Matt Smith: Who Owns History?

27 October 2022 By
Wunderkammer 19 (2018)
Wunderkammer II 1 (2017)
Conehead man (Small) (2018)

Brighton & Hove Museums are currently showing an exhibition entitled Matt Smith: Who Owns History? which features several works acquired through CAS as part of the Rapid Response Fund, 2020.  


Matt Smith is a ceramicist and textile artist whose work explores the representation of queer and marginalised histories. His clay figures and tapestries describe the ways in which institutions function and reproduce fixed narratives. To critique and reveal these power structures his practice employs artist interventions and recycled materials. As Matt Smith has said, ‘What museums collect, and what this tells us about what society deems important, is an ongoing fascination to me. Recent events have shown how important objects, and particularly sculpture, are in the national debate about who we are and how we got here.’  


The body of work acquired contains a plethora of Smith’s practice including a number of works from the series ‘Wunderkammer’. Wunderkammer or ‘cabinets of curiosities’ were popular in the Victorian era. Specialists and amateurs tried to find objects to represent and categorise the world and vied to find unusual specimens for their personal collection. This led to ‘faked’ objects appearing, including mermaids and unicorn horns. Smith combines these contrasting elements to make new fantastic relics, displaying the opulence of Victorian Britain whilst simultaneously inserting an element of unease and difference. 


Brighton & Hove Museums have established a relationship with the artist over the last decade. This acquisition complements the existing works in the collection and enables the museum to display how Smith’s work has evolved over time, since the museum already owns an earlier work by the artist. Additionally it allows the museum to continue to develop its craft audience, building on the success of its recent Cultural Icons exhibition of contemporary ceramicists.  


You can see this exhibition from the 14th October 2022 until the 20th February 2023.  


Efea Rutlin
Curatorial Trainee 


Matt Smith (b.1971, Cambridgeshire, UK) lives and works in Kilkenny, Ireland. Recent solo exhibitions include Brighton & Hove Museums (2022); Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (2020/21); London Art Fair, Edit (with Cynthia Corbett Gallery), London (2021); and Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (2018). Recent group exhibitions include Cynthia Corbett Gallery, UK (2021); The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stokeon-Trent; and Gustavsberg Konsthall, Sweden (both 2019). Smith holds many awards such as Brookfield Properties / Crafts Council Award 2020 (inaugural), the Young Masters Maylis Grand Ceramics Prize (2014) and was Artist in Residency at the V&A, London in 2015.