The Art Angle Podcast: Artist Carol Bove on Curating Legendary Polymath Harry Smith

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Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more, with input from our own writers and editors, as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

Harry Everett Smith is an odd figure to come across in an art museum. That’s because he’s not known primarily as a visual artist at all. For most, Harry Smith is probably best known as the compiler of the legendary Anthology of American Folk Music, a landmark collection of early recordings published in 1952, which became a huge influence on the folk music revival and through that, on rock in the 1960s. 

Smith was born in 1923 and died in 1991, and his biography reads like a who’s who of cultural icons. He was a big figure in the Beat Generation and a close friend of Allen Ginsberg, appeared in one of Andy Warhol’s screen test films, and he was also a tireless collector of all kinds of cultural objects, from out-of-print records to Ukrainian Easter eggs. 

Smith was also an experimental filmmaker and artist, an early student of anthropology, and an acolyte of a variety of mystical belief systems. Now, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York is hosting “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith,” an unusual, but thrilling new show, with an unusual curator, the artist Carol Bove, herself one of the most celebrated sculptors working today.  

Bove has had a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art and installed work on the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among many other accomplishments. Working with Elisabeth Sussman, a curator at the Whitney, Dan Byers, director of the Carpenter Center for Visual Art, and Rani Singh, director of the Harry Smith Archives, Bove has dedicated herself to helping organize this show, to tell the story of Harry Smith. 

In advance of “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten,” which opens October 4 at the Whitney, Carol Bove spoke to Artnet News’s chief art critic Ben Davis about Harry Smith’s life in art and what it is about this hard-to-categorize figure that fired her imagination and will do the same for visitors to this show. 

“Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith” is on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art from October 4, 2023–January 28, 2024. 

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