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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith

Oct 4, 2023–Jan 28, 2024

On view
Floor 5

Harry Smith (1923–1991) was a painter, filmmaker, folklorist, musicologist, and collector as well as a radical nonconformist whose work defies categorization. Although his creative output includes paintings, films, poetry, music, and sound recordings, it also consists of extensive collections of overlooked yet revealing objects, such as string figures and found paper airplanes. His best-known work, a compilation of recordings from the 1920s and 1930s titled the Anthology of American Folk Music, achieved cultlike status among many musicians and listeners since it was first published in 1952.

Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith puts the artist's life on display alongside his art and collections. It follows him from an isolated Depression-era childhood in the Pacific Northwest—a time when he was immersed in ecstatic religious philosophies and Native American ceremony—to his bohemian youth of marijuana, peyote, and intellectualism in postwar Berkeley, California. The exhibition also traces his path through the milieus of bebop and experimental cinema in San Francisco to his decades in New York, where he was an essential part of the city's avant-garde fringe.

Keenly attuned to changing technology, Smith embraced innovation and used whatever was new and of the moment. At the same time, his lifelong interest in abstract art, ancient traditions, metaphysics, spiritualism, folk art, and world music came to the fore even as he devised ingenious ways of collecting sounds and creating films. These concerns make Smith's work feel increasingly prescient as collecting and sharing come into view as creative acts that are necessary for drawing meaning from the glut of images and juxtaposition of cultures we encounter every day.

This exhibition is co-organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University, where a version of the project will open in November 2024. The exhibition is curated by artist Carol Bove; Dan Byers, the John R. and Barbara Robinson Director of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts; Rani Singh, Director of the Harry Smith Archives; Elisabeth Sussman, Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art; with Kelly Long, Senior Curatorial Assistant, and McClain Groff, Curatorial Project Assistant, at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Please read about the exhibition’s accessibility information before visiting Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith.

Generous support for Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

In New York, generous support is provided by Judy Hart Angelo, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, and the Whitney’s National Committee.

Significant support is provided by The June Leaf and Robert Frank Foundation.

Additional support is provided by Michèle Gerber Klein, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and the Yurman Family Foundation.

View the Harry Smith Archives for additional reading and resources.

Harry Smith Archives


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Audio guides

Hear directly from artists and curators on selected works from the exhibition.

View guide

Related Events

In conjunction with this exhibition, there are many events celebrating Smith’s centenary and the wide range of his interests, from music and art to spiritualism and metaphysics. We've gathered a list of Harry Smith–related happenings in and around New York City in addition to the Whitney’s programs and events.

Events in and around New York City

As we approach the holiday season, please know we are expecting to be busier than usual with the potential for long entry lines. Please arrive up to 15 minutes before your ticketed time to allow sufficient time for entry, including bag checks and other security measures. We kindly ask at this time that if it is possible to leave strollers and large bags at home please do so. We look forward to welcoming you for your visit.