News Release

Cauleen Smith: Give It or Leave It

May 24, 2018

Solo Exhibition of Filmmaker and Interdisciplinary Artist Cauleen Smith Opens Fall 2018 at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania: Featuring new works, a site-specific light installation, and revised versions of two previous sculptural works.

Opening on September 14, 2018, the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania will present a solo exhibition of film, video, and sculpture by filmmaker and artist Cauleen Smith. Give It or Leave It navigates separate and unrelated universes into an emotional cosmos: Alice Coltrane (1937–2007) and her ashram; a 1966 photo shoot by Bill Ray at the Watts Towers; Noah Purifoy (1917–2004) and his desert assemblages; and black spiritualist Rebecca Cox Jackson (1795–1871). Cauleen Smith: Give It or Leave It is organized by Anthony Elms, Daniel and Brett Sundheim Chief Curator, and will be on view through December 23, 2018.

“Embracing black avant-garde experimental music, culturally hybrid forms of spirituality, film, as well as literature, Cauleen Smith’s work encourages us to reconsider histories of misogyny and white supremacy and demonstrates how creative responses to our past are necessary, transformative, and intergenerational,” said Amy Sadao, Director of ICA. “This exhibition is further significant for ICA as it is only the third solo exhibition by a black woman artist in our 56-year history. This is the reality of many institutions, not just ICA, and so we should address it head-on. We are honored to have the opportunity to present Smith’s work and to provide a critical platform for her experiments linking us with our past and serving as an instruction manual for the future.”

The exhibition title, Give It or Leave It, is a revision of the threat “take it or leave it.” The artist proposes a new rule for a better world: creating something, offering it, and gifting it—regardless if the gesture is accepted or rejected. “Give it or leave it” is a rule for the self, not an ultimatum for the other, born of this spirit of generosity, hospitality, and selflessness. Smith finds the roots of this spirit in Alice Coltrane, Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, Noah Purifoy, and Rebecca Cox Jackson, and the fact they did not turn their backs on the here and now, nor on the cities around them. They each in their own way wanted prospective utopian gestures to be imbedded in current events and social communities. It is this energy that drives Smith’s work.