Emily Mae Smith - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  • “The broom has become this really handy tool for me to work around the gendered connotations that you might get from painting the naked female figure. The broom is nude but you don’t really think about it. And this enables me to place her in all sorts of scenarios.” 
    — Emily Mae Smith


    Tangled in symbolism, wry and whimsical characterise the meticulous paintings by Emily Mae Smith, a Texas-born, Brooklyn-based artist who has earned significant international praise over the past two decades that only continues to grow. Looking to Pop culture, Surrealism, and revisionist historiography, Smith devours and reformulates a wide variety of references to create her unique, intricate fantasy worlds within which her iconic Broomstick character resides. Its image nods to that of the artist’s paintbrush and as a symbol of women-oriented domestic labour, with inspiration specifically taken from the dancing broomsticks in Disney’s Fantasia whom Smith aims to liberate ‘from the film’s menial labour and reproduction role’i



    Magic Brooms, Fantasia, Disney, 1940


    Employed in her work as a tongue-in-cheek way to draw attention to the prevalent objectification of the female form throughout the history of art, Smith explores the motif of the broomstick to engage with the themes of feminism, gender-related complexities, and representation. Forcibly stepping into a tradition of painting that has relegated women to the sidelines for centuries, Smith is widely celebrated for her imaginative visual universe, as exquisitely encapsulated in Broom Life, whereby pervasive parameters are dismantled through wit and humour to reveal her subject matter’s deeper ramifications.


    Broom Life


    Broom Life immediately strikes us with its vivid use of colours, rendered in icy blue hues that melt and pool at the bottom of the canvas, under the radiant warmth of the clementine sherbet sunset. At the centre of the composition, an effeminate, anthropomorphic broomstick sits on top of a large block of ice, illustrated in a bleached blonde wig with circular mod girl sunglasses, lush red lips, and lounging with a cocktail drink in hand, evoking the joy and relaxation of a holiday in the sun. 




    Emily Mae Smith, Dust, 2019
    Sold at Phillips in Association with Poly Auction, Hong Kong, on 3 December 2020
    Estimate HK$200,000 – 300,000 / Sold for HK$1,134,000



    The protagonist of the painting draws an instant comparison to the subject of Dust (2019), a canvas created by Smith five years later that sold on 3 December 2020 at Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction, far surpassing its pre-sale estimates. In both works the broomstick subject is depicted seated at the centre of the work, however, in Dust, their figure is cast in a silhouette shadow, turned away from the viewer as if our presence is unknown. Similarly, in Alien Shores (2018), Smith’s current auction record work which Phillips London achieved in 2020, the broom gazes out at a Surrealist sunset with their back also turned. Contrasting both Dust and Alien Shores, in the present painting, the subject exudes confidence and charisma, looking directly at the viewer as she confronts us from behind her white, circular frames, enticing us to join with her drink raised out as if toasting a ‘cheers’. 


    A Contemporary Voice Within the Realms of Traditional Portraiture 

    With Broom Life, Smith follows a long tradition of representing the female nude in the history of art, engaging with the provocative parameters of traditional portraiture in a light-hearted, witty manner, challenging the historical notions of fetishisation and the voyeuristic male gaze. From the early portrayals by the Old Masters, of coy deities who are cloaked in mythology with an impeccable beauty, the representation of the female form has slowly transformed over the centuries as more artists have challenged the expectations of eroticism in association with the nude. Indeed, the image of the passive female sitter has since been interrogated by artists from Manet to contemporary feminist icons including Cindy Sherman and the Guerilla Girls, who critique in their art power constructs, reclaiming sovereignty over the representation of women. 


    Print advertisement created by Fred & Farid for Orangina, France


    Notably, the composition of Broom Life shares distinct similarities to the widely successful, global ad campaign ran by French beverage company Orangina in the mid-2000s, which sparked massive controversy, later to be banned in America. Designed by acclaimed advertising agency Fred & Farid, the TV commercial featured a menagerie of buxom, scantily clad animals and plants, who shimmied, jiggled, and danced together in an animated, forest world. These creatures were then put into the spotlight over a series of printed adverts, with each portraying a different pin-up subject, sat atop a melting block of ice. Bursting from the bottom corner of each advert is an Orangina bottle, spraying the popular orange-flavoured fizzy soda over the figure and into the background where the tagline ‘Naturally Juicy’ is printed – a wordplay that contributes to the overall raunchy allusion whilst also juxtaposing the Orangina animals’ humanised forms. Feeling the adverts did not set a good example to the carbonated beverage’s main consumer base of children, teenagers, and young adults, complaints were made due to the sexualised depictions of the animal and plant xiforms, such as the cactus who, despite appearing without a face or eyes to confront the advert’s audience, is depicted with long legs that are covered in lacy stockings and have been shaved to remove all the plant’s prickly spines.  


    The broomstick in Broom Life is too, sat atop a melting ice cube with a drink in hand, under the rays of the hot sun which shines out from the top corner of the composition. Using the historical format of the nude as a starting point but also humorously nodding to contemporary references, Smith subsequently subverts any sensual expectations by injecting the broomstick character into the scene, replacing the passive female subject with a personal, active voice of the artist. The broomstick motif transforms across Smith's oeuvre, mischievously masquerading in its lexicon of symbolic imagery and detailed scenery. As such, Smith’s painting act as a reflexive response to the social, cultural, and emotional connotations associated with the iconography of both the figurative paintings she refers to, but also the portrayal of women in popular culture today. 



    Detail of the present work


    Moreover, Broom Life is personal to the artist, as whilst the broom motif recalls the form of a paintbrush, it also emulates the voice of a female artist, destabilising historically dominant social narratives of gender roles and notions of power found within art, in Smith’s playful, tongue-in-cheek way. The highly finished quality of this painting and the confidence in its strong, polished appearance further disrupts any expectations of a soft femininity, reinforcing the image of feminine strength and independence that is notably displayed across Smith’s acclaimed oeuvre. 


    Collectors Digest


    Smith’s humorous and thought-provoking body of work continues to attract popular and critical attention around the world. She has been honoured with solo exhibitions at Galerie Perrotin, New York; Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, Belgium; Le Consortium, Dijon; and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Connecticut, and her works are now in the major collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York;  the Blanton Museum of Art, Texas; and Arsenal Contemporary Art, Montreal. Most recently, Smith presented a solo exhibition titled Speculative Objects at Galerie Rodolphe Janssen in Belgium, which ran from 27 February – 30 March 2021. 



    i Emily Mae Smith, quoted in Maurizio Cattelan, ‘Emily Mae Smith’, Purple MAGAZINE, S/S, issue 25, 2016, online 


    • Provenance

      Laurel Gitlen, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2014


Broom Life

signed and dated ‘Emily Mae Smith 2014’ on the overlap
oil on linen
122 x 94 cm. (48 x 37 in.)
Painted in 2014.

Full Cataloguing

HK$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for HK$12,350,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 8 June 2021