Paper Covers Rock
ICA show features Patti Smith’s drawings.


This year the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) turns 40, and among its fall exhibitions is one devoted to an artist who gives aging gracefully a whole new meaning —rock-and-roll poet, “godmother of punk,” and accomplished visual artist Patti Smith.

From top: South Tower, The Gems of Tragedy, 2002; Auto Portrait 2, 2003;
Self Portrait, 1971.

Alumni who came of age in the 1970s (and many others as well) will likely know Smith best from her 1975 debut album Horses, with its androgynous cover portrait of her by Robert Mapplethorpe (himself the subject of a controversial ICA retrospective in 1988), and from songs like “Gloria” and “Because the Night,” her biggest hit, co-written by Bruce Springsteen, from her 1978 album Easter. Earlier, she had established herself as a poet and performer in New York’s downtown, beginning with a legendary reading at St. Marks Poetry Project in the East Village and later heading one of the bands to come out of CBGBs, the Bowery club that gave birth to punk-music in the city.

In 1980, Smith got married and mostly removed herself from the public eye. She reemerged in the mid-1990s following the death of her husband and began to perform again—a process chronicled in a March 2002 profile in The New Yorker. Besides her nine recordings, Smith has also written several books of poetry and a memoir.

All along, she has created visual art, some samples of which appear here. She has described many of her drawings as the “result of merging calligraphy with geometric planes, poetry and mathematics.” Her work has been exhibited in Kyoto, Paris, Boston, and the Gotham Book Mart, Robert Miller Gallery, and Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“Strange Messenger: The Work of Patti Smith” presents works on paper dating from the 1960s, when she first arrived in New York, to a series from 2001 responding to the destruction of the Twin Towers, of which Smith used to have a clear view from her home. “They are gone. The twin posts that anchored our city,” she writes, in “Twin Death,” a diary that appears in the show catalog. “An hour before I waved goodbye to my daughter heading for school.” Many of these works feature the South Tower’s skeletal remains rendered in various materials—including text from the Gospel of Peace of the Essenes (an ascetic Jewish sect), the Koran, and a poem of Smith’s, “Babelfield.”

Originally organized for the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh by John Smith, the Warhol’s exhibition curator and archivist, the show also includes original manuscripts of her writing, photographs, and source material for her work. The ICA exhibit adds some never-before shown recent photographs.

The show runs from September 4 through December 7. On October 16, in association with Penn Presents, ICA will also host a special evening performance, “Patti Smith: Words and Music,” at the Zellerbach Theater of the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $15; $10 for Penn students and ICA members.

For more on ICA’s fall schedule, see the arts calendar on page 53.—JP

2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 09/02/03


Art: Patti Smith’s drawings at the ICA

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