Great Hall Exhibition Series Spring 2021; The James B. Duke House, 1 East 78th Street; Online opening: March 25, 2021.

Exhibit Photo of young man on a dock playing the trombone.
Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O (video still), 2014, digital video, 11:06 minutes. Courtesy the Artist and Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago.

The Institute of Fine Arts is pleased to announce its spring exhibition, Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O: To Do All At Once, presenting the 2014 film H-E-L-L-O by filmmaker and multimedia artist Cauleen Smith. The exhibition proudly continues the Great Hall Exhibition series’ commitment to celebrating the contributions of exemplary women artists and is the first in the series to take place online. Spanning and intertwining film, installation, and material objects, Smith’s practice expands on the experimental film and third world cinema traditions in order to explore the spaces of historical memory, collectivity, and compensatory possibility. In this way, Smith’s work emerges as a talismanic touchstone for contemporary activism and community building. In the artist’s words: “Future and past, you want to hold all of that. You want to celebrate, you want to protest, you want to do all at once.”

The film showcased in the exhibition, H-E-L-L-O (2014), unites these thematic strings in the physical and psychic imaginary of post-Katrina New Orleans. Casting isolated performers amid the secular and sacred haunts of a seemingly vacated city marked by preservation amid devastation, Smith generates a constellation of artistic production born from the diasporic reverberations of Hurricane Katrina. The dispersed orchestra, comprising nine bass-clef musicians, plays a five-note sequence popularized by Stephen Spielberg’s 1977 science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The truncated score, which began as an ominous and chimerical message, gains clarity at the end of the feature film as a greeting (translated by Kodaly sign language) between earthbound scientists and extraterrestrials. As the sonic accompaniment for H-E-L-L-O, the score operates as a site of communal action for the musicians of New Orleans, recalling the histories of performance and procession so endemic to the city.

Through her rigorous formal apparatus, the artist deftly probes the sinewy resilience of New Orleans’s creative and cosmic environments in the aftermath of regional devastation exacerbated by racial inequity. In a contemporary moment analogously strained by disenfranchisement and disembodiment—and attempts to reconfigure these unjust social contracts through proclamations of bodily presence and political affirmation—revisiting H-E-L-L-O accrues renewed urgency. The film takes on intensified significance in the wake of increasingly volatile and elongated hurricane seasons and COVID-19’s profound impact upon sharing collective physical space. 

A central component of the virtual exhibition will feature responses to H-E-L-L-O authored by a broad cohort of artists and creatives, capturing the numerous interpretations and associations afforded by the film. As Smith’s creative process is inherently collaborative—both as a teacher and in her recourse to filmic, historic, and popular traditions—this exhibition seeks to occasion similar models of artistic response and community engagement. Designed by Lizette Ayala, the interactive website will also host a virtual catalogue essay.  

Cauleen Smith (b. 1967, Riverside, CA) lives and works in Los Angeles. She has had recent solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art; The High Line; MASS MoCA; Art Institute of Chicago; Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Her work has also been shown in a two-person exhibition with Theaster Gates at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her films, objects, and installations have been featured in group exhibitions including the Whitney Biennial (2017) and Prospect.4, New Orleans (2017), and at The Studio Museum in Harlem; New Museum, New York; San Diego Museum of Art; and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK. Smith is the recipient of numerous grants and awards including the 2020 Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize from The Studio Museum in Harlem, the inaugural Ellsworth Kelly Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Art in 2016, as well as the 2016 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts for Film/Video, Rockefeller Media Arts Award, Creative Capital Film/Video, Chicago 3Arts Grant, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Artadia, and a Rauschenberg Residency in 2015. Most recently, in 2019, Smith was an artist-in-residence at Artpace. Smith was born in Riverside, CA and grew up in Sacramento. She earned a B.A. in Cinema from San Francisco State University in 1991 and an M.F.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1998. Smith studied with Trinh T. Minh-ha, Angela Davis, and Lynn Hershman Leeson at San Francisco State University. She attended the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in 2007. Smith is a Professor at CalArts School of Art.

This exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Valeria Napoleone XX.

We extend special thanks to the artist for lending the work on view, and additional thanks to her gallery, Corbett vs. Dempsey. Megan Kincaid and Summer Sloane-Britt curated the exhibition. Lizette Ayala designed the website. Miquael Williams contributed to the exhibition as an advisory curator, and Dr. Edward J. Sullivan provided faculty support.

About the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU

Since 1932 the Institute of Fine Arts has been dedicated to graduate teaching and advanced research in the history of art, archaeology, and conservation. This tradition was enhanced in 2013 when the Institute, revealing the potential of the Duke House’s Beaux-Arts interior as a venue for contemporary art, inaugurated its student-led Great Hall Exhibition program. Acclaimed artists Lynda Benglis, Rachel Harrison, Martha Friedman, Judith Hopf, Jamie Eisenstein, Amy Yao, Sarah Peters, Xaviera Simmons are among those featured to date.

About ValeriaNapoleoneXX

ValeriaNapoleoneXX is an umbrella platform for projects and initiatives working towards increasing the recognition and validation of art practices by female artists through collaborations and partnerships with institutions and individuals in the world of contemporary art.

About ValeriaNapoleoneXXIFA

ValeriaNapoleoneXXIFA is an ongoing commitment to underwrite the Great Hall Exhibition Series at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, two solo exhibitions a year focused on the work of female artists.

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