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Wednesday night in New York’s Chelsea, the Robert Miller Gallery was a milliner’s dream: a sea of black, Charlie Chaplin-style bowlers; fedoras, and enough grungy knit caps to keep all of the Lower East Side and Williamsburg warm. The occasion was not a chapeau convention, however, but the opening of “Objects of Life,” a multimedia exhibition and collaboration between Patti Smith and Steven Sebring. And as any Smith fan knows, where she goes, an eclectic and highly aesthetically attuned crowd follows.
The show — a mix of Smith’s paintings, including her largest ever, “Strange Messenger”; Sebring’s photographs, and even a slew of Smith’s most prized objects, among them a tambourine made for her by Robert Mapplethorpe and a childhood dress — draws from Sebring’s 2008 documentary of the artist, “Patti Smith: Dream of Life,” which was broadcast on PBS on Dec. 30, her 63rd birthday.
“I never was out to make a movie. I was just a guy who met her on a Spin magazine photo shoot [in 1995]. We immediately had incredible trust. I didn’t take a picture till the end of the day. She actually had to remind me to take a picture,” recalled Sebring, a fashion photographer who spent 11 years making the film. “And then over the years I would just show up with a camera and it got to the point where we had so much footage and there was such huge interest.”
Smith has also just finished a slew of performances at the Bowery Ballroom, is set to undertake more in Detroit and London this year and, on Jan. 19, will publish her book, “Just Kids,” a narrative of her longtime relationship with Mapplethorpe. To say that she is busy is an understatement.
As Jessica Lange, Zac Posen, Michael Stipe and Calvin Klein wound their way through the gallery, Smith, who spent much of the night arm and arm with Sam Shepard (who makes jams with her in the documentary), offered her succinct take on the oeuvre surrounding her.
WWD: You work in so many different mediums and they’re all displayed here. Is there one in which you feel the most comfortable?
Patti Smith: Writing.
WWD: Why so?
P.S.: I guess because I’ve been writing since I was a kid. It’s the longest-running thing I’ve been doing.
WWD: Are you enjoying the performing now that you’re back in the thick of it?
P.S.: Well, if I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t do it. When I don’t enjoy it anymore you won’t see me.
WWD: And what did you think of watching yourself in the film?
P.S.: I thought I was funny.