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MOMA Pays Homage to Experimental Filmmaker Jack Smith

by Annie Strother.

A blond figure emerges from a coffin, the appearance punctuated by jump cuts, eye rolls and fluttering gestures. The curls of a blond wig hang low against the eyebrows. The film is grainy, the music is campy. Within moments, the vampire-queen will feed on an unconscious figure lying on the floor. It’s a brief scene in Jack Smith’s “Flaming Creatures,” the notorious film that first brought him national attention.

Though he was largely unknown in his lifetime, and impoverished until his death, Smith’s body of multimedia work — photographs, performances and films — has been enormously influential, inspiring figures like Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, John Waters and others. After his death from AIDS-related causes in 1989, Smith’s work was preserved by artists Penny Arcade and J Hoberman but generated little excitement within the art world. In recent years, though, interest in Smith has increased, with a PS1 exhibit, traveling shows and a documentary, “Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis.”

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