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May 5, 2020

Michael Smith
Mike Builds a Shelter, 1985
In the Cold War, awakened to his civic responsibility, Mike extends the life of leftovers and recycles tree leaves while taking steps to protect himself against a nuclear attack. This narrative extension of Smith’s installation Government Approved Home Fallout Shelter/Snack Bar (1983) shows Mike preparing for chaos with the cool, methodical detachment of 1950s-era mental hygiene films. This could be his apotheosis as a public figure—a fulfillment of his desire to make his everyday chores the stuff of heroic legend.  


Michael Smith
Secret Horror, 1980

Smith’s first Mike narrative conceived for television depicts, with nightmarish absurdity, the sacrifice of privacy for public exposure. Produced through the Artists Cable Project, the skit layers the upbeat zaniness of a game show over Mike’s unsettling experience of a gang of white sheet shrouded “spooks” transporting his living room to a television studio.



Michael Smith and Joshua White

Take Off Your Pants!, 2005

Installed within a six-sided kinetic sculpture, these two videos from Take Off Your Pants! brand Mike’s pants-centric worldview in a spinning kaleidoscopic assault of carnival lights, whirligigs, and candy colors. Each hyperactive face of the kiosk displays items ranging from a lenticular portrait of Mike merchandised as “Pants Guy,” to an inset diorama of a mythical Pants Village. The kiosk’s ungainly form, like a relic from Disney World’s cloyingly cute It’s a Small World, heralds a darker view of the global village as an alienating place where we’re alone, surfing the internet in our underwear. 


Michael Smith
Portal Excursion, 2005–07

“Men who love wisdom should acquaint themselves with a great many particulars”—Heraclitus as interpreted by middle-aged Mike emphasizes the neurotic particulars, and less the wisdom of the bigger picture. As in so many of his outsized quests, whether to be a major television personality, a disco champion, or an Outstanding Young Man, Mike’s extremely human excursion into the realm of online continuing education is strikingly disconnected from reality. 

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