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Michael E. Smith

Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

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Henry Moore Institute 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.

Using found objects, Michael E. Smith’s materials are drawn from the global workflow of production-consumption-depletion. They are things that are thoroughly used, discarded, but won’t disappear. They are recognisable in their raw states, and remain so once absorbed into finished sculptures. Smith researches his chosen materials extensively, considering their histories alongside their physical properties: the perfect sphere of a basketball, for example, the hands that have touched it and the relationships between those who have caught it.

Before Smith arrived at the Institute the materials reached only an intermediary stage, or what he calls ‘sketches’. Once on site, he brought these together to make complete sculptures. Critical juxtapositions are made between different materials and another essential element — the gallery’s own environment. The fabric of the building is integral; its own traces of use, flaws, light, histories and systems become part of the sculpture. Removing signage, functional clutter (including exhibition labels, wall texts and even work titles) he has heightened the atmospheric register of the Institute and the experience of an exhibition.

Smith pares back his galleries to an extreme, often uncomfortably so. Emptiness has its place in art history, which Smith continues while asking what it means today. On one hand emptiness is order and harmony, on the other it is disarray and discord; for some it is a shelf in a luxury store, for others it is eviction. Cycles are important in his work (the life cycle of the materials he uses, the incorporation of the lighting or mechanics in a building that bring an equilibrium); so too are pairs (his sculptures are generally arranged as such). His attention to each brings an overarching human metaphor and a present, although never overwhelming, conversation with the fundamentals of life, relationships, death and decay.

Michael E. Smith, 'Untitled' 2023, tables, milk jug, LEDs. Courtesy the artist, Modern Art, London, KOW, Berlin, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York and Henry Moore Institute, Leeds. Photo: Rob Harris.

Speaking of Sculpture

Speaking of Sculpture is our video series focusing on artists who use sculpture as part of their practice.

Here, Laurence Sillars, Head of the Henry Moore Institute and curator of the exhibition, shares his thoughts on Michael E. Smith’s work and the thinking behind the exhibition.

Explore our galleries in this video fly-through of Michael E. Smith’s work.

About the artist

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 an 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.

Selected solo exhibitions

Pinakothek Der Moderne, Munich, Germany (2021)
Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland (2018)
S.M.A.K., Ghent, Belgium (2017)
Kunstverein Hannover, Germany (2015)
De Appel, Amsterdam, Netherlands (2015)
Sculpture Center, New York, USA (2015)
La Triennale di Milano, Milan, Italy (2014)
Power Station, Dallas, USA (2014)
CAPC musee d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, France (2013)
Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis, USA (2011)

Selected group exhibitions

Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France (2017)
David Roberts Art Foundation, London, UK (2015)
MoMA PS1, New York, USA (2014)
Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany (2014)
MOCA Cleveland, Cleveland, USA (2013)

Whitney Biennial (2021 and 2012)
May You Live in Interesting Times, Venice Biennale (2019)
Baltic Triennial (2018)

Exhibition guide

This accompanying brochure gives a background on the artist Michael E. Smith, along with a list of works and a floor plan of the galleries.


Download exhibition guide
(PDF, 0.1mb)


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The Henry Moore Institute is currently closed for refurbishment until summer 2024.

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