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Barbara T. Smith papers, 1927–2012, undated, bulk 1948–2012


Barbara Turner Smith (b. 1931) has been at the forefront of artistic movements in Southern California for over 50 years, particularly feminist art and performance. Her artwork—which ranges from paintings, drawings, and artist's books to installations, videos, and performances, and often involves her own body—explores concepts that strike at the core of human nature, including male and female sexuality, sensuality, physical and spiritual sustenance, and death.

This archive offers an exceptionally rich resource on Smith's highly personal artistic practice, containing 160 diaries; 54 sketchbooks; hundreds of prints and drawings; thousands of negatives and contact sheets, with more than 850 vintage photographs; and 1,100 audio and videotapes. There are also decades' worth of correspondence with artists and critics as well as meticulous notes, plans, and archival records related to her artistic projects from student days forward. The diaries, a centerpiece of the archive, date back to the 1950s and begin with a notebook that details Smith's sessions with a psychotherapist. Most of her notebooks are also heavily collaged and filled with drawings.

 
 

The archive includes 25 artist's books by Smith from the mid-1960s to the present. A related collection, which the Research Institute acquired separately from this archive, is a series of black-bound artist's books called Coffins, produced from 1965 to 1966 on an early Xerox 914 copy machine Smith leased and had installed in her dining room. She placed objects such as fabrics, photographs, drawings, foodstuffs and parts of her body onto the Xerox plate, creating powerful representations of her fears and anguish over the conflicting pulls of being a wife and mother and being an artist. These highly personal and intimate works presage not only Smith's use of the body as an artistic medium, but also the emergence of both feminism and performance art in Southern California in general.

 

The development of feminist art is a potential area of research that is greatly enhanced by this archive, particularly when examined alongside related archives held at the Research Institute from artists Eleanor Antin, Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, and Sylvia Sleigh. Material about Smith can also be found in the Research Institute's archives of George Herms, Allan Kaprow, and Marcia Tucker, as well as in the archives of the Long Beach Museum of Art and High Performance magazine.