Sunday, February 19, 2017

Born 1954: Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith, 2014

Kiki is one of the most influential sculptors of her generation. She is equally important as a graphic artist. She follows in the tradition of Louise Bourgeois by using sculpture to express feelings and ideas, but instead of representing her personal history, she expresses the general conditions of the human body—birth, death, relationship to nature—with an emphasis on feminist issues.

She has used an exceptionally wide array of materials—plaster, bronze, glitter, body fluids, paper, glass, porcelain—and an equally broad array of media besides sculpture and graphics—installations, photographs, jewelry, costume design, artist's books, film, video and tattoos.

Kiki's work has addressed the themes of sex, birth and regeneration. Her prime subject has been the body, as social and political object.  Her figurative work of the late 1980s and early 1990s confronted subjects such as AIDS, gender and race.

Her re-imaginings of biblical women as inhabitants of physical bodies--rather than as abstract bearers of doctrine--led her to make series of sculptural works related to the figure of the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, Lilith and others.

More recent works have depicted the human condition in relationship to nature. Her sculptures are provocative meditations on the human condition, the body, and the realms of myth, spirituality, and narrative. Some of her sculptures depict characters from fairy tales and folk tales.

Kiki lives and works in the Lower East Side of New York City.

In the beginning of her career she was associated with various collective art groups.

Background: Kiki was born in West Germany to American parents. Smith's father was famed minimalist sculptor Tony Smith, and her mother was an actress and opera singer. The family moved to New Jersey when Kiki was an infant. Kiki had 2 younger sisters who are twins; one of them died of AIDS in 1988.

Training: Like many women before her—especially painters—Kiki learned art by assisting her sculptor father in his studio, along with her younger sisters. What she learned was not so much art skills as how to recognize the artist within. She also developed a need to make art as part of her daily life, as her father did.

Because it is geometric, and usually monumental in size, Tony Smith's art seems to be related to pure form, without much personal narrative, but Kiki says that her father was very intuitive and his decisions had to do with his feelings. She disputes the idea that geometry is inherently unemotional.

Here's an example of Tony Smith's work:

Tony Smith
Lobby of LACMA / Internet


Daisy Chain, 1992
Wadsworth Atheneum / Jan's photo, 2013

Virgin Mary, 1993
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2010

Mary Magdalene, 1994
Cast silicon bronze, chain is forged steel
NMWA / Internet

Lilith, 1994
Silicon bronze and glass
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2016

Lilith is a character in Jewish folklore who is described as Adam's first wife. In this story both Lilith and Adam were created from dust, and Lilith refused to take a subordinate to Adam. As her punishment, Lilith was expelled from Eden, and Eve was created in her place.

To me it suggests the phrase used about someone who is nervous or keyed up: "she's climbing the wall."

Dan took the photo above of Lilith at SFMOMA, but we have seen copies in other locations. My close-up below of the version we saw at the Metropolitan in New York shows glass eyes embedded in the bronze head.

Lilith, 1994
Bronze with glass eyes
Metropolitan / Jan's photo

Jersey Crows, 1995
silicon bronze
LACMA / Internet

Jersey Crows, 1995
silicon bronze
LACMA / Internet

Honeywax, 1995
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2013

Born, 2002
Walker / Internet
The sculpture below depicts Sainte Geneviève, the Patron Saint of Paris, who is known for her close relationships with animals, and her ability to domesticate wolves. Kiki made the form from a mold taken directly from a friend's body.

Genevieve and the May Wolf, 2000
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2010

Guard, 2005
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2015

Sleepwalker, 2008
Meijer / Jan's photo, 2013