Stars and Symbols: Ming Smith At Nicola Vassell Gallery

Alexander R. Bigman, Art in America, June 23, 2021

Human figures appear throughout Ming Smith's photographs on view at Nicola Vassell Gallery, but rarely do they meet our gaze. Subjects more often turn away from the camera, remain engulfed by shadows, or take the form of silhouettes. Black cultural luminaries such as Grace Jones and Sun Ra, pictured at the height of their powers in the 1970s, wear tinted or reflective glasses as part of their regalia. So does the impassive man who stands with his back to a window display festooned with hanging flags in America Seen Through Stars and Stripes (New York), a spatially complex and symbolically loaded picture from the bicentennial year of 1976. His mirror-coated lenses, two bright circles hovering above an arrangement of intersecting black and white bars formed by the flags and a set of horizontal window markings, are the focal point of Smith’s dramatically high-contrast composition.