By Dani Frank
When artist Patti Smith learned the notion of a “camera solo,” she was abroad in Italy for a concert, touring the quarters of a long-deceased duke’s castle. No one was allowed to enter the room; the territory was strictly private to the duke. No family members, mistresses or other visitors were allowed to violate the singular identity of this room. It was a room all his own. For Smith’s purposes, the Italian phrase adopted an Anglo-fied translation, becoming “Camera Solo”, and the title of Smith’s first artistic exhibit in ten years.
A combination of photography, film and the written word, Camera Solo is an intimate exploration of life and death, expressed in symbolic portraits. Patti Smith is a woman of many talents. Smith is musical, widely known as the Godmother of Punk, artistic, educated at Pratt Institute and a wordsmith, with her recently-penned memoir Just Kids skyrocketing to fame, a New York Times bestseller-decree and plans to become a major motion picture. While Smith has achieved worldwide acclaim for all of her artistic ventures, the decision to stage Camera Solo, her first American exhibition of her photography, here in Connecticut was second nature.
“Putting on the presentation here in Connecticut is very meaningful to Patti,” said the exhibit’s curator Susan Talbott, Director and CEO of the Wadsworth Atheneum and a longtime friend of Smith’s. “Both of her parents are from Connecticut; her mother from Bridgeport and her father from New Haven, and Patti said it would have meant so much to them to know she was having a show at the Wadsworth.” When Talbott approached Smith about presenting her latest exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum, the answer was an immediate yes.
A lover of contemporary art, Talbott has put forth a concerted effort to bring evocative and emotional pieces to Wadsworth, including that of Smith’s friend and mentor the late Robert Mapplethorpe’s controversial, ‘80s culture war-centric exhibit, “A Perfect Moment.” Smith introduces her viewers to Mapplethorpe, her friends, parents and poets and artists whom she admires, including the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, of whom Smith draws an immense source of inspiration and appreciation. In Camera Solo, Smith places the artifacts of her loved ones in different angles and lighting arrangements to convey an array of emotions to the viewer.
A photograph of which Talbott is particularly fond is that of a tiny carved cherub that Smith discovered in Italy. The smiling cherub is holding a dolphin, and the face of the cherub strangely resembles Smith’s father, a connection she does not believe should be overlooked. “I just find it to be very poetic, very beautiful, and very atmospheric,” said Talbott. Occupying a more mournful aspect to Smith’s 78 Polaroid photos are such images as the departed Mapplethorpe’s hands. Long and veined and bejeweled with many rings, the hands beg to be examined for a stretch of time before receiving insight into the emotion being evoked.
Not to be missed in the immense exhibit is Smith’s multi-media tribute to Rimbaud. The exhibit is due to open on Rimbaud’s birthday, an annual celebration that Smith partakes in, and she has honored the poet with a separate room of art. A sculptural tribute to Rimbaud was created, as well as photographs of his personal items, including his hometown, utensils that he ate with, and the very liter that his body was carried on after he passed away. The liter is covered in wood, netting and Smith’s handwritten reproductions of Rimbaud’s poetry. Additionally, Smith created a short, seven-minute film to honor another of her favorite artists, René Daumal, the French surrealist and poet. Her original film, Equation Daumal, will enlighten visitors as to the poet’s works and vision.
Smith’s exhibit is a raw examination of her inspirations, loved ones and a presentation of both parties that had previously been deemed “camara solo”; fit for her eyes only. The silver gelatin prints, appropriately deemed “symbolic portraits” per Talbot, are in depth looks at a woman known to most for her involvement in ‘70s-era New York City punk rock. Linger at Smith’s exhibit, and take in an intimate photo of Virginia Woolf’s bedroom, or Susan Sontag’s flower-covered grave. Smith has opened the door to her camara solo, and the October 20th opening, including an appearance and performance by the artist herself, is the viewers cue to enter.
Patti Smith: Camera Solo is on view through February 19, 2012.
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
600 Main Street
Hartford, CT 06103
Hours: Wed, Thurs and Fri 11am-5pm; Sat and Sun 10am-5pm
Dani Frank is a fashion, travel and culture enthusiast and writer living in Easton, Connecticut. A recent graduate of Hofstra University, she is most happy when traversing the East Coast and beyond and documenting it all for curious readers. Read her further work at http://offmanhattan.com/author/danielle-frank/