Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol and others. Voice-overs from Smith, culled from some 14 hours of interviews with various critics and friends, supplemented the archival visual materials, footage and extensive interviews with filmmaker John Waters, Smith’s sister Mary Sue Slater, playwright Richard Foreman, Smith and Warhol star Mario Montez, writer Gary Indiana, and musician John Zorn, among others.

Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis

Photo-Gallery: The Decadently Delirious Art of Jack Smith: A Feast for Open Eyes

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