The daughter of sculptor Tony Smith, Kiki Smith is known for her clinical depictions of anatomy, specifically organs that secrete fluids and expose the inner parts of the body.
Kiki Smith was born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1954 and lives and works in New York City. Her works have been exhibited in many galleries and museums worldwide, and may be found in major public collections as well. A monograph was published on the artist in 1998.
Smith is a feminist*, politically oriented, conceptual* artist deeply involved with intellectual activities combined with sentimental and theoretical formulations of human and natural life. Because of her obsession with the human body for itself and as a metaphor for political and life systems, Smith has been termed a shamanist, rationalist, psychologist, biologist, anatomist, humanist, activist, critic, and connoisseur. It is unknown what extent the death of her sister, Bebe, has had as an effect on her concern for the body.
Smith commented on her use of the relative fragility of paper (though it is archival) as a material in the construction of her earlier human bodies in the 1980s and early 1990s. "In making work that's about the body, playing with the indestructibility of life, where life is this ferocious force that keeps propelling us; at the same time, it's also about how you can just pierce it and it dies. I'm always playing between these two extremes about life."
An example of her work is Moon
, a large moon with dark, brush-drawn craters seen through a grid of thin wood strips and white painted lines. Created in 1997, it is 16 feet by 13 feet by 3 1/2 feet, and is made of lead paint on 83 Opal Remi glass panes. An accompanying piece, Thirteen Moons
, is composed of glass, dirt and plants, and displays small glass spheres spread on the floor in an irregular cluster, with what looks like a dark vase at the center, a terrarium, perhaps serving as a metaphor for life on earth, or, in a broader sense, simply "life".
, also from 1997, features a nude, wax female figure, hands crossed over her pubic area, sitting on a plexi-glass cube in front of three rows of square colored pencil drawings, 7 squares wide. The colors of the figure, cast from life, and the drawings are all in harmonious tans.
"There's something Aquinas said about form being separated from matter, which is an underlying concern in my art. A lot of my work is about separating form from matter and kind of seeing what you've got."
Smith had made sculptures of internal organs of the body before sculpting an entire human figure. "I'd never made the outside and I guess I was pretty frightened of the outside because I don't like personality. I just want to talk about the generic experience of the body without it becoming specific to specific people. With skin you get into all those things, like individual features, or race, whereas livers are more anonymous."
"I have probably very specific personal reasons for doing things that sometimes I know about and sometimes I don't, but I don't necessarily find it all that interesting to tell people why."
Smith's figurative8 work investigates her feelings about, or psychological relationship with, the body in relation to her perceptions of society. She states, "Another part of it is phenomenologically saying, 'Look at it, look at the skin surface, or the endocrine system, or how much blood there is in the body, and try to see how these things relate in the social or the political, now that all these different factions in society are trying to vie for control of the body, or the ideologies and philosophies of the body.' It tries to make people look at and examine those philosophies and ideologies that own you in every aspect of your lifebe it religion, government, health, gender definition, or whatever."
In her reaction to the pressures of life and beliefs imposed on human beings, Smith seeks to free herself from them, whether they are consciously or unconsciously held. "I know, in my life, I feel oppressed a great deal by all these ideologies that I've either internalized in my own psyche or am politically and socially confronted with every day. Your body is like Everyman, where all these things are played out and you're like a hemophiliac just trying to keep your blood in while all these external forces, these vampires, are trying to get at it."
Smith believes that feminism has elevated consciousness in relation to the body in terms of freeing it from all forms of "institutionalized repression," whether patriarchal, medical or religious. She believes the body and physical labor, which are closer to the earth, are looked down upon by Christianity and capitalism. Smith is also troubled by the impact of technology on human life and its perception and conception of itself.
"We now have transplants, artificial organs, and skin being grown from the
circumcised foreskins of penises, and all the new ideas of reproduction it has created, including surrogate mothers, artificial inseminations, test-tube babies, hysterectomies, and abortions, that have enormous ramifications in the way people view their lives. It's very different now, and it's a lot for people to change their sense of boundaries, or their definitions of who and what they are. I guess, in my work I'm just trying to set myself straight on these things."
"My work kind of meanders around different areas depending upon what I'm struck by. Sometimes I like thinking about what all this new technology means, and at other times I'm investigating more spiritual terms or dealing with gender and sexuality. Besides it being about these horrible things like oppression or death, our experience of the body is also what brings us some of the greatest pleasure in our lives. That's something that I probably haven't dealt with as much and would like to try to think about more. Right now I've begun making these bosoms with milk coming out of them because I feel that the body is this nurturing abundance."
Some exhibitions by Kiki Smith, include:
2002 Biennial Exhibition
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
NOT@The Armory Show 2002,
World House Gallery, New York City
New Prints 2001 -summer
International Print Center, New York City
Nohra Haime Gallery, New York City
The End: An Independent Vision of Contemporary Culture 1982 - 2000
Exit Art / The First World, New York City
The American Century: Art & Culture 1900-2000
Part II, 1950-2000.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
Beyond Measure: Science in Art
Works on paper.
CRG Gallery, New York City
Kiki Smith A Project
PaceWildensteinMacGill, New York City
Kiki Smith Reconstructing the Moon
PaceWildenstein, New York City
A Decade of Collecting: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Drawing
Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Constellation, Barbara Gross Galerie Munich, Germany
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Washington D.C., USA
Kestner-Gesellschaft Hannover, Germany
Art Foundry Editions Santa Fe at Knoedler New York City
Jim Kempner Fine Art, New York City
Sculptors Aganist The Wall
McKee Gallery, New York City
Kiki Smith Little Mountain
Cast Glass Paperweight.
A/D Gallery, New York City
Limited Edition Artists Books Since 1990
Brooke Alexander/Brooke Alexander Editions, New York City
What I Did on My Summer Vacation
a benefit photography project.
White Columns, New York City
Kiki Smith Field Operation
PaceWildenstein, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, California
Kiki Smith New Sculpture
PaceWildenstein, New York - SoHo
Kiki Smith, Barbara Gross Galerie München
* For more
in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary