If you’re in New York before November 12, consider making the trip to Gowanus to see Cabinet Magazine’s exhibition of Harry Smith’s string figures at their studio gallery space. Harry was a legendary artist, filmmaker and ethnomusicologist who resided at length at The Hotel Breslin where Ace now makes its home, and he holds a special place in our hearts as well as our lobby at Ace New York.
An avid student of the metaphysical aspects of geometric shapes and patterns, whose mysteries have entranced mystics and polymaths from the Pythagoreans to Kabbalists to the Five Percent Nation, Harry created intricate webs in which you can see a connection to other works in his vast oeuvre, from his animated films — timed precisely to bebop scores — to his mandala-like Tree of Life collotypes.
The exhibit is accompanied by a video program of some of his seminal films, including his masterpiece, “Heaven and Earth Magic,” and a handful of short films about Smith and the string figure art form. In a short survey of Navajo String Games, the narrator weaves elaborate mazes resemblant of animals, spirits and constellations, then dissolves them with flicks of the wrist. In another, a young boy didactically, adorably walks you through the creation of Jacob’s Ladder, stopping to illustrate the swift proximity between Jacob’s Ladder and Anansi, just a couple of manipulations away from each other in either direction. We can only hope the video heralds a new generation of Harry Smiths.