Curtis Kulig

All Smiles

Kantor Gallery is pleased to present “All Smiles”, a new solo exhibition by New York based artist Curtis Kulig starting May 27, 2021. The exhibition consists of new paintings in his on-going “Love Me” series. 

The phrase “Love Me” has been a pillar of Curtis Kulig’s practice. Confronting the most intimate request through the most public of platforms, Kulig’s manifesto-like campaign has leaped from iconic billboards and street corners into the collective unconscious since 2005. In parallel, he has consistently expanded his language with the formal strategies and tropes of contemporary art, offering the audience his open-ended proclamation in the forms of neon works, bronze sculptures, and oil paintings.


Presented at Kantor Gallery, “All Smiles” is a series of paintings that combine this narrative with a smiley face, the most iconic of icons. Had these works been presented pre-pandemic, the outsized smiley canvas would have conjured a bright mask of irony that symbolized the inundation of emojis and the avalanche of self-help books and podcasts.

Today, as our cities emerge from the lockdown and a population seeks vaccination, “All Smiles” conjures something entirely different. Isolation and companionship have been re-evaluated. Marriage proposals have spiked, as evidenced in the New York Times wedding section. The pledge of “in sickness and in health” carries a different weight. “Love Me” in a smile conveys a leap of faith. I love you; you love me.

The yellow smiley graphic was born in 1963 when State Mutual Life Assurance Company hired graphic designer Harvey Ball to create an image to boost the morale of employees. The symbol has endured for decades, swinging from counterculture (80’s raves) to rampant consumerism (bodega plastic bags) and back to counterculture (MDMA). Kulig’s appropriation of the smiley face is characterized by his ability to manipulate pre-existing forms to construct alternative scenarios to contrast with those that already prevails. He is part of a cohort of artists of his generation, such as Nate Lowman, Rob Pruitt and Takashi Murakami, who subvert the happy face as a surface that can easily be ruptured.

Kulig’s work permeates our collective imagination on various levels and its meaning can change over time. The “All Smiles” series demonstrate a visual performance of confronting the contemporary anxiety of a generation trapped in the immediate feedback loop of social media, with a selfie and a knowing wink.

A decade ago, his personal plea ‘Love Me’ became part of the urban fabric of the city. A loyal audience ensued embracing the declaration with hope and optimism. His multidiscplinary studio practice consists primarily of paintings and drawings, often done in series that explore emotional landscapes and vulnerabilities.

Curtis Kulig lives and works in New York City.


All Smiles is on view by appointment only starting May 27, 2021. To book an appointment to view the exhibition please email [email protected].