Whitney Museum Presents a Three-Day Festival Celebrating Artist Harry Smith, December 8-10




Photographer unknown, Harry Smith at Naropa Institute, Boulder, CO, 1990. Gelatin silver print, 10 × 8 in. (25.4 × 20.3 cm). Harry Smith Papers, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; gift of the Harry Smith Archives. Image courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art.

The Whitney Museum of American Art invites visitors of all ages to discover and celebrate artist Harry Smith’s eclectic life and creative pursuits in a three-day festival on Friday, December 8, through Sunday, December 10. My Harry features talks, screenings, artmaking workshops, performances, and listening sessions that explore Smith’s interests in the spiritual and occult, eccentric collections, folk music, and more.

Hosted in conjunction with Smith’s first solo museum exhibition, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith, My Harry is a three-day convening of devoted friends, artists, musicians, and writers who have championed Smith since his death in 1991. A crucial countercultural figure in twentieth-century America, Smith was an unclassifiable artist, filmmaker, musicologist, mystic, and collector. His peculiar legacy has long been obscured by the vastness of his endeavors, the scarcity of his surviving work, and his own purposefully laid misdirections.

My Harry delves into Smith’s encyclopedic interests, including the occult, paper airplanes, string figures, animation, field recordings, and so much more. The festivities include contributions from Carol Bove, Ali Dineen, Bradley Eros, Raymond Foye, Andrew Lampert, April and Lance Ledbetter, James Inoli Murphy, Rani Singh, Peter Stampfel, Charles Stein, Anne Waldman, and others.

Harry Smith, still from Film No. 12: Heaven and Earth Magic Feature, c. 1957–62. 16mm film transferred to digital video, black and white, sound; 1 hr. 6 min. Courtesy of Anthology Film Archives, New York. Image courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art.

The program is organized by Andrew Lampert, independent curator and co-author of Paper Airplanes: The Collections of Harry Smith Catalogue Raisonné, Volume I and String Figures: The Collections of Harry Smith Catalogue Raisonné, Volume II.

Program Listings:

My Harry: Magick and Mysticism
Friday, December 8, 5:30–9 pm

Magick and Mysticism kicks off the three-day gathering. This evening is devoted to talks and conversations about Smith’s interest in and explorations of spiritual and occult practices alongside listening sessions and screenings.

Location: Floor 3, Hess Family Theater
Tickets: Tickets are required ($10 adults; $8 seniors, students, and visitors with disabilities).
Event Link: whitney.org/events/magick-and-mysticism

  • 5:30 pm: Listening Session: Harry Smith’s Field Recordings
  • 6:30 pm: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: A Presentation by Carol Bove, followed by a conversation with Andrew Lampert. Carol Bove is an American artist based in Brooklyn, New York, and co-curator and designer of Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith.
  • 7:30 pm: Screening of Harry Smith’s Film No. 14: Late Superimpositions
  • 8 pm: Harry Smith and the Future of Magick: A Presentation by Charles Stein, followed by a conversation between Stein and Raymond Foye. Stein is an artist, translator, and poet whose work comprises a complexly integrated field of poems, philosophy, art theory, mathematics, translations from ancient Greek, drawings, photographs, lectures, conversations, and music performances.
Harry Smith, Abstract film studies (two slides projected alternately), 1951. Film stills (lightbox), 21 7/8 × 33 1/2 (55.6 × 85.1 cm). Estate of Jordan Belson. Image courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art.

My Harry: Stories, Songs, and Strings
Saturday, December 9, 11 am–6 pm

Museum visitors of all ages are invited to a day of musical performances, games, interactive workshops, and storytelling. Events on Saturday include activities for families with kids.

