Emily Mae Smith - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Painted in 2015, Emily Mae Smith’s Waiting Room is a hypnotic example of the artist’s sleek and highly imaginative visual language that combines symbolism, surrealism, and pop art. Through this lexicon, Smith addresses themes of scopophilic desire and consumption, tinting the results with a subtle feminist agenda. Merging two of the artist’s signature themes of the figure of the broom and round eyeglasses, the present work portrays an anthropomorphized broom, whose bristles have transformed into shimmering, glamorous hair, wearing sunglasses reflecting numberless clockfaces. Included in the monographic exhibition Medusa at Laurel Gitlen, New York, in 2015, the work subsequently featured in the groundbreaking show Unrealism curated by Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian for Art Basel Miami in the historic Moore Building. 


    Emily Mae Smith, Brooms with a View, 2019. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Image: © Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Emily Mae Smith

    "A broom is a tool, but it’s also this visual tool that communicates stories and ideas in my paintings. This agent, like some kind of secret agent, going through the history of art, disturbing constructs, making some trouble, or behaving badly, but is never doing the work of the broom. The broom is never sweeping!"
    —Emily Mae Smith

    Smith’s broom-like figure, a recurring avatar in her oeuvre, exists within a polyvalent painterly realm evocative of the work of René Magritte. The artist explained on the origin of her character, “It initially came while I was re-watching Disney’s Fantasia, specifically that sequence when the broom is bewitched by the sorcerer's apprentice. It was just performing the labor, completely unappreciated for doing all the hard work in making the sorcerer’s castle function. I so deeply identified, not only as a female but just as a working class person....When the broom got free, it started to do interesting things. Sometimes it looks more like a mop, sometimes it looks more like a paintbrush; and attributes of the broom become visible in other objects.”i By personifying a domestic object, Smith tackles the issues of female objectification and sexuality in a literal sense, while theoretically conveying the complexities of gendered social norms. She further elucidated, “It was a way for me to paint an object, figure, female and phallus at the same time. I thought it was funny and an ideal vehicle.”ii


    [left] René Magritte, The False Mirror, 1929. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Giorgio de Chirico, Premonitory portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire, 1914. Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Image: © CNAC/MNAM, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

    “Context is like a frame, and I want to render frames visible, acknowledging limitations, point of view, and correcting the assumed frames of the past.”
    – Emily Mae Smith

    Another critical motif for Smith, the glasses “serve as reflective lenses into [her] paintings, suggesting both the insatiable desire to look and the horror of looking.”iii From glasses to curtains, the artist frequently utilizes framing devices in her work to address human subjectivity and the important role of context—specifically, time. The present work directly addresses this notion while demonstrating Smith’s propensity to insert visual puns within her compositions by dually depicting the glasses as timeless clocks.


    Richard Prince, Untitled (Fashion), 1982-1984. Image: Courtesy of Richard Prince Studio, Rensselaerville, New York

    Astutely materializing the present work’s titular allusion to the idea of waiting, the visual quip of the clock-face eyewear is, as Barry Schwabsky claims, “Smith’s brilliantly disquieting invention for Waiting Room.”iv The reference to time goes beyond gender commentary, encompassing broader notions related to the human condition and mortality, a subject the artist has explored in her series entitled The Studio. The present work’s setting of a waiting room—suggested by the gradating yellow-to-purple background that resembles closed Venetian blinds—showcases Smith’s presentation of the concept of waiting in a layered manner, melding the mundane with the existential.


    In the Artist’s Words


    On the occasion of her 2018-2019 solo exhibition at Le Consortium Museum in Dijon, Emily Mae Smith discussed the themes that dominate her painterly practice.


    Collector’s Digest


    • Currently the subject of significant commercial and institutional attention, Smith has received important solo exhibitions around the globe, including at the Le Consortium, Dijon in 2018, Perrotin Gallery, Tokyo in 2019, the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah in 2020, and Rodolphe Janssen Gallery, Brussels, in 2021.


    • Just this month in Hong Kong, Phillips set the artist’s world record with Broom Life, which achieved $1,591,515 (HK$12,350,000), soaring over 20 times the work’s high estimate.


    Alien Shores, 2018  Achieved $358,974 in 2020.
    Broom Life, 2014
    Achieved $1,591,515 in 2021.

    i Emily Mae Smith, quoted in ‘Emily Mae Smith: A Clean Sweep’, JUXTAPOZ Magazine, May 6, 2019, online.
    ii Emily Mae Smith, quoted in Charlotte Jansen, “Emily Mae Smith,” Elephant Magazine, issue no. 26, Spring 2016, p. 66.
    iii Medusa, Laurel Gitlen, New York, press release, September 2015.
    iv Barry Schwabsky, “Emily Mae Smith: Laurel Gitlen,” Artforum, December 2015, online.

    • Provenance

      Laurel Gitlen, New York
      Jeffrey Deitch / Gagosian Gallery, Miami
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015

    • Exhibited

      New York, Laurel Gitlen, Emily Mae Smith: Medusa, September 9 - October 25, 2015
      Miami, Moore Building, Unrealism: Curated by Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian, December 1 - 6, 2015

    • Literature

      Nora Griffin, "Emily Mae Smith," Art In America, October 30, 2015, online

Property from an Important American Collection


Waiting Room

signed and dated "Emily Mae Smith 2015" on the reverse
oil on linen
48 x 37 in. (121.9 x 94 cm)
Painted in 2015.

Full Cataloguing

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $756,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021