By Jennifer Smart
Being the daughter of a faculty member, Olivia Smith always figured she would end up at SMU.
“I grew up going to concerts in Caruth Auditorium; it was always part of the plan,” she says. Smith, who graduated from Meadows in 2011 with a B.F.A. in studio art and minors in art history and English, is the daughter of Professor Carol Leone, chair of piano studies in the Meadows Division of Music. Although Smith trained for much of her early life as a dancer, an injury prevented her from studying dance at the university level. Instead she turned her creative energies toward the visual arts and poetry, often combining them in the same work.
This interdisciplinary tendency led to art pieces that often consisted of collaboration with students from across Meadows on performances, installations and exhibitions. When Smith wasn’t installing art or developing her poetry with Jack Myers, the late director of creative writing in SMU’s Dedman College, she was volunteering with Big Thought and the Dallas Independent School District teaching art to students in need, serving as a docent for the art collection at the Rachofsky House, and studying abroad in Taos, Bali and France.
After graduation she honed her ability to speak about art by leading tours at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, an experience that confirmed her interest in nonprofit or education work related to contemporary art. She landed coveted internships with Artists Space and Creative Time after moving to New York in 2012 while continuing to make her own work and engage with other artists.
“As an artist I had always been more interested in collaborating with other people,” she says. “I launched a lecture series my senior year in which I invited faculty and students to give presentations about their work. After moving to New York, I started to realize I was more interested in the positioning of other artists’ work through curating than spending isolated hours in my own studio.”
After several years directing Exhibition A, an online platform for art prints and editions, Smith was invited to curate her first gallery show in New York.
The invitation quickly led to another, and at the end of 2015 she was approached by Chris Dorland and David Deutsch, two New York City-based artists who were interested in working with Smith to open a contemporary art gallery. “None of us really knew what that would fully encompass,” she says with a laugh. “We believed that because we were artists we could bring something unique to the commercial art landscape.”
The three opened their new space, Magenta Plains, in New York’s Lower East Side in 2016 and staged solo exhibitions of historical works by William Wegman, conceptual German artist Georg Herold, and computer art pioneer Lillian Schwartz—the first-ever New York gallery show for the 89-year-old legend. “Our program at the gallery reflects our commitment to offering support to established, under-recognized, and emerging artists, fostering an intergenerational context,” says Smith, who serves as Magenta Plains’ director.
Since then, Magenta Plains has released an impressive artist roster, received critical attention for dozens of solo and group exhibitions, and travelled to art fairs throughout the country as well as in Dallas. This year the Dallas Museum of Art acquired a painting for its permanent collection by Don Dudley, an 89-year-old minimalist painter Smith represents. “It was an exciting, full-circle moment,” she says. “The DMA is where I first experienced contemporary art.” Magenta Plains and Don Dudley have donated a painting to TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art, an annual contemporary art auction on October 26th benefiting the Dallas Museum of Art and amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research.
Smith also curated Elizabeth Moran: Against the Best Possible Sources, an exhibition about the history of fact-checking, for the Hawn Gallery in the Hamon Arts Library, on view through December 20, 2019.