Location: Floor 3, Education Center and Hess Family Theater
Tickets: Free with Museum admission. Seating available on a first come, first served basis.
Event Link: whitney.org/events/stories-songs-strings

  • 11 am–3 pm: Stop Motion Animation Studio and Paper Airplane Workshop. Get inspired by Harry Smith’s innovative films and turn your own collage into a stop motion animation! Design and make your own paper airplane, one of the art forms that Harry Smith loved to collect, in a workshop hosted by artist Bradley Eros.
  • 11 am: Singing Circle with Ali Dineen. Join folk singer and educator Ali Dineen for an intergenerational singing circle. Raise your voice in song as Dineen leads us through pieces from the Anthology of American Folk Music as well as familiar tunes by songwriters influenced by Smith’s collection.
  • 12 pm: Peter Stampfel and The Atomic Meta-Pagan Posse. Listen to fiddles, mandolins, and stories from folk music legend and Harry Smith friend Peter Stampfel who appears with his band The Atomic Meta-Pagan Posse, featuring Eli Smith, Zoe Stampfel, Eli Hetko, Steve Espinola, Paul Nowinski, Sam Werbalowsky, Heather Wagner, and Dok Gregory.
  • 2 pm: Paper Airplane Contest with Bradley Eros. Come one, come all and enter the first ever Whitney Museum Paper Airplane contest! Artist and paper airplane aficionado Bradley Eros awards prizes in a variety of innovative categories including biggest plane, smallest plane, longest flight, strangest design, and more.
  • 12 pm: String Figure Workshop with James Inoli Murphy. Harry Smith was fascinated by string figures from cultures around the world, collecting and studying them throughout his life. String figures are made by weaving a loop of string into geometric shapes and patterns with hands and fingers. In this workshop, James Inoli Murphy, who knew Smith, demonstrates the art of string figures and teaches participants how to start learning with string.
  • 5 pm: On Mahagonny: A Presentation by Rani Singh. Rani Singh, Director of the Harry Smith Archives and co-curator of Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith, shares the story of how Smith’s epic film Mahagonny was made and then restored after his death.

My Harry: Affinities
Sunday, December 10, 11 am–5 pm

Affinities concludes My Harry with a series of talks, conversations, listening sessions, and screenings.

Location: Floor 3, Hess Family Theater
Tickets: Free with Museum admission. Seating available on a first come, first served basis.
Event Link: whitney.org/events/affinities

  • 11 am: Listening Session: Harry Smith’s Field Recordings
  • 12 pm: On Harry’s Trail: A Presentation by Dust-to-Digital. Lance and April Ledbetter of Dust-to-Digital describe their journey to archives and studios in an attempt to piece together the life of Harry Smith.
  • 1 pm: Screening: A selection of films and videos featuring Harry Smith by a variety of the artist’s friends and associates
  • 3 pm: Friendly Rivals: The Art of Jordan Belson, A Presentation by Raymond Foye. From 1948–1951 Harry Smith and Jordan Belson were close friends and artistic cohorts, first in Berkeley and later in San Francisco. They developed many of their ideas together and at the same time, in film and visual art. Writer, curator, editor, and publisher Raymond Foye, who knew and worked with both artists, presents a program of some of Belson’s lesser-known films.
  • 4 pm: Anne Waldman. Poet Anne Waldman was a friend and colleague of Harry Smith at Naropa University. To conclude My Harry,Waldman pays tribute to Smith’s unique cultural legacy.

About the artist – Harry Smith (b. 1923, Portland, Oregon; d. 1991, New York, New York) was an artist who delved into multiple disciplines in a quest to understand the structure and essence of what he considered universal patterns, and whose activities and interests put him at the center of the mid-twentieth-century American avant-garde. Although best known as a filmmaker and musicologist, he frequently described himself as a painter. Smith had a lifelong interest in the occult and esoteric fields of knowledge, leading him to speak of his art in alchemical and cosmological terms. His broad spectrum of interests and voracious appetite for information resulted in a number of remarkable collections of objects, ranging from records and Seminole textiles to string figures and Ukrainian Easter eggs, as well as the largest known paper airplane collection in the world.

Whitney Museum Three-Day Festival Celebrating Artist Harry Smith will take place from December 8-10, 2023 at The Whitney Museum of American Art.