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Michael E. Smith

Exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

24 March – 4 June 2023
Free entry

  • The first solo exhibition in a UK institution for American artist Michael E. Smith (born 1977, Detroit).
  • Featuring all new work made specifically for this exhibition, the contents of which will only be revealed on opening.
  • Reconfiguring everyday objects and adapting the gallery’s environment, Smith creates atmospheric exhibitions which imbue both unease and humour.

Henry Moore Institute, Leeds is delighted to present an exhibition of new work by American artist Michael E. Smith (born 1977, Detroit), made for the Institute’s main galleries.

Until they are installed in an exhibition, Smith’s sculptures exist as composite parts or what the artist calls ‘material sketches’. It is only when Smith is on site, typically working out of hours and with one assistant, that new and complete works come into existence. Critical juxtapositions are made between different materials, objects and the gallery’s environment, incorporating improvisation and the limitations of the exhibition site (architecture, flow, lighting) as guiding forces.

Extracted from today’s relentless global workflow of production – consumption – destruction, Smith’s materials are familiar in their raw states, and remain so once absorbed into a finished sculpture. Clothes, furniture, toys, tools, objects from the home and from industry are commonplace and used, from time to time, alongside organic matter.

While there is art historical precedent within Smith’s object making (assemblage, conceptualism, minimalism) and his approach to institutional commentary, these are departure points for a resolutely idiosyncratic way of working. Smith researches his chosen materials to an extraordinary degree, examining associative histories and use value as well as their physical properties.

With an engineer’s mindset, he tests materials to their limits, squeezing them until reference and meaning almost buckle. Reconfiguring them alongside other objects and combining them with the features and functions of the exhibition space (Smith is always interested in how visitors interact with and navigate institutional buildings), a new kind of social history is revealed.

Michael E. Smith 'Untitled' 2019, backpack, catfish. Image courtesy the artist and Modern Art, London.
Michael E. Smith 'Untitled' 2019, chair, hose. Image courtesy the artist and Modern Art, London.

Prior to (or as part of) his making, Smith fills notebooks – covering pages with key words as might a lyricist. Hip Hop has always been a driving force for him, so too has the blues and the improvisational wanderings of free jazz. They cue an emotional register in much of his work and its engagement with the world.

There’s a long history of songwriters only being able to write in moments of non-joy. Smith’s making is the same. Despite the criticality of writing to his process, however, words are seen as unnecessary weight and titles are seldom used. Look instead at the list of materials, which are finely tuned, authored, and revelatory.

The environment of Smith’s exhibitions is typically off-kilter, remote, sometimes violent or slapstick. They are reflections upon the strangeness of the impulses that gave birth to the constituent parts of his sculpture: global economic, environmental and political dis-ease. His sculptures are bound to a recent history yet float in a ghostly timelessness. Everything is recognisable, but displaced.

“We’re excited to welcome Michael E. Smith to Leeds and to give him the space to make and present new sculpture. There’s always something of the unknown within his practice, due to his unique way of working which means final works are often revealed only hours before the exhibition opens to the public.

Responding to ideas of decay, consumption, waste and instability, along with his own branch of institutional critique, this feels a critical moment to present his work for the first time in the UK in a public space.

The Henry Moore Institute celebrates its thirtieth birthday in April. The sculpture studies centre was opened in 1993 to give free access to groundbreaking sculpture.

It seems right that we will be showcasing such a fascinating artist, who assimilates deep art historical and material knowledge, creating new work on-site that always pushes the boundaries of the medium.”

Laurence Sillars, Head of the Henry Moore Institute

Michael E. Smith, 'Untitled' 2017. Installation view from S.M.A.K, Belgium. Image courtesy the artist and Modern Art, London.

For further information, images or to arrange a visit please contact


Kara Chatten, Marketing and Communications Manager
Henry Moore Institute

Emily Dodgson, Head of Marketing and Communications
Henry Moore Foundation

Sophie Balfour-Lynn, Senior Account Director


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Notes to Editors


About Michael E. Smith

Michael E. Smith was born in 1977 in Detroit, Michigan. From 2004 to 2006 he studied in Detroit at the College for Creative Studies (CCS). In 2008 he took MA Fine Art as a student of Jessica Stockholder at the Department for Sculpture at Yale University. After which he returned to Detroit to teach at the CCS. He now lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island

His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions including Pinakothek Der Moderne, Munich, (2021); Kunsthalle Basel (2018); smak, Ghent (2017); Kunstverein Hannover, (2015); De Appel, Amsterdam (2015); Sculpture Center, New York (2015); La Triennale di Milano, Milan (2014); Power Station, Dallas (2014); capc musee d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, (2013) and Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis (2011). Smith’s work has been included in group exhibitions at Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2017); David Roberts Art Foundation, London (2015); MoMA ps1, New York (2014); Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt (2014); and moca Cleveland, Cleveland, (2013). He participated in the Whitney Biennial in 2021 (and 2012) in May You Live in Interesting Times, Venice Biennale 2019 and the 2018 Baltic Triennial.

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