Emily Mae Smith - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | Phillips

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    "Her body is a feast, we consume it, we use it for everything, and her body is a famine because it contains no markers of its own self-defined meaning." 
    —Emily Mae Smith


    Salvador Dalí, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Awakening, 1944. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Image: Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza / Scala / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Presenting two majestic cheetahs guarding a surreal desert landscape of nude female bodies, Emily Mae Smith’s singular Feast and Famine has become an iconic image within the artist’s acclaimed oeuvre since its creation. Here, the mirrored words “FEAST” and “FAMINE” dominate the upper half of the composition, showcasing Smith’s usage of textual quips as a compositional device that are at once terse and loaded with meaning. Testifying to its formidable stature, Feast and Famine featured in the artist’s major solo exhibition at Le Consortium Museum in Dijon from 2018 to 2019, and was positioned as the centerpiece of her titular show at the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah from 2020 to 2021.


    "The image of the desert and the image of the body is perfect because the image of the reclining nude female body is so present everywhere in art. So there’s the feast, right? But the famine is that is has nothing to do with that woman herself. She’s just a kind of literal landscape on which the society or the culture is ascribing values." 
    —Emily Mae Smith


    [left] Edgar Degas, Steep Coast, circa 1892. Private Collection [right] René Magritte, La Magie Noir (Black Magic), 1945. Musee d'Art Moderne, Brussels, Image: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Drawing inspiration from Ingres to Magritte, Art Nouveau to Pop Art, Smith’s works excavate the deeply rooted patriarchal iconographies of the Western canon, transforming them into ingenious metaphors that comment on the history of gender and sexuality in visual culture. The artist explained of the present work, “I liked the idea of these sort of lush erotic figures representing a desert because I thought there was a very strange twist there, and thinking about the kind of history of feminine agency in art and painting and in representation. Women’s bodies are consistently used as vehicles for the meaning of others but never for their own meanings or own subjectivities. So that to me is a kind of literal desert, an empty place or a place that’s sort of waiting for a fertile event or maybe once was fertile and has been depleted or overmined. So, this dichotomy between this feminine figure and the desert is then linguistically encapsulated by the phrase ‘Feast and Famine.’”i


    "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


    The cheetahs in Feast and Famine present an extraordinary example of the artist’s signature framing motif—a visual and conceptual device inspired by Art Nouveau commonly seen in her oeuvre in the form of glasses, curtains, or gaping mouths. “I’m fascinated by the way artists and designers of that time use the concept of a frame or drawn some sort of framing device to contextualize what’s inside the painting or the image,” she elucidated. “I got the idea for these cat-like creatures from an Art Nouveau design that incorporated some feline figures. I like how they were sort of sphinx-like in some way, like these guardians but also sort of terrifying and mysterious.”ii  Flanking the composition in the foreground, these figures safeguard the gateway to the landscape of the female body, subverting the unimpeded male gaze upon the female nude as seen throughout art history.



    Fernand Khnopff, Caress of the Sphinx, 1896. Musée d’art Moderne, Brussels,
    Image: © Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium/HIP/Art Resource, NY


    In contrast to the realistic rendering of the supple female bodies, Smith’s overtly stylized depiction of the feline creatures makes them appear almost human, their elongated whiskers evoking a male mustache. Displayed alongside the artist’s “mustache paintings” in her show at Le Consortium (see below), the present work embodies the humorous element with which she imbues her work. At the same time, it degenderizes the trope of the sphinx—a favorite metaphor for Art Nouveau and Symbolist artists to personify the femme fatale—recalling the androgyny of Smith’s well-known broom characters. Revealing a strikingly original vision of the artist’s practice, Feast and Famine is a fresh manifestation of Smith’s words on her recurring motifs: “These are all things with slippery signification. They mean things like labor, gender, power, control, mortality, transcendence, etc. They are forms doing the pictorial work of the intellect.”iii



    In the Artist’s Words




    i Emily Mae Smith, quoted in “‘Feast and Famine’ with Emily Mae Smith and SCAD MOA’s Ben Tollefson,” SCAD Museum of Art, December 16, 2020, IGTV.
    ii Ibid.
    iii Emily Mae Smith, quoted in Layla Leiman, “Slippery Signification: In Conversation with Emily Mae Smith,” ArtMaze Magazine, October 11, 2019.

    • Provenance

      Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018

    • Exhibited

      Berlin, Contemporary Fine Arts, Emily Mae Smith: Feast of Totems, June 9 – July 14, 2018
      Dijon, Le Consortium Museum, Emily Mae Smith, November 24, 2018 – April 14, 2019
      Savannah, SCAD Museum of Art, Emily Mae Smith: Feast and Famine, August 20, 2020 – January 1, 2021

    • Literature

      Sasha Bogojev, “Looking Back on Emily Mae Smith's "Feast and Famine" @ SCAD Museum of Art,” Juxtapoz, January 6, 2021, online (illustrated)


Feast and Famine

signed and dated "Emily Mae Smith 2018" on the reverse
oil on linen
54 x 46 in. (137.2 x 116.8 cm)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $1,361,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021