Melanie Smith

Working across a range of media Melanie Smith explores notions of modernity in relation to art history and contemporary society. Since the 1980s, Smith has consistently addressed a number of interrelated themes encompassing the aesthetics of abstraction, urbanization, colonialism and, more recently, nature and entropy, through a blurring and blending of the worlds of painting, cinema, and performance.


Smith was born and studied in the UK. However, following a move to Mexico City in 1989 she became a key member of a burgeoning art community there, alongside contemporaries such as Francis Alÿs and Gabriel Orozco. Smith’s move came at a pivotal moment; leaving the political and economic tensions of Britain, in Mexico she witnessed the impact of capitalist modernisation, neo-liberal globalisation and hyper-consumerism, the development of an informal economy alongside traditional forms of manufacture, and the ongoing failures or collapse of modernity. These two contexts, Mexico and Britain, remain central to her work.


Notions of place and site have been key considerations in Smith’s work. In early works such as Spiral City (2002-4) and Parres (2006) she engaged with different urban environments, especially cities and developing metropolitan areas. Recent film works have explored particular sites in which the tensions between modernity and history, idealism and failure, are foregrounded. Xilitla (2010) explores the ruins of Edward James’s Surrealist garden in the Mexican jungle. Fordlandia (2014) reflects upon the failure of Henry Ford’s capitalist utopia in the midst of the Brazilian rainforest. Maria Elena (2018) takes its title from a town in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The settlement is connected to the oldest salt mine in Chile, which was owned by the Guggenheim family in the 1920s. The film combines fragmented narratives of a colonial past with a problematic present reality.


A key concept running through Smith’s work is that of artifice, meaning that her work often foregrounds the conditions of its own production. A recent development are the ‘activations’ of historic paintings that extend her ongoing investigation into the deconstruction of the pictorial plane by using performance, sculpture and moving image. In 2017 at La Tallera in Cuernavaca she presented Bucolic Obscurities, seven live tableaux based on fragments of paintings by Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Breugel the Elder. In 2019 at MUAC in Mexio City and the Museo Amparo Puebla, Smith created an ambitious tableau vivant based on William Blake’s The Circle of the Lustful (1824-1827), an illustration for The Divine Comedy. A body of new work that has developed out of this latter project will be the subject an exhibition at Parafin in early 2020.



Melanie Smith (born 1965) lives and works in London and Mexico City. In 2011 she represented Mexico at the 54th Venice Biennale, Italy. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Farce and Artifice’, MACBA, Barcelona (2018), MUAC, Mexico City (2019) and Museo Amparo, Puebla, Mexico (2019), Milton Keynes Gallery (2014), Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania (2014) and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands (2014). Recent group exhibitions include Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2019), the Liverpool Biennial (2018), Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, (2016), and Kunstmuseum Bern (2016) amongst many others. Her work is in many important international collections including Tate, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, MACBA, Barcelona, IVAM, Valencia, Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zurich, La Coleccion Jumex, Mexico City and the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Miami.

© Parafin Ltd. 2016