This exhibition is on view from July 12 to December 1, 2024.

Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith

Harry Smith (1923–1991) was a painter, filmmaker, folklorist, musicologist, and collector as well as a radical nonconformist whose work defies categorization. Although his creative output includes paintings, films, poetry, music, and sound recordings, it also consists of extensive collections of overlooked yet revealing objects, such as string figures and found paper airplanes. His best-known work, a compilation of recordings from the 1920s and 1930s titled the Anthology of American Folk Music, achieved cultlike status among many musicians and listeners since it was first published in 1952.

Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith puts the artist's life on display alongside his art and collections. It follows him from an isolated Depression-era childhood in the Pacific Northwest—a time when he was immersed in ecstatic religious philosophies and Native American ceremony—to his counterculture youth of marijuana, peyote, and intellectualism in postwar Berkeley, California. The exhibition traces his path through the milieus of bebop and experimental cinema in San Francisco to his decades in New York, where he was an essential part of the city's avant-garde fringe. The exhibition’s design is by artist Carol Bove.

Keenly attuned to changing technology, Harry Smith embraced innovation and used whatever was new and of the moment. At the same time, his lifelong interest in abstract art, ancient traditions, metaphysics, spiritualism, folk art, and world music came to the fore even as he devised ingenious ways of collecting sounds and creating films. These concerns make Smith's work feel increasingly prescient as collecting and sharing come into view as creative acts that are necessary for drawing meaning from the glut of images and juxtaposition of cultures that we encounter every day.

This exhibition is co-organized by the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University with the Whitney Museum of American Art where the exhibition opened in New York in October 2023. Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith is curated by artist Carol Bove; Dan Byers, John R. and Barbara Robinson Director of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts; Rani Singh, Director of the Harry Smith Archives; Elisabeth Sussman, Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art; with Kelly Long, Senior Curatorial Assistant and McClain Groff, Curatorial Project Assistant, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Danni Shen, Curatorial and Public Programs Assistant at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts.

An exhibition catalog will be available in November 2024. 

Harry Smith Film Series

From September 20 – October 21, 2024, the Harvard Film Archive is presenting several new restorations of Harry Smith’s films in the theater on the lower level. For schedule and information please visit the Harvard Film Archive

Caption: Harry Smith, still from Film No. 18: Mahagonny, 1970-80 (restored) 16mm film, restored to 35mm film, transferred to digital video, color, sound; 2:21 min. Harry Smith Papers, Getty Research Institute. Los Angeles; gift of the Harry Smith Archives 2013.M.4. Copyright and Courtesy of Anthology Film Archives and Harry Smith Archives. 

Harry Smith Audio Guides

Philip Deloria on Harry Smith's early ethnographic work 

Greil Marcus on Anthology of American Folk Music