Allison Smith: Common Goods

  • Allison Smith, Common Goods (chair), 2017, drawing

  • Allison Smith, Windsor Chairs, 2014. Archival Pigment Print on Linen, Canvas, Grommets, Nails, 92 x 71 in. Courtesy of the artist and Haines Gallery; photo credit Kyle Smith


Jun 15 – Aug 6, 2017
Level 3, Corridor

Allison Smith presents Common Goods at the Carpenter Center and related programs on the nearby Cambridge Common park. Smith’s installation of an over-sized Windsor armchair and image-printed backdrop reflects on the discursive potential of historic objects. Presented with a theatrical flair of scale and staging in a shallow and window-lined space on Level 3, Common Goods asks viewers to reconsider these early American forms anew through a performative lens.

Throughout the summer, the chair—designed to seat two—will facilitate a series of off-site public discussions and workshops (see schedule below), engaging its history within the broader concept of “the commons” as a utopian ideal and shared intellectual space, as well as a critical site of communication and exchange. The conversations explore a series of functional objects or goods, which like the chair itself, suggest a social and poetic response to the politics of our time. Acting as literal conversation pieces, the objects in the installation also serve as possible props to drive new historical narratives. 

In Common Goods, Smith continues investigations she began during her 2014 Josep Lluis Sert Practitioner in the Arts residency, in which she visited local makers of historic 18th and 19th-century crafts. Drawing a connection between the development of Modern Art and Living History, particularly as part of research she conducted on the Rockefeller family, who built the Museum of Modern Art and Colonial Williamsburg simultaneously, Smith traces alternate lineages of abstract art and social practices through common everyday things of the past. The objects printed on the backdrop, itself suggesting a stage set or photo opportunity, are each representative of the material culture that witnesses, reflects, transmits, and produces the politics of a given time period. Smith is interested in the ways objects such as these are exchanged and circulated in the present, and many of those pictured here are appropriated from auction catalogs.

Smith’s sack-back Windsor armchair (also called a “Double Windsor”) is large enough to encompass two sitters in its sculpted saddled ovalseat. The chair is a mobile work of public art moving into and out of public space throughout the summer, shifting from the Carpenter Center to the Cambridge Common for workshops and performances during select evenings and weekends. Originally, a "sack-back" was a sack-like covering that was pulled over the backs of these chairs with the purpose of warding off winter drafts in the early American colonies. With its splayed, turned blunt-arrow legs and steam-bent arms with carved knuckle handholds,  Smith's chair offers a formal embrace and protected space for intimate exchanges between invited participants and chance passersby. Beyond providing a space to consider the contemporary turmoil of the national stage, the project asks about the potential role of art and craft for "the common good" and the multiple ways it serves as a platform for social action.

Common Goods is organized collaboration with Common Exchange, produced by Cambridge Arts and curated by Dina Deitsch former CCVA John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Interim Director and current Director and Chief Curator, Tufts University Art Galleries.

Special thanks to Eli Cleveland of the North Bennet Street School for crafting the Windsor chair.

Common Goods on the Cambridge Common Schedule:

Thu, Jun 15, 6–8 pm: Allison Smith with artist Judith Leemann and historian Ezra Shales, in conjunction with the Cambridge Historical Society’s History Café

Sat, Jun 17, 1–3 pm: Judith Leemann with activist Kenneth Bailey, Design Studio for Social Intervention, Forms for Thinking the Common

Please check the Common Exchange schedule for upcoming Aug and Sep dates. Events are subject to change and are weather-dependent.

Allison Smith

With over twenty years of exhibiting internationally, Smith has produced over twenty-five solo exhibitions, installations, performances, and artist-led participatory projects for venues such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Public Art Fund, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, The Arts Club of Chicago, and S!GNAL Center for Contemporary Art, among many others. She has received generous support from United States Artists, Arts Council England, FOR-SITE Foundation, Creative Work Fund, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Artadia, the National Endowment for the Arts, and New York Foundation for the Arts. Her work is held in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Saatchi Gallery London, Linda Pace Foundation, and many other public and private collections worldwide. Smith is Associate Professor of Art in the area of Sculpture, Installation and Site-Work at the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University and is represented by Haines Gallery in San Francisco.