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Three places: Pacific Standard Time artist Barbara T. Smith

by Kevin Ferguson | Off-Ramp®

Barbara T. Smith in the Pacific Asia Museum's courtyard, where the Pasadena Museum of Art once stood. Kevin Ferguson/ KPCC

Since Pacific Standard Time is all about L.A., we’ve asked some of the artists who were making art in the city from 1945 to 1980 to take us to three places here that are important to them. Anywhere. We’re starting this week with performance artist Barbara T Smith.

The first place we went was an quiet industrial park in Santa Ana where—among other things, Smith's colleague Chris Burden took a bullet to his arm in 1974 and called the piece "Shoot". Back then it was called F Space and it was started up by several UCI Graduate art students who wanted to show work they couldn't in at the University gallery.

"It didn't matter if we got noticed," said Smith. "We were there to actually realize work that we otherwise couldn't realize."

For Smith, that was work like Nude Frieze, where she suspended several people on a wall – totally naked –and outlined their bodies before taking them down. She was inspired by traditional friezes seen in old, Byzantine churches.

"They would have images of saints, and say the queen," she said. "You could tell not by their faces who the person actually was. You could tell by the symbols they carried. I felt then that the artist would be anonymous in our time, especially performance artists. Because we were doing things that would happen only once, and it would be over and you'd never see it again."

The 80-year-old performance artist also brought Off-Ramp to Pasadena's Pacific Asia Museum, formerly known as the Pasadena Art Museum. As a child, Smith took her first art lessons there.

"The teacher was this big German woman, and she had terrible body odor. That's the one thing I remember!"

Later on in her life, Smith had married and moved to Arcadia. She became a volunteer at the museum. Her time there inspired her to go back to school and make artwork her full time career.

Smith's final destination was her home in Venice - the first home she had ever owned herself.

"I got it after I had moved from many, many studios, after I got divorced. I went from industrial and downtrodden parts of cities."

Smith rents rooms out to help pay the mortgage - which gives the house a sense of community she says she appreciates today more than ever.

"They've mostly been young people, younger than me, anyway," she said. "Many marriages have come through here. It's really been quite wonderful."

For Pacific Standard Time, Barbara has a solo exhibit at UC Irvine's University Art Gallery, and is featured in exhibitions at the Laguna Art Museum, Santa Monica's 18th Street Arts Center and more.

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