Gildar and Good Weather present a series of episodic encounters with the work of Dr. Charles Smith—including an exhibition in Chicago—which trace the migration of the artist’s inimitable art environments along the I-55 corridor.
Over the past 35 years, Dr. Smith has constructed The African American Heritage Museum and Black Veterans Archive: a highly developed outdoor installation set 1000 miles apart across two sites. The work provokes a monumental scale within its residential settings: situated among neighboring houses, congregations of painted concrete figures gather among the existing structures and form a uniquely vernacular architecture. Each site is a cosmology of personal and collective histories of inequity, violence, achievement, and survival; each sculpture displays a wide range of formal and human complexity.
The two locations of Dr. Smith’s work are intrinsically linked to his life experiences. Born in 1940 in New Orleans, Dr. Smith grew up in the Jim Crow-era South, before moving north to Chicago in 1955—a culturally important year which saw the Civil Rights Movement galvanized by the brutal murder of Emmett Till (Dr. Smith, around the same age as Emmett Till, visited his funeral) and the dawn of the Vietnam War (a conflict in which Dr. Smith was eventually drafted and served as a member of the US Marine Corps).
Deeply affected by these experiences and following a prophetic vision, Dr. Smith began working on his first site in the early 1980s at his home in Aurora Township outside Chicago. In 2005, he returned South and expanded his life’s work: purchasing a house in Hammond, Louisiana and creating a second site through which he continues to develop his ambitious work.
Dr. Smith’s work has been collected by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, among others. His work will be a significant part of the Kohler Art Center’s new Art Preserve opening 2021.
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