Inside The Smile Face Museum

April 24, 2014 | Reed Dunlea

“They make me viscerally happy. I love to look at them. Sometimes they almost make me feel sad because they make me so happy,” says Emily Stebbins, a curator at The Smile Face Museum.

The museum was founded in 1992 by Mark Sachs in his basement in Maryland. This spring, it was opened to the public for the first time in over 20 years, in a new location — a garden apartment in Brooklyn. Operating through this Sunday, it features more than 1000 items relating to the iconic smile face image.

Mark Sachs, Founder of The Smile Face Museum

The display, housed in a low-ceiling basement, is a bizarre meeting of kitsch, commodity, and obsession. The curators are toying with ideas of art and commercialism, with an outsider approach to a mass-produced symbol. Many of the objects on display are mass produced, while there are pieces made on an individual basis as well. The lines are blurred. “My hope is that the Museum will support visionary work of all stripes, and establish a venue for more equity in the art/object worlds and beyond,” says Adrienne Garbini, the museum’s Director of Operations.

According Garbini, “The Smile Face Museum showcases objects with smile faces from around the world produced with a multiplicity of materials by diverse means, organized with a vision for both ubiquity and precision. This unique collection contains artifacts from more than five decades of smile face cultural production, and offers a rare opportunity to experience a concrete accounting of a seemingly infinite presence. Founder Mark Sachs’ curatorial directive for The Museum is that it encompass the sacred to the profane, the commonplace to the bizarre.”

The closing exhibition for The Smile Face Museum will take place this Sunday, April 27 from 12-7pm at 228 ½, an artist-run basement space at 228 ½ Boerum Street in Bushwick. Its collection of more than one thousand smile faces will be on display, in addition to a smile face swap and sale, and a BBQ in their cozy backyard patio. (Title image: Installation of The Communicator, 2014. Courtesy of The Smile Face Museum